With the preseason now behind us, there are certainly some things we learned about how Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse envisions his rotation this season. We know OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet are going to carry the bulk of the offensive workload while Pascal Siakam is out for the first month of the season and it appears they’ll be joined in the starting lineup by rookie Scottie Barnes. At center, it appears Precious Achiuwa will start considering he started every game for the Raptors in the preseason, though he and Khem Birch will certainly split minutes pretty evenly throughout the year. Then there’s the other guard spot where Goran Dragic and Gary Trent Jr., two very different players, are vying for one spot.
Here’s what we know. First of all, Nurse doesn’t care too much about who is starting on a nightly basis, and he’s said he expects things to change throughout the year as the rotation is “ironed out.” There could be one starting lineup on opening night, a different one a few nights later when Chris Boucher returns, and a totally different one when Siakam returns in November.
What Nurse certainly does care about is fit, both with the starting unit and the second unit and that’s where things get complicated with Trent and Dragic.
“I think they’re very, very different players," Nurse said. "Goran’s kind of a point guard by nature and what he does, he’s more of a ball handler, leader, facilitator type guy and Gary’s a guy we’re sending off screens and spacing up and flying around and stuff."
Why Should Trent Start?
The argument in favor of Trent comes down to floor spacing, shooting, and long-term value. At 22 years old and having just signed a multi-year contract in the offseason, Trent is certainly in Toronto’s relatively long-term plans so getting him accustomed to playing alongside the rest of the core is probably a pretty good idea. He also is an above-average shooting who should bring some much-needed spacing to a starting unit that is going to be pretty devoid of shooting to start the season. Dragic, conversely, would bring a little more veteran experience and ball-handling skills to a second unit that’s probably going to be lacking in both departments this year.
Why Should Dragic Start?
Toronto’s starting unit is going to be lacking a lot of playmaking and facilitating to start the season with Siakam sidelined. That’s where Dragic should be able to help. He’s certainly not the player he used to be, but he can help take some of the load off VanVleet’s shoulders in those two ball handler lineups the Raptors have used over the past few seasons. Starting Dragic would also allow Trent to be a high-volume scorer off the bench in the same vein as Norman Powell was for so long time. Trent's lack of passing shouldn’t be as much of an issue on the second unit as opposed to in the starting lineup where the ball should move more freely.
Verdict: Start Dragic
If it were up to me, I’d start Dragic for the first little while. His ball-handling skills should be more valuable on the starting unit and Trent’s skills seem more conducive to being a successful sixth man for now. He’s a high-volume shooter with a tendency to take low percentage shots and that seems more appropriate coming off the bench where he can take on some more of the offensive workload. When Siakam comes back, it might make some sense to swap these two because Dragic’s ball-handling won’t be needed as much. Until then, though, Dragic seems like the better choice for opening night.