Even after last night’s second-half collapse, it’s been a pretty even stretch for the Raptors since the All-Star break, all things considered. Without Kyle Lowry, they’ve tightened up on defense to the tune of a 13-7 record.
This can mostly be ascribed to their two trade deadline acquisitions: Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Ibaka has shown himself to be a good option at centre for the team, providing some rim protection in small lineups.
Tucker, though, has shown a more demonstrable side. He’s lifted the team defense at the small forward position, ably guarding the other team’s best wing player in crunch time minutes — like he did with Paul George on Tuesday. He’s also instilled an attitude previously missing from the Raptors, who stumbled through an apathetic January. That’s been a priceless addition: by calling out the defense of DeMar DeRozan, by shouting and hollering through steals, pokes, and prods, he’s added a toughness to Toronto.
Tucker’s attitude shows up in the box score too. Since February 24, with him on the floor, the Raptors are allowing an eFG% of 47.7 per cent. When he leaves, that goes up to 50.8 per cent, according to NBAwowy.
That defense is an issue early in games without Tucker on the floor, though. The Raptors are still a poor team out of the gates, 19th in the league in first quarter point differential since the All-Star break. We also saw on Tuesday what happens when you stick with a struggling starting lineup too long — the Pacers barnstormed Toronto in the third quarter before Tucker came in at the 5:30 mark.
History is an arbiter here too. The Raptors are notorious for changes to their starting lineup in the playoffs, going back all the way to Landry Fields’ futile attempt to guard Paul Pierce in the 2014 playoffs. Last season, the Raptors mercifully benched Luis Scola in Game 5 of the Pacers series, resulting in one of the franchise’s best wins (though it’s not necessarily a causal relationship).
Which brings us to our big question. Either by benching Jonas Valanciunas and starting the game small, or by sitting DeMarre Carroll, should the Raptors consider starting P.J. Tucker come playoff time? Their most-used lineups in crunch time have been the small combinations with two of Ibaka, Patterson, and Tucker. Is there opportunity in having Tucker out there to kick things off?
This might not be necessary now, but it could become a consideration come playoff time. Give us your thoughts in the poll, then comment away on whether you think the Raptors should change things up, or leave it as is.
Should the Raptors start P.J. Tucker?
This poll is closed
Yes, go Lowry-DeRozan-Tucker-Ibaka-JV
Yes, go Lowry-DeRozan-Carroll-Tucker-Ibaka
Yes, do SOMETHING
Nah, things are good as is