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Raptors Weigh Frontcourt Options in Wake of Jakob Poeltl Injury

The Toronto Raptors were already thin at center and will now be without starting big Jakob Poeltl for at least two weeks. What frontcourt options do they have?

The Toronto Raptors' depth at center continues to take a beating.

The team just can’t seem to catch a break. Highs have been matched by lows all season long, with the latest example being the indefinite loss of Jakob Poeltl following three wins in four games.

Acquired at last season’s trade deadline, Poeltl has been the Raptors go-to big ever since – starting in 61 of his 62 games played. While inconsistent at times, he’s essentially been as advertised and his absence will undoubtedly change the complexion of Toronto’s lineup.

Christian Koloko remains out, Precious Achiuwa was dealt, and Poeltl’s return timeline is unclear. Here are four frontcourt options the Raptors can turn to in the interim.

Chris Boucher

Chris Boucher is the most sensible on-roster replacement, bringing 341 games of NBA experience at various frontcourt positions. While predominantly used at power forward these days, he’s been a capable center in the past. 

In fact, Boucher’s last long-term stint there was during the 2020-21 season when he averaged career-highs in points (13.6), rebounds (6.7), and field-goal percentage (54%).

Now in his age-31 season, his ceiling and durability are the biggest question marks. Boucher has only started 23 games in his career, and he’s averaging just north of 14 minutes per game this season. 

On the other hand, his recent performance against the Sacramento Kings was encouraging – finishing a rebound shy of a double-double across 28 minutes.

Jontay Porter

Another on-roster option is 24-year-old Jontay Porter. He’s an intriguing big man who generated a lot of buzz while playing for the University of Missouri. 

A string of unfortunate injuries set his career off course, but he’s paid his dues in the G League and could be ready to contribute to Toronto’s rotation.

Porter’s lack of NBA experience is an obvious knock, but his size and skillset along with his pick-and-roll abilities are very appealing to Darko Rajaković. 

There’s also some familiarity there, with Porter’s only previous NBA action coming with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2020-21 season – where Rajaković was an assistant coach at the time.

Thaddeus Young

The Raptors didn’t have much time to figure out how to replace Poeltl ahead of a late west coast game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. 35-year-old Thaddeus Young ended up drawing the start in what was just his ninth game of the season.

His performance was admirable all things considered, stuffing the stat sheet with 10 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a block while playing just under 29 minutes. For a super veteran averaging only 4.3 minutes per game this season, it was a night to remember.

Unfortunately, it’s also a clear outlier as Young only started and played so much in order to help Darko Rajaković preserve his rotation and the success it has generated since adding RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to the fold. 

Going forward, Young will be nothing more than a matchup-dependent big who could see a handful of minutes, or none at all, on any given night.

Play More Small Ball

The Raptors came within one point of defeating the Lakers, failing to overcome incredible performances from Anthony Davis and LeBron James – both of whom seemingly drove the paint at will. 

On the other hand, Toronto was able to keep things close and nearly emerged with a win by playing a small ball-esque game in the second half.

Scottie Barnes led the way, with the offense predominantly schemed to support him. Quickley and Barrett really pushed the pace as well, completing high IQ plays and opening up the floor for Barnes and Pascal Siakam to go to work.

Future schemes could include Barnes seeing time at center, with the likes of Gary Trent Jr. tagging into the starting lineup. That said, there needs to be an increased consistency in both perimeter defense and three-point shooting for small ball to truly work in Toronto.

For example, the Raptors sank just two of their first 12 three-point attempts against the Lakers before lucking out and draining 15 of their next 23 attempts. 

On the bright side, Toronto is definitely starting to find a scoring groove – racking up 130 or more points in three consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. 

The team is playing with a renewed energy, and the next month will naturally determine a lot regarding the course of this franchise's future.