Over the last month and a half, the Raptors have embarked on the hardest stretch of their 82-game schedule.
What makes it the hardest stretch is not the teams they’ve faced, but the internal challenges they’ve had to overcome
Three months into the season, the Raptors have caught a case of the injury bug. Their biggest issue this season appears to be staying healthy. This should come as no surprise considering that they had the shortest offseason along with their Finals opponents, Golden State, who have also been plagued by injuries all season.
Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were the first two to be struck by injury in November. Soon after their returns, the Raptors were struck by injury again as Norman Powell, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam were sidelined for multiple weeks.
Many have suggested the Raptors adopt a laid-back method of load management to protect their stars, but this is a team that loves to work hard night in and night out and will most likely not turn to load management.
Through these injuries, the Raptors have managed to stay over .500, and with Siakam and Powell back, the Raptors inch closer to once again being a fully charged team.
Next Man Up
After the departure of Kawhi Leonard in free agency, the Raptors developed a “next man up” mentality. This mentality has fueled them in the regular season and has been the mantra for the defending champs as they battle through injuries.
The injuries of Lowry and Ibaka legitimized the Siakam-VanVleet duo and sparked the rise of a new bench mob comprised of Powell, Chris Boucher, Terence Davis Jr., and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The combination of Lowry’s return and injuries to multiple starters gave us the opportunity to remember how valuable he is to this team. Lowry has averaged 23.2 points per game and has led the Raptors to six wins through the 11-game injury span of Powell and Siakam.
Even at 33 years-old, it appears that ‘North Philly’s Finest’ is playing the best basketball of his career.
Lowry’s peak performance came when he dropped 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Raptors to a 25-point comeback win over the Mavericks—the largest comeback in franchise history.
Another player beginning to step up is Canadian Oshae Brissett, who has seen big minutes throughout this stretch of injuries. Brissett’s breakout began when the Raptors travelled to Boston to take on the Celtics.
Just three days removed from scoring on his own basket in the Christmas Day loss, Brissett played 15 minutes, picking up 4 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists in a 113-97 win over the Celtics.
Brissett would put on an encore performance one week later, as he dropped 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds against the Blazers.
Brissett is just another young player along the line of Boucher, Davis Jr., and Powell who the Raptors are slowly molding into becoming a solid role player. Given how well the Raptors are at player development, there’s no doubt that the Syracuse product will continue to only get better as the season progresses.
With less than a month remaining until the NBA Trade Deadline, the Raptors have been the focus of a series of different trade scenarios.
One of the biggest rumours revolves around the premier center for the Detroit Pistons, Andre Drummond. Acquiring Drummond would be a huge move for the Raptors, as he could not only help win the rebounding-game, but he could also be a defensive force inside the point.
Most importantly, Drummond would be huge in helping stop Giannis Antetokounmpo. At 6’10, Drummond is one of the few players in the NBA who has the potential to match up perfectly against Antetokounmpo. Acquiring Drummond would be huge in stopping Giannis from bullying his way to the paint, forcing Giannis to test the dependency of his newly acquired perimeter shot.
Toronto would most likely be willing to give up Marc Gasol and first-round pick for Drummond, but it remains to be seen how competitive this market is given the size and term of his contract.
One Step Closer
With the Raptors slowly returning to full health, and a big trade imminent to happen, we truly are one step closer to finding out what the Raptors will look like going into the playoffs. The Raptors have truly become a game-by-game team, and with the immense amount of injuries that have occurred, we’ve seen so many different players step up to fill multiple roles.
However, the hope is that following the All-Star break, Toronto will have it all together and be ready to once again make a run a legendary playoff run.
At this time, a lot of details about the Raptors are blurry, however, if there’s one thing that seems apparent, it’s that the best is yet to come.