Finding silver linings among Raptors injuries from Scottie Barnes finding groove to O.G. Anunoby boosting value

Finding silver linings among Raptors injuries from Scottie Barnes finding groove to O.G. Anunoby boosting value

Injuries have come early and often for the Raptors in the 2022-23 season, impacting just about every key player on the roster through the team’s first 20 games. While injuries are an unfortunate reality, Toronto has been particularly unlucky considering the time missed by stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, among others.

It’s nearly impossible to put a positive spin on the injuries this team has dealt with, but they’ve managed to stay afloat and hover around the .500 mark despite the obstacles, identifying a silver lining of the dark injury cloud that’s loomed large this season.

Similar to years past, the Raptors have been an embodiment of the “next man up” mentality, benefitting from depth pieces stepping into larger roles while starters miss time. From Dalano Banton and Chris Boucher to two-way player Jeff Dowtin Jr., a number of players have answered the call when Toronto has needed them, something that could prove to have short- and long-term benefits.

The more you look at it, it isn’t as difficult to find silver linings that put a positive spin on the Raptors’ injury woes. They’ll need to get close to 100 percent sooner rather than later, but recent developments suggest the team could be a force in the East at full strength.

MORE: Pascal Siakam’s gravity the biggest thing Raptors miss in his absence

A bigger role for O.G. Anunoby

We’ve long wondered what it could look like for Anunoby to assume more responsibility on the offensive end. Recent developments have required Anunoby to step into a bigger role.

He’s looked more than ready for it.

After durability issues in years past, Anunoby has been the one Raptor that has yet to miss time this season. In the 10 games since Siakam’s injury, Anunoby is averaging 22.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field on over 18 attempts per game. Anunoby exceeded 25 points in half of the 10 games, including a season-high 32 points in a road win over Miami and an impressive 26 points in a home win over the Mavericks.

MORE: O.G. Anunoby building case to be NBA’s best two-way threat

Anunoby’s production is a product of great growth in his offensive capabilities. In other words, his bag has gotten deeper. In the half-court, Anunoby has scored within the flow of the offense as a primary option while his defensive disruption has allowed him to score easily in transition.

“I just love his approach to the game,” said Fred VanVleet of Anunoby. “He’s coming in early, working on his game. He’s been a complete pro this year. I’m just proud of him and how far he’s come as a player.”

Anunoby’s preparation has him ready for the moment to step up as a top offensive option in the absence of others. Upon their return, things should feel easier for Anunoby, who will be a beneficiary of the attention defenses pay to the likes of Siakam, VanVleet, and even Scottie Barnes.

Scottie Barnes finding his groove

He may have avoided hitting the rookie wall last season, but the beginning of Year 2 has brought upon some challenges for Barnes.

When looking at the counting stats, Barnes’ production this season is nearly identical to that of his Rookie of the Year campaign, save for a few more assists per game and less efficiency inside the arc.

Efficiency should be the main focus here.

Barnes’ timing appears to be slightly off, which could very well be a product of injury woes of his own. In addition to suffering an ankle injury in the playoffs last year, Barnes’ offseason training was impacted by another ankle injury that troubled him into training camp and continued to be a bother as the season got on.

So how exactly is this a silver lining?

MORE: Scottie Barnes out with knee injury. When will forward return?

Before Barnes went down with a somewhat mysterious knee injury, he was beginning to figure things out in the absence of the stars. In his two games before missing time, Barnes put forth a combined 47 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range.

While the time missed could again temporarily impact Barnes’ rhythm, him returning closer to full strength could allow him to build upon the momentum he created with his performances before his injury.

With the number of pieces that can come together, Barnes could very well be the X-factor.

Pascal Siakam’s evolved leadership

Since emerging into an All-Star and All-NBA caliber player, Siakam has led by example, something he did with his averages of 24.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.7 assists through nine games.

With his absence leaving an All-NBA-sized void on the floor, Siakam has found new ways to be a leader.

“It seems fairly comfortable to him now,” head coach Nick Nurse said of Siakam embracing vocal leadership. “I’m not asking him to do it … He’s one of the leaders of this team. And that comes with some responsibility and he’s taking it on gracefully.”

MORE: Latest updates on Pascal Siakam’s imminent return

This isn’t the first time Siakam has been sidelined for extended time due to injury, nor the second. This time around, however, Siakam appears to be viewing the game from a different lens, which, in turn, has allowed him to connect with his teammates on a different level.

Through it all, Siakam has maintained a positive mindset, looking forward to when he returns to the floor and can again impact the game at a high level.

Siakam’s time away will allow him to lead by example and with his words, which will only mean good things for the Raptors, who have a unique blend of established veterans and up-and-coming contributors.

Next man up

It’s one thing to say “next man up,” but it’s another to live it. The Raptors have done the latter.

Since Siakam’s injury on Nov. 4, Barnes, VanVleet, Precious Achiuwa, Dalano Banton, Otto Porter Jr., and Gary Trent Jr. have each been in and out of the lineup for various reasons.

In that time span, a number of notable things have happened:

  • Rookie Christian Koloko scored a career-high 11 points and blocked six shots in a win over the Bulls on Nov. 6
  • Banton had the best night of his young career to help the Raptors earn a road win over the Pistons on Nov. 14
  • Boucher had season-highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds off the bench to propel the Raptors past the Mavericks on Nov. 26.

At full strength, the Raptors won’t necessarily need Koloko to finish in double figures or ask Banton or Boucher to score over 20, but their capability to do so should give them the confidence to contribute in key spots as the season goes on and postseason approaches.

Toronto has no shortage of talent, but an inability to get everyone on the same page has resulted in bench issues that make for a perceived lack of depth. If players like Banton, Boucher, and Koloko can continue to step up, Achiuwa and Juancho Hernangomez can fulfill their roles and consummate veterans in Porter and Thaddeus Young play their part, the full-strength Raptors now have 12 reliable players to form a rotation around.

The depth issues could be resolved based on boosted confidence across the board.

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