Who should the Raptors start when everyone is healthy?

The Raptors, suddenly, have too many options to start. That's a good problem to have, but how should they solve it?

Once upon a time, Old Spice appealed to the elderly. That all changed with a new ad campaign in 2010 that got weird. (I’m on a horse.) Old Spice didn’t change the product, simply the positioning. As a result, more than a decade later companies embarrass themselves trying to make phony weird commercials, and they teach old Spice’s ad campaign in marketing schools around the world. 

Now, the Toronto Raptors did change the product in acquiring Jakob Poeltl. But that doesn’t mean the team couldn’t benefit from some rejigging of how it presents itself -- namely, in the beginning of games. On the season, Toronto is 16th in net rating -- at negative-1.0 -- with five starters on the floor. The Raptors have benefited in a small way (obviously outweighed by the negatives) from the absences of Gary Trent jr. and O.G. Anunoby since the trade for Poeltl. The starting lineup has made sense with two low-usage finishers in Poeltl and Precious Achiuwa alongside three high-usage creators in Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, and Pascal Siakam.

That fivesome has won its 43 minutes by 19 points. Meanwhile Toronto’s erstwhile starters, with Trent and Anunoby in place of Achiuwa and Poeltl, have won their 361 minutes by just 16 points. Put another way, Toronto’s makeshift starters have outscored the long-term starters by 120 percent despite playing in 12 percent of the minutes. Fit matters, on both ends! 

That doesn’t mean this current fivesome should remain the starters when everyone is healthy, at least not necessarily. The Raptors’ current group has pillowed its numbers against some bad teams. And they’ve also had some fortunate shooting luck -- over 50 percent from deep. The current starters are an option, but they aren’t the only one.

Let’s do this comprehensively. First thing: I’m ignoring contract status and off-court significance. Players like VanVleet or Barnes can’t really be put on the bench for obvious reasons -- VanVleet’s importance as a leader, his upcoming contract negotiation, and the fact he’s Toronto’s only real NBA-starter-level point guard. Barnes because he’s the reigning Rookie of the Year and future superstar. For the purposes of this exercise, both will go through the statistical wringer.

The starting point has to be Pascal Siakam. He’s the All Star, the reigning All-NBA player, the leading scorer, and the on-court leader. He has the best offensive on/offs on the team, and he’s the foundation. The team works -- to the extent that it does -- because of him. Siakam has to start. Okay, with that in mind, an idealized starting lineup then has to be built around the framework of him being on the court. 

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