After Game 1 of Raptors-Wizards, we looked at Lucas Nogueira’s surprise appearance and dug into whether we should have expected it. This time around, let’s reflect on something we just touched on in Game 1.
The Starters Are Good
The starting five of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas have been fantastic all year.
They played a huge number of minutes on the year (just over 800), and posted an elite ORTG (112) and DRTG (101), good for a net rating of +11.
There were some who wondered about their fit against the Wizards, though, with the starters struggling in the games against Washington this year. Those metrics dropped to a thoroughly mediocre ORTG (106), DRTG (107.2) and net rating (-1.2).
But any concerns over that small sample have been for naught so far. As noted in the Game 1 piece, the starters were dominant in their minutes. That continued in Game 2. So far in the series, here are the ratings for the starting lineup across 37 minutes.
With Fred VanVleet still mostly missing from the rotation, that’s the only lineup the Raptors have trusted heavy minutes to, with no other lineup breaking 10 minutes played across the two games, and the most used small minutes lineups have swung between very effective and very ineffective, so thankfully the starters have been running the Wizards off the floor.
Odds and Ends
- There’s a chance the Wizards make a starting lineup change to deal with that hole they’ve found themselves in early in both games. The most likely change would probably be to go small with their front court, playing Morris and Mike Scott at the 4 and 5. That pairing has been quite bad on the year for the Wizards (shared the court for 150 minutes this season, to the tune of a -16.4 net rating).
- On top of that, Valanciunas has played 12 minutes across the two games where the Wizards went small to try to play him off the court. In those 12 minutes, the Raptors were +14 (a +43 net rating), with Valanciunas putting up 9 points and 9 rebounds with 2 assists and only 1 turnover on 4 of 6 shooting. In 12 minutes. That’s a 27-27-6 line per 36, so if Washington goes that way, they may just be digging their early hole faster than usual.
- The bench continues to struggle a bit with VanVleet out of the lineup. He made a short appearance in Game 2 but didn’t look right, and got a quick hook. In the meantime, across the first two games, Norman Powell, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Nogueira have all posted negative net ratings (in spite of Bebe’s very successful stint in Game 1). Powell has struggled all year, but the other three posted net ratings of +7.6, +9.1 and +11.7 in the regular season, so this is unusual. Hard to say if this is just the bench falling apart without VanVleet or wilting under the bright lights. I’d bet on the former.
- The reinforces the point we made last game — Nogueira is not a fix-all solution. He’s a gamble, and when used in just the right situation, can be a huge net plus. But in any non-ideal usage, he’s a razor that can cut both ways. Nogueira played in five different lineups in Game 2, all of which played two minutes or fewer, and only one of which could be described as a Lowry plus bench look (though this one had Lorenzo Brown in it — more on him in a second). And every lineup had a significant negative net rating. Noguiera was a -19 in 5 minutes in Game 2. If not for the dominance of the starting lineup, that would have been a disastrous result.
- Speaking of bench troubles, Lorenzo Brown made his first playoff appearance in Game 2 and posted the rather inauspicious on-court net rating of -84.5 in just under 7 minutes played. It’s understandable that he would be on the court to save Lowry from having to play extra minutes, especially in a game with a big lead and VanVleet not really being back yet. But him playing two minutes beside Lowry makes no sense (the team bled points in those minutes to the tune of a -150 net rating).
- In continued silly trends, Jakob Poeltl again played another couple of minutes in those transitional Poeltl-Ibaka looks. And once again, predictably, they were bad (-3 in two minutes). So far in the playoffs they’ve managed to post a -67 net rating in 5 minutes played. It’s five minutes too many.
- The Raptors did counter punch after letting the Wizards back in the game with those Brown minutes, with a small ball look to match up to the Wizards. The Lowry, DeRozan, Wright, Miles, Ibaka look was out there for five minutes and had an incredible +118 net rating (+13 in 5 minutes). That lineup played zero minutes together in the regular season. So it appears they can do no wrong against the Wizards if they want to play smaller — the Raptors can crush them big or small. So maybe the Wizards smaller looks really are just bad. Really makes you wonder what exactly Washington’s adjustment could actually be, because going small looks like it plays right into the Raptors’ hands, without actually forcing Toronto to change anything.
All stats per NBA.com.