8/1/12

Fun With Line-Ups

As things stand, the Raptors current roster is as follows:

Point Guards: Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon, John Lucas III
Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Linas Kleiza, Terrence Ross, Alan Anderson
Forwards: Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Quincy Acy
Centers: Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray

While the roster certainly has some holes and could use improvements at a few positions, the Raptors are deep. Minutes won't be clear cut. Instead of your classic five 36 guys, one 24 guy, and a bunch of 10-15 guys, the Raptors are much more likely to have several players averaging between 15 and 25 minutes per game. This can be afforded to their versatility and aforementioned depth at all positions.

Dwane Casey is not one to stick to a strict rotation; last year he benched several players for seemingly worse ones, most notably Rasual Butler and James Johnson. He readily benches players to send messages, and understands that different opponents account for different line-ups and strategies.

So who does Casey start on opening day? If I had to guess, this fun, solid line-up:

PG: Kyle Lowry, SG: DeMar DeRozan, SF: Landry Fields, PF: Andrea Bargnani, C: Aaron Gray

This line-up is multifaceted. There's some offense, some defense, some athleticism, some shooting, and most importantly, some experience. While Valanciunas is undoubtedly better than Gray, I suspect that Casey will give Gray the nod simply because he's been playing in the NBA for several years. That isn't to say Val won't start by the end of the season, because I'm sure he will. Expect this line-up to both start and finish most games early on.

But hey, those guys won't play the whole game. What does the bench look like?

PG: Jose Calderon, SG: Terrence Ross, SF: Linas Kleiza, PF: Amir Johnson, C: Jonas Valanciunas

That's an interesting line-up, because it's better than some of the NBA's bottom-feeders' starting squads. While it can't win games on its own, this collection of players will probably see good minutes together for an array of reasons. The biggest one is the Calderon-Kleiza-Valanciunas connection. Calderon's patient pick and roll play and Kleiza's mentorship will be crucial for Val's development. It will help him acclimate to the NBA's style of play much quicker than it would with him starting over Gray.

Oh, there's a blowout. Who plays?

PG: John Lucas III, SG: Terrence Ross, SF: Alan Anderson, PF: Quincy Acy, C: Ed Davis

Don't hate me because I stuck Davis in there. Look, Davis is a good player and will undoubtedly contribute in minutes outside of garbage time. However, Casey enjoys playing young guys over vets when the game is out of hand. You know, developing them. There isn't a lot to rant and rave about with this line-up, but here's hoping we see it a lot.

You need to score? Let's roll these guys out...

PG: Jose Calderon, SG: DeMar DeRozan, SF: Terrence Ross, PF: Andrea Bargnani, C: Amir Johnson

This is a scary bunch of players. You have the best shooters and most athletic guys at every position. Scoring can come from anyone, and in a plethora of ways. Run pick and rolls with Calderon. Iso Bargnani or DeRozan. Kick out to anyone. Johnson, Ross, and DeRozan are known for crashing the rim when shots go up, so you'd see a bunch of putback jams as well. So much fun.

But it's not all offense. We need to lock down the opponent for a few minutes and close out this game. Hm. Let's send in the dogs.

PG: Kyle Lowry, SG: Alan Anderson, SF: Landry Fields, PF: Amir Johnson, C: Aaron Gray

Jeeze. This is just as scary as the last line-up. Everyone can hold their own one-on-one, and all of these guys are above average help defenders as well. They're savvy and tough. And knowing Casey's affinity for defense, this line-up will show itself more often than you'd think.

Let's have some fun though. Can we send out a team of athletes?

PG: John Lucas III, SG: Terrence Ross, SF: DeMar DeRozan, PF: Ed Davis, C: Jonas Valanciunas

DUNKS ON DUNKS ON DUNKS. So much speed. So much hustle. So much leaping ability. I'd probably faint if these guys saw time together.

Shooters?

PG: Jose Calderon, SG: Terrence Ross, SF: Alan Anderson, PF: Linas Kleiza, C: Andrea Bargnani

I guess the question here is who would win in a 3-point contest? But hey, I'm really bored. Can we just play a weird collection of players?

PG: Jose Calderon, SG: DeMar DeRozan, SF: Alan Anderson, PF: Andrea Bargnani, C: Aaron Gray

Wait a minute, that looks awfully familiar. Oh yeah, it's last year's starting line-up. Proof that the Raptors have improved at three positions.

All in all, this Raptors team is among the deepest I've seen since the mid-00s playoff runs with Chris Bosh. It may not win a championship, but it's very competitive and fun to watch. Several of the bloggers I've spoken to have told me that the Raptors will be among their League Pass choices, simply because every game should be dunks, 3-pointers, defense, and all around fun. I don't think I've been this excited for a Raptors team in a long time.

What line-ups would you like to see Dwane Casey employ?

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