Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry sustained a fracture of the distal phalanx of his left thumb and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, while Serge Ibaka’s sprained right ankle requires additional imaging and so he will be out indefinitely.
The injuries were sustained in the first half of the first game of Toronto’s five-game West coast trip, against the New Orleans Pelicans, a nightmare start to a stretch that includes games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, the Portland Trail Blazers, and Dallas Mavericks.
The team confirmed that further updates will be provided when appropriate.
In a corresponding move, the Raptors called up centre Dewan Hernandez from the Raptors 905, the 59th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The five-time All-Star’s absence will be a bitter pill to swallow, but two weeks is not an unmanageable timeline. Norman Powell will likely slide into a starting role alongside Fred VanVleet in the backcourt.
Powell was hoping to compete for the starting shooting guard position at the start of the season and this is a golden opportunity for him to stake his claim. He has got off to an unflattering start out of the gate, averaging 8.8 points in a career-high 24 minutes per game while shooting just 29 percent from beyond the arc.
On the positive side of things, he has shot 57.7 percent from 2-point range, and looked very confident with his moves off the bounce against the Pelicans. He must show greater poise and decision making, and being in the starting lineup where he will likely be needed to create less alongside Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol should help him play a simpler role.
After years of the point guard duties being a position of strength, Toronto’s lack of depth in this area is certain to be exposed. Terence Davis has shown a preference at this stage of his career to operate off-ball, while the Raptors clearly don’t trust Shamorie Ponds to call him up just yet.
VanVleet is already among the league leaders at 37 minutes a game, so it’s hard to ask much more out of him. Expectations nonetheless will be raised, as being the engine for this team against strong opposition will play a factor in what type of contract VanVleet is eventually offered in free agency next summer.
While Gasol has had a slow start to the season, Ibaka has been a revelation, carrying on the good deeds of his 2018-19 season and providing the Raptors with a strong punch off the bench with 14 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 23 minutes per game.
Montreal native Chris Boucher figures to step into the bulk of those backup minutes, stepping in for 13 minutes and change against the Pelicans and contributing five points and eight rebounds. He can certainly provide energy and enthusiasm, but he must find a way to make the non-highlight reel plays, too, such as rebounding in traffic and not looking to shoot at every opportunity on the offensive end.
Hernandez, mentioned earlier, is also of a slighter build, and is fresh off a dream debut with the 905 putting up 24 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and two threes in their home opener against the Grand Rapids Drive (Detroit’s affiliate team). This isn’t to suggest he’s ready for minutes by any stretch, as we should remember that Boucher is the reigning G League MVP and has hardly seen any time with the parent club up to this point.
The biggest question now is whether Gasol can finally get into gear. His 34-year-old body has just endured a season that began last October and culminated with an NBA title in June, as well as a World Championship win with Spain in September.
It has been quite the struggle for him off the blocks in 2019-20, averaging just 6.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting a career-low 34 percent from the field. Shooting the ball just under seven times a game, Gasol is absolutely going to have to increase that volume to help supplement the scoring that Siakam will undoubtedly provide.
Can he now go up to 34-36 minutes a night? That’s a big ask of the Spaniard at this stage of his career.
Beyond the forced rotation changes, Nick Nurse showed in the second half of the game against the Pelicans that Siakam will be asked to play some point forward to alleviate some of the ball handling concerns.
Nurse could get funky with Siakam at centre for stretches and even point centre, and that would come in opportune moments against smaller lineups, potentially against the Clippers and Blazers. That would be a death knell against a team like the Lakers, though, as their size with Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee would be difficult to cope with.
The underlying tone here is that Nurse is simply going to have to ask a lot of his budding superstar, Siakam. He dropped a career-high-equalling 44 points against the Pelicans on Friday night, and the usage rate will definitely be there for him to fill up the box score over the coming weeks.
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