If the Toronto Raptors are going to right the ship, they must solidify their rotation.
The acquisition of Serge Ibaka represents a major step in the right direction for the Toronto Raptors. If Ibaka can regain his form, he will help turn around the team’s defense and provide the starters with floor spacing.
In addition to this, he will also provide consistency to a position that has been in flux for some time. With that newly added stability, it’s time for the Raptors to establish an actual rotation.
Article continues below ...
Several questions linger when it comes to their Raptors and their rotation. Their big man rotation suddenly has depth and versatility, instead of a revolving door of starters.
This is a legitimate five big-man rotation for the Raptors. However, it does raise some questions about how the team will be deployed. Pascal Siakam is likely pushed out of the rotation, as well as Jakob Poeltl.
This development could be disappointing for some, as both have shown promise this season. Siakam has started 38 games this year, but Ibaka’s presence could make minutes hard to come by.
The other question is how much will Valanciunas play in the fourth quarter, or at all? Valanciunas gives the team a solid offensive presence at center, as well as a much needed rebounding presence.
But his defensive deficiencies and tendency to check out of games have limited his role in the past.
Playing alongside another big that needs touches in Ibaka could potentially reduce the touches he receives. With three defensive bigs that can all play together in Nogueira, Ibaka and Patterson, Casey may find it hard to justify giving Valanciunas any fourth-quarter minutes.
Finding a way to keep Valanciunas involved and happy, while not jeopardizing team success will be a delicate balance for the Raptors. One way to go might be playing him more with the second unit.
This would allow Valanciunas to become a larger part of the offense, without taking away from Lowry, DeRozan or Ibaka.
The Thunder have done this with Enes Kanter and it’s helped elevate the play of their bench. While Valanciunas will likely need to remain the starter to help keep him engaged mentally, they can sub him out early and make him a focal point with the second unit.
In crunch-time the team will likely be better off going away from Valanciunas. They can go with either Nogueira and Ibaka or with Ibaka and Patterson. With this versatility, they have an answer for any look an opponent can throw at them.
They can match size with size, or keep two bigs out there that are capable of spacing the floor and switching onto perimeter players on defense.
Keeping Patterson in the rotation should also be a priority. Most of the Raptors best lineups have featured Patterson on the floor over the past few seasons. While Ibaka is an upgrade, that doesn’t mean that his role in the rotation should be diminished.
As previously mentioned, playing the two together could be an interesting solution. While it would leave the Raptors vulnerable on the boards, it can also be an effective way to counter small ball lineups. The opposition wouldn’t possess a rebounding edge in those small ball situations.
The Raptors also would be able to counter a small ball offense while keeping size on the floor. Something that wasn’t possible before this move.
The final issue that needs to be addressed is the guard rotation. Delon Wright returning to the lineup presents the Raptors with a dilemma in their point guard rotation. Cory Joseph had been a reliable option last season.
However, this year Joseph’s defensive play has been almost non-existent.
Wright’s presence gives Toronto a long point guard that can switch onto multiple positions. Wright does lack consistency with his outside jumper. But his ability to take care of the ball and get to the rack are appealing traits for this Raptors squad.
With Terrence Ross gone, minutes are available at the shooting guard position. Casey may need to get creative, but getting Wright minutes should be a priority. At the very least, Joseph should have a shorter leash with Wright around.
The Raptors have too many players now that can impact the game on the defensive end to be as putrid as they’ve been this season. The team is ranked 16th in defensive efficiency heading into the All-Star break.
With the additions of Ibaka and Wright, the team adds two potential game changers on the defensive end.
The responsibility now falls on Casey. It is on him to establish a rotation that keeps Patterson, Valanciunas and Wright involved. He must make sure the team has defensive players in every lineup and he must push the team to improve their defensive effort.
Too many players have allowed their defensive play to slip this season. With a stable of guys capable of playing defense, he must set the tone and re-establish a defensive culture. Anybody that doesn’t buy in will have to sit as a result.
The Raptors have too much talent to struggle to the degree they have this season. With their additions, they have all the tools to turn their season around. If they fail to do so, the team will need to re-examine their coaching situation.