Toronto Raptors: The silver lining of Fred VanVleet’s injury

Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Fred VanVleet will miss significant time due to injury. While replacing his presence will be no easy task for the Toronto Raptors, there are a few players who stand to benefit.

The Toronto Raptors just can’t seem to catch a break. Fred VanVleet’s injury is just another injury to a lineup which seems to be playing injury-report musical chairs at this point. One player returns, the next heads to the trainer’s room.

This season, Fred VanVleet is averaging a modest 10.5 points per game to go along with 4.6 dimes and close to three rebounds (2.7). Those are admirable numbers off the bench and for a starter of 22 games, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call them irreplaceable.

Here are a trio of players to keep an eye on while VanVleet remains out of action:

Jeremy Lin

To help solidify the backcourt, Toronto brought in Jeremy Lin, after he was bought out by the Atlanta Hawks. Lin is a talented combo-guard who can also play alongside FVV upon his return.

Lin, 30, will serve as a nice insurance policy for a team with a pair of banged-up point guards at the moment. Just don’t expect Linsanity to come to town and overtake Bet on Yourself at the box office. The two can undoubtedly co-exist, but make no mistake, FVV is still the main-man of the reserve unit.

There’s little doubt that Lin is fresh at this point in the season, averaging a career-low 19 minutes per game in 51 appearances with the Hawks in 2018-19. With VanVleet out, Lin figures to approach that number at least early on in his tenure, as Nick Nurse continues experimenting with different five-man units in hopes of finding more consistency over 48 minutes.

Patrick McCaw

Patrick McCaw — who is becoming one of the longest-tenured players at the current turnover rate — is someone else who stands to absorb a portion of VanVleet’s time on the court.

McCaw is essentially a “battle-tested” Delon Wright. The former Golden State Warrior doesn’t disappear on the floor, something Wright had a tendency to do with scarce regularity at times during his Raptor tenure. McCaw’s primary purpose on the floor is to be a high-energy defender. Offensively, he still looks shy with his shot, though hopefully, that sorts itself out with more time and reps.

Playing alongside Marc Gasol, with the team’s second unit, McCaw stands to benefit from Gasol’s passing and vision, due to his ability to cut and move without the ball.

On his way to collecting a pair of NBA titles, McCaw has seen championship culture up close, having seen to a man what it takes to win the game’s most precious prize. Even when VanVleet returns, the two-time champion should still command minutes with his play. For a team like the Raptors — one craving a title — it would serve them well to leverage every bit of championship experience available to them.

Norman Powell

Powell has been on a roll since returning from a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the year. The time away certainly seems to have helped him better understand his role and place within the Raptors’ system.

Shooting a career-best 48 percent from the field in 2018-19 including 56 percent on two-point field goals, Powell’s play has taken a noticeable step forward this season. His to-date three-point percentage (37) would be a career high if the season ended today.

VanVleet’s absence will put the ball in Powell’s hands more, both in the half court as well as in transition. The second-round pick from UCLA has the goods to excel in both offensive forums.

Finally…Powell, like McCaw, should thrive playing alongside Marc Gasol. Notice a trend with the big man yet? He makes everyone around him better. For Powell, Gasol’s passing should provide the guard opportunities for back and flash cuts, leading to easy buckets for Powell.

A Positive Spin

Certainly not for him, but VanVleet’s injury is a blessing, in that the minutes up for grabs will be coveted by others on the roster…internal competition is rarely bad, and while injuries are never good, the silver lining of a teammate going down cannot be understated. An injury is an opportunity to audition for a more prominent role.

Who knew it could take up to a village to replace a stat line of 10pts/4ast/2reb? VanVleet’s impact on this team goes well beyond the numbers. The Raptors, as deep as they are, cannot afford to be without No. 23 for long.

As far as Fred’s recovery and subsequent return are concerned, expect the Raptors’ medical staff to exercise caution, especially if the team continues winning games and stays hot on Milwaukee’s tail atop the Eastern Conference.

In the meantime, with VanVleet on the shelf, there’s added pressure on the likes of Lowry and Leonard to remain in the lineup, as losing one or both of them, on top of losing VanVleet, would result in a level of Linsanity that even the most hardcore believer would struggle to get excited about.

The full Jeremy Lin scouting report. dark. Next

The All-Star break can’t come soon enough for the dinos.

(Anybody else wish Kawhi and Kyle would skip it? A part of me certainly does, though I know that they won’t)