Ugh. No one ever said life in the NBA was supposed to be fair, but what has Norm Powell done to deserve this?
What have the Raptors?
On Thursday night, Toronto provided updates on the wave of injuries that swept over them in the win against the Detroit Pistons the night before.
• Marc Gasol, who strained his hamstring in the first quarter against the Pistons, was revaluated today in Toronto and was deemed to be out “indefinitely.”
• To the surprise of all, it was revealed Pascal Siakam strained his groin midway through the fourth quarter and will be out “indefinitely.”
• And Powell, rocked by a Blake Griffin screen late in the fourth quarter, suffered a partially dislocated shoulder and will be out – you guessed it – “indefinitely.”
Given the Raptors have already lost rotation pieces Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Pat McCaw and Matt Thomas for double-digit games in a season that’s only one-third gone and Fred VanVleet has missed five, someone needs to get video of the Raptors peeing up the legs of the “Basketball Gods” (Dwane Casey voice).
As for the impact? Well, losing your leading scorer (Siakam) and best all-around player, your most important defender (Gasol) and your second-leading scorer (Powell) in one game seems to be … significant.
Gasol’s loss leaves the Raptors even more thin up front with rookie Dewan Hernandez the only other centre on the roster, so it’s not impossible that if Gasol is out for an extended period a depth piece may need to be found and acquired.
There is no replacement for Siakam who leads the Raptors in scoring (25.1 per game), rebounding, is third in assists and second in blocks while posting a team-high usage rate of 29.4 per cent.
Normally a good chunk of that load would shift to Powell, but not now.
The only hope is that Siakam isn’t out very long – it’s believed they are exercising caution for what is a fairly mild strain – and the silver lining might be that it will serve a bit of a break for a young player carrying a new and heavier load of responsibilities while ranking seventh in the NBA in minutes played to this stage.
The same can be said for Gasol, who could likely benefit from a breather after playing 12 straight months of basketball, ending with the World Cup in China in early September.
On paper, the Raptors can likely backfill Powell’s minutes more easily, but there is otherwise no way to polish what must be a heartbreaking turn of events for a player who seems to snake-bitten at times.
Watching Powell rolling on the floor, clutching his left shoulder in agony?
If you’re the type who likes to see good things happen to good people, it was not the moment for you.
Perhaps the best you can take away from it is that he didn’t require surgery.
Otherwise, the timing couldn’t be worse for Powell or – given Siakam’s injury – the Raptors.
The six-foot-four slasher was playing the best basketball of his career, and whether that would have resulted in him being the kind of fixture as a microwave sixth man and occasional starter good teams need or a juicy trade chip down the line, an extended Powell absence complicates matters for Toronto in the short- and medium-term.
How the injuries ultimately affect the Raptors’ seeding in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race – a half-game separated second through sixth before play Wednesday night – or their ability to get what should be a solid nine-man rotation firing on all cylinders when they don’t have Kawhi Leonard as a safety net is another matter.
In a season where the margin for error is slim, it’s less than ideal.
Fortunately, it appears that Serge Ibaka – averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds on 57 per cent shooting over his past three games – is back to the form he was flashing before he missed 10 games with a sprained ankle and ready to take up the slack.
He’ll likely appreciate a return to the starting lineup and a steady diet of 30-plus minute nights Gasol’s absence will afford. The Raptors and the rest of the league will get a more extended look at the viability of Chris Boucher as a regular rotation piece, a second chance for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and perhaps more small-ball lineups featuring OG Anunoby at the four spot will become the norm.
Missed will be Gasol’s long-range shooting, paint defence and ability to run the offence 25 feet from the basket – all of which help explain why the Raptors are 11.2 points better per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor than they are when he sits, even while he’s averaging a career-low 6.6 points a game on a career-low 36.4 per cent from the floor.
But Powell’s loss could be different if only because a similar injury to the same shoulder cost him six weeks and 21 games last year and represents another roadblock between him and his ultimate potential.
