The Toronto Raptors All-Star backcourt has been anything but during the postseason.
Each year, NBA fans across the country expect LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to represent the East in the Finals. It’s clockwork. Along with that, each of the conference’s top teams is analyzed on their potential of de-throning the Cavs. Last year, it was the Raptors. This year, it also could be the Raptors. The only problem is that, yet again, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan haven’t shown up.
Once upon a time, there was an argument that Toronto had the NBA’s best backcourt. In Lowry, they have a leader who’s a killer from the perimeter and an absolute bulldog defensively. His cohort is DeRozan possesses an archaic, pre-millennium style that’s shockingly effective. The Compton native is the perfect contrast to his East Coast partner-in-crime, and their inside-outside game is tough for any set of guards to defend.
The two had the best seasons of their careers this year. DeRozan averaged 27.3 points and 5.2 rebounds — both career-bests — while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor. Lowry also put up huge numbers with 22.4 points, 7.0 assists and a radiant three-point clip of 41.2 percent. For the beginning of the season, DeRozan was a legitimate way-too-early MVP candidate who was showcasing Michael Jordan-level scoring ability. Lowry didn’t get as much love, but he was still voted an All-Star and emerged as one of the NBA’s most lethal marksman.
Toronto ran through the East with a record comparable to Boston and Cleveland and finished the year going 34-18 in the conference. That mark helped them tremendously. Thanks to the Cavaliers skid late in the season, the Raptors tied for second in the East with 51 wins. Cleveland won the tiebreaker and got the second seed.
DeRozan and Lowry are max-contract guys — there’s no doubt. Although Lowry has yet to sign his, DeRozan’s making a cool $26.4 million this year. For how they play during the regular season, they’re worth it. However, we don’t judge players on regular season performance unless we’re talking about the MVP (and that should include the postseason), and the two All-Stars have been egregiously ineffective to start the playoffs. Much like LeBron and Cleveland are almost guaranteed to make it out of the East, the Raptors give their fans annual anxiety come April and May, and DeRozan and Lowry have done nothing to fix that.
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Through three games against the Bucks so far, Toronto trails 2-1. On the surface, it’s not a big deal because Milwaukee is a good team. After all, they have a rising superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo alongside Khris Middleton, who’s turned into an excellent young player. Conversely, they don’t have Jabari Parker, and that’s 20 points missing from their offense.
DeRozan and Lowry’s offense isn’t affected by Parker. The duo’s combined to average 32.3 points on 35 percent shooting from the field, which is down from 49.4 and 46.5 percent during the regular season. DeRozan’s outscoring Lowry 19.3 to 13.0 primarily because he’s making about eight foul shots a game, and the charity stripe is the only place he scored from in Game 3. One of the NBA’s most efficient and devasting players is connecting on just 34 percent of his buckets.
It’s a shame, but, like I said, it’s expected. This same guy had a field goal clip of 39.4 last postseason, and 40 percent the year before that. DeRozan’s attempted fewer shots because the two teams are playing at a snail’s pace, but 15.7 a night is still a fair amount. All but five of his looks have come from the three-point and, statistically, he’s getting the best shot possible more times than not.
According to Basketball Reference, DeRozan’s average distance on his field goals this postseason is 8.3 feet — 4.1 feet closer than the regular season. Inside of eight feet, DeMar connected on 56.5 percent of his shots. That’s plummeted to 45.8 for the playoffs.
Lowry’s also getting decent looks at the rim, and his average shot distance is 11 feet. The Bucks’ defense has been good, but worse offense by Toronto makes them look like the 1990 Detroit Pistons. By rendering Lowry’s three-ball impotent, Milwaukee has clogged up the rest of Toronto’s offense. Even though the floor is more spaced because they’re contesting more shots, the Bucks’ can help off with greater intensity because the percentages are in their favor.
Since Lowry’s shooting a smoking 25 percent from three, the Bucks can close off driving and slashing lanes. If DeRozan can’t slash or get clean looks from around the free throw line, he’s impotent too.
Serge Ibaka‘s been a reliable option thus far, and it may be advantageous to look for him more. His usage rate’s just 21 percent, but he’s got a better PER (15.0) than Lowry and DeRozan, and he’s been much more efficient with his shots. Ibaka’s shooting 45.9 percent overall with a modest 38.5 clip from three. He’s not the team’s best player, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the numbers.
After reaching the Conference Finals last year, a potential first-round exit would be deflating. Maybe not as much because the 2016 squad was much better, but the fans up north are phenomenal. Each time the camera cuts outside of the Air Canada Centre, there’s a sea of red whose cheers drown out the voice of whoever’s calling the game. If DeRozan and Lowry were playing well, there’s a different argument because you could chalk it up to the Bucks just being the better team. Unfortunately, this showing is disheartening because Milwaukee isn’t as good — on paper — as Toronto.
All stats are from NBA.com or Basketball Reference
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