Toronto Raptors Dilemma: What to do with Jared Sullinger?

The Toronto Raptors are 29 games into the NBA regular season in what might just be their best start in franchise history. Things are clicking so well for head coach Dwane Casey’s 9-man rotation and with Jared Sullinger nearing a return, it could possibly mess things up.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN reported that Sullinger is expected to be back before the end of January.

Sullinger on his way back….

Sullinger, who has been sidelined since early October after sustaining a foot injury in pre-season, is slowly but surely making a return.

You can take this news as good or bad. Good, being in the sense that the Raptors will finally be close to healthy for the first time in quite a while. Bad, in the sense that the Raptors have been playing so well to start the season, any rotation tweaks can possibly complicate things.

Heading into the season, Sullinger was the expected starter at the power forward position as Casey said “It’s his to lose.” Is that still the case though?

Rookie Pascal Siakam has started in place of Sullinger and like any first-year player, he has faced some struggles, but has provided a ton of energy. Being very mobile and willing to defend whoever he’s been asked to, Siakam should be a player the Raptors want to keep in the long run in hopes he evolves as a player.

It’s probably safe to say president Masai Ujiri got a steal with the 27th pick. I could sit here all day and talk about how magnificent Masai is, so why not instead Toronto just give him the keys to city? I feel as though that’s reasonable.

Sullinger D-League bound?

Brian Boake of Raptors Rapture expects Sullinger to be sent down to the D-League before joining the Raptors. I’m all for this knowing that Sullinger has struggled in the past with his conditioning.  I don’t think heading down to the 905 will particularly hurt him, but only aid him in getting back into game shape and rhythm while also possibly helping Casey determine what he can get out of Sullinger.

Start Sullinger? Likely.

What could possibly happen is that Casey sends Siakam to the bench and Sullinger gets to start. Is that good for the long run? Yes.

The Raptors have struggled immensely with rebounding this season, ranked just 25th in the NBA. In Points Per 36 minutes, he collects 12.7 rebounds, which should only assist the Raptors in that category.. The Raptors are probably expecting him to get them back to being in the middle of the pack in rebounding in the NBA, which they were a year ago.

Also when the Raptors begin their playoff run, who would you rather have starting? An unproven rookie or a guy that has been there before? I think the answer is overwhelmingly Sullinger, which is not a knock on Siakam. You just have to role with experience and Sullinger gives you that. Siakam is still young and opportunities like he’s had this season, will only open up as he progresses as a player.

It might take a while for the Raptors starters to get used to playing with Sullinger but if the goal is a deep playoff run, you have to start him.

Concerns For Starting Sullinger

My number one concern for this is, is the pairing alongside Jonas Valanciunas. You can only expect the defensive front-court of the Raptors (Not including DeMarre Carroll), to be atrocious. Both very slow players due to their size, won’t matchup well and can’t guard the perimeter against a league that has drastically adapted to a fast-style of play.

Looking at it on the offensive standpoint, spacing can be an issue. If Sullinger isn’t connecting on his jump shot, it will only make defenders inclined to clog the lane, allowing Sullinger to shoot at will, as the defense knows he isn’t a threat out there.

Last season with the Boston Celtics, Sullinger shot 39.9% from 3-10 feet, 35.1% from 10-16 feet, and 39.8% from 16 < 3PT. If that doesn’t scream inefficient to you, I don’t know what will.

Bench Sullinger?

This isn’t very ideal, but let’s talk about it. Hypothetically speaking, you leave the starters as they are and have Sullinger come off the bench which would result in Lucas Nogueira seeing a decline in minutes.

The reason you might bring Sullinger off the bench is because he hasn’t really played the power forward position since the 2014-2015 season, as he played an estimated 86% of his minutes at center last season with the Celtics.

The numbers don’t particularly show it, but Bebe has been very productive for the Raptors off the bench. Averaging 9.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks on 74.2% shooting in PER 36. And who really wants to stop seeing Kyle Lowry throw Bebe lobs? I know I don’t.

The reason you might bring Sullinger off the bench is because he hasn’t really played the power forward position since the 2014-2015 season, as he played an estimated 86% of his minutes at center last season with the Celtics. So throwing him in to start at power forward might not work so well, giving that he has to guard more faster big’s than he’s accustomed to when playing center.

Trade Sullinger?

This is probably the most unlikely case, but If Masai is really worried that he could disrupt the success of this Raptors team, why not check what the market is for a guy like Jared? If you were thinking of making a trade, I would suspect it would be for a star caliber player that can potentially get you over the hump of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m thinking DeMarcus Cousins, which is very unlikely, and the Raptors would probably have to give up a lot.

Fans that are eager to see the Raptors make a move before the trade deadline, are also going to sleep dreaming about Santa Claus. It’s very unlikely and I’m glad it is.

Nonetheless, Casey and the Raptors have a ton of time to think hard and long on what exactly they’ll do with Sullinger. I expect them to slowly ease Sullinger into a starting role for the Raptors as it more beneficial in the long run for this team.

So the question is, do you start him, trade him or bench him? The answer to that, we all should know soon enough.


Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas (17) blocks a shot by Boston Celtics’ Jared Sullinger (7) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (Michael Dwyer/AP)