Raptors Rack it Back… Again

Continuity or Fatigue?

The San Antonio Spurs have enjoyed two decades of unrivaled success for a few reasons – Duncan, Pop, Kawhi, and continuity.

While the Cavs and Celtics radically altered their lineups this offseason, the Raptors kept their core intact. But how excited should Raps fans be for Year 6 of the Lowry / Derozan (and Casey) era?

I attended a compelling Q&A with Casey a couple weeks ago. The Raps head coach of 6 seasons is well aware of his critics – that he’s antiquated (his word).  That the offence bogs down in the playoffs. That he’s failed to adapt to the three point era. But he knows his roster, and while it may seem obvious, Casey says fans and analysts do not appreciate one simple fact – you have to play to your players’ strengths.

Demar Derozan is your best scoring option. Casey knows he’s not a great ball handler or passer, and doesn’t want to shoot the three (averaged 1.7 attempts last season at 27%). But he can’t just will Demar to shoot more threes, especially when he can’t make them.  He has to put Derozan in his best spots to succeed – inside the three point line, in isolation. Not ideal for today’s game, but Demar has improved his numbers year after year (2016-2017: career high 27.3 PPG, career high 8.7 FTA per game, 47% from the field, his best rate since his rookie season), and the team has made four straight postseasons. So what choice does Casey have but to run those annoying pin-downs?

And what about Lowry? K-Low (worst nickname ever) had a bizarre 2016-17 campaign. He made his third straight all star team, hurt his wrist, missed 21  games late in the regular season, then had one great game in the playoffs (22 points and a game winner in Game 2 vs the Bucks). Just like the previous year, he wore down late, which was a product of bad luck and overexertion.

Making my outlook worse – how Lowry comported himself in the 2nd round. Forced to sit out Games 3 and 4 with a sprained ankle, Lowry was virtually asleep on the bench, not even cheering the team’s admirable run in the late stages of Game 4. Sure, without Lowry the Raptors had no shot against the Cavs, but that display showed a troubling lack of leadership.

Though continuity has proven a winning formula in the regular season, the Raptors haven’t shown much improvement come playoff time.  They still lose every Game 1, and they allow inferior teams like last season’s Bucks and 2016’s Pacers and Heat to push them to the brink. If you’re not going to dominate a series against a team with Malcolm Brogdon as its starting point guard, it’s not surprising that the Raptors have never given Cleveland a series.

But – the team re-signed Serge Ibaka, and made some other significant changes. In the next post, I’ll analyze whether the “others” give the Raptors any hope at a better postseason fate.