It feels like Stauskas has been “A Potential Raptor” since entering the league in 2014.
He never came close to delivering on his lottery-pick stature, but he hasn’t strayed far from the NBA radar, only playing one season in Spain and then spending last year with Raptors 905 in the one-year-only veteran exception slot.
While Stauskas was excellent for the 905, the book on him remains fairly similar to when he was last in the NBA: He’s a shooting specialist who doesn’t shoot at an elite level.
In fairness, Stauskas has subsisted on a diet of difficult shots over two partial G League seasons, often creating for himself, all while carrying a larger share of lead-guard duties because of his experience and relatively low-turnover play.
Still, we’re talking about a nearly 1,500-attempt sample over the NBA, G League and pre-season/Summer League over which Stauskas has hit at a very average 35.4 per cent rate on threes.
He still fills an obvious need for the Raptors as a shooter with some size and another pair of hands who can initiate and create a bit for others. He’s improved in every non-shooting aspect of his offensive game over the last couple of seasons, and he was lethally efficient overall for the 905 and the Herd despite average outside shooting.
Stauskas vs. Kevin Pangos on Boxing Day is the stuff of early-2010s RealGM forum legend.
The league, of course, has a responsibility to consider broader society’s welfare when making their decision, not only their own and their players’. The needs of professional sports leagues and teams should not be paramount at this time.
Let’s forget about all of that for a moment, though. Let’s assume, if only for a few hundred more words, that the league is making a decision from a place of complete moral clarity and empathy for all. Even then, shouldn’t the NBA be drawing a line of demarcation somewhere when it comes to what standard is acceptable to hold a game?
If the Raptors play in Chicago on Wednesday night, it will be hard to call it an NBA game. With seven Raptors in protocols, three unavailable or out with other injuries, the Raptors will have a maximum of six regularly rostered players, for the lack of a better term, available to play. Two of them, OG Anunoby and Khem Birch, the latter of whom is still questionable because of knee swelling, will be in their second and first games, respectively, back from month-long absences. The other four — Yuta Watanabe, Svi Mykhailliuk, Isaac Bonga and Chris Boucher — have combined to play 603 NBA games and start 125. (More than you would have thought, especially with the second number, huh?)
The altered hardship exception rules necessitate that if a team cannot suit up 13 regularly rostered players because of the health and safety protocols, they must sign additional players to 10-day contracts. Those signings do not count against the salary cap or luxury tax. If four or more players are in protocols, a team must sign at least three players to replace them. The Raptors have reportedly signed five — Tremont Waters, Brandon Goodwin, Juwan Morgan, D.J. Wilson and Canadian Nik Stauskas. If and when they suit up for the Raptors, they will not have appeared in a single practice for the team, never mind a game.
As of this writing, while noting these things can change quickly, there is no indication the league is poised to postpone the game. This will barely qualify as an NBA game — or as a Raptors game, for that matter.
“I think there’s a recognition that these are the cards that we’ve been dealt,” Silver said in his interview with Malika Andrews. “Of course, there’s an amount of unfairness that comes with playing in certain cases with some teams where particular players are out because of COVID protocols, but the other advantage is we do have an 82-game season and we do have a long playoffs, and my sense is things will work out by the end of the season.”
This isn’t about unfairness. Teams such as the Bulls, Nets, Bucks and more have already had to play plenty of games with a huge swath of their rosters in protocols. Games have been postponed, including the Raptors’ contests against Chicago and Orlando, but that is only because they came before the new hardship exception was put in place and those teams couldn’t get to eight available players. If this game had been scheduled a week ago, it would have been postponed, too. Silver said that about 90 percent of current infections in the league are a result of the Omicron variant, which means almost inevitably that several more teams will find themselves in the Raptors’ current position. (By then, the league might change its current policy on what it will take for a player who tests positive for COVID to return to play; Silver mused about that on Tuesday.)
This is about a complete diminishment of the product. The Raptors will be playing with one starter, one rotation staple, three players that might be in the rotation at any given time and one deep reserve. Injuries happen over the course of the year, which is a reason for the normal hardship exceptions. Those allow teams to sign a player once at least three players have missed extended time.
The NBA has been reluctant to postpone games, and even less willing to consider the type of hiatus that put the 2019-20 season on hold at the onset of the pandemic. For obvious financially driven reasons, their strong preference is to keep the train moving. It’s not quite by any means necessary, at least not yet – fortunately, they haven’t adopted the NFL’s ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach, in only testing symptomatic players. Instead, they’ve approved a hardship exception, which allows teams to temporarily replace players lost to the COVID protocols. We’ll call it ‘the show must go on’ approach.
“[We have] no plans right now to pause the season,” Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN on Tuesday. “We’ve of course looked at all the options, but frankly we’re having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now. As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country right now, putting aside the rest of the world, I think we’re finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to for the past several months. This virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to learn how to live with it and I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now.”
So, with a bare-bones group of healthy players, coaches and staff, the Raptors flew to Chicago ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled game against the Bulls, which – as of Tuesday night – is still on track to be played.
