In Saturday's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet returned to the lineup following a five-game absence due to a hamstring injury.
The Raptors had been brutally bit by the injury bug during the first half of the season, but with VanVleet's return, the team has finally exterminated that issue.
Toronto has had 12 different players miss games with various ailments this season and are currently tied for third in the league for most games missed due to injury.
As mentioned, VanVleet's injury cost him five games. Other than him, Marc Gasol (hamstring) missed 12 games, Norman Powell (shoulder), Pascal Siakam (groin) and Kyle Lowry (hand) each missed 11 games while Serge Ibaka (ankle) missed 10 games, all in the first half of the season.
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That's six different players - all of which have rotated in-and-out of the starting lineup - that have missed significant time through the first 41 games of the season.
As a result, head coach Nick Nurse has been forced to use 10 different starting lineups, and eight of those 10 starting units have a .500 record or better. With different players stepping into the starting lineup and producing, it's left Nurse with a tough decision now that his entire roster is healthy for the first time since back in November.
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In VanVleet's first game back, Nurse opted to go with the same starting five that opened the 2019-20 season for the defending champions: Lowry, VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol.
In the second game with his whole roster available, he went with the same starting unit, but he doesn't anticipate that they'll use the same starting group every game. Ahead of Monday's win over the Atlanta Hawks, Nurse spoke on the revolving door that has been the Raptors starting five.
"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.
"I know there's a lot of season left, but I just feel that there's different reasons and scenarios to move the lineup around a bit, and there's a lot of guys that are worthy of a starting spot."
Ibaka was fantastic filling in for Gasol, averaging 17.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as a starter. Powell was great filling in for VanVleet, averaging 17.2 points on 51.7% shooting from the field and 40.4% from 3 as a starter.
Both players have now moved back into a role off the bench with everyone healthy, but Nurse doesn't see that as something that has to be permanent.
When a media member asked the Raptors head coach if it was like putting your music library on shuffle, Nurse stated, "That's right. Put it on shuffle."
While managing egos and making sure players feel they're being rewarded for their results is part of the job, Nurse also said he hasn't met much resistance from guys in regards to the starting unit.
"I wouldn't say there's none, there's a little. But not a lot," Nurse concluded.
Having a surplus of talented players worthy of a starting spot is certainly better than the alternative. Knowing you can count on any of your players to step into the starting lineup and produce isn't the worst problem to have either.
That type of depth is the exact reason why the Raptors are still 29-14 and in third-place of the Eastern Conference even with the amount of injuries they've dealt with. Now as the players and coaches get accustomed to having everyone back and available, keep an eye on how Nurse matches certain starting lineups against Toronto's opponents moving forward.
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