Do the Raptors need to change the poorly performing starting lineup

‘We’ll continue to look at everything and evaluate everything’

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Do the Toronto Raptors have a starting lineup problem? And if so, is it enough of one to try something new and is there a viable alternative if that’s the decision?

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At 9-12 it’s clear things aren’t working and most expected heading into the year that the first group would have some issues, namely due to the lack of quality shooters amongst the five-some. Jakob Poeltl has taken four three-pointers in his career and that isn’t about to change. Dennis Schroder might have started out on fire from beyond the arc, but has gone back to his career numbers, which aren’t great for a starting point guard. What wasn’t expected was Pascal Siakam having an historically bad outside shooting year. Even that has been countered a bit by Scottie Barnes becoming a good outside shooter and OG Anunoby shooting well, but there just isn’t enough space on the floor for these Raptors to operate efficiently.

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The team’s starters have been outscored in four of the last five games, with the Raptors losing those four where the starters struggled. That includes Wednesday’s winnable game against Miami which saw the starters outscored by 23 points in 17 minutes against a Heat team missing its best defender, Bam Adebayo and one of its most dangerous scorers, Tyler Herro.

The group has made a habit of getting off to terrible starts in first and third quarters (they were outscored by 15 to begin Wednesday’s game and had to rally, and then came out flat in the third again).

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“I wish I had explanation there,” Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic said after the game.

“We gotta figure it out. Being outscored, how much of that is a problem defensively, how much of that problem is offensively, that’s always the question there. We’re constantly taking look at everything trying to figure it out. We’re trying to go to different lineups out there,” Rajakovic said. “We went to Otto Porter as a five man there. Even if he did not score points when he was on a court, he just gave us presence and calmness and we were plus-14 when he was on the court. So we’ll be continued looking at everything and evaluating everything.”

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Gary Trent Jr. has consistently played better as a starter than as a reserve as a Raptor and provides more reliable spacing with his shooting than Schroder. He could be an option should a change be made. So too could the veteran Porter, who says he’s finally feeling good after a nearly year-long injury layoff. Rajakovic said Porter will now be a regular part of the rotation, capable of playing anywhere in the front court.

“We’ll continue to look at everything and evaluate everything,” Rajakovic said when asked about changing the starting lineup.

That said, a day later, after watching film and going through a practice, Rajakovic indicated he isn’t yet ready to tinker.

“I still believe in our guys. I still believe that this group can figure it out and do a better job,” he said. “The last five games with the starters on the floor, we did not do well.”

There’s no arguing that. The team intends to continue searching for solutions, even though Poeltl acknowledged Thursday that with a quarter of the season already gone, they don’t have the time to keep floundering.

“I don’t think anybody has the immediate answer, this one big solution that’s going to help solve all our problems. It’s on us and it’s on the coaches to figure out a way to get better because it feels like we’re right there,” Poeltl said. “We’re just not winning enough games. It feels like we have the potential to win these games, but we’re not, for some reason,” he said.

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“I think the mood is still good, it’s serious in the sense where we’re having these conversations more often now, like we need to figure some stuff out. It can’t keep going the way it’s going right now,” he said.

“I think we all know, it’s not horrible, but it’s not up to our standards or what we expect from ourselves. I don’t think it’s necessarily wearing down on our mood, but it’s definitely a serious issue we’re addressing right now.”

The team will play at Charlotte on Friday before briefly returning home ahead of a date with the New York Knicks back on the road on Monday.

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