Raptors in tough as injuries hit hard – what to do?


The Raptors have been fortunate in avoiding injuries over the past few seasons, but their luck appears to have run out. Here’s how to handle the problem.

The Toronto Raptors are not enjoying a dream season. Yesterday they announced the sidelining of two players, DeMarre Carroll and Lucas Nogueira. DeMarre’s knee injury is likely more serious than Nogueira’s tweaked ankle; the Raptors starting small forward is out “indefinitely”. He’s already missed several games with plantar fasciitis, a chronic foot problem. Jonas Valanciunas, of course, has been out since November 22 with a broken finger, meaning two of Opening Night’s starting five, plus a suddenly important backup centre, aren’t playing.

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The worrisome aspect of injuries is how they can snowball. It’s not a surprise; players who should be sitting, like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, are asked to play just a few more minutes. The frequent result is more aches and pains, or worse, as the body is pushed past its tolerance point.

Dec 5, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll (5) defends against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the first half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

What can the team do to mitigate the sudden shortfall of quality talent?

The short answer: not much. While a trade is always a possibility, I doubt Raptors GM Masai Ujiri will panic and make a deal for its own sake. Our team needs a defensive-minded swingman who can back up Terrence Ross, and relief for Bismack Biyombo, meaning a degree of rim protection and rebounding. Can we patch and bail with the existing roster? If so, who gets promoted?

Coach Dwane Casey has been trying to find work for Norman Powell, who doesn’t yet look comfortable when it’s showtime. He’s shooting 21.7% and hasn’t hit a 3-ball. Obviously that’s based on a tiny data sample, in Norman’s rookie season, but he doesn’t fill me with confidence. Delon Wright has played even fewer minutes, has bounced up and down from the big club to the 905, and is also a rookie. Both these fellows might be useful pros in the future.

James Johnson is the Raptors version of a Swiss Army knife, and he is the obvious candidate to don a more important role. Is Anthony Bennett able to fill the vacuum created by the recent troubles of Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson? Time to find out.

On Wednesday night, the Raptors face another powerful version of the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA’s version of the New England Patriots. Don’t these guys ever take a season off? They just put a 51-point beatdown on the woeful Philadelphia 76ers – while sitting out Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili.

Coach Casey adheres firmly to the First Law of his profession, which says you try to win every game. I’m good with that; faithful readers know I was a firm anti-tanker a few years ago, and haven’t changed my religion. However, the Second Law of coaching isn’t as well known: take something positive away from every game, win or lose. By all means, do everything humanly possible to upset the Spurs. But if the Raptors find themselves down by 17 points with 11 minutes to play (which is highly possible even if we had every starter healthy), I hope coach decides the Second Law is going to trump the First, just for this night. You’ll know his decision if he sits down Lowry, DeRozan and Biyombo, in favour of the youth movement.

Next: Who can the Raptors acquire in trade?

Let’s keep our remaining starters free of injury, and get a better idea of which non-rotation player(s) are ready for bigger responsibilities. The Milwaukee Bucks are in town Friday, and there’s a ton of games left to be played.