Raptors fans understandably love to celebrate the team’s plucky underdog stories – Siakam’s rapid rise to All-Star status as a late first-round pick; VanVleet’s emergence one of the league’s most respected players after being undrafted – but Powell often gets overlooked.
It could be that his role has been perpetually in flux since being pressed into starting as a rookie, or because he got paid relatively early in what is still only a five-year career and struggled in the first two years after he got the extension or because of his penchant for some forehead-slapping plays along the way.
It could be that we forget that the Powell we’ve seen this year could have been on display last year, had he not been pushed out of a starting spot by the acquisition of Danny Green.
But Powell deserves credit for turning himself into an important rotation player after being taken 46th the 2015 draft, and for finding a way to do it on deep teams that have averaged nearly 56 wins a year since he broke into the league.
And he deserves credit for taking the opportunity to start presented to him earlier this season, when Lowry and then VanVleet got hurt, and sprinting with it.
Not only have the past 21 games been the best six-week run of his career, he’s been one of the most efficient guards in the NBA.
Yes, that Norm Powell.
Since becoming a starter after Lowry fractured his thumb on Nov. 8, Powell has averaged 16.7 points a game on 51.1 per cent shooting, including 42 per cent from three on a robust 5.3 attempts. It translates into a True Shooting percentage of 63.5 per cent, among the league’s best for wing players. He’s averaged 1.2 steals a game, too.
He’s the only guard in the NBA to score at least 16 points a game while shooting better than 50 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from three (with five attempts or more) and while averaging at least one steal per game.
And he’s done while treading lightly too, with a usage rate of just 20.5 per cent.
He’s still prone to some frustrating turnovers and odd defensive lapses, but he’s flat out won games for the Raptors too.
What does it all mean?
Hopefully not too much, for the Raptors at least.
NBA on Christmas Day
The Raptors and Celtics tip off a full Christmas Day schedule on Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW starting at 12:00 p.m. ET/9:00 a.m. PT, followed by 76ers vs. Bucks, Lakers vs. Clippers and Nuggets vs. Pelicans.
If anything it solves a looming potential lineup crunch that had Nurse musing about starting Powell over VanVleet. That issue has disappeared for now.
VanVleet could be ready to return Friday after a four-game absence with a sore knee and will slide into the starting spot Powell was keeping warm for him.
McCaw will presumably keep getting every chance to show that he can contribute at a level that far exceeds his meagre offensive output (6.3 points per 36 minutes on 40 per cent shooting over the past two seasons).
Rookie Terence Davis II should also benefit. In the 11 games Lowry was out and before McCaw returned, he delivered 10.8 points a game on 54.2 shooting (46.7 per cent from three) while averaging 21.1 minutes a game.
With Lowry and now McCaw back, Davis is averaging just 14.7 minutes over the past eight games while scoring just 4.6 points a game on 34.2 per cent shooting. That should change.
Matt Thomas, due to return in a week or so from a broken finger, should be able to carve out some minutes also.
Things will sort themselves out, but it’s a lot to take in at once. It’s not often that a team loses three of its top seven players in the space of a single game, but stranger things have happened.
But as it relates to Powell’s injury and the timing, it’s not too often they feel that unfair.
Chicago sexual assault scandal raises culture questions for NHL – CBC.ca
WARNING: This story contains distressing details
For three weeks in 2010, they did nothing. That’s how long it took for the leadership of the Chicago NHL team to act on allegations that an assistant coach sexually assaulted a player.
Three weeks. Three weeks that — more than a decade later — rocked a once-proud franchise and raised more questions about the culture of sports.
In the span of 107 pages, featuring interviews with 139 witnesses, more than 100 gigabytes of electronic records and 49 boxes of hard-copy records, a report by an outside law firm detailed how senior leaders of the Chicago team seemingly ignored the sexual assault accusations raised with the franchise days before the team won its first Stanley Cup title since 1961.
The ramifications of the independent review, commissioned by the team in response to two lawsuits, stretched into several corners of the NHL, which fined the team $2 million for “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.”
Florida coach Joel Quenneville is slated to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday, and Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is planning to talk to the commissioner on Monday. Both were with the Chicago team when the accusations by Kyle Beach were first reported to team leadership.
