Will the duo of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan be together next season?
The Toronto Raptors are on the verge of their second straight Atlantic Division Title and with it another trip to the NBA Playoffs. But as the month of April is right around the corner, the Raptors don’t have the look or feel of a team that is ready to do some damage when the NBA Playoffs begin. The Raptors have lost 13 of their last 18 games. The Raptors still have a stranglehold on the top spot in the Atlantic Division due to the fact that it is by far the weakest division in the NBA, but they are fading in the overall standings of the Eastern Conference. For most of the season the Raptors were the second best team in the Eastern Conference behind the Atlanta Hawks. But now the Raptors have fallen into fourth place in the East behind the Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls.
This season the Raptors have been carried by their starting backcourt of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Fresh off of signing a new four-year, $48 million deal to remain with the Raptors, Lowry started real strong this season as in the month of December he averaged 22.3 points and 8.9 assists per game. Lowry was picking up the slack for an injured DeRozan and he kept the team afloat. And Lowry’s season was highlighted by him being named to his first NBA All-Star team. But through rest and injuries, Lowry’s numbers have now dipped. Lowry didn’t appear in the Raptors previous two games before exiting early this past Tuesday night in a 108-104 loss to the Detroit Pistons due to a back injury. Since returning from injury at the beginning of 2015, DeRozan has been valuable for the Raptors including his 23.8 points per game average this month. And depending on how long that Lowry will be out, DeRozan might be asked to do even more for the Raptors.
One of the things that is and will continue to hurt the Raptors is that they are built from the outside-in as opposed to the inside-out. The Raptors rely on Lowry and DeRozan along with other perimeter players such shooting guard Lou Williams and small forward Terrence Ross to do the scoring and creating whereas big men such as center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Amir Johnson tend to grab rebounds and plug up the middle on defense. This philosophy for Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey will win games in the regular season; especially in the Atlantic Division, but it won’t be as easy for Toronto against the big boys of the NBA where size matters. The Raptors lack of interior size is evident by the fact that they are currently tied for 26th in the NBA for total rebounding at 41.4 per game while being a middle of the pack team for field goal percentage at .454 as they tend to rely more on perimeter shooting.
Last season the Raptors won the Atlantic and they had home-court advantage in their first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. But it was the Nets that had more size on the interior along with veteran experience that propelled them to the series win. And if you look at the current slump that the Raptors are on they have lost to teams that have size and for the most part a post presence.
When the calender shifts to April, the Raptors will have eight games left in the regular season and all of those contests will be against teams that currently have losing records. The Raptors need to take advantage of the also-rans in those contests along with getting some swagger back as they head into the postseason. I don’t see the Raptors forcing the issue to rush Lowry back now as they’ll need him healthy and ready to go when the playoffs roll around. This season the Raptors are a combined 3-7 versus the Hawks, Cavs and Bulls who are the tops teams in the Eastern Conference as they lose the size matchup with each team. And due to this discrepancy for the Raptors, I see them struggling when the NBA Playoffs roll around; even with a healthy Lowry.