Should the Toronto Raptors change their starting lineup?

On the change Toronto should make to its starting lineup.

Sometimes people get comfortable and don’t change until it’s absolutely necessary, not knowing that change, earlier, would have been the best option for them. NBA coaches are notoriously stubborn individuals but the true mark of a great coach is the ability to adjust when necessary. The Toronto Raptors starting lineup is one that features a lot of size, length, creation, and potential, but it could use a change.

The current starting lineup features Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and Pascal Siakam. This lineup has its perks, but it definitely has its flaws as well. For instance, this lineup features the three best three point shooters on the Raptors roster along with a lot of creation, length, and versatility on defense. On the other hand, this makes defending a tougher task than it has to be. Above-average wingspan across a lineup can help shrink the floor in a lot of actions, but it doesn’t automatically emulate the benefits of playing a big. Despite players like Siakam, Anunoby and Barnes all bringing size in different ways the Raptors still struggle to protect the rim and close out defensive possessions if another big isn’t on the floor with them.

The Toronto Raptors switch a lot of screening actions and provide a lot of rotational help on defense, and this isn’t always the easiest task with the current starting lineup. Trent Jr., for example, has a knack for stealing the ball (1.7 steals per game) but his failed gambles lead to breakdowns, and he’s always struggled on-ball against more accomplished players. He’s also not capable of deterring a rim-run if he’s rotating as the low man. This lineup has an offense rating of 107.4, a defensive rating of 106.8, and a net rating of 0.5. A positive, but both the ORTG and DRTG are worse than the teams end of season numbers (108.2/104.6).

Siakam was one of the league leaders in distance traveled on defense not only due to scheme but also due to covering for breakdowns at the point-of-attack. This necessary effort on defense coupled with his immense responsibility on offense is a recipe for burnout, or injury. The same can be said for Anunoby or VanVleet who take on an enormous amount of responsibility as well. With all this being said, the question of who do you replace in the starting lineup gets raised and it’s a quite simple one: You replace Trent Jr., and you replace him with a much better defender, with burgeoning offensive skills that present upside on that end of the floor. The replacement is Precious Achiuwa.

Achiuwa is a tremendous defender, who transforms every lineup he touches into a better defensive unit, and he would enhance that aspect of the starting lineup. The lineup of Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby, Achiuwa, and Barnes posted a defensive rating of 92 in the 45 minutes they played last season, which is extremely encouraging. Achiuwa has succeeded while defending many elite perimeter players such as Luka Doncic, James Harden, LeBron James, and Jimmy Butler. He’s a fleet footed big man who can hang on the perimeter and uses strength and length to stifle rim attempts. The Raptors also rebound the ball much better with him on the floor. He fits much better with this lineup on the defensive end because he adds even more versatility and defensive excellence to a lineup that already featured so much of it.

Achiuwa can also guard big men in single coverage, allowing the Raptors to help less and keep themselves out of rotation. With Achiuwa on the floor, less rim protecting responsibilities fall upon Siakam, Anunoby, and Barnes. Despite lagging a fair bit behind Trent Jr. on the offensive end, there is potential to make up some of that ground because of his burgeoning three point shooting along with his potential as a roll man and play finisher. With Trent Jr. you are getting reliable shooting and spacing, but with Achiuwa you get a potential three point threat plus a bit of creation that can apply pressure to the rim which Trent Jr. does not currently offer. Achiuwa also helps out in transition with his grab-and-go ability, physicality on drives and open court speed.

Leaps have to be made by Achiuwa offensively to make any of this tenable, but he’s worth betting on. Nick Nurse was recently quoted saying “I think they’re probably clearly the five-best players. Doesn’t mean that you always have to start your five best and it doesn’t mean that something else might not be better for us, and it may be” when asked about the starting unit. This quote opens the door to the possibility of some changes to the starting lineup in the future. Some changes that could work in the Raptors favor.