Only one team in the Eastern Conference is sending two players to the All-Star game and it’s not a team that pays LeBron James. In fact, this will be the first time in six years that LeBron James won’t have a teammate with him at the All-Star game which means a circle has rotated 180 degrees.
In February 2010, the last time LeBron represented the