Raptors Lead

Should the Raptors Start VanVleet Upon His Return?


Every season, something touched upon is identity, and the tenacity in which teams are going to come out within the upcoming season. After an NBA Championship, identity becomes a major point of discussion, especially when your star player leaves the team, and everyone is left to wonder what is to come. After a quarter of the way through the season, the Raptors have illustrated one major change, and that is that there is much less fluidity in the lineups going out on a given night. The primary starting lineup for the Toronto Raptors is: 

  • Kyle Lowry 
  • Norman Powell
  • OG Anunoby
  • Pascal Siakam 
  • Marc Gasol 

Now, injuries have obviously hindered this lineup after 27 games, but this lineup has proven to be a constant when the roster is healthy. While Kyle Lowry was sidelined with a thumb injury, we saw Fred VanVleet take an even bigger role in terms of his usage on a Lowry-free night. From November 10th to December 1st, where the primary point guard was VanVleet, his points per game jumped from 16.0 to 21.2. FVV was able to sustain his assist averages while Lowry was out, averaging 7.5 APG, not a drastic change from when Lowry was in the starting line.

The Raptors currently sit at 19-8, right in the middle of the clustered Eastern Conference playoff race. Realistically, they are just a short losing streak from dropping all the way down to 6th in the East. Further, their record does not tell the whole story, as they’ve lost to the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, Rockets, Sixers and Clippers while Lowry and VanVleet were healthy. This illustrates the Raptors have not been able to succeed against contending teams. Would that not be a call for concern if the ultimate goal is to repeat? With December 15th just passing, teams are now eligible to trade players which were signed this past summer, and although I am not claiming Kyle Lowry needs to be traded, change might be needed in order to help solidify Toronto’s long-term plan.

Proposal: Lowry off the bench, VanVleet Starts

Having Fred VanVleet start while Lowry comes off the bench opens up the doors to new opportunities for the Raptors to achieve success. The first thing I want to note is the numbers Norman Powell has put up since being inserted into the starting lineup, as he’s averaging 22.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG on 61.4% shooting. But along with Norm’s scoring abilities, he provides the Raptors with strong perimeter defense, along with being a switchable guard on the likes of Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. We are seeing two different versions of Norm, and when the coaching staff trusts him to start, we see this confident, tenacious “Playoff Powell”.

You can read more about the interest on Norman Powell scoring as written by the NBA’s Scott Rafferty.

VanVleet Capable of Shining in Tense Moments

Having Powell start is just the snowball effect of having Lowry come off the bench, bringing us to a greater focus on Fred VanVleet. We need to recognize that Fred is only 25 years old, is playing on an expiring deal, and has proven that he is capable of being able to shine in the biggest moments while Lowry was out. The current roster is deep — something Toronto relies on — and having Lowry come off the bench along with Serge Ibaka would bring a new threat to dominate second units on the floor while eliminating being too small on our backcourt to start games.

Luckily, Kyle Lowry hasn’t shown signs of aging, and his ability to make hustle plays hasn’t faded. In Saturday night’s game against the Nets, Kyle Lowry dove to the half-court to retrieve a bad pass, slapping the ball to Serge who then nailed an elbow jumper. Lowry will consistently put his body on the line, and although it may sound like I am deferring my original thoughts, Fred VanVleet will do the identical. 

Lowry has been VanVleet’s mentor, and it truly does show in Fred’s style of play. Lowry is averaging nearly 40 minutes per game, and with it only being a quarter way into the season, this isn’t sustainable. An early-season injury generally opens the idea of better minute management, but Lowry returned only to play 41 minutes in an overtime loss to the Miami Heat. With VanVleet sidelined right now due to a knee contusion, we need to ensure minutes between the two are managed while using the two interchangeably to keep the second unit strong. 

With the New Year coming, perhaps a new lineup is on its way too. 

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About Uday Saluja

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