With their fifth straight loss, the Toronto Raptors drop a game under .500 for the first time since January. Although last night's defeat at the hands of the Portland Trailblazers showcased a better effort from the Raps, Franchise notes that it still wasn't enough, and hopes a changes are coming...
DeMar DeRozan should not be this bad a defender.
He's long, quite athletic, has good lateral quickness, and seems to be a very hard worker.
However check these numbers:
22, 35, 19, 32, 21.
Those are the point totals for the players DeMar DeRozan has been tasked with guarding the past five games, all Toronto losses.
Now, those aren't all directly attributable to DD. Various other Raptors had a hand in those totals as well. However I threw these numbers up to point out something that I don't think has been discussed enough this season; for all the jeers thrown the way of Andrea and the Ottoman, DeRozan has flown under the radar in terms of criticism. Toronto is just not getting enough from him to validate his consistent starting line-up inclusion.
The easy defence for DD of course, is that he's only a rookie. Many a folk replied with something of this nature last night on Twitter, when I was calling out DeRozan's lack of defense.
However I'd like to point out that of the five totals above, three of them came from members of his rookie class; Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Steph Curry. In addition, amongst the 2009 alumni class, DeRozan has hardly lived up to his draft billing statistically. His PER is better than only Wes Matthews, Holiday, Chris Hunter, James Johnson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Terrence Williams, Wayne Ellington, Jodie Meeks and DeMarre Carroll...yes, hardly players likely to compete for the rookie of the year award.
In addition, DeRozan plays twice as many minutes per game as most of these guys. So the whole "he's only a rookie," defence doesn't hold a lot of water. Yes, that's true, and we'll get to that in a second, however there are plenty of rookies that are providing solid value for the teams that drafted them. In fact, if you were to do a re-draft of last year's crop based on this year's play to date, wouldn't the top 15 picks go something like this?
You could arguably go 20 deep adding names like Holiday, Cunningham and Ibaka before even getting to DeMar.
That's not to say DeMar is a bust of a pick, it's way too early for that, and it's not the purpose of this blog post to make that argument. But it should be quite obvious by now to the Raptors' brass that he is a long ways away from providing the contributions this team needs, especially at the defensive end of the floor. Outside his individual stats, 82games.com has shown all season that line-ups containing him at the shooting guard spot, just aren't getting the job done statistically.
So the question is, why does Toronto keep throwing him out there at this point?
It's fine to pull the "Hoffa" in my books if you're a) a lottery team or b) securely in a high playoff seed so can afford the rookie some learning room, however the Raptors are in neither. (Although you could argue they're sliding towards the former.) With their fifth loss in a row last night, and two more certain ones on the horizon, it's desperation time. If Triano is willing to pull Jack from the starting five, as he did last night to start the second half, how about DeMar as well!? There are only so many times that I can watch he and Jose, needlessly double-team players, leaving their own men open for 3-point shots. DeRozan did this time and time again last night with Nicolas Batum, and he burned the Raps on nearly every occasion.
However this post isn't meant to be a "pick on DeMar" affair. Really, the point of this is to illustrate that he's one piece of this problematic starting line-up, the one according to 82games.com that has a plus/minus of -82, wins only about a third of the time it's on the court, and routinely gets outscored by the opposing team's starting crew. Look no further than the third quarters of games the past few weeks for evidence that this unit isn't getting the job done. In fact last night, not only did Triano pull Jarrett Jack and replace him with Jose Calderon, but early on he yanked Andrea Bargnani too, after Bargs stood around yet again and watched the Blazers grab offensive rebounds from under his nose.
Now ordinarily, this late in the season, I wouldn't advocate drastic changes.
But considering the state of affairs the Raps are in currently, and that it seems the eighth seed is a lock at the least considering the Bulls' woes, why not?
How does a Jack-Weems-Wright-Bosh-Bargnani combo? Statistically, it's the five-man unit that's provided TO with the best defence.
Or what about Jack-Belinelli-Turk-Bosh-Bargs, the club's best offensive group statistically this season?
There are definitely a number of ways you could go.
Personally I'd like to see Jack-Weems/Belinelli-Wright-Bosh-Johnson to start games, with Bargs playing the sixth man role, and Hedo, Calderon and DeRozan (in spot minutes) following up for a pretty tight rotation. I think that's a much more balanced group and one that will be better suited to start games.
The problem is, I'd bet anything that it's not going to happen.
Triano has at times shown some grit and sat his over-paid legions, but overall, the same issues keep rearing their ugly heads, and short of completely new personnel (not happening until this summer obviously), the only way to deal with said issues is to either swap the deck chairs, or institute some drastic tactical changes.
I'd argue that this late in the season, tactical changes, outside of say more focus on zone D or something to that effect, are trickier than moving the pieces around so it's the latter Triano and co. should try first. After all, last night when Jay sat Andrea in favour of Amir Johnson, and went with the Calderon-Bosh-Johnson-Weems-Hedo group, the Raps finally started to cut into Portland's lead, and play some solid D. The point being, while the Raps are never going to be a lock-down team, with the right pieces in place, it's possible to at least be respectable in this area.
Considering Toronto's offensive prowess, respectable on defence would be huge.
In fact it would undoubtedly be the difference between at least a .500 road swing and this five game skid Toronto is currently stuck in.