Photo Courtesy: USA Today
The star player on a team will always have the responsibility to carry his team to victory. If the team is successful, he gets the praise; if the team is not, he gets the blame. Sometimes this is an unfair critique. Obviously, there are more factors involved with a team’s success or failure than just the star player’s performance; but, in terms of the Toronto Raptors and DeMar DeRozan, this critique is justified. I’ll explain why.
When asked who the star player on the Raptors is, most people will point to DeMar DeRozan. He has lead the team in points and field goal attempts for the Raptors for the last few years. Some may point to Kyle Lowry as the team’s best player due to advanced metrics and the other ways he can impact the game other than scoring, but DeMar DeRozan has been the focal point of the Raptors’ attack. His performance is extremely consequential to the team’s success. As you probably know already, the Raptors got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Yes, LeBron James was incredible and he utterly embarrassed the team almost every night; but, without taking away from LeBron’s greatness, the Raptors share an equal or even greater part of the blame for this embarrassment. The Raptors (other than Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas, and Pascal Siakam) didn’t put up much resistance. Most critically, DeMar DeRozan seemingly disappeared in the series.
So, what happened to DeMar DeRozan? Here are his 2017-2018 regular season and playoff stats:
As you can see, DeMar DeRozan really fell off the map by the 2nd round of the playoffs. His scoring efficiency dropped dramatically, he was attempting less shots, he was drawing a lot less fouls, and he was not making any of this 3s; all while his usage rate was still at an elite level. So, why was he so ineffective?
Although, Dwane Casey and Nick Nurse’s terrible adjustments led to the overall team’s collapse against the Cleveland Cavaliers; they are not responsible for DeMar DeRozan’s lackluster performance in the series. Here are the plays they ran for DeMar DeRozan during the playoffs:
As you can deduce from those stats, DeMar DeRozan was ineffective running most offensive plays. His most efficient scoring play, the pick and roll, only sees him net 0.92 points per attempt; which is unacceptable for a superstar. No matter what plays Dwane Casey and Nick Nurse ran for DeRozan, it didn’t matter because he wasn’t able to score efficiently. On top of this offensive collapse from DeRozan, his defense equally collapsed; going from a defensive rating of 105.4 in the regular season, to an alarming 113.5 in the postseason.
So, what does all this mean for the Raptors?
The Raptors don’t really have many options available to them this summer. They can keep trying to compete around the current core of DeRozan, Lowry, Ibaka, and Valanciunas; but Lowry is 32, DeRozan and Ibaka are 28, and Valanciunas is 26. That core is creeping past its prime. They can wait for Pascal Siakam (24), OG Anunoby (20), Delon Wright (26), and Fred VanVleet (24) to continue improving; but they are supporting cast players whose improvement won’t completely shift the balance of power in the East over to the Raptors. It’s also hard to imagine that they will produce much differently under their new head coach, Nick Nurse, because he ran the inefficient offense that faltered to the Cavs.
Another option is for the Raptors to rework their core. We know now that DeRozan will not lead the Raptors to a championship as the primary scoring option on the team; although, he could be a nice 2nd or 3rd option on a championship team. If the Raptors could land another superstar player, they will definitely be in the conversation to make it out of the Eastern Conference. The problem with this is their cap space. They are already over the salary cap by 26 million, which means they won’t be major players in free agency. The only way for them to acquire another superstar would be through trade. It also doesn’t help that the Raptors don’t have any picks in this year’s draft; and, if they stay along this path of faux-contention, they won’t have any high draft picks for the next few years.
The third option for the Raptors is a complete rebuild. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s trade value isn’t getting any higher. Lowry is experiencing the twilight of his prime and DeRozan is in the middle of his prime. Ibaka has already shown signs of decline, while Valanciunas is just entering his prime. The Raptors do currently have a few young and exciting players on their roster, like Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby. These players would be great building blocks for a rebuild if the Raptors are able to trade their current core for a future lottery picks and a top 5 pick this year.
It’s tough to be in the situation that the Raptors currently find themselves in. They currently have a team that can make the playoffs for the next 4 years, but they have recently discovered that they might not have the personnel to carry them much further than that. The good news is that they have Masai Ujiri in charge of basketball operations; who has proven time and time again that if there is hope, he will find a way.