As a majority of Raptors-land grieves the firing of Dwane Casey, one question quickly has to be asked: Who or what is next? First a replacement for Casey is needed, but then the roster needs to change. Does DeMar DeRozan go? Kyle Lowry? Both? Maybe another culture reset with the guys around the two all-stars taking the fall?
The culture reset is where we must begin when discussing the season that was for DeRozan. It has been said time and time again that Masai Ujiri asked for the style of play to change, Casey bought in and so did the role players. It took time for DeRozan and Lowry to get it right, but eventually it led to a franchise best 59-win season.
Now, the Raptors star shooting guard wasn’t perfect this season, and after the playoffs it can be said he’s far from it. DeRozan moved away from iso-ball during regular season play, he got his teammates involved and he improved his outside shooting, but his defense stayed inconsistent (or worse). So, let’s breakdown the good and the bad on DeRozan and what this past season meant for him and the future of the Raptors.
DeRozan spent the season adjusting his game and learning the new NBA-style — moving the ball and hitting three-pointers. He had to move away from the Kobe Bryant, “give me the damn ball and get out of my way” style that he knew and loved. Basically, the Raptors brass wanted DeRozan to understand the ball couldn’t stick to him as often as it did in the past.
As a result, DeRozan’s usage rate dropped by five percent to 29.2 this season. DeRozan was still involved in as many possessions, with his touches per game, average seconds per touch, and average dribbles per touch hovering around the same mark as the season prior. The drop in his usage rate did translate to higher assists as DeRozan set a career-high with 5.2 per game.
The team leader in scoring also found his long-range shooting. He attempted a career-high 3.6 threes per game, hitting 31 percent of them. It was also the first time in DeRozan’s career that he finished the season averaging at least one made three per game.
His ability to get teammates involved and to score the three-ball improved his plus-minus to 5.5 — which is 3.2 points better than his previous best in 2013-14.
It’s can’t be denied that DeRozan got better in the sense he adapted to the new style of play for the Raptors. DeMar’s playmaking and long-range shooting improved, he had some memorable performances (including a franchise-best 52 point game), but it all stands in the shadow of his play in the post-season.
The fact is, we can’t keep praising DeRozan for being the teams’ best scorer every year if it isn’t translating into the playoffs. He’s already known as a poor defender, and going invisible in the playoffs offensively isn’t a good look either. The Raptors 59-win season is more thanks to the play of the bench, then it is on DeRozan.
It’s easy to hide a bad defender in the season, but very difficult to do so in the playoffs. The Cleveland Cavaliers found ways to exploit DeRozan even with the Raptors putting him on Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith or even Kevin Love. If any of those players set a screen on LeBron’s defender, the last thing the Raptors would want is DeRozan to switch. Which then leaves DeRozan on an island, allowing for the Cavaliers shooters to pop and hit open threes. This allowed for the Cavs shooters to find their rhythm. Although, all the blame can’t fall on DeRozan — yet, he was constantly guarding a Cavs shooter.
As fellow Raptors HQ writer Jacob Mack points out, it wasn’t just the defensive end where the Cavaliers exploited DeRozan:
Cavs defensive gameplan revolved entirely around them knowing that DD does not have the juice. They helped off him to a downright ridiculous extent whenever he didn't have the ball, forcing the Raptors to put the ball in his hands. pic.twitter.com/Etp5nNMYo3— Friendshipcore (@Jacob_M_Mack) May 12, 2018
The Raptors offense would move back to its old iso-ball ways when the opposing team forced DeRozan to score. In the Cavs series, they’d take away passing lanes and the ability for the rest of the team to score, which left DeRozan on an island to figure it out on his own. That he doesn’t move much without the ball is just another problem to add to the pile.
Playoff DeRozan was back, and also non-existent in late game possessions. DeRozan’s offensive rating in the playoffs was a 76.0 when there was five minutes left in a five point game. In the regular season, he had a 104.8 offensive rating while shooting 44.5 percent from the field in the final minutes of a close game. He also averaged less than half an assist during these minutes.
During the regular season, the Raptors had 10 lineups that played a minimum 25 minutes together and finished with a net rating below zero. Of those 10 lineups, DeRozan was part of eight. The worst was DeRozan plus the bench of Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl with a -30.6 net rating.
DeRozan was part of seven of the Raptors 10 best lineups that played 25 minutes or more together. However, five of the seven also had Lowry on the floor. And the other two included Fed VanVleet.
Maybe this is to say that DeRozan can’t play unless he has a viable point guard option on the floor with him. It may be easier to pinpoint DeRozan’s flaws when Lowry is off the floor, since it’s clear that when Lowry is on the floor, DeRozan’s negative play gets overshadowed by the entire team playing better.
You can’t be one of the best players on the court if you need the other best player on the court with you at all times, and that’s exactly what DeRozan needs from Lowry. DeRozan as an individual gets targeted by the opposing team on both ends of the court, making it difficult for the Raptors to succeed when it matters.
The Grade: B
DeRozan was an All-Star and you can’t take that away from him. He was a key piece to the 59-wins, he improved his three-point shooting and got his teammates involved. The regular season allowed DeRozan to shine and that deserves all the credit.
Playoff DeRozan is the problem. He isn’t a good defender, and is ultimately the cause of poor match-up situations for Toronto. Offensively, teams know how to force the Raptors back into the iso-ball and that only spells trouble for DeRozan and his team.
For next season, DeRozan will need to figure things out on the defensive end somehow. Offensively, he can keep improving on his threes, but he also needs to find a way to keep other teams off-balance when he doesn’t have the ball. The reversion to iso-ball is definitely not working.
Every year DeMar has returned to Toronto with something else added to his game. The ultimate question is this off-season then is: can DeRozan get better from here?
I don’t think he can and the Raptors might be better off trading DeRozan for pieces or a piece and picks. Casey can’t be the only one to take the fall — then again, Casey shouldn’t be the one taking the fall anyways. DeRozan has left the Raptors in a tough spot when trying to play playoff basketball. It might be time for a change.