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The Raptors are whole again, and other takeaways from the first round

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Toronto beat the Wizards in six games, but what have we learned about the team?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the series with the Wizards, the Raptors struggled with their rotation, primarily because of the absence of Fred VanVleet. The bench lineups struggled, the key bench players struggled individually, and the Raptors got by on the strength of their starters.

This was not so in Game 6.

Fred’s Back!

The Raptors rotations were a mess without Fred VanVleet. His absence showed, in a sense, that the coaching staff was grasping at straws all series long. This is a list of the most used lineups throughout the series for the Raptors.

Lineup | Minutes Played

Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan-OG Anunoby-Serge Ibaka-Jonas Valanciunas: 108 MP

Delon Wright-DeRozan-C.J. Miles-Pascal Siakam-Jakob Poeltl: 16 MP

Lowry-Wright-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl: 16 MP

Wright-Powell-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl: 14 MP

Lowry-DeRozan-Anunoby-Ibaka-Poeltl: 10 MP

Lowry-Wright-DeRozan-Miles-Valanciunas: 9 MP

VanVleet-Wright-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl: 9 MP

That drop off from the starters to the next used lineup is crazy. And note that the second, third, and fourth most used lineups are just variants of the bench unit, the coaching staff trying to find someone to play in VanVleet’s spot, including the two stars.

The Raptors used 52 different lineups in the series, and yet tied for sixth most minutes is the VanVleet-led all bench unit, which made a brief appearance in Game 2 and otherwise was missing until Game 6. The other lineup tied for sixth? The Lowry-Wright-DeRozan-Miles-JV fivesome literally only used in one contest, to close Game 5.

As for those attempts to cover for VanVleet’s absence, they didn’t go well. Take a look at the most used bench lineups for the series and their on-court ratings.

Lineup | Net Rating

DeRozan plus the bench: -63 RTG

Lowry plus the bench: +2 RTG

Powell plus the bench: +9 RTG

VanVleet plus the bench: +48 RTG

And that VanVleet sample includes the two minutes he came back early to try to play in Game 2. Take those two minutes out and the VanVleet bench posted an insane +100 rating in the super small sample they played in Game 6.

Series Recap

There wasn’t really a lot to learn from this series for Toronto. The lineups we thought would work for the Raptors, worked. The lineups we knew wouldn’t work, didn’t.

The starters ended with a +8.5 RTG, even with a rough Game 6, and reinforced the idea that they should be utilized heavily.

The Poeltl-Ibaka pairing played only 26 minutes together, thankfully, and bled to the tune of a -11 RTG.

And Fred proved his value to the bench, in their success with him, and general lack of success without him.

The Raptors even eventually figured out they should be closing with Valanciunas, even if the dream of OG Anunoby closing hasn’t yet come to pass.

Also, a couple of stalwart playoff performers reinforced the idea that they are crucial to the team’s success, and the Raptors added a name to the list (albeit from a small sample).

Player | On-court Net Rating | Off-court Net Rating | Rating Impact

Lowry: +8.9 RTG On, -13.6 RTG Off, +22.5 RTG Impact

Valanciunas: +15.4 RTG On, -9.8 RTG Off, +25.2 RTG Impact

VanVleet: +29.8 RTG On, +1.6 RTG Off, +28.2 RTG Impact

Hopefully with VanVleet back now (and helping Poeltl find his game), the Raptors can avoid the experiments with Lucas Nogueira and Lorenzo Brown, who had bigger on-off splits than the players listed above, just in the opposite direction.

In any case, if the Raptors carry forward some of the good habits they built in Games 5 and 6, they have all the building blocks of a successful rotation in place. Just in time, too.

All stats per NBA.com.