Kyle Lowry versus Jose Calderon? Point guard controversy part five? Thankfully, not this year.
Despite some feeble attempts by the media to draw Toronto's two point guards into some sort of conflict, neither Lowry nor Calderon was biting during training camp. That's because for the first time in years there is no question as to who the starting point guard is for the Raptors going forward: Kyle Lowry.
When Lowry was introduced to the media this summer, Bryan Colangelo said he was giving his newest acquisition the keys to the car. Lowry is a borderline All-Star at his position, a guy that plays intense defense while also giving plenty at the offensive end. As good as Calderon is, he simply cannot offer the across-the-board the production that Lowry can, which means that for the first time since 2006 Calderon can prepare for a guaranteed bench role in what could be his last season with the Toronto Raptors (he's a free agent at the end of the year).
In fact, in terms of positional battles, the starting point guard position may be the least interesting one on the team. Truth be told, the backup point guard spot holds more interest, as Calderon has to fend off John Lucas III, the apple of Dwane Casey's eye during preseason, and may be forced to play some shooting guard to make room for Lucas in Toronto's rotation.
But as the season winds on, the biggest battles for minutes will come in the frontcourt, where the Raptors are overloaded with playable talent and at a loss for minutes to get them all playing time.
Here's how it shakes out: Andrea Bargnani is the team's starting power forward and will log about 35 minutes per game at the position. Rookie Jonas Valanciunas will see about 25 minutes per game at centre, either as the starter or as a reserve, as the club looks to get him acclimatized to the NBA and its style of basketball. Between the two frontcourt positions you have 96 minutes to play with, and Bargnani and Valanciunas are already slated to eat up 60 of those minutes by this math, leaving just 31 to divide between Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Aaron Gray and Linas Kleiza.
Now, Kleiza is an odd one in this equation because he can play both the small forward and the power forward position, and given the makeup of this team he'll probably see most of his time at small forward (he hasn't played any power forward in preseason so far). However, he's better suited to the power forward spot, and if he demonstrates a significant production boost by playing there, he is going to further complicate the preexisting logjam that exists in the frontcourt.
In terms of true bigs, though, it will be very interesting to see how the minutes shake out. Aaron Gray started 40 of the team's 66 games last season and he could return to that role this season. He's hardly a star at the position, but he can bang defensively and is a tremendous rebounder. However, coaches generally do not want five-man big rotations. Four is typically the max, and the fourth guy is usually a spot-minute type. This season, both Johnson and Davis should be getting minutes on a regular basis, and for that to happen, Gray may go from starter to squeezed out of the rotation entirely.
Remember, while Gray started 40 games for the club last year, Johnson started 43 - some at centre and some at power forward when Bargnani was out with a calf strain. While he doesn't have the raw size that Gray offers, his defence was much improved last season and he brings far more to the table offensively than Gray ever could. He's got finishing skills around the basket, a semi-consistent jumper that was the focus of his offseason training regimen and he's a stellar roll-man in pick-and-roll scenarios which starter Lowry excels at running. While Gray could still be trotted out in situational matchups (against big guys like Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard), Johnson is just better equipped to provide help in more areas, which matters when a club is apportioning minutes.
So, if Johnson replicates the 24 minutes per game that he played a season ago, that leaves Ed Davis with 21 to play with. Now, that's below what he's averaged over his two years in Toronto (23.9), but he's reached the 'prove it' part of his career, where he has to produce at a higher level than he has if he wants big minutes on an NBA team. Yes, he's a standout rebounder, but until he can give more in other areas of the game there will be a an immovable cap on how much time he can earn on a fully healthy roster.
For the first time in a while, in fact, the Raptors actually have enough true depth to warrant questions over playing time. For the last few years there have been so few playable bodies that guys were thrust into the rotation that had no business being there (Rasual Butler and Alexis Ajinca come to mind). Now, Dwane Casey actually has to worry about balancing minutes amongst several deserving players, whittling his playing rotation down to eight or nine players.
And for once, that conversation has nothing to do with who starts at the point guard spot.