DeMar, Ibaka Leading Surging Raptors In Lowry’s Absence
It seems like Kyle Lowry has been gone for months and his return is no where in sight.
What has followed is a lot of panic, stress and irrational depression by a fanbase desperate for contention. With Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick Patterson all hitting the free agent market in the offseason, the trade deadline has ultimately given the Toronto Raptors the biggest opportunity in their franchise history to really break through.
This is it. There are no certainties in free agency so the Raptors must leave everything on the floor in this stretch run.
Then, in a heartbreaking turn of events, Lowry goes down. Was the story sound too good to be true? Championship aspirations, hopes of challenging the Cleveland Cavaliers dashed?
There is no better soap opera than sports and amongst all gut-wrenching panic, the Raptors have quietly won six of their last eight games. With their star guard unable to play the remainder of the game, the Raptors fought back to beat the Charlotte Bobcats. Since the trade deadline, the Raptors have beaten the two-seeded Boston Celtics, and took out a scorching hot Washington Wizards team on the road, all without Kyle Lowry, arguably a top 10-15 player in the entire league.
According to the recovery timetable, Lowry should be back with at least a week to spare in the regular season. Leaving enough time for the entire team to mold around a player who, since arriving to Toronto, has been able to make the guys around him better.
Tell me again why there is a need to panic?
Understandably, it’s part of being human to take the losses hard, but at the same time one cannot lose all sense of reality when defeat strikes. It is important to understand that yes, the Raptors will lose games, with or without Lowry. Each game can be analyzed and dissected, and what has been seen from the Raptors since the additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka has been nothing but promising.
Since the two biggest trades in the history of big trades, the Raptors have allowed 99.0-points per game while averaging 101.3-points per game, a point differential of 2.3 without any production from the injured Lowry.
The emphasis has to be on the defensive end. With Ibaka and Tucker in the fold, the Raptors have been able to really lock in. They have strengthened their outside defence as well as their rim protection. Tucker has added much needed toughness as well as a very valuable corner three threat.
Meanwhile Ibaka has been stellar since his arriving, scoring at an effective clip, hitting the three and stretching the floor, and giving the Raptors the rim protection that they so desperately needed. A very versatile power forward, Ibaka has also been very comfortable stepping out and challenging shooters. He has registered at least one block in each of his seven games as a raptor, rejecting four shots in a win against the New Orleans Pelicans.
In the absence of Lowry, the Raptors have had offensive dry-spells, which is to be expected, but as the unit is beginning to find its chemistry and the new additions are getting comfortable in their new roles, Casey has really got his team show signs of what they can be once their star returns.
It begins with DeMar DeRozan. Starting alongside Cory Joseph, DeRozan has clearly been able to dominate the ball more. He has always been a very underrated passer and especially against the Pelicans and the Wizards has shown a semblance of great ball movement and off-ball movement.
Ball movement and off-ball movement go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other. With the amount of slashers and floor spacers the Raptors now have, DeRozan, Joseph, even Delon Wright and Norman Powell can slash and kick, force defences to collapse and take advantage of it. They have been showing it more and more, which means they are capable of it. All the Raptors will have to do is replicate that action as often as possible. Once Lowry returns, everything will only get easier.
Speaking of Wright and Powell, Powell is growing more and more comfortable in his new role since the departure of Terrence Ross while Delon Wright has played his way into the Raptors rotation. With his length, he is not only a skilled ball-handler and scorer, but a solid defender, making Joseph expendable once the Raptors concentrate on re-signing their free agents.
So can the Raptors survive without Lowry? Of course.
The Raptors will need him in the playoffs, but until then, the Raptors must continue to show the positive signs we’ve seen from game to game. Over the next stretch of games it is not important to look at the final score, but how the team is meshing and if they can find the key ingredient that will grant them playoff success.
The NBA season is a marathon not a sprint, but the Raptors are doing a great job at fighting through the storm.