As we close out another month of the NBA season, the Toronto Raptors are in unfamiliar territory as far as record and position go. But it’s also the heightened status of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry that has been a real source of optimism for them, again a bit of a novel concept for a franchise that can be best described as “unremarkable” for as long as we can remember.
It was quite a month for both DeRozan and Lowry as they ran with the increased expectations put on them after the trade of pseudo-alpha dog Rudy Gay. And while it is well established that we think very highly of DeRozan, both really did exceed our hopes for this month and, really, since the moment Gay left.
Aside from a completely random and frankly unbelievable 51-point game from a scorching Terrence Ross, the Raptors have been carried game in and game out by Lowry and DeRozan. The difference, too, is that it is not the type of empty offense that we had come to see why Gay was on the court. It is a free-flowing style of basketball with everyone taking what they are given. We always got the impression that when DeRozan had to share the court with Gay, he had to cherish his touches and show everyone how good he was when he actually got the ball, because if he didn’t shoot, Gay sure would. This led to DeRozan forcing things and not letting the game come to him. And it certainly didn’t make our assertion of DeRozan as “Tracy McGrady-lite” look good either.
But this month has been the DeRozan that we always figured he was capable of. He could have taken the trade of Gay as a sign that he had to try and carry the entire team. But he didn’t, and he is playing natural, free, unencumbered basketball. In the month of January he is averaging 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals a game on 44 percent shooting. And the number we like most: still only two 3s attempted a game. People can say what they want about DeRozan improving his long-range shooting, but he is not going to make his hay there. He’s making plays, which is what we assumed we would see from the beginning. And it resulted in DeRozan’s first All-Star selection, which is very well deserved. Coming down the stretch we were thinking DeRozan may get screwed for the likes of Joe Johnson or Lance Stephenson.
Well, we’re thrilled at the addition of DeRozan, but speaking of Joe Johnson …
For as great as DeRozan played in January, Kyle Lowry may have been even better. There is little doubt to us that he is the engine behind the Raptors’ sparkling last two months, even more so than DeRozan, but he will not be an All-Star.
And the consensus culprit behind the snub? The bigger named but smaller gamed Johnson. We wish Richard Sherman was on the ready to give us a quote on Johnson over Lowry, but we can assume a loud and bombastic one. Even Lowry’s stellar January of 19 points, eight assists, five rebounds, 1.5 steals and 46 percent 3-point shooting could not sway them off the Johnson train. Perhaps coaches felt so sorry for the state of the Nets that they decided to throw anyone with a semblance of consistency an All-Star bone. That doesn’t make it right.
Lowry: 16.8pts, 7.6ast, 4.3reb, 1.6stl, 20.4 PER
Johnson: 15.7pts, 3.4reb, 2.8ast, .5stl, 14.9 PER
We aren’t going to speculate any further. Look at that Player Efficiency Rating! It is an injustice and we are certain that there will be other articles devoted to it. There always are. For now, we can just revel in a well-deserved spot for DeRozan and the great month both he and Lowry just had in carrying a team set up nicely. There is little doubt in our minds that Lowry will use this for motivation. We are confident that this year’s version of Lowry will use that for all the right reasons.