@ESPNSteinLine: Raptors just announced DeMar DeRozan is out indefinitely with a torn tendon in his left (leg) in another dose of deflating NBA injury news
After getting off to an impressive start at 13-2, the Raptors have dropped two straight; a tough 4th quarter fight against the Dallas Mavericks, and an overtime defeat to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. What hurts the Raptors even more is that they’re losing arguably their biggest threat offensively. DeRozan is a proven all-star player, despite some dipped production so far this year.
DeRozan is one of the league’s best at getting to the free-throw line (6th in the NBA), averaging 7.8 attempts per game. Without DeRozan, the team loses a core piece in getting opposing teams in foul trouble, and acquiring easy points at the line. What’s also developing during his 6th season, is his ability to get the superstar calls. All of that is now ruled out until his return.
This season, DeRozan has been seeing two to three bodies thrown at him consistently each game. His dip in production is a result of not being used to seeing double-teams and learning how to play through them. This added attention has allowed the Raptors to be potent offensively, despite a significant drop in their ball movement in comparison to last season. The Raptors are in the bottom third in assists but still manage to score at a high clip currently standing at 2nd in the NBA in points per game average (108.5). DeRozan isn’t the only reason the Raptors are so potent offensively, but he’s a major piece to the puzzle.
With DeRozan out, all of the defensive attention he commands will shift towards Kyle Lowry. Until DeRozan’s return, Lowry will be the first name on every team’s scouting report. Lowry had a sample of what’s to come defensively when they faced the Lakers on Sunday night. Lowry shot an abysmal 10/28 from the field, and 1/8 from the perimeter. While his turnover numbers were solid, he made a ton of bad decisions in terms of his shot selection. An example was in the overtime period, coming off a pick-&-roll set by Patrick Patterson, he spun from baseline towards the paint, but into three Laker shirts followed by a block from Jordan Hill.
Without DeRozan, there are going to be major adjustments made by Dwane Casey.
How will the Raptors survive in the absence of DeRozan?
Number one, the Raptors’ coaching staff will have to emphasize the need for ball movement; as it’s been a serious point of concern for the team. Without a player like DeRozan that can demand a double-team consistently, Terrence Ross, Lou Williams, or Lowry wont have those same great looks they were getting in the first 16 games before the Lakers bout. So, to result in open looks, the team will have to work a mile extra with constant ball cuts, screening, and passing. No more low-post ups for DeRozan to free up Ross, or any of our shooters on the opposite side. Now, it’s going to have to come from their patented floppy plays, with shooters/offensive players coming off down-screens to get freed up.
The player who should benefit most from DeRozan’s absence is Jonas Valanciunas. There is really no excuse for him to get little-to-no touches throughout the course of games. With DeRozan doing the majority of his work in the paint, that burden and responsibility falls upon the shoulders of JV – or at least is should. JV has demonstrated dominance in games where he is constantly looked for on the inside, or when he’s hit off the roll. For the Raptors to carry their paint presence despite DeRozan’s injury, Valanciunas being an option throughout the game is important – hence, emphasis on ‘throughout the game.’
Masai Ujiri did an impressive job of pulling together a very deep roster, despite little room to work with in terms of cap space and trade-able assets. Lou Williams, James Johnson, and the keepings of Greivis Vasquez, and Patterson arguably make for the best group of guys off the pine.
Lou’s production has come in bursts, James hasn’t seen a handful of minutes consistently, and Vasquez is still trying to find his stroke. With DeMar’s minutes up for grabs, these three can certainly make up for it offensively. Johnson’s ability to create for others and get in the paint will make up for a lot of the lost penetration, while Vasquez and Lou’s abilities to get hot from anywhere on the floor can cover DeRozan’s almost 20 points per game average. These three will certainly add up in terms of the minutes, and are all capable of collectively producing at DeRozan’s pace.
The individual that has the most potential to take advantage of this opportunity, is Terrence Ross. T-Ross, in this time, can become more than just a 3-&-D guy. He’s capable of becoming a consistent threat from both ends of the floor as he’s already a better shooter, defender, and athlete than DeRozan at this stage in his career. Furthermore his ball-handling ability is further in its development compared to DeRozan in his third year. Ross has more room to breathe, no longer giving Casey all the ability to quickly hook him out of the game due to mistakes. This is a big stage in terms of Ross’ development; he can take advantage of it, and breakthrough, or totally collapse in the some of the pressure and responsibility that will be falling upon him. Keep in mind though, the last time DeRozan went down with an injury, Ross did have a 51 point game.
With DeRozan out, the defence might actually take a step forward. DeRozan is not the most impressive of defenders, and while he has taken an incredible step this season (stopping LeBron James, keeping Eric Bledsoe in check for the majority of the game), he is nowhere near a scare to opposing players. Ross and Johnson are great defenders, Lou Williams has proven to be a better defender than originally thought, and Fields – also a solid defensive player – may get his name called to step in the hole at the wing position. On the wing, the team now has capable defenders at every position. The Raptors will be throwing a line-up of Lowry/Ross/J. Johnson, which is likely the best defensive line-up perimeter wise.
How will the Raptors survive with DeRozan’s absence? Throw a better defensive line-up out on the floor, get a collective effort from the bench to make up for the production, make Jonas the main option in the paint, hope Ross takes advantage of this open opportunity, and start creating better ball and player movement. Hero-ball, isolations, and relying heavily on Kyle Lowry to win games is going to be a way the Raptors completely negate their good start.
The Sacramento Kings are up, and this will be a major challenge for Toronto as the Kings are on the rise. The Raptors are going to have to collectively make up for lost production; DeRozan isn’t a superstar, but his presence on the floor alone was a pressure-release for the guys on the floor. It’s going to take a complete team effort from now on until DeRozan is back.
Until then. Get well soon DeMar.