The Toronto Raptors looked like they were on their way in the 2016 NBA playoffs. They made it all the way to the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals and even took the Cleveland Cavaliers to six games, but they ultimately fell to them while Cleveland was on their way to an NBA championship. The feeling after that season the Raptors had was that with a few adjustments and the experience they received, they would be right back there challenging the Cavs again in the East. Well, things did not exactly go as planned for the Raptors. The team did not play at the same level they thought they would. The digression of their play along with the injury to Kyle Lowry in the second half of the season had Toronto looking wobbly going into the playoffs. They were able to win one series in seven grueling games versus the Milwaukee Bucks, but they were then dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. When that happened, the Raptors clock on some decisions had to be made. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry and power forward Serge Ibaka, who the Raptors acquired during the season, were free agents and more importantly, the Raptors had to decide which direction they were going. Would they hit the reset sort of or would they bring Lowry and Ibaka back? Well, the decision did not take long and the Raptors decided to make it happen with Ibaka and Lowry.
It was announced this past weekend that Ibaka would be returning on a three-year, $65 million deal. Along with that Ibaka announcement, Lowry took to The Players’ Tribune to announce that he was re-signing with the Raptors for three years and $100 million. Just like that, the Raptors made two key decisions in the direction they wanted to take and who can blame them for wanting to keep these two around? The decision, on the surface, was a smart one. The East lost two more stars in Jimmy Butler and Paul George and the teams seemed to have gotten weaker for the most part. So why not keep the team together and take another run at it? The Raptors are a rarity in they have two of the most talented players in the NBA’s Eastern Conference on one team. With some health and some better play from the team, the Raptors could return to the level they were at back in the 2015-2016 season. Unfortunately though, things are not as simple as having two of the best players in the conference for the Raptors. As talented as they are, there are some issues that they may not be able to overcome.
The Raptors two most talented players are Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. We know both can put up numbers and give teams problems. But one thing that we have not done during their entire time in Toronto together is get easy buckets for others. Derozan is definitely a very solid one-vs.-one player and his midrange game is very good, but what does he do when he draws attention? Derozan is a shooting guard and they pay him to score, but he has to also find his teammates when they send extra attention his way. As for Lowry, he, like Derozan, can score from the point guard position. That type of firepower is needed on that team, but he seems to not get others involved as much. Plenty people get on Kyrie Irving about his inability to get others involved (which is aided because LeBron takes that lead in getting everyone involved) but Lowry is not exactly the guy that gets everyone involved all the time either. He averages only one assist more than Irving (seven assists per game compared to Irving’s six assists a game) and he has no one else to depend on to get other teammates involved. One teammate that suffers because of this style of play between Lowry and Derozan is big man Jonas Valanciunas. He is capable of getting buckets, but he is not given very many opportunities because he rarely sees the ball. For them to take the next step, this type of stuff cannot happen.
But since the Raptors have been doing this for a while with Derozan and Lowry, don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon. Sure, Ibaka allows them to go small and still have some shot-blocking on the floor and sure, he adds some toughness up front that Toronto needed. But in the end, the Raptors will not be any better than what they were and they are still not good enough to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. Despite all the drama in the tabloids surrounding the Cavs and what is going on over there, they still have the same talented crew that ran through the Raptors last season and that isn’t going to change with one year and the same crew in Toronto returning, especially is they still playing isolation basketball. The only hope they have is maybe playing better defense than last year but that does not really give them even that great of a chance either. The Raptors will continue to be a playoff team, but they will not be a title contender anytime soon.