Kyle Lowry knows the Raptors are heading in the right direction. But will he stay in Toronto?
On Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Toronto Raptors 104-103, ending the Raptors’ season and crushing their hopes of winning their first playoff series since the 2000-01 season. Despite the loss, thousands of fans both inside and outside of the Air Canada Centre applauded their team for a remarkable season.
The Raptors won a franchise record 48 games and finished the regular season 48-34, third best in the Eastern Conference. They also won their first division title since the 2006-07 season, but it didn’t come easy. After starting the season 6-12, the Raptors dealt star forward Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings. The Raptors strongly considered trading PG Kyle Lowry and SG DeMar DeRozan as well, sparking rumors that the Raptors were tanking the season away. However, both Lowry and DeRozan stayed in Toronto and the Raptors flourished post-Gay. After trading Gay, the Raptors went 42-22 and they ended the regular season ranked 9th in both offensive efficiency (105.8) and defensive efficiency (102.4). DeRozan became an all-star for the first time and Lowry was regarded as one of this year’s biggest all-star snubs. Lastly, head coach Dwane Casey, who went from lame duck to Coach of the Year candidate, was rewarded yesterday with a 3-year contract extension.
The season may be over, but the Raptors are on the rise. Here are three takeaways from the Raptors’ spectacular year.
1. DeMar DeRozan is a star
One of the reasons Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento was because he and DeRozan couldn’t play together. Gay and DeRozan are both high-volume shooters who need the ball in their hands to succeed and the two struggled to determine who should have the ball in certain situations. Their domination of the ball also prevented other players, including Lowry, from finding their roles within the offense. Once Gay was dealt, DeRozan became the man in the spotlight, and his response was extraordinary. The 24-year-old scored a career-high 22.7 PPG while making a career-high 64 3-point shots. DeRozan’s 18.42 PER ranks 5th amongst NBA shooting guards and 2nd amongst Eastern Conference shooting guards (Dwyane Wade – 22.06). His 356.8 VA (value added) ranked 3rd amongst NBA shooting guards (James Harden, Goran Dragic) and 1st amongst Eastern Conference shooting guards. DeRozan’s EWA (estimated wins added), like his VA, ranked 3rd amongst NBA shooting guards (Harden, Dragic) and 1st amongst Eastern Conference shooting guards. Coincidentally, DeRozan’s PER, VA, and EWA each ranked higher than Gay’s.
DeRozan’s impact on the Raptors is massive, and not only has DeRozan become a better scorer, he has become a more well-rounded player. DeRozan grabbed a career-high 4.3 rebounds per game while averaging a career-high 4.0 assists per game. On the defensive end, DeRozan averaged 1.1 steals, another career-high.
In his first postseason experience, DeRozan averaged 23.9 PPG and he played a crucial role in the Raptors’ game six victory over Brooklyn, in which he scored 17 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Raptors to a 100-95 win. DeRozan also dropped 30 points in game five and he shot 89.5 percent from the free-throw line in the series.
Simply put, DeRozan has arrived, and since the Gay trade, he has become the man in Toronto.
2. Kyle Lowry belongs in Toronto
GM Masai Ujiri has yet to express his desire to commit to Lowry long-term, but he should strongly consider paying up. Personally, I’m not a fan of giving big contracts to players on career years, but looking at the free agent market for point guards, there aren’t many players worthy of bringing in. Eric Bledsoe would be an alternative, but he will most likely remain in Phoenix. Toronto doesn’t have the draft positioning to find it’s future point guard either (if they decide to let Lowry go). Therefore, the Raptors would be wise to extend Lowry, who dropped a game-high 36 points in Toronto’s game three victory over Brooklyn.
Lowry’s tremendously successful campaign was spearheaded by a career-high 17.9 PPG average, 7.4 APG average, and 38 percent three point shooting. The Villanova product, who has also played for the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets, ranks 5th in PER amongst NBA point guards and 1st amongst Eastern Conference point guards, including 2013-14 all-stars Kyrie Irving and John Wall. Lowry’s VA (392.9) and EWA (13.1) also outranked those of Irving and Wall. Lowry may have scored less points than the two all-stars, but his TS% (true shooting percentage) is better and ranks 3rd amongst Eastern Conference point guards.
Under the current CBA, The Raptors can offer Lowry more years and more money than any other NBA team. However, Lowry is also one of the top free agents of his class. Coming off a career year, Lowry may be more inclined to take an offer from another team if Toronto doesn’t pay up. The Raptors would be insane not to.
3. Just hold on, we’re going to Air Canada
Back in September, the Raptors announced that they had entered a business partnership with Toronto-bred rapper Drake. The partnership, along with the announcement that the Air Canada Centre would host the 2016 All-Star Game, is a sign that the Raptors’ brand is on the rise. As of January 2014, the Raptors, with a $520 million net worth, are the 18th most valuable franchise in the NBA. However, Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports notes Toronto is one of North America’s better cities.
“Toronto ranks amongst the New York/Chicago/Los Angeles triptych as one of North America’s more impressive cities, and yet the Raptors routinely rank alongside Milwaukee, Sacramento, and Salt Lake City as one of the NBA’s more anonymous franchises.”
The Raptors have been in the doldrums for quite some time, but after making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season, Toronto may become a more appealing place to play. Also, with Ujiri (2012-13 Executive of the Year) orchestrating the rebuilding process and Drake as the team’s global ambassador, the ambiance in Toronto is extremely positive. While Drizzy’s affiliation with the team may not impact personnel decisions, he will undoubtedly help the Raptors become a more recognizable brand, much like Jay Z’s presence in Brooklyn did.
Playoff loss aside, the Raptors are heading in the right direction. As Toronto prepares for a big offseason, fans can rest assured that their team is back.