How shorthanded Raptors can cover for missing players vs. Pistons

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) loses the ball as he attempts to drive past Houston Rockets guard Victor Oladipo. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Thanks to COVID-19 finally deciding to pay its unwelcome visit to the team, the Toronto Raptors will be shorthanded during their game Wednesday evening against the Detroit Pistons.

To be precise, six members of the coaching staff (including head coach Nick Nurse), one additional team staff member and players OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet will all miss Wednesday’s contest due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

In order to help mitigate this loss of available players, the Raptors recalled rookie Jalen Harris and recent 10-day signee Donta Hall from the Raptors 905, giving the team 12 available players for acting head coach Sergio Scariolo and his skeleton staff Wednesday:

• Aaron Baynes
• DeAndre’ Bembry
Chris Boucher
Terence Davis
• Donta Hall
• Jalen Harris
Stanley Johnson
Kyle Lowry
Norman Powell
Matt Thomas
Yuta Watanabe
Paul Watson

Outside of Lowry and Powell there isn’t much experience to go around on this available Raptors roster, not to mention -- in all fairness to these players -- the vast majority of these guys are NBA reserves at best.

This presents Scariolo and Co. with a unique challenge to figure out who’s going to start and what a reasonable rotation might look like. Getting this locked in will be important for the Raptors not just for Wednesday’s game but also for Thursday’s tilt with the Boston Celtics as well, and maybe beyond if matters are unable to clear up in time after the coming all-star break.

So, with that in mind, here are a few lineup and rotation ideas we may end up seeing.

The starting five

In our estimation, the best starting five would look something like Lowry at point guard, Powell at shooting guard, Bembry playing small forward, Boucher at power forward and Baynes playing centre.

The rationale for this is simple, all of these players have started at some point this season and looking purely positionally, they’re probably the best options at each spot.

There’s a chance Davis could get the start in place of Bembry as he’s an option that’s often turned to start in a pinch for the Raptors, but Bembry provides better defence and could act as a secondary initiator on offence, traits that may be more valuable as a more conservative approach would like be the wiser course of action with Toronto being as shorthanded as it is.

Lowry, Powell will be leaned on heavily

As you no doubt have already noticed, of the usual Raptors core players the only guys available to them are Lowry and Powell, so expect to see a lot of these guys stepping up not only from a productivity standpoint offensively and defensively on the floor, but off it as leaders, too.

“Kyle’s been great,” said Scariolo Tuesday evening. “Even tonight he was excellent leading by voice, leading by example. He’s the most veteran player, he’s a franchise player. We know him, I personally admired him during these three years -- his commitment, his competitiveness. And this is what he tries to do, make everyone understand that whatever the circumstance is we have to go on the floor and compete and try to get the boat into the harbour.

“We got a little damage but we have to try to stay floating and bring it to the harbour, and then we’ll have a few days to repair it and to start over, obviously with the break and renewed energy and trying to continue what we’ve been doing the last few weeks.”

And Scariolo added about Powell: “He was talking with young players. He was chatting at the end of practice with a couple of them. He was trying to find a couple of concepts, a couple of mistakes they did during a rotation or during a set play. So he was there with the vocal leadership, as well.”

Expect big games from Lowry and Powell and for the rest of the Raptors to follow the example they’ll set.

Backup point guard?

A big question for the Raptors without VanVleet or Flynn will be who will step in to backup Lowry at point guard when he needs to sit?

Scariolo alluded that he might lean on Bembry to pick up those responsibilities, and maybe even Harris, who’s had a fairly strong G League season so far, averaging 17.6 points per game while shooting 45.7 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three-point range.

Scariolo also mentioned that in the Raptors’ offensive system having a dedicated point guard may also not be completely necessary because of the quick pace the team wants to play at, meaning offence can be generated from the squad’s defence.

“We have basically DeAndre’ Bembry who has been playing pretty well at the point for us this year,” said Scariolo. “And then Jalen Harris came back from the G League bubble and is gonna be ready if need him.

“And in our system, we have many players who can handle the ball, bring it up, push it in transition. Our basketball is pretty high-tempo basketball. We have many players who can bring it up, push it and get into our structure without always needing a designated point guard.”

Everything on the table for the rotation

Strange as it may be to say, the Raptors’ 2-8 start to the season and the subsequent probing all over the roster Nurse did is now playing to something of an advantage for the Raptors to weather this storm without so many key players.

Because Nurse was constantly searching and experimenting, many players have got a chance to play some key rotational minutes meaning whoever Scariolo turns to will figure to be ready to make an impact.

If the team needs to tighten the screws on defence and/or some rebounding help, Johnson and Watanabe have proven their ability to do so already. If shooting/spacing or a greater offensive punch might be required then Davis and Thomas can be called upon.

The only players available who we don’t know much about are Watson, Harris and Hall. However, as mentioned before, Harris has played well with the 905, Hall has looked like a dangerous and athletic roll guy in the G League and Watson has performed well in the past when given more opportunity, most notably during last summer’s NBA bubble.

There are plenty of options for Scariolo to turn to and he’s confident they’ll do their job well.

“My experience is good in this kind of situation,” Scariolo said. “Normally people understand, professional people, serious people, committed people understand that the team can’t afford anybody to take a day off or to be not really 100 per cent focused on the task on the floor or ready to give a contribution, help the team, give their best.

“Nobody in this kind of situation, good players and good persons alike, I feel we have good players, good persons, all of them in our team normally react in the right way.”

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