The Toronto Raptors announced Thursday that Delon Wright has suffered a dislocation of his right shoulder.
Wright injured the shoulder reaching for an offensive rebound against DeMarcus Cousins in the second quarter on Tuesday and immediately knew something was wrong. Looking to be in a great deal of pain, Wright went directly to the locker room and did not return. Tests on Thursday confirmed a dislocation, and Wright’s been ruled out for Friday’s game against New York. The team’s medical staff is awaiting further test results to determine a course of action and timetable for a return.
This is the same shoulder Wright dislocated at Las Vegas Summer League in July of 2016, which required surgery to repair a torn labrum and cost him about six months of action. The hope here has to be that there’s no additional damage done to the shoulder or labrum and that the dislocation comes with a quicker return to play.
To call this disappointing would be an understatement. Wright played sparingly as a rookie after being selected 20th overall but made an impression with Raptors 905 of the D-League that year and seemed poised for a breakout 2016-17. He worked hard to get back after the injury last season and was a positive contributor in the second half of the season, averaging 5.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, and one steal in 27 games. His play was steady enough that the Raptors felt comfortable trading Cory Joseph this offseason, handing the backup position to Wright.
Wright had gotten out to a terrific start to 2017-18, making the Raptors’ bet on him look like a smart one. In 14 games, he averaged 7.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 0.9 steals while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and getting to the free-throw line enough to post what’s nearly a team-best 67-percent true shooting (only Jonas Valanciunas and Alfonzo McKinnie boast a more efficient scoring mark). Wright ranked among the league’s most efficient pick-and-roll ball-handlers despite often playing in lineups without a ton in the way of floor spacing, and he’d established himself as an important two-way player. The Raptors have outscored opponents by 5.2 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor, just a hair below their plus-5.6 mark as a team, and Wright’s net rating ranks fourth among rotation regulars.
If Wright misses extended time, this marks a big opportunity for Fred VanVleet, who’s been playing regularly in an expanded rotation. He’s shaken off a cold offensive start to the season of late and is averaging six points and 2.7 assists while hitting 36.4 percent of his threes over his last six games. Even before shots beyond the arc and at the rim started dropping, VanVleet was contributing enough to even carve out some end-of-game playing time, earning Dwane Casey’s trust with sound, intelligent defense and the best on-off numbers of any Raptors regular (plus-14.9 net rating). There’s some noise there in a 193-minute sample largely against opposing benches, but the team is right to trust VanVleet in a moderate role, and he’ll likely assume more minutes here.
Lorenzo Brown will probably be recalled from Raptors 905 of the G League tomorrow, too. Brown is on a two-way contract and, as such, can spend up to 45 days on the NBA roster, of which he’s used zero so far (days prior to the G League season do not count). While not the play-maker or defensive presence Wright is, Brown brings some length, a penchant for deflceting balls and creating turnovers, and an ability to score in a hurry as the situation calls for it. He has 63 games of NBA experience and has led the 905 to a 3-2 record so far, averaging 19.8 points, six assists, and 3.6 steals, though he’s shot the ball poorly so far and been a little turnover prone.
The other fall-out here could come in the starting lineup. Even if Norman Powell is able to return Friday from a hip pointer that’s cost him the last two games, it now makes more sense to bring Powell off the bench. Powell in a sixth-man role was always something that could be argued for, anyway, but the second unit now lacks a second ball-handler and shot-creator, and Powell could prove a comfortable fit next to the spacing that C.J. Miles provides. That would mean continuing to start OG Anunoby, who may be subject to the inconsistencies of youth but has done little but impress in his first month in the league. A bench unit with VanVleet, Powell, and Miles has a nice balance of attacking and shooting and should fit the second unit’s identity as a pestering defensive group that can really push in transition.
Whatever the trickle-down rotation impact, here’s hoping Wright isn’t out long. He’s too fun a player who’s worked too hard to get back from the last injury, and he’s a valuable piece of what the Raptors have been and want to continue to do. The Raptors have the depth to withstand this, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.