The Toronto Raptors have been playing an inferior level of basketball to what they’re accustomed to since the new year began. They are just 4-7 in 2015, which is puzzling since one of their all-star caliber players, Demar DeRozan, is healthy and back in the starting rotation. The team’s woes can be blamed on a few things, most notably their lacklustre defense. The Dinos allow opposing teams to shoot 46.1% on a nightly basis, which ranks 7th worst in the association. Accompanying the high opponents’ field goal percentage is a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 104.3, which is by no means impressive. These statistics come as a surprise when you consider this team had a top-10 ranked defense in the 2013-14 season, with basically the same foundation of talent.
Aside from poor defensive play, the Raptors seem to have run into a few lineup problems as of late. When Demar DeRozan starts at the small forward position, he simply cannot score at will the way Raptor fans are accustomed to seeing. Even against the embarrassingly awful Philadelphia 76ers last night, DeRozan could only muster up 8 points on 4 of 14 shooting. In the three games since head coach Dwane Casey demoted inconsistent guard Terrence Ross out of the starting lineup, DeRozan has made 6 of his 34 shots (17.6%). Although three games is certainly a small sample size, DeRozan has quickly shown that he isn’t able to get the shots he wants or score nearly as effectively against small forwards. Even if Terrence Ross is playing poorly, taking him out of the starting lineup and forcing DeRozan to play a position he’s unaccustomed to proves problematic for the team as a whole. Casey needs to find an alternative solution.
Additionally, recently named all-star starter Kyle Lowry has had to carry way too much of the team’s load on a consistent basis. Watch each Raptors game and you’ll notice the growing fatigue Lowry has been displaying of late. The team was able to cope with the loss of Demar for most of this season…I really couldn’t see the team coping nearly as well if they lost Lowry to injury, as he does so many little things that don’t show up in the boxscore that the Raptors would sorely miss. It seems like every time the Raptors need a late game bucket, they go to Lowry for it. They need another scorer aside from Lowry, DeRozan, and iso-heavy Lou Williams to help lighten the offensive burden and add some much needed flexibility. If they could snag a player like Wilson Chandler (who’s a proven perimeter defender), that would surely do the trick.
Going back to Dwane Casey, a solution that would help ease the workload of Lowry would be to actually play promising young center Jonas Valanciunas more than 20-25 minutes a game. It’s common knowledge that it typically takes big men longer to develop as formidable players, which is more reason why Valanciunas should regularly see the court…to continue his development. He has great game in the low post and is a beast on the boards, when fully engaged that is. If Valanciunas can stay out of foul trouble and get the ample playing time he requires, he’ll be able to develop more consistency in all facets of the game. It’s on Casey to incorporate other weapons into the lineup (like Valanciunas) so that Lowry can afford to have an off-night without knowing his team is going to struggle.
The Raptors need to figure out how to consistently defend at a high level, play DeRozan where he’s most effective, and ease the load for Kyle Lowry. It’s on Casey and the rest of his coaching staff to fix these problems and come out stronger in the second half of the season.