According to the report, Donald Fehr, the leader of the NHL players’ association, was contacted twice about allegations connected to the assistant coach, including by a Beach confidant. Fehr told investigators he couldn’t recall either conversation, but did not deny that they had occurred.
Beach felt ‘alone and dark’
Messages were left by the AP seeking comment from the NHLPA.
Beach, a 2008 first-round draft pick playing professionally in Germany, told TSN on Wednesday he felt “alone and dark” in the days following the alleged assault. He said he is only now beginning the healing process.
Beach, 31, had been referred to as John Doe in his lawsuit against the team. The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly.
In a statement attributed to the team, Chicago commended Beach for his courage in coming forward, and reiterated the organization’s “deepest apologies” for what he has gone through and its failure to promptly respond in 2010.
WATCH | Kyle Beach comes forward as ‘John Doe 1’ in Chicago scandal:
Chicago’s CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of team chairman Rocky Wirtz, met with current players Wednesday, a day after the graphic report was released, leading to the departures of president of hockey operations Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac, another top executive.
“I think the overriding message was that we, as in the organization, we’re here for you,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “The family is behind us. The organization’s behind us, and we’re going to do everything we can to move forward here.”
Rocky Wirtz said Tuesday that he and Danny were first made aware of the accusations ahead of a May filing of a lawsuit by Beach alleging sexual assault by then-assistant coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. The team also is facing a second lawsuit by a former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.
The team said their lawyers contacted Susan Loggans, an attorney who represents John Doe and the former student in the second lawsuit, on Tuesday about possible settlements. A call was set up for early next week.
According to the report, the encounter between Beach, then a 20-year-old minor leaguer called up in case Chicago needed help in the playoffs, and Aldrich, then 27, occurred on May 8 or 9 in 2010.
Beach told investigators that Aldrich threatened him with a souvenir baseball bat before forcibly performing oral sex on him and masturbating on the player’s back, allegations that he also detailed in his lawsuit.
Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual. Asked Wednesday about the law firm’s report, Aldrich responded: “I have nothing to say.”
About two weeks later, on May 23, 2010, right after Chicago advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, Bowman, MacIsaac, team president John McDonough, executive vice president Jay Blunk and assistant general manager Cheveldayoff met with Quenneville and mental skills coach Jim Gary to discuss the allegations.
Former federal prosecutor Reid Schar, who led the investigation, said accounts of the meeting “vary significantly.” But there was no evidence that anything was done about the accusations before McDonough contacted the team’s director of human resources on June 14 — a delay that violated the team’s sexual harassment policy, according to Schar.
During those three weeks, Aldrich continued to work for and travel with the team. Schar said Aldrich also “made an unwanted sexual advance” toward a 22-year-old team intern.
Beach told TSN seeing Aldrich around the team made him feel sick.
WATCH | Bowman resigns amid team’s sexual assault allegations:
“I reported this and I was made aware that it made it all the way up the chain of command by [Jim Gary] and nothing happened,” Beach said. “It was like his life was the same as the day before. Same every day.
“And then when they won, to see him paraded around lifting the Cup, at the parade, at the team pictures, at celebrations, it made me feel like nothing.”
McDonough, Blunk and Gary are no longer employed in the NHL. Now Bowman and MacIsaac are out as well.
But the report makes clear that 11 years ago, winning the Cup took priority over taking immediate action on the Aldrich allegations; Bowman recalled that during the May 23 meeting, McDonough and Quenneville talked about the challenge of reaching the Stanley Cup Final and “a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs.”
‘These are human beings’
Bowman’s description of what happened was reminiscent of scandals at Baylor University, where assault claims against football players were mishandled by school officials, or at USA Gymnastics, still reeling from its mishandling of convicted serial sex abuser and team doctor Larry Nassar.
Loggans said she hopes what happened with Chicago leads to changes across sports.
“There has to be a change from a mentality of complete animalism, like let’s just completely ramp up the masculinity factor of these players and whatever it takes to win a game, we’ll do that,” she said. “There has to be some context, no different than being concerned about concussions in football games.
