The Toronto Raptors are catching a break as they go for their franchise-record 10th victory in a row on Thursday night.
Carmelo Anthony will sit out for the New York Knicks due to knee soreness, per Stefan Bondy of New York Daily News. Anthony traveled with the team after sitting Tuesday but was always considered questionable, particularly with the Knicks on the front end of a back-to-back.
This is obviously a big blow to the Knicks, who have over-performed at 22-25 thanks in part to Anthony embracing the role of “Dad Melo,” working more as a facilitator and leader than just a scorer. It’s been no secret that Anthony’s most effective deployed as such – the 2012-13 Knicks made that message clear – but it’s something he seemed hesitant to give in to during an injury-shortened 2014-15. Now 31 years old, the soon-to-be nine-time All-Star is averaging 21.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and four assists. His offensive efficiency and true-shooting are down slightly from last season despite a decrease in usage, but he’s pretty clearly been a better overall player than a year ago. As a result, the Knicks have been 7.4 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor. The Knicks are also 0-5 without him on the year.
Lance Thomas stands to start in Anthony’s place. The 27-year-old is having a great season ahead of unrestricted free agency, knocking down 41.7 percent of his threes on the way to 8.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 21.8 minutes. Even as Anthony’s backup, the Knicks have been just as good with Thomas on the floor as off (though playing a third of his minutes with Anthony confuses that some).
Jose Calderon is also questionable for the Knicks due to a groin strain. Toronto’s favorite former player and the namesake for a dog I used to have (Jose, obviously) is essentially the same as what he was with the Raptors. Now 34, Calderon remains a little slow of foot, leading to horrific defense, but he’s an efficient shooter and a willing distributor. He’s averaging 7.5 points and 4.1 assists in 27.7 minutes, canning 41.1 percent of his threes. The Knicks’ offense has been much better offensively with Calderon on the floor, but he’s been a major sink to their defense and a slight net-negative overall.
If he can’t go, rookie Jerian Grant would start. The rookie is averaging 4.8 points and 2.4 assists in 16 minutes, shooting 34.7 percent from the floor and 14.3 percent on threes. His pick-and-roll offense was believed to be NBA-ready (a term that should be retired), but success has been slower to come for him than fellow rookie Kristaps Porzingis, The Latvian God of Putbacks.
Grant was an intriguing potential name for the Raptors at draft season but went one pick before the team’s selection. The Raptors instead wound up with Delon Wright at No. 20, and Wright’s played too sparingly to effectively judge him, though he’s been solid on the offensive end in 12 D-League outings.
Wright could get a chance for run opposite Grant on Thursday, because the Raptors may not be catching a break after all – Kyle Lowry remains questionable due to a sprained left wrist.
Lowry sat out practice Wednesday, leading to Wright’s emergency recall from Raptors 905. There was no update on his status at shootaround Thursday and he’s likely to be a game-time decision. Even with the streak on the line against a marquee opponent in a TNT game, Lowry should sit if he’s anything less than 100 percent, and perhaps even if he is. He’s top-10 in the NBA in total minutes played, and it wouldn’t be the worst idea to get him some rest, anyway. If a minor injury has to be the impetus for that, then so be it.
The Raptors would be in tough without him, though. He’s averaging 20.9 points, five rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.2 steals while hitting 38.8 percent of his threes and posting a 57.5 true-shooting percentage, all while playing 36.5 minutes per-night. The Raptors outscore opponents by 6.7 points per-100 possessions (PPC) when he’s on the floor and are outscored by 2.4 PPC when he hits the bench, and he’s been helping prop up bench units to dominate opposing reserve squads.
In any case, Cory Joseph and Wright should be able to hold down the fort. And if not, it’s only one game, and there’s little sense risking the team’s best player for any one outing.
The rotations for the two sides could look as thin as this (Cleanthony Early is also out, and the Raptors have Anthony Bennett and Bruno Caboclo on assignment):
PG: Joseph and Wright vs. Grant and Galloway
SG: DeRozan, Ross, and Powell vs. Afflalo and Vujacic
SF: Johnson vs. Thomas
PF: Scola and Patterson vs. Porzingis, Williams, and Seraphin
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, and Nogueira vs. Lopez, O’Quinn, and Amundson