The sun and the moon colliding; pigs flying; the Toronto Raptors playing numerous games straight without one of their top players getting injured. Some things just seem like they might never happen.
Enough has been made about the Raptors poise through all of the adversity that they’ve faced this season. They lost a top three player in the world and an elite 3-and-D shooting guard for nothing, dealt with extensive injuries to six of the top seven players on their roster for over ten games each, and they still sit second in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks. Nick Nurse will coach Team Giannis at the All-Star Game on February 16th in Chicago, Kyle Lowry will be an All-Star reserve, and Pascal Siakam will make his first of many-to-come All-Star appearances as a starter. It defies all odds and logic how far this team has come – so why not continue down that path of calamity and see what else they can do?
It was only 12 games ago that the Raptors got “healthy”. Healthy is put loosely, since the team was still without Patrick McCaw – who has played 24.9 minutes per game in 26 appearances so far this season – but having all of the starters, along with the top two guys off the bench available is a luxury that Raptors fans aren’t accustomed to.
Through 50 games this season, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Pascal Siakam have only appeared in 17 games together.
Upon the returns of Gasol and VanVleet against Oklahoma City on January 15th, it looked like this team might finally have a few weeks to showcase their true identity, their strengths, and their weaknesses before the trade deadline. More importantly, it felt like the Raptors had finally gotten through a dark tunnel with a record that surpassed an optimist’s wildest expectations, and the team was beginning to gel prior to the stretch run of the regular season.
Of course, that opportunity ceased to last long. A mere six games later, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson went down with an ankle injury. Two games after that, Gasol aggravated a hamstring injury which had held him out for the back end of December and the beginning of January. It would have been too kind of the basketball gods to end the injury train there, so Norman Powell had to bare the cost and fracture his finger against the Detroit Pistons – the same team against whom he injured his shoulder previously.
After today’s franchise record-tying win against the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors games missed due to injury have climbed as follows:
Kyle Lowry: 11 games
Fred VanVleet: 10 games
Pascal Siakam: 11 games
Serge Ibaka: 10 games
Marc Gasol: 15 games
Norman Powell: 12 games
Coming out of the win in Detroit, it didn’t seem as though Norman Powell had gotten injured too badly. It was only the morning after that the Raptors issued the following statement:
“During the fourth quarter of Toronto’s win at Detroit on Friday, Norman Powell sustained a fracture to the fourth metacarpal of his left hand. He will be listed as out indefinitely, and he will be reassessed as appropriate.”
It’s terrible news for a guy who has been an integral part of the Raptors bench this season, and has been the bench’s only true shot creator. While not supporting a great enough role on the team to be included in the NBA’s Most Improved Player conversation, he’s arguably been the most improved player on the Raptors thus far, and has been key to keeping the team afloat through its plethora of bumps and bruises.
There were questions coming into the season about whether his 40.0% shooting percentage from beyond the arc last year was an accurate representation of his shooting abilities, or if it was a benefactor of the open looks that he was receiving from playing next to Kawhi Leonard. This year, he’s emphatically shot down those questions, having increased his three-point-percentage even further, while attempting 5.1 shots from deep per game. Powell is posting career highs across the board – from his effective field goal percentage, to his free throw percentage, to his 15.3 points per game, which has led to a contribution of 3.3 wins to his team – outdoing the likes of some superstars such as Paul George, and Russell Westbrook.
Upon returning from his original shoulder injury this year, Powell was a man on a mission, determined to show people that he wasn’t going to fall off from his pre-injury play. Through his first five games back, he posted averages of 23.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.6 steals, while helping the Raptors to a 4-1 record over that span.
While the Raptors have Norm listed as out indefinitely, Raptors fans know well from this season alone how long a fractured finger takes to recover from (i.e., Kyle Lowry, then Matt Thomas). Even if Powell is able to return by late February or early March, we can be certain of one thing: he Understands The Grind, and he’ll get right back to where he was before the finger injury.