“It’s not winning at all costs. These are human beings. They’re not gladiators whose lives are going to be sacrificed in the game.”
10 Things: Fred VanVleet emerging as Raptors’ clear leader – Sportsnet.ca
One — This win was very similar to their other victory against Boston. The Raptors swarmed the Pacers which took them entirely out of their offence, won the possession battle by a landslide with a 22-10 edge in turnovers along with 16-9 in offensive rebounds, and that almost always results in a win. The Raptors kicked it into another gear defensively in the second half and basically ran the Pacers out of the gym. That effort, coupled with better shooting from their main players, resulted in a blowout win in which the Raptors stamped out every single comeback charge by the Pacers. You will see the Raptors win in this fashion regularly this season.
Two — Fred VanVleet was a charge shy of delivering a vintage Kyle Lowry game. VanVleet has been excellent since the home opener, following his career-high of 17 assists against Chicago with a career-high 10 rebounds in tonight’s win. VanVleet is emerging as the clear leader of this team, his only focus is on winning, and it shows up in the margins as much as it does in his impressive shotmaking.
There was a play in the fourth quarter where VanVleet made four rotations to cut off four Pacers drives, before the possession was ended by Chris Boucher‘s block. That’s the type of commitment it takes to win, and VanVleet is a shining example of how hard everyone else should be working.
This was also VanVleet’s best game of the year with his scoring, as he made several impressive moves off the dribble to create the space for his jumper, which was accurate both from the midrange and from 30-feet out.
Three — OG Anunoby is settling in after his frantic start. Anunoby was sensational all night on both ends, starting in the first quarter where he put up 14 points with ease. Playing out of the post has allowed him to calm down, to assess his options, before making a decisive move, and teams are having to bring double teams to slow him down because otherwise, Anunoby is burying his defender under the rim. The bully ball approach comes much more naturally than when he tries to attack from the perimeter, although he’s starting to find his bearings from there as well, and his touch from three is rounding back to form.
What cannot be questioned is his defence, which remains airtight and suffocating each and every minute he’s on the floor. Anunoby collected five steals, but his best play was on a closeout to end the first half, where he had a step inside the paint as the shot was released but was somehow still able to swat the shot out of play.
Four — Scottie Barnes keeps wowing us. You can see the maturity in his approach even as compared to Summer League and pre-season. Nick Nurse’s message is for Barnes to attack downhill and to attack every time, and he’s starting to get it. Barnes is so strong that he’s going to get to whatever spot on the floor he damn pleases, and he’ll be balanced enough to fire the shot off cleanly.
Even when he misses, Barnes has a great chance of getting the putback because the momentum of his drives often knocks his defender backwards. Case in point: Barnes took it strong to the cup against Domantas Sabonis, who stands seven-foot weighing 260 pounds, yet it was he who bounced back from the contact instead of Barnes, who collected the second chance basket off the initial miss.
Keep in mind that Barnes is only 20-years-old, and that he will continue to gather strength and agility through more time with a professional training staff. It’s genuinely scary to think about how more dominant he will be in a few years.
Five — Nurse was a man of his word and moved Dalano Banton into his rotation. Nurse dismissed Malachi Flynn‘s claim to more playing time and he benched accomplished veteran Goran Dragic because he believes in Banton and his faith was rewarded. Banton was the first player off the bench in both halves, and he was great each time in how he changed the energy of the game.
Banton mixed in two driving layups along with two catch-and-shoot threes for his 10 points in 16 minutes, which is the best guard play the Raptors have had off the bench all season. Banton’s speed really pops when you see it in person, because a six-foot-nine player handling the ball should not be anywhere close to as fast as Banton is. On one of his two layups, Banton got the inbound pass off a Pacers basket, and raced downhill so fast that he beat every single player down the court, and a helpless T.J. McConnell could only swipe at him as he dashed in for the and-one finish. Banton is the fastest player on the team changing ends with the ball.
