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Jared Sullinger’s absence shouldn’t be issue for Raptors

Over the weekend, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that Toronto Raptors power forward Jared Sullinger will miss the start of the season after having surgery on his foot. Now that Sullinger’s absence is expected to last two-to-three months, that’s a huge portion of the team’s one-year, $5.62 million investment in Sullinger down the drain.

That’s probably the only problem that the injury will cause for Toronto, however. Sullinger played just 23 minutes in a single game this preseason, giving the team ample opportunity to experiment with new rotations. Thanks to general manager Masai Ujiri’s patient collecting of draft assets, compounded by his patience in developing young players, Toronto has an incredibly deep bench of young bigs behind Sullinger. In fact, it’s easy to see how Sullinger’s injury could inadvertently help the team. Sullinger’s injury could give an opportunity for an inexperienced player to solidify his place in the rotation for the long-term. 

Let’s take a look at the team’s options.

Patrick Patterson

Man, for some reason it feels like Patterson is 33 instead of his actual age, 27. Patterson has been with Toronto since 2013 and has definitely taken on a veteran-type role, setting new career lows in usage rate and points per minute — while also setting new career highs in total minutes played.

The problem might be that Patterson’s usage rate is officially too low, now. Patterson’s usage rate has dipped from 17.2 percent in 2013-14 — the season he was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the Raptors — to 12.9 percent last year, and then 12.2 percent in this preseason.

The reason appears to be, of all things, that Patterson is passing up open looks at three-pointers, even though he has held steady between 36-38 percent each year since he started shooting from deep:

 

Seeing as Patterson is the weakest defender out of this group, the way he could help the Raptors best is by approaching his role as stretch 4 with confidence.

Pascal Siakam

I was disappointed that Toronto did not seriously pursue personal favorite Bismack Biyombo in free agency last summer. But now, after watching Siakam this preseason, it could very well be the case that Toronto had already drafted the next endlessly tenacious, ultra-efficient defender. 

While Siakam is not yet the intimidating post presence that Biyombo currently is, I was very impressed by his footwork and agility when he was asked to switch onto guards. Look how Siakam (wearing No. 43) stayed strong here against one of the league’s best ball handlers in Jamal Crawford:

 

Siakam may have averaged 20 points a game last year at New Mexico State, but his offensive game in the NBA looks like it will be limited to a Biyombo-esque diet of tip-ins.

Jakob Poeltl

Poeltl is more of a center, but he has a mid-range jumper that must be respected by opponents. When asked to defend outside of the key, Poeltl (wearing No. 42) has also shown capable agility against guards:

 

Throughout the preseason, many of the Raptors’ best defensive units were on the floor late in the game — when the starters were resting and the end of the bench was cleared out:

 

When Sullinger returns to full health, the onus will be on him to earn his way into the regular rotation.

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