Pretty pleased that the end of my vacation coincided with possibly the worst Raptors game of the season. Was a good one to miss. Some hideous offensive stretches for the Raptors, continued struggles stopping opponents from cruising into the paint and scoring while there. I did watch the tape though and it hurt my eyes. Some thoughts:
- It was again evident just how much Kyle Lowry misses DeMar DeRozan at both ends of the court. Lowry is trying to do it all himself on offence and simply can’t. He shot 7-for-22 and seems to really be wearing down. He is shooting just 38% from the field over his past four games, with 3.3 turnovers per contest, far higher than his season averages. He has hit only a third of his shots over the past two games and is a cumulative -20 (-39 over the past three). The +/- speaks to how he is getting absolutely torched on a nightly basis defensively by opposing guards. With this much of a workload, Lowry simply doesn’t seem to have the energy to give a proper effort defensively. He can’t keep anybody in front of him right now. Kemba Walker was blowing by him when they matched up and it happened with others as well. DeRozan will allow Lowry to play fewer minutes, and even more important, he will lighten his load significantly when he is on the floor. DeRozan draws a ton of fouls and a ton of attention offensively and has also improved significantly as a defender.
- Remember when Mike Bibby used to torch the Raptors whenever he faced them? Bibby, the one-time Vancouver Grizzlies point guard,always seemed to play twice as well against Toronto compared to any other team. Bibby would hit dagger after dagger and terrorize Toronto. For the past few years, Gerald Henderson has been Mike Bibby. The former Duke star is a pretty average NBAer, but he plays like a star whenever he faces players in Toronto jerseys. It is like clockwork. Usually Henderson slows DeRozan down defensively while being decent offensively. On Thursday, with DeRozan again absent, Henderson was able to focus on scoring and turned in a 31-point effort. Henderson got the shots he wanted, got to the free throw line and was a force. Henderson now averages 15.4 points in 14 meetings with the Raptors, tied with his average against the Knicks and nearly two full points more than he averages against any other club.
- Something else that has become clear: The Landry Fields as starter experiment needs to end. Luckily, with DeRozan back soon, it will, but if he has to sit any longer, it’s time to put James Johnson back in there. Yes, it will take a needed sparkplug off of the bench and sure, Johnson makes some infuriating mental mistakes that Dwane Casey loathes, but he’s an impact defender on a team that has been an abomination defensively for some time now. I’d even think about starting Johnson in place of Terrence Ross once DeRozan is back, though then you go away from the three-point game that has served the Raptors so well. The plus side is you add an above average defender and rebounder who will help protect the rim. You give something up offensively, but you gain a lot on defence. A second unit with Ross, Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson would be non-stop three-pointers and perhaps a bit too predictable, or, it could overpower opponents.
- Ross looked more aggressive, looking to attack off of the dribble. He needs to keep doing that. He can’t just be a three-point shooter.
- Have the Raptors turned back into a pumpkin? Was the great start just a mirage? Don’t think so. They will get their focus back. They have some practice time now and it is badly needed. They have a long homestand to get back on track and most importantly, DeRozan’s return is near. Still maintain that a reinforcement up front is needed and Masai has the expiring contracts, future picks and maybe even Ross to dangle for the right return.
- Dangle Ross? You’d have to consider it, no? Would you feel comfortable handing him at least $8 million a season on an extension? Would the Raptors?