Six — The introduction of Banton as the backup point guard had a cascading effect on the Raptors’ defence. The smallest player on the floor became VanVleet, who is an all-word defender on account of his anticipation and his toughness. The next smallest players were Svi Mykhailiuk and Gary Trent Jr., both at six-foot-six with a combined seven steals between them, and the rest of the rotation were six-foot-nine forwards with seven-foot wingspans. Simply put, the Pacers had nowhere to go because the Raptors had a hand in every passing lane, were aggressive in their double teams, and there were no mismatches anywhere for a Pacers player to attack one-on-one.
One of the oddest sights from this game was seeing the ease in which Banton swatted McConnell’s driving layup, because not only did Banton match him for quickness which allowed him to cut off the drive, but he was also a foot taller against someone at his own position.
Seven — Nurse’s defensive scheme against Sabonis continues to be excellent. Sabonis is normally a dominant post player who is crafty with his passing while also being physical in the paint, but Nurse’s strategy of swarming him with triple teams at times completely cut him off. Sabonis went from scoring 33 points in his season opener, to only attempting four shots. The Raptors closed down on him so hard that Sabonis didn’t even score a single basket after the seven-minute mark of the first quarter.
Credit goes to Precious Achiuwa and Khem Birch for bodying him up and denying him position, but the way Trent Jr., Anunoby, and VanVleet flustered him was breathtaking to watch. Even though Sabonis is an elite passer for a center, he recorded only three assists against four turnovers.
Eight — Chis Boucher finished the game much stronger than he started it. He opened his account with many of the same mistakes that drive coaches crazy, such as being late to closeout, failing to hold his position because he didn’t seal his man and taking ill-advised shots. But he did get 18 minutes tonight from Nurse because his defence came around in the fourth quarter.
Boucher recorded a block at the rim, changed a pair of shots at the rim with his length, and on his most positive sequence, he resisted his urge to leave his feet on a pump fake, kept his man in front, and forced a shot-clock violation. Boucher needs to understand that Nurse will reward him for being solid, not for the spectacular.
Nine — The only issue with the Raptors stacking up so many forwards is the lack of shooting. It didn’t hurt them tonight since VanVleet and Anunoby combined for 10 of their 14 threes, but their shooting drops off significantly when one or both players hit the bench. The spacing is especially tight for the second unit, where Mykhailiuk is often the only threat from deep, and that’s one threat that Dragic and Flynn provide which Banton ordinarily wouldn’t.
There’s not a great in-house solution to this problem outside of Boucher finding his rhythm, which is why Nurse should look to keep giving him chances. And with Banton’s length on the floor at point guard, maybe there is some more leeway defensively to where Boucher can make up the gap with his shooting.
Ten — Adding Pascal Siakam and Yuta Watanabe back to this group will supercharge the defence. There will be a new rotation to be sorted out, both in how Siakam slots in with the starters and how Nurse wants to deploy Wanatabe with the bench, but managing the fit is simply a matter of getting enough scoring on the floor. Watanabe could either take Mykhailiuk’s minutes at shooting guard, or he can be Boucher’s replacement as the backup power forward, while Siakam joining a starting group with Anunoby, VanVleet, Barnes, and one of Trent Jr. or Achiuwa is a scary proposition in how versatile and tough the Raptors will be on defence.
Penguins’ Sidney Crosby remains out of lineup Thursday vs. Flames – Sportsnet.ca
Crosby has yet to play this season after having wrist surgery in August. On Wednesday, Sullivan told media Crosby was “real close” to returning to the lineup.
“We’ll see how he responds,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “We’ll listen to the medical staff and we’ll make decisions accordingly. But we’re really encouraged with his progress.”
Crosby has been practicing regularly with the Penguins in recent days and was a participant in the team’s optional morning skate Thursday morning.
Sullivan also provided brief updates on his two players in COVID protocol, saying Kris Letang remains symptomatic and Jeff Carter is still asymptomatic. He added that Carter could rejoin the team for practice on Friday.
The Penguins have a light schedule over the next week with a game against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and then four days off before they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 4.
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