This wasn’t how things were supposed to go, but once again in Toronto it’s ‘next man up’ as big man Jared Sullinger breaks his foot in his first preseason game with the Raptors and the rookie Pascal Siakam finds himself in the starting line-up for the last four preseason games and likely on opening night.
The Raptors signed the Celtics starter Sullinger as a free agent this summer when Boston quite literally ran out of options after signing free agent Al Horford and being stuck with too many draft picks and too many young players already on the roster. Their loss was Toronto’s gain as the Raptors needed an upgrade at starting power forward and someone that could effectively soak up some of those backup center minutes Bismack Biyombo covered off last season.
Into the void created by Sullinger’s absence stepped Siakam and through 7 preseason games he averaged 7.4 points on 52.3 percent shooting, 4.1 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1 block in 20.7 minutes. Head coach Dwane Casey putting the rookie into the starting unit for the last 4 games where he upped his scoring to 9 points on 63 percent shooting in 21.9 minutes.
It wasn’t all good for Siakam in preseason and given a choice, Casey wants Sullinger back in the starting unit asap. There were some rough moments at the start of games with Siakam as the Raptors were a -3.8 points with the rookie on the court in the first quarter, but the opportunity for Siakam to get better fast probably makes it worthwhile.
“It’s a great opportunity for other players, for Pascal Siakam if we decide to start him,” Casey told Dean Bundell on SN590 The Fan. “Pascal’s athleticism at the four position will be important for us because it allows us to do some switching defensively and he can guard different positions. He gives us some flexibility and versatility.
“The roles that we really put those (young) guys in are support roles where they don’t have to think a lot, do a lot, but just make sure they stay in their lane and do their role.”
Casey is going to need his young players to figure out how to stay in their lane fast as Sullinger’s role was going to be pretty big and he isn’t going to be available for quite a while.
A sore foot that wouldn’t get better eventually led to addition tests that uncovered a cracked bone in Sullinger’s left foot that the doctors decided needed a screw to support it. Some say the big man will be out for eight weeks, the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society suggests this type of injury takes three to four months.
Forward Patrick Patterson was expected to take on a bigger role this season as was center Jonas Valanciunas, but Sullinger was to be the third leg in this big man rotation, so there are minutes at backup center that will now need to be covered off. Of course third year center Lucas Nogueira turned an ankle less than a week before opening night, so Casey will likely be turning to yet another rookie to start the season.
“Jacob Poeltl will be able to have a role because Jared was going to play some backup five,” Casey said. ” Lucas Nogueira and Jacob will get opportunities to play backup minutes behind (starter Jonas Valanciunas).
“It’s an opportunity for other players to step in and do the job.”
Casey has the option to insert Patterson into the starting lineup on opening night and last year that was everything the young veteran forward wanted, but this year, not so much. He backed way off those comments on media day.
Casey has made several attempts to use the big forward as a starter over the last couple of seasons. It looks like a sure thing, but once he’s in there, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s a lot better to bring Patterson off the bench for 30+ minutes than to try and change what has worked so well for him in Toronto. A starter level talent who just plays better as a reserve. Siakam should thank his lucky stars (maybe), what an opportunity!