“I’m young and I’m old
I’m rich and I’m poor
I feel like I’ve been on this earth many times before
Once I was a white Gazelle
On horse back riding free
Searching in the darkness for a piece of me.
And I can feel this for sure.
Ive been here before.
Dj vuTeena Marie aka Lady T.
Its the first week of January, and its dj vu all over again for the Toronto Raptors. Around this time last year, the Raptors were 24-11. Right now theyre 26-11. Last year, everything was all Joel Osteen as far as sports commentators talking about the Raptors, positive and prosperous.
Tim Zeller over at SB Nation predicted they were going to the NBA Finals! Word? WORD! Yes, it was under the auspices of being a bold prediction, but theres bold and then theres clueless.
They proceeded to get steamrolled by the Cavaliers in the playoffs.
With only ancillary additions to the Raptors roster between then and now, the results this season look just as cyclical as ever. Toronto finished 51-31 last season, were top ten in points per game and eighth in defense with the sixth toughest overall schedule. Heading into the postseason in 2016, hopes were high north of the border. They finished 2nd in the eastern conference, were third in scoring defense and 14th in points per game.
Three straight very similar regular season records of around 50 wins, playing some scrappy basketball, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have blocked the road in two of their last three postseason appearances–their other exit was sponsored by the Washington Wizards..
As DeMar DeRozan cheesed on ESPN following a 52-point explosion on New Year’s Day, cable talking heads from all over the dial were patting him on the back. But all I could think about was that dismal 2-11 shooting performance, and 1-3 from the free throw line, that he put up in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. Yeah, he put up 37 the next game, but cmon, man. The same goes for his backcourt mate Kyle Lowry.
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Injuries aside, he is a shrinking violet in big games. Thats not to say either player is dumpster fodder. DeRozan is a legitimate All-Star in the East, while Lowry can hit shots. But predictability in seasons past caused head coach Dwane Casey and company to modernize their offense. DeRozan, and well as the entire squad, is shooting more threes and there are far fewer screen and rolls.
The 3-point game is helping us evolve, its spacing us out a lot more, Lowry said in a November interview with David Aldridge of NBA.com. I think it helps with everything it helps us with spacing, pace, understanding where we all want to be on the floor. And it gives us the confidence to all do it. We all can shoot it without nobody bitching at you. No one cares who shoots the three. We want everybody to be successful.
We can always go pick and roll, Lowry said. We always can go post-up. We always can go back to that. But lets try some different things. Lets do something different. Were still going to DeMar DeRozans stuff. Were still going to pick and roll Kyle Lowry. But now we have this.
Last year, DeRozan was a scoring machine, feasting in the midrange area for 27 points per game, while Lowry chipped in with 22 points per contest. With the Raptors new emphasis on three point shooting, the scoring tandems output has dropped to 25.1 and 16 points per game. Indeed, I havent heard a single prognosticator mention the catastrophic six-point drop off in scoring from Lowry. Perhaps its because the new chuck-and-duck approach has guys like CJ Miles, Delon Wright and Jacob Poetl giving them quality minutes off the bench, but thats not going to be enough. You know it, I know it, and they know it.
The rumor mill has it that Toronto is working on getting Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. That would be just what they need, a big man who is a walking double-double, a three-point threat, but also is one of the best passing centers in the league. It who would free up Lowry from having to create in halfcourt sets. Also, shooters like Miles will benefit greatly from his presence as well. Plus, teams won’t be able to dogpile on DeRozan late in the postseason.
They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. Though the offense of the Toronto Raptors is putting up more three-pointers, the record and roster have remained largely unchanged for three years. As is, theyre just a rock upon which the Cavaliers will sharpen their blades as they march to yet another NBA Finals appearance.
To be real, head coach Dwane Casey has to be commended for fielding a competitive team in almost every year of his stint, but the Raptors seemed to have gotten used to losing, happy with participating, lucky to have made it to the playoffs. Perhaps a change in attitude, and certainly an addition or two, will finally give the Fighting Barneys a chance at toppling King James and Company. But, to me, it never seems like they REALLY want to beat them. A major roster change is needed to change that attitude.