The Toronto Raptors are on the verge of opening their 18th season in the NBA. What will their rotation look like when they face the Pacers on Halloween?
Head coach Dwane Casey addressed some questions about his rotation for this season prior to Monday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He feels his rotation will be going nine deep on most nights. He did however not rule out expanding to 10 based on game situations and match-ups.
That rotation will be very flexible depending on who the Raptors will be playing on a given night. This is a way for the Raptors to take advantage of their improved depth. That said, it seems we have a good idea of who the two main units for the Raptors will be at this point.
So here is my take on what the Raptors rotation should look like.
It is in line with the plan Casey has, based on his various comments over the preseason. Let’s examine the rotation by running through the positions and breaking it down that way.
Also, I'll try to give some suggestions on minutes in some cases, which might be helpful if you’re yet to have your fantasy draft, or even if you have to make a last-minute move.
This is now Kyle Lowry’s team.
He will be the starter.
No one is shocked or surprised by that. I would venture to say he plays a good portion of the minutes as well, logging 25-30 minutes most nights.
The Raptors are trying to run a much more up-tempo style offense under Dwane Casey. Assistant coach Johnny Davis, who handles the offense on the staff, talked about the point guards. Davis said the offense will be tailored to who is in the game at the time. You might have heard this on NBA TV Canada on their daily show, Raptors Today.
So, when the back-up point guard Jose Calderon comes in expect a lot more pick and roll plays being run. Calderon’s minutes will be dramatically reduced from his past role as the starter. He will manage to stay on the floor a little more than expected for the average second stringer.
Jose will likely see his most minutes in situations when the Raptors are in the lead and coveting possessions. He is obviously the weak link on defense, in comparison to both Lowry and John Lucas. Expect to see Calderon somewhere between 12-18 minutes, depending on the match-up and game situation.
John Lucas III is the wild card in equation.
He has been fantastic for the Raptors in the preseason. Casey even admitted before that it was going be hard to keep him off the floor at Raptors media day. How Lucas finds his way on the floor might be as both a point guard and shooting guard when the Raptors go small. He would likely guard the point guard in these situations.
Lucas will likely be that energizer for the Raptors. His number will be called when they need instant offense. If you are old enough to remember the “Bad Boy” Pistons, that won titles in the late 80s, think of Vinnie Johnson. He had the nickname " The Microwave,” and that is what I see Lucas as for this squad.
There maybe nights we don’t see Lucas, but those I expect to be rare. He will likely be that guy on the fringe of the rotation.
DeMar DeRozan is still the starter here and will log the majority of the minutes.
This is a huge season for DeRozan, as he remains on track to become a restricted free agent next season. The Raptors have yet to come to an agreement with him on an extension and have til that start of the season to do so.
Extension or not, this is going to be DeRozan's position for the season, unless something dramatic was to happen. Eventually, you could see Terrence Ross getting minutes behind him. Most likely, in situations when the Raptors want some defensive help, or need some long range shooting on the floor.
Expect Terrence Ross to most likely be slowly worked in. He had an issue with a sore knee, followed up by a bout with the flu. Ross may not see much time to start the season.
You might see more of Toronto going with a two point guard look, when DeRozan is off the floor. The Raptors have used all three possible combinations, with Lowry paired with Calderon, Lucas paired with Calderon and Lucas on the floor as well.
DeRozan has been the guy that has led the Raptors in scoring in the preseason, not Andrea Bargnani. He has been getting to the free throw line as well.
Expect DeRozan to play 30 or more minutes a night. I would think he would get the most minutes early on.
It should be noted Landry Fields is able to shift over and play some minutes at this position if need be.
If Landry Fields wanted minutes, coming to Toronto was a wise move. It didn’t hurt that he got paid very well on top of that. He really has not much behind him to worry about in terms of challenging for minutes. Alan Anderson remains on the Raptors roster and could see minutes on occasion.
Fields is the starter, and he likely will see the minutes he is not on the floor covered by DeRozan, who will play some of his minutes there. It will be Anderson when that isn't the case, and maybe you even see the Raptors look to give Ross some minutes here as well, depending on match-ups.
Fields and DeRozan, when on the floor together, have shown a nice chemistry and can both finish on the break which fits with this new style offense. Expect Landry Fields to take the tougher defensive assignments and for DeRozan be given the easier ones.
While Fields may not look like much in the Raptors box score every night, he will have lots of minutes on the floor. Casey will be counting on him to be a solid defender and chip in on offense where he fits into the mix.
