Raptors Notes: Starting Five, Poeltl, Koloko, Anunoby

The trade-deadline addition of Jakob Poeltl has finally given the Raptors a starting five that can dominate opposing lineups, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic.

For most of the last two seasons, Toronto’s go-to five-man group of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, and Gary Trent Jr. only narrowly outscored opponents. However, since replacing Trent in that group with Poeltl, the Raptors’ starting five has become a major strength.

The lineup with Trent has played a team-high 378 minutes this season and posted a plus-0.8 net rating. The five-man group featuring Poeltl has already logged 163 minutes and has an impressive plus-17.3 net rating during that time. While Poeltl’s rim-protecting ability has helped stabilize Toronto’s defense, the club’s offense has also been highly effective when he’s on the floor, scoring 123.6 points per 100 possessions.

“(Poeltl has) given us a little bit better screening game, a roll threat,” head coach Nick Nurse said, per Koreen. “When you got the roll threat going, it usually gives you a little bit of a weakside catch-and-shoot opportunity.”

In order to keep their successful new starting five together next season, the Raptors will likely need to negotiate new deals for both Poeltl and VanVleet, since both players can reach unrestricted free agency this summer. Trent will also likely be a free agent.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • After not being a part of the Raptors’ rotation for several weeks, Christian Koloko logged 12 minutes in Thursday’s victory over Oklahoma City, Koreen notes. Nurse said this week that he’d like to keep either Poeltl or Koloko on the floor most of the time to anchor the defense, so the rookie could see more regular minutes in the coming weeks.
  • Anunoby is something of a defensive “unicorn,” writes Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca, observing that the Raptors forward has guarded everyone from Bradley Beal to DeMar DeRozan to Nikola Jokic in recent weeks. “He’s positionless. Positionless defense,” Nurse said. “He’s probably optimal at his position, a wing player. Probably. But he does so good on two-guards and bigs when he needs to, as well. He hasn’t really guarded his position in the last several games.”
  • Within the same story, Murphy takes a deep dive on how possible changes to the NBA’s rules governing veteran extensions could affect the Raptors’ ability to lock up Anunoby before he becomes eligible for free agency in 2024. As Murphy details, the current rules would limit Toronto’s best extension offer to about $100MM over four years, but if the NBA allows extensions to begin at 150% of the player’s previous salary instead of 120%, the Raptors could bump their offer as high as approximately $125MM over four years.
  • As Doug Smith of The Toronto Star points out, the Raptors will finish their season next month with two games in Boston and one vs. Milwaukee, so they could benefit from load management if the Celtics and Bucks are locked into playoff seeds and decide not to play their starters big minutes in those games.
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