With a condensed training camp and pre-season in the books, it’s time to take one final look at what the Raptors’ rotation looks like, or at least what I believe it to look like, before the regular season gets started on Monday night in Cleveland.
I’m basing this on both the little I saw from players in the pre-season and on Dwane Casey’s comments about certain players throughout training camp.
Let’s get to it.
Point Guard: Jose Calderon will likely start on opening night, and if he plays the way he’s capable of and shows Dwane Casey he can out-defend a pylon, he may even keep the starting job for the entire season. But Jerryd Bayless is nearly seven full years younger than Calderon, is quicker and a much better defender than Calderon, and obviously has a lot more potential than a 30-year-old. Quite frankly, the only one who can get in the way of Bayless earning the starting job this season is Jerryd Bayless, himself. His penchant for sloppy play and turnovers can hurt his minutes and his team, but if he can find away to take care of the ball, the tenacious Bayless should surpass the injury-prone Calderon on the Raptors’ depth chart in a very physically demanding season. I don’t expect Anthony Carter to make much of an impact in games, but I can definitely see Casey going to Carter if Jose and Jerryd falter. As Casey himself noted, Anthony Carter always starts as a team’s third point guard before slowly but surely climbing the charts.
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan will start. That’s not even a question. The only question is who gets the majority of minutes at two-guard off of the bench. Leandro Barbosa possesses explosive speed and the ability to score in bunches, but you could also argue that his playing style clashes with Dwane Casey’s coaching style more than any other player on this roster. Barbosa should be given the benefit of the doubt to start the season, but if he gets into a habit of carelessly chucking shots and refusing to play D, wing players like Gary Forbes and even Rasual Butler can take his minutes.
Small Forward: James Johnson is by far the best defensive perimeter player on this roster, and his acceptance of his role in the offence is a nice compliment to that above average defence. Johnson will start, and I predict for the time being, Gary Forbes will be the first guy to replace James off of the bench. Rasual Butler will get a look here too, and you would have to imagine that Linas Kleiza will be given every opportunity to prove he belongs once he is ready to return to action. But overall, if I had to put money on it, I’d bet that Johnson and Forbes get the majority of minutes at the three.
Power Forward: We know Andrea Bargnani will start, so there’s no use crying over spilled milk. But we also know that Dwane Casey won’t worry about Bargnani’s feelings getting in the way of the facts. If Andrea doesn’t show a consistent competitive spirit on the defensive end and doesn’t up his rebounding numbers, and if Ed Davis has the kind of break through I think he is capable of this season, then we may very well see Davis starting at the four at some point this season, with Bargnani possibly being used as a scorer off of the bench (a role some believe the seven-footer is better suited to anyway). I assume that between the two of them, Bargnani and Davis will get nearly all of the minutes at power forward, with Amir Johnson splitting time between the four and five.
Centre: My gut tells me that Jamaal Magloire will get the first couple of starts. My head tells me Casey might go with Aaron Gray for a short period after that. But my heart tells me that Amir Johnson should and will be the starting centre at some point this year. If Casey absolutely wants a true centre to start all season long, then we may see Solomon Alabi get a start before Amir does, but the coach did mention in a recent scrum that Amir Johnson can play centre. If Casey continues to believe that, and Amir plays well enough to warrant it, don’t you like this team better with Amir Johnson starting ahead of Magloire, Gray and Alabi? Though I guess in the grand scheme of things, as along as Johnson is getting more minutes than those three, which he will, then it doesn’t matter whether he’s starting or coming off of the bench.
That’s how I see the Raptors rotation shaping up this season, barring any major injuries or transactions. As I’ve said in a number of recent posts, if this team performs as poorly as most of us believe they will from a wins and losses standpoint, then watching how players like Bayless, Davis and Amir fight for a bigger piece of the pie that is the Raptors’ future might be more exciting than the actual outcomes of the games. It will be really nice to see a team whose minutes are properly distributed according to work ethic and defence for a change, something we haven’t seen on a consistent basis in about five years.