I’m not gonna go into any management decisions the Raps have made behind the scenes, and I am a huge believer in the persuasive prowess of our own Dark Wizard, Masai Ujiri. This article is just going to address how the Raps have been playing on the court, exactly what you see when you turn on your TV.
The Raptors have been rolling with a starting lineup composed of Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan, the best ball buddies and most beautiful bromance in the NBA, at guards, and Demarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas in the frontcourt.
Personally, I ignore the defined positions, point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center, since the NBA has been slowly moving away from role-players and towards more versatile players, each capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of a range of positions.
The best of these examples are, off the top of my head, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. We no longer have the John Stocktons that the NBA once had. It is for this reason that I’m not gonna talk about how anyone on this team plays a certain position well.
Ignoring the definitions of each of the five positions, the Raps are left with Kyle Lowry, a confident shooter, averaging 23 points per game, shooting 46.4% from the field, and 41.5% from behind the arc.
Lowry, standing 6-feet-tall, can’t exactly throw it down like Russell Westbrook, or knock down the trey like Stephen Curry, or pass the ball like Chris Paul, or handle it like Kyrie Irving. Kyle doesn’t quite match up well skills-wise with his contemporaries, but he’s still praised as an elite player.
He puts up the statistics of an All-Star, so he must be doing something right. On the court, his presence is felt every time he throws up a lob for an alley-oop, every time he takes a charge, every time he knocks down a three, and just about every time he does anything good.
Something doesn't add up
Recently, however, I’ve had some doubts as to some of his decisions, specifically the decision to play in the All-Star game and three-point competition whilst harboring an injured wrist, for which he underwent surgery. He’s back now and has looked alright in his return, but goddamnit, sometimes I just worry that he or someone else on the team’s gonna make an “executive decision” on behalf of themselves again and the repercussions will be more serious.
Next, to Lowry, we have Demar Derozan. Don’t even get me started. I know he’s arguably the Raps best player, I know that he’s breaking Raptors scoring records left and right, and I know that we wouldn’t be in the playoff positions we are in now and have been in for the past few years, but screw all that. Demar Derozan is possibly the most annoying player to watch play the game I know and love. First of all, and this is all my personal opinion, but the mid-range jump shot needs to be eradicated from basketball strategy.
Without going into too many statistical calculations and numbers and whatnot, mid-range jumpers go in less often than layups and dunks, but they reward the same amount of points; they’re just a harder way of doing something easy for the same reward.
WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU WANT TO TAKE SO MANY MID-RANGE JUMP SHOTS, DEMAR? *Ahem*, sorry. But in all seriousness, Demar is known as an aggressive shooter, with skills as a slashing wing, and an athletic finisher. He puts up a lot of points per game, because he is a talented scorer, with a lot of strengths.
Also, the guy cannot shoot 3s. It’s no secret that Demar Derozan, a SHOOTING guard (I know I said that I wouldn’t mention traditional positions, but screw it, it helps my argument), cannot shoot threes. As seemingly small and insignificant as one more point per shot may be, it goes a long way for teams such as the Golden State Warriors, whose upbeat pace and reliance on three-point-shooting have allowed them to practically dominate the league, regardless of how many 3-1 leads they’ve blown.
Lack of efficiency
The absence of the threat of the three-point-shot in the Raptors offense completely cripples them, putting less weight on the defensive mind against the Raps. So then there’s Derozan, who has proved himself as the best Raptors scorer of all time, relying heavily on the midrange jumper. While Demar is an extremely talented slasher and finisher, as I mentioned before, he prefers to stay outside the paint and inside the three-point line more often than the average player. Although it is an effective way to score baskets, as proven by DeRozan's stats this year, it is far too easy for defenders to force Demar into stupid and less efficient shots.
Derozan’s playing style shows hints of his idol, Kobe Bryant, one of the most prolific scorers of all time. But copying the Black Mamba is no easy task, as he is one of the most talented players the league has ever seen, looking like a man possessed with the ball, capable of hitting fading jumpers that seem impossible; truly the kind of shot that has fans going, “No, no, no, that can’t go in…” And then it does. And that’s a lot of how Raptors fans like myself have been feeling all year.
Seeing Demar with the ball in his hands has been a rollercoaster of emotion, with every ounce of basketball knowledge we possess screaming, ‘DON’T TAKE THAT SHOT!’ But then he does, and, of course, he makes it. It’s hard to stay mad when it’s bringing in results.
Acceptable role players
Demarre Carrol: When he came from Atlanta, he was hyped up as the wing defender who is gonna turn our defense around. His defense is pretty good, at best. Mostly we use Demarre to stretch the floor for threes so that defenders can't just double team Kyle or Demar. I’m sorry, but a team competing for top spot in the Eastern Conference cannot have a player who brings nothing above average to the table.
The title of, “an all-around player”, gets thrown around a lot in regards to Carroll and Lowry, which basically means, they aren't exceptional at one particular thing, but what they're doing seems to be working most of the time, so let's let them keep doing it.
Serge Ibaka: A fantastic addition to the team who I look forward to seeing more from. He allows us to run small-ball lineups as well as stretches the floor nicely. One critique, he seems to be a little overconfident with his three-point shot, not unlike his teammate Kyle Lowry, but their percentages from behind the line are good enough to keep shooting, just within reason. Serge is rallying the Raps on D and on offense.
Jonas Valanciunas: He’s grown into a semi-consistent third/fourth option for the Raps on the offensive end. His pump fake is the ugliest, but somehow most believable in the league, his midrange jump shot has improved significantly and is now one of his most dangerous weapons, and his running hook shot in the post has proved difficult to contain. The only thing is that he is not the best defender, which has reduced his minutes, especially late in the game and in crunch time.
The Raptors bench is pretty solid, averaging 31.7 of the teams 107.0 points per game. The bench is led by Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and, for some reason, NOT Norman Powell.
With the addition of P.J. Tucker, our bench can finally keep up defensively with opposing teams’ offensive threats. I stand by with the idea that Tucker should be coming off the bench, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he can outplay starting wing, Demarre Carroll.
The Raps rely heavily on guards setting screens for each other. This is an interesting, and, if executed properly, very effective strategy, best used, probably, by the “Bad Boys” Pistons, helmed at the guard spots by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. The only problem seems to be that no one on the Raps knows how to roll properly after a screen.
The problem used to be on the Valanciunas screen. Jonas would come up to the defender on Lowry, stand next to him, and look like he was going to set a screen, but then just run away and hope he gets the ball. The only problem with that screen and roll is the absolute lack of the screen part.
In Lowry’s absence, Cory Joseph was actually running the offense quite well, moving the ball, hitting the roller after screens, and just generally making his teammates better. I really like Cory for what he can do with and without the ball.
He knows that after a screen, the smartest thing to do is to put pressure on the D to either guard him or the rolling screener, either way, giving up a shot attempt on most occasions. If this doesn’t happen according to plan, then Cory is perfectly capable of swinging the ball around, and cutting to a new spot on the floor.
Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, seems to be incapable of cutting after he passes the ball away, instead, preferring to just stay back and wait until he can peer-pressure his teammates into giving him the ball back. For the less Basketball-literate readers, this basically means that he’s not really helping when he doesn’t have the ball.
The Raptors, this season, have found immense success and are looking at a serious playoff run in the coming weeks, so they must be doing more positive things than negative. That being said, if some of these problems aren’t addressed, I can’t see the Raptors ever winning a championship.