After their scorching hot start, the Toronto Raptors have just one win in 2015, and have won just 1 out of their past 7 games. During that stretch of games, they haven’t looked all that different than they had earlier in the season when DeMar DeRozan went down. Yet, they aren’t winning games anymore.
Many are pointing to the injury of DeRozan. While this is definitely a large factor, the problem just may be deeper than that, and something that’s systematic. The Raptors have fundamental issues on both ends of the court that have finally caught up to them, resulting in a slump. What I’m going to do right now is try and break them down for you while trying my best to make this not sound like a rant. Let’s go:
The best defence is a sound offence
The Raptors have the third best offence in the league, averaging 107.8 points per game. Something funny about that is that without DeRozan, the offensive numbers, on the outside, are slightly better with the average being 108 points per game. The assists numbers are 15th in the league at 21.2 per game, however are 22.4 without DeRozan – good enough for 11th. Even in the 4th quarter, those numbers are pretty consistent.
Defensively, post DeRozan the Raptors allow 105.4 PPG, which is the 3rd worst in league. Yet, before DeRozan’s injury, they allowed 96.6 PPG, which would be 2nd best in the league, and lines up much better with that ‘tough, defensive’ identity Casey loves to preach. Thus, there has been a fundamental defensive issue here. The thing is, Casey knew all along that the winning was masking issues:
“I just saw a lot of things when we were winning that I knew wasn’t going to be conducive against good teams and when things got tough and (when) shots (are) not falling, when the energy level is not as high as it should be,” Casey said.
“Some things you are getting by with. Recognized it, was preaching it and as a young team we have to continue to get better in those areas. We probably weren’t good in certain areas that we were getting by with in certain games and I knew that it wasn’t going to last and we’ve got to get better at. We’ve just got to continually improve in those areas.
“It’s not one person at fault, it’s all of us. Coaches, players, everybody. I’ve got to do a better job of calling plays or getting guys in the right position defensively as well. It’s on our staff as well. I’m not pointing fingers at any one person,” he said.
Currently, the offense is comprised of unsustainable, hot and cold iso-play, and hero-ball from Kyle Lowry. The free-throw rate is way down, the ball isn’t moving, the cutting and movement is way down, and it really is just frustrating to watch due to the up and down offence. In turn, opposing defences don’t have to work as much, and can focus on taking advantage of defensive weaknesses.
Lowry is tired
To compensate for DeRozan’s injury, Lowry has been working his ass off, plain and simple. In essence, this team only has three players that can consistently create offense – Lowry, DeRozan – who is out, and JV – who basically sits half the game. Thus, Lowry has been forced to take over games. This evidently wasn’t going to hold up, and the dude is now burned out, and hasn’t been nearly as effective on either end of the court, while failing to deliver down the stretch.
“He’s one of the guys who is just wearing (down), just naturally, with the time and minutes accumulated over time, not just the last few games, that we’re concerned about,” Casey said of Lowry.
Offensively, his shots start to flatten down the stretch. His explosive first step is not nearly as effective, and you can just tell he has to work extra hard for every bucket. Defensively, he has been quite bad at what arguably is the most important position. Allowing Kemba Walker, Brandon Jennings, Eric Bledsoe, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and more penetrate at will really affects the defense’s ability to set up and play man to man D. On top of that, I can’t remember the last time the 2013-14 league leading Lowry took a charge.
With that being said, the people blaming Lowry for the losses are delusional. The alternative to letting Lowry operate is far worse, and this team would not win many games without him. And that’s the real issue here.
Low Jonas usage rate
It seems like every article I write have to talk about the lack of touches/minutes Jonas Valanciunas receives. It doesn’t make sense – the guy is averaging 17.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. He can create shots for himself in the post, and does it while shooting an elite 55.8% from the field. And yet? 26 minutes per game, benched down the stretch, rare set plays run. It makes no sense to have arguably your most efficient player have such a low usage rate. But hey…
Lou Will + Greivis
Lou Williams is becoming nauseating to watch, in all honesty. When he’s hot, it’s great and he does fuel the offense while demoralizing the opponent. However, the fact that he shoots 32.5% in losses is indicative enough that this team cannot live or die by Lou as a second option. When he’s not clicking, he kills team momentum, doesn’t make the defence work, and still keeps taking ridiculous shots. On top of that, he’s a useless defender. That, paired with the fact that Greivis Vasquez is essentially a less trigger-happy version of Lou makes the Raptors offense inconsistent and iso-heavy, as aforementioned. Given that these guys soak up the majority of DeRozan’s minutes, it’s no wonder the defensive numbers are down
The bottom line is that Lou and Greivis are hot and cold, Amir Johnson is great but a role player, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross are essentially spot up shooters that occasionally get more done, and James Johnson is an all-around hustle guy with high efficiency. That really leaves JV, DD and Lowry as the only ones that can consistently create offense. And with inconsistent minutes for JV paired with a DeRozan injury, reality has begun to settle in for Casey’s Raptors. This Raptors team is good, but without DeRozan, that’s all they are.
To be fair, it’s not time to panic just yet. The losses came against either tough, or hot teams, and once DeRozan returns, I fully expect the pre DD-injury Raptors to return. However, if the Raptors lose on Wednesday to the Philadelphia 76ers, we may have to hit the panic button.