Ultimately, if the Raptors make a move this season, you can almost guarantee, there will be something coming back to them that adds something to this position.
It is the position in which they have least depth of talent in my view. The Raptors would have a major problem if Landry Fields were to be injured.
Dominic McGuire is also an option for the Raptors here, assuming he remains on the roster. Linas Kleiza is also an option.
Andrea Bargnani owns this spot and should get the bulk of the minutes.
That is not a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the Raptors. The only thing that will stop Andrea Bargnani from logging big minutes is Andrea Bargnani.
This could happen in one of two ways.
He could go down with an injury, a concern after last season. The only other thing that would limit his time on the floor is if he falls off the cliff defensively. The Raptors do have depth at the position to deal with it on some levels. Ed Davis will be the primary backup and Amir Johnson will split time at power forward and center, based on matchups.
Obviously, Bargnani is different from both of those guys in many ways. First and foremost is the fact that he plays that "stretch four" role and creates space on the floor. He also is supposed to be the Raptors best option to score points, although that has been a problem in the preseason.
Bottom line, the Raptors need at least 30 minutes a night out of Andrea Bargnani to be successful you would figure. Ed Davis had a slow start to the preseason but picked things up and should see eight-to-12 minutes on a nightly basis.
Amir Johnson should see a similar minutes total, but likely as an undersized center. The Raptors also have rookie Quincy Acy, but expect his minutes to be very limited on the season as whole. He likely plays more minutes in the NBDL than in the NBA.
Coming into the preseason, the thought was this would eventually be Jonas Valanciunas’ position as the starter. After some impressive outings, and proving he can stay on the floor without getting into foul trouble, that has changed. Now it appears a certainty that he will be the starting center for the Raptors from the opening tip of the season.
He has shown the ability to log minutes and stay out on the floor.
He adds a shot-blocking presence, something the Raptors have not had since back they had guys like Antonio Davis and Keon Clark on the roster. Jonas has also shown he can work well with the point guards, setting picks and rolling to the basket.
He will get the most minutes of the Raptors three rookies without question. He has held up well through the preseason and it is the hope that continues into the regular season. Perhaps the biggest loser in the fast development of Jonas is Aaron Gray. He was expected to at least start in the rotation and now is a situational option at best.
It has been Amir Johnson picking up a lot of the backup minutes for Jonas. In an NBA that no longer has too many traditional centers, Johnson is able to fill the roll nicely on most nights.
The minute totals for Jonas should be high and the only thing that will limit those minutes would be foul trouble. This is something that Johnson has had issues with in his career. To this point, Jonas has been surprisingly able to deal with that well despite his aggressive style.
The Raptors are more than willing to allow Jonas to learn on the fly and deal with some of the issues you will have to deal with for any rookie in that situation.
The future is now at the center position for the Raptors with Jonas. From a fantasy point of view, he becomes a nice late-round pick, if you understand the Raptors plans for this young man. What he does in terms of boards and blocks can help you out in your fantasy league.
Based on all that we have seen in the preseason and the things Casey has said, here is what we can expect in terms of the Raptors rotation:
PG- Kyle Lowry
SG- DeMar DeRozan
SF- Landry Fields
PF- Andrea Bargnani
C- Jonas Valanciunas
I would not expect a lot of flexibility here. These five players are going to be the starters, and that should remain the case the entire season, barring injures or player movement.
In the bench rotation:
PG- Jose Calderon
PF- Ed Davis
PF/C- Amir Johnson
PG/SG- John Lucas III
These four guys should see the floor every night. The minutes will vary, but they all should expect to not be left at the end of the night still wearing their warmups.
SG- Terrence Ross
SF- Alan Anderson
C- Aaron Gray
Ross is likely to see the floor most nights. Gray and Anderson will likely be in on certain matchups, or if fouls dictate they are needed.
Wearing the suits:
PF- Quincy Acy
SF Linas Kleiza
SF- Dominic McGuire
These guys likely are on the outside looking in at this point. Alan Anderson seems a better fit for the team then Kleiza. Acy will struggle to find minutes in this deep rotation at his position. McGuire may well be able to play his way up the latter.
You will note a name missing on this list and from this piece. Jamaal Magloire should be the final cut getting the Raptors down to the NBA roster limit of 15.
He could remain with the organization in some sort of a coaching capacity working with the Raptors big men. It has been talked about in media circles and in conversations I have had with some people media folks.