Going into Wednesday nights contest both the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers look evenly matched. Both teams will be without key contributors with Toronto missing Pascal Siakam (shoulder) and the Pacers will be without T.J. Warren (foot) ,and Caris LeVert (back) is a game time decision. Both teams are also currently looking at the play-in tournament from the outside with 1-3 records respectively. But a deeper dive into the Pacers roster shows why this will be a big test for the Raptors early into the season.
With Warren missing the game, and LeVert potentially missing the game as well (and even if he plays, it will be his first game since he was diagnosed with a fracture in his back), and Pacers will be reliant on guard Malcolm Brogdon, as well as big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
Myles Turner, who went off for a 40-point game against the Washington Wizards, has since disappeared. Over the last two games Turner has yielded a combined nine points on 36% shooting and eight rebounds. However, while Turner is currently in a slump and maybe Pacers coach Rick Carlisle’s doghouse, there is no debating how much of an impact Turner can have on a game. At 6’11 and 250 pounds, Turner is a defensive menace in the paint. He’s so good in fact that he as led the NBA in blocks twice in his six year career. With his size and blocking ability, Turner may be the biggest challenge for the Raptors this season, especially for a team that has struggled to score at the rim. Not only this, but as Turner showed against the Wizards, he does have the potential to have big scoring nights. Turner can score in the paint, but is 35% three-point shooter for his career which will keep Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes, or whoever the Raptors through on him on their toes all game.
An even bigger challenge for the Raptors against the Pacers will be the power forward Domantas Sabonis. The 6’11, 240 pound Lithuanian has made the all-star game the past two seasons, and has showed no signs of slowing down this season. Through four games he is averaging 24.8 points while shooting 62.9% FG and 40% from 3, all of which are better than his career averages. He is also averaging 12.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game. What may be more telling is the advanced statistics. Sabonis currently ranks 6th in win-shares, and 5th in value over replacement. The Pacers are a much better team when Sabonis is on floor.
While much has been made of whether or not the Pacers can play both Turner and Sabonis long term, at the moment they have, can, and do deploy both. Turner may not be much offensively, but his size, quickness and all around presence defensively are going to be a big challenge for the Raptors offensively, one that the team has yet to encounter so far this season. While the Pacers are struggling themselves defensively, it cannot be overlooked just how good Turner is on that end of the court. Sabonis is the opposite, while he may not give the Raptors much trouble on the defensive end, there are very few holes in his game offensively.
One of the big themes this year and questions regarding the Raptors is how can they handle bigger opponents. While the team mainly consists of players who are 6'8-6'9, they lack a traditional center on the roster. This has been a concern for many of the fan base, and the question of how the team will handle traditional bigs has come up time and time again for coach Nick Nurse. Of course, most people automatically consider players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Emiid, but the Pacers also have the personnel as well. It will be interesting to see how the Raptors are able to respond to playing against two big men at the same time. The Raptors front court struggled against Andre Drummond in preseason, as well as against Montrezl Harrell opening night against the Wizards. Much will be asked of Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes in guarding Turner and Sabonis, as well as of OG Anounby and Fred Vanvleet who may have to look at other options to score to getting to the rim. So far this season the Raptors defense has looked very impressive and as advertised, but they have yet to truly face off against paint threats such as Turner and Sabonis. Both games should be able to give more of a better idea as to how the Raptors will be able to play against true big men in the league, and thus how well they will fair this season.