Predicting the Raptors' 2018-19 Starting Lineup for Their Season Opener

August 4, 2018

   Throughout the 2017-18 season, the Toronto Raptors starting lineup was more or less stable from October to May, with only slight changes every now and then. Up until a few weeks ago, it was looking as though we would see the same starting lineup for the Raptors this season as we did last season. This was, of course, before the Raptors traded Demar Derozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-rounder to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Demar's departure left a gaping hole in the Toronto backcourt, and the arrival of Kawhi could push second-year small forward OG Anunoby out of the starting squad. That being said, let's take a look at who I believe will be starting come October. 

   Expect Nick Nurse to, as opposed to following the current trend and convert to small ball, rely on his trusty 7-footer in Jonas Valanciunas. JV, while not a good option as a perimeter defender, has certainly expanded his range enough to warrant a close-out on his pump fakes from behind the arc, which should provide enough spacing on the offensive end to allow him to play against small-ball centers such as Kevin Love and *shudder* Lebron James.

   Remaining along the lines of a larger lineup, I'm looking to see Serge Ibaka maintain his spot at the 4, although many would argue that he's much better suited as a small-ball 5, where his rim-protecting ability and all-around offensive prowess can be utilized effectively. I just don't think the Raptors coaches will be able to convince either JV or Serge to sit out the opening minutes of the game on the bench, and, as childish as this sounds, will start both big men in order to avoid hurting any egos.

   At the small forward position, it's clear to everyone that, if he's not playing at the 4, Kawhi Leonard will be a fixture in the opening unit at the 3, where he can easily guard the opposing teams' best scorers from the 1-4 positions, 1-5 in a small-ball lineup. While this will unfortunately push OG back to the "Bench Mob", I think he might be better suited with those guys, who he has a certain degree of chemistry with. As well, with OG sitting behind Kawhi, he can observe better how Kawhi plays in game, possibly becoming a better player in the future for it, and in the event that Kawhi leaves after his contract is up, a reliable starter. 

   Danny Green is my projection to start at the shooting guard spot in the season opener, due not only to his defensive skill, but also his already-established chemistry with Kawhi Leonard, his deadly three-point stroke, and his veteran mentality.

   Finally, the man we all know is a lock for the starting point guard position, Kyle Lowry. Having been locked on for the next few years, expect to see Lowry in this same starting point guard spot for each of those years. He has the skills, he has the heart, and he has the leadership abilities, but most importantly, he has the trust of his team-mates, making him the best option of anyone in the league for this position on his team  as things stand right now.

   Now, keep in mind that these are my predictions for the starting lineup for the Raptors' season opener, meaning we could be seeing a much different starting squad in the second game of the season than we did on the first. I fully expect Nurse and his staff to experiment with the starters frequently before Christmas, possibly even on a night-to-night basis.

Final Prediction:

1. Kyle Lowry

2. Danny Green

3. Kawhi Leonard

4. Serge Ibaka

5. Jonas Valanciunas




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