The seven players in the protocols were held back in Toronto. For those who tested positive, which may well be all seven, they’ll be required to self-isolate and be away from the team for at least 10 days. Additionally, the Raptors are without their two-way players – Justin Champagnie has a non-COVID illness and David Johnson is still dealing with a calf strain – and Goran Dragic is back home in Slovenia after being excused from the team.
So, if everything goes according to plan – and this hasn’t exactly been the week for that – the Raptors could have up to nine guys available against the Bulls: six regular roster players (OG Anunoby, Yuta Watanabe, Svi Mykhailiuk, Chris Boucher, Isaac Bonga, and Khem Birch, who is listed as questionable) and five replacement players (reported to be guards Brandon Goodwin and Tremont Waters, forwards Juwan Morgan and D.J. Wilson, and Canadian sharpshooter Nik Stauskas). The five G Leaguers are expected to meet the team in the Chicago, and assuming they pass their physicals and COVID screening, they’ll be signed to hardship 10-day contracts.
There aren’t a lot of good reasons for this game to be played.
To mitigate the risk of further exposure and spread, the Raptors have decided not to hold team practices each of the last three days. Instead, players have been coming into OVO Centre separately for individual workouts with assistant coaches. However, the entire team practiced together on Thursday and Friday of last week. VanVleet, Barnes, Trent, Achiuwa and Flynn each logged at least 15 minutes in Saturday’s win over Golden State. Siakam and Banton were in the building until being sent home 30 minutes before tip-off. They’ve all come into contact with the players who are still testing negative and it’s reasonable to think that some of those guys might not be negative tomorrow, or the day after that.
A depleted roster also comes with an increased risk of injury. Anunoby has only been back for one game after missing 13 contests with a hip pointer. Birch is dealing with lingering knee swelling and hasn’t played in nearly a month. Is it worth overextending either of them to try and pull off an unlikely mid-season win?
As for the quality of the game itself, Toronto will be playing without four of its five starters, six of its top-seven scorers, and all six guards on the roster. We’re probably not in store for an all-time classic.
Will OG Anunoby have some monster game? Who guards DeMar? Will Nik Stauskas write some unbelievable chapter to his life story with a game for the ages? What might Nick Nurse have up his sleeve?
The default position, I suspect, is for fans to be in an uproar over why they’re playing, who they’re playing, what in the world is going on. Those questions are easily answered – go through Dave’s piece from yesterday when I loafed to see why and know that I agree with basically everything Adam Silver said — and to fight against them from afar is a waste of time and energy.
So enjoy it, if you can, for its uniqueness.
Maybe it’ll be a boring blowout like Toronto’s win over The Pretend Warriors was on Saturday night and that’ll fizzle out any good mood.
But maybe it’ll be compelling and fun athletic competition and a close game played by guys few know who do themselves, their families, their teammates, the team’s fans proud.
I will tell you this: I’ve covered more than a few regular season games in my life – I can’t guess at how many, maybe close to a couple thousand – and few stick with me.
One that does was the night a Raptors team with, I believe, eight or nine players, three of who were on 10-day deals went into Washington and beat Michael Jordan and the Wizards. That was a memorable night. Maybe tonight is.
We don’t know. But to not give it a chance, to mope and moan about thing that aren’t likely to change seems a waste, to me.
The circumstances are not perfect, not even close. But we are where we are and if there’s a way to make the most of it, make the most of it we should.
Between those seven out for Wednesday’s game in Chicago and a handful of non-COVID related absences, the Raptors have nine bodies with which to take on the Bulls.
The only starter among those nine is OG Anunoby who will be joined by four reserves, a two-way player and four G-League hardship call-ups.
The fact that this game has not already been postponed is a testament to how hard-line the league is on playing through this latest wave.
Commissioner Adam Silver, in an interview on NBA Today with Malika Andrews said that at the moment there are no plans to pause the league as the number of players in protocols went into triple digits yesterday.
“Frankly, we are having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now,” Silver told Andrews. “As we look through these cases, literally ripping through the country right now, putting aside the rest of the world, I think we are finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to for the past several months and that is this virus will not be eradicated and we are going to have to learn to live with it and I think that is what we are experiencing in the league right now.
“… It seems for us the right and responsible thing to do, taking all of the factors into consideration, is to continue to play.”
There are very likely more than a few on that charter that left Pearson Tuesday at 2:30 and headed to Chicago to play what is shaping up to be a rather one-sided game that might disagree.
Forget the level playing field that is the obvious casualty when a team reaching the peak of its outbreak as Toronto is taking on a team that is well on the way down from the height of their own break as the Bulls appear to be. But even the Bulls improved situation took a step back yesterday when Devon Dotson entered protocols becoming the 12th member of the team to join that list in the past three weeks. The Bulls currently have six players in protocols.
There’s also the possibility that of the 20 players, coaches and staff on that Raptors’ plane yesterday, some may not get through the trip without having their own tests come back positive.