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Toronto Raptors

Finally healthy, the Toronto Raptors abandon 'constant stuffle' and find stability with starting lineup

It has been just about two weeks since the injury prone Toronto Raptors returned to full strength.

It has also been just about two weeks since the now-healthy Raptors have lost a game.

Their road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 15 marked their first game with their entire roster available since back in November. It's perhaps no surprise then that the Raptors haven't lost since as they ride a seven-game win streak into Tuesday's home game against the Atlanta Hawks.

For the first two games with the whole roster available, head coach Nick Nurse elected to go with a starting lineup that featured both of the Raptors' centres with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka holding down the frontcourt, the anchors of a massive lineup also featuring Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Kyle Lowry.

The Raptors won both of their games with that starting unit, but Nurse made a change back to a more familiar lineup anyway, reverting back to the starting five from the start of the season - Lowry, Anunoby, Siakam, Gasol and Fred VanVleet - and again, the Raptors picked up another win.

Ahead of Toronto's contest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, its head coach addressed starting lineup questions now that all of his players are back in action.

"My thought is this: I think we're going to be on constant shuffle here for the rest of the year," he told the media during his pregame availability.

Since that moment, Nurse has elected to use the same starting five - the same group of guys he went with to start the 2019-20 season.

And this isn't to challenge his statement that he expects the lineup to be on constant shuffle, it's moreso just to point out that this lineup is working, so why change it?

The Raptors have won five games in a row with the starting unit of Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol, building on what is now a seven-game win streak. This five-man lineup has the most minutes played together on the team by far and owns a solid plus-10.1 point differential per 100 possessions.

In fact, of any five-man lineup in the NBA that has played at least 200 minutes together this season, their 10.1 net rating ranks eighth-best in the league.

Take a look at some of Toronto's most used lineups and how they've fared.

Lineup Minutes Played Point differential (per 100 poss.)
Lowry-VanVleet-Anunoby-Siakam-Gasol 267:43 +10.1
VanVleet-Powell-Anunoby-Siakam-Gasol 191:44 +14.8
Lowry-VanVleet-McCaw-Anunoby-Ibaka 134:38 -10.0
Lowry-Powell-Anunoby-Siakam-Gasol 108:40 +13.2

While units that include Powell have a higher net rating, that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be the starting lineup. Powell has already proved he can be a sparkplug off the bench and fills in nicely in the team's sixth man role. He's also in the midst of the best stretch of his career.

What makes Powell's rise even more impressive is the context within which it came. Back in December, Powell was thrust into the starting lineup due to the rash of Toronto injuries, a move that sparked three straight 20-point games which at the time was the best streak of his career. Then came the shoulder injury which derailed that sudden surge. After missing almost a month, Powell returned to drop 20 in his first game back as a member of the starting lineup. He came off the bench in that OKC game on January 15 but showed no signs of slowing down, pouring in 23 in what proved to be the second of five straight 20-point games with four of them coming off the bench.

Powell's ability to consistently deliver off the bench is a big reason why Nurse has been able to hold steady with the starters despite that MLK Day hint of a consistent shuffling of the deck.

Powell and everyone else seems to be settling into defined role for the first time this season and the Raptors are rolling.

It's still something to monitor with this team moving forward, but for the time being, it appears the five starters that opened the season for the defending champions seems to be the simple solution.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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