Toronto’s rotations are rounding into shape

The Raptors are starting to find lineups that can win when the starters sit.

The Toronto Raptors have spent much of the season taking on water, plugging holes in the boat, and finding two more spring anew for every one solved. There has been a broken defense, starters who don't fit together, stars who don't fit together, lack of effort, lack of shooting, lack of rim pressure, and lack of bench support. (Did I miss anything? Almost definitely.)

It's hard to win when something is always going wrong. Oh, and the team has had virtually no time, until recently, with a healthy rotation. Plus the most important offseason acquisition has contributed nothing.

But most of those issues have, slowly, been fading into the distance. The defense has ranked a solid 11th since the trade deadline, when the Raptors acquired Jakob Poeltl to fill a Jakob Poeltl-sized hole on the defensive end. The starters have dominated. (More on that in a moment.) The team is playing harder. Poeltl is finally giving Toronto some efficient offense around the rim. Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, and Gary Trent jr. are all shooting significantly better than they were to start the season -- positive regression for the win! Things are coming around.

And finally, the bench is starting to win its minutes. There's talent there, but most of the bench players need conducive context to play at their best. Nick Nurse is figuring out how to offer that context across entire games. Most importantly, there need to be at least two starters on the floor at all minutes to boost the bench players and allow them to thrive in specific roles. What those pairings should be is increasingly clear.

Fortunately for the Raptors, with only two pairings having any real success together, they only need to use two such pairings. There's some logic to the success of Pascal Siakam-Anunoby and VanVleet-Scottie Barnes. These pairings ensure there's always one of Toronto's shooters from the starting lineup joining the shooters from the bench (namely Trent, and sometimes Will Barton as well). In VanVleet and Siakam, one of Toronto's two primary shot creators will be on the floor at all times. Also, quick victory lap: I wrote in great depth in November why Toronto should use VanVleet-Barnes and Siakam-Anunoby as the starter pairings in transitional lineups. It seems Nurse has (for now) come around to the idea.