Injuries and illnesses have given the Toronto Raptors a fair bit of trouble very early on this season. Besides O.G. Anunoby and Christian Koloko, every player on the roster has missed three or more games through the team’s first 19.
The Raptors’ stripped-down rotation has had some ugly showings like the one against Brooklyn last week, and some spirited wins such as Saturday’s 105-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. have returned as the team is slowly making its way towards full strength. Will such a day ever come? Perhaps not. One advantage of the team’s bolstered depth is that you don’t have to be at full strength to be competitive. But to sustain success – and to go up against teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have multiple All-Stars and All-Defense level players – the top of your roster needs to be in the mix.
Will Pascal Siakam play tonight? Will Scottie Barnes? The word of the day is questionable. The same goes for Jarrett Allen, the Cavs’ All-Star center and rim protector. At this point it’s unclear how this game will look exactly. But we do know that Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley are in town – the Raptors will have their hands full.
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Thaddeus Young
Cleveland – Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Dean Wade, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Toronto – Otto Porter Jr. (toe – out), Precious Achiuwa (ankle – out), Scottie Barnes (knee – questionable), Pascal Siakam (groin – questionable), Dalano Banton (ankle – questionable), Justin Champagnie (back – questionable)
Cleveland – Kevin Love (thumb – out), Ricky Rubio (knee – out), Dylan Windler (ankle – out), Lamar Stevens (illness – out), Jarrett Allen (hip – questionable), Caris LeVert (ankle – questionable)
With Pascal Siakam being out 10 games and Fred VanVleet having missed six of those, O.G. Anunoby has naturally stepped up into a far more demanding role. Anunoby is averaging 20 shot attempts over his last five games, compared to his 14.5 per game mark from last season – he’s averaging 23.8 points during that span. Last year he averaged 2.5 free throw attempts per game – over the last five he’s averaging 5.6. Sure it looks a bit clunky at times, but Anunoby is using his strength to become an offensive engine for the Raptors.
Occurring simultaneously to this offensive leap is Anunoby’s monstrous defensive season. It’s well documented that Anunoby leads the league in steals (both per game and total). He’s a fast-break-creating ball hawk around whom no passing lanes are safe – at the same time, he is a lockdown on-ball defender who routinely draws the most difficult assignment. On Saturday, Anunoby played 43 minutes – including 100% of the second half – and managed to score 26 points on 9/19 shooting while picking Luka Doncic up full-court, and registering two steals, two blocks, and nine rebounds. Great things are happening.
Pascal’s Status Upgrade
It’s no sure thing, but tonight could be Pascal Siakam’s return to the court. For the first time since initially being ruled out with a right adductor strain, Pascal Siakam’s status has been upgraded from “out” to “questionable.” This comes amid reports that Siakam is targeting a return sometime this week. He also dropped a video on Twitter that alluded to his duration of absence as lasting from November 4 until November 28. *frantically jots down notes*
Pascal Siakam’s return will be immense for this team. As awesome as Anunoby has been, the Raptors are clearly not the same team without the Cameroonian forward. The Raptors have managed to piece together a 5-5 record without him, but their offense is far more difficult to get going and the defense less cohesive. Before the injury the Raptors’ offensive rating of 115.6 was good for fourth in the league. After the injury, their 109.9 mark ranks 22nd. The Raptors’ defensive rating has also dropped from sixth to 19th without Siakam, and even the team’s three-point percentage has fallen from tenth in the league to dead last. Sure, some of that is the team’s shooters cooling off and missing some time, but Siakam’s ability to make defenses collapse and find open shooters should not be overlooked. Siakam elevates the players around him – the sooner he can come back, the better.
Scottie vs Mobley?
Picks three and four from the 2021 NBA Draft are facing off again. Scottie Barnes beat Evan Mobley in Rookie of the Year voting last season, creating one of those interminable links between two players who are just trying to live their lives. The pair also put up similar numbers to each other during the season opener, which Toronto won 108-105.
They both score about 15 points per game and project to be future All-Stars. Mobley is currently a better defender than Barnes while Barnes is ahead as a playmaker and outside shot-maker. If Barnes is does return from his injury absence tonight, he and Mobley will certainly have a few possessions guarding the other. It’s a fun matchup to return to as their games keep expanding over the years.