Skip to main content

What to Expect from the Raptors Rotation Moving Forward

The Toronto Raptors new rotation is beginning to take shape as recent acquisitions RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley make immediate impact

The Toronto Raptors chose to cap off 2023 in dramatic fashion.

The last 48 hours of the calendar year featured a mid-lawsuit blockbuster trade with the New York Knicks, as well as a devastating loss to a Detroit Pistons team that was in the midst of a 28-game losing streak.

Thankfully, the Raptors have gone 2-0 since trading OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn to the Knicks for Canadian-born RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley. It’s the team’s first time winning two consecutive games since November.

Toronto coach Darko Rajaković had been stubborn about lineup changes all season, but his decision to start Barrett and Quickley in place of Dennis Schröder and Gary Trent Jr. ended up paying off. Barrett was a rebound shy of a double-double in his debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Quickley exploded two nights later with a 26-point performance against the Memphis Grizzlies.

A two-game sample size isn’t much to go on however the early returns are encouraging. Both players fit well into Rajaković’s system and, more importantly, complement Scottie Barnes. After all, it was just over a week ago when the Raptors decided to start Barnes at point guard alongside Trent Jr., which was far from ideal despite resulting in a win against the lowly Washington Wizards

Now, Toronto can potentially run a competent starting five with Quickley and Barrett at guard while keeping Barnes and Pascal Siakam at forward. Quickley has been a bench player for most of his career, albeit a very good one. He narrowly missed out on winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award last season, posting career-highs in several categories including points (14.9), rebounds (4.2), and field goal percentage (44.8%).

At this point, it’s hard to imagine Quickley leaving the starting lineup as long as he continues to produce. Schröder and Trent Jr. are bench players at best, and other potential guard options are scant with Flynn leaving town and Gradey Dick in the midst of completing a two-week conditioning program. Quickley’s ceiling remains undefined, and a starting role with more minutes could be exactly what propels him to the next level.

For Barrett, a starting role with consistent minutes has always been the norm. Like Quickley, he brings a lot of energy and will benefit from a more free-flowing offense as a shot creator. Despite this, Barrett’s shooting has generally been inconsistent and his career hasn’t gone quite as well as planned.

The Raptors know they took a risk acquiring Barrett as opposed to draft picks and other salary filler, but the organization so desperately needs a spark. There’s a lot to like about Barrett including age, size, pedigree, and work ethic.

As a Toronto-area native, the culture fit is evident and there’s also a certain grit to his game that the Raptors have been sorely lacking. Barrett’s leash is long, with the current rotation not featuring any real threats to his playing time. In an ideal world, he can use this fresh start in familiar territory to discover some of the untapped potential that resulted in a third overall selection at the 2019 NBA Draft.

That said, Rajaković is intent on indefinitely keeping things fluid when it comes to rotation decisions. Jalen McDaniels hasn’t seen the floor whatsoever since Barrett and Quickley entered the lineup, and Otto Porter Jr. seems to have fallen out of favor as well.

Over the last two games, the starting five of Quickley, Barrett, Barnes, Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl played at least 28 minutes each. Schröder has averaged roughly 30 minutes off the bench, Trent Jr. has seen his usual 20-25 bench minutes, and Chris Boucher has played around 12 minutes.

Veterans like Thaddeus Young and Garrett Temple will likely see sporadic minutes from time to time, but they are primarily mentors at this stage of their careers. G League standouts like Javon Freeman-Liberty may also see the floor depending on how things shake out down the road.

On the younger side of the rotation, 24-year-old big Jontay Porter, the younger brother of Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., made his Raptors debut against the Grizzlies on Wednesday – playing just over seven minutes. 

The real player to watch is Dick, who began a two-week ‘special program’ on Monday focused on his weight, conditioning, and on-court work. Rajaković re-iterated his confidence in Dick, stressing his importance to the franchise’s future plans with the expectation that he will come back and earn a rotation spot later this season.

The statuses of both Dick and of 2022 second-round pick Christian Koloko remain to be seen, but contributions from at least one of them during the home stretch of this season would go a long way toward revitalizing a bench that has largely been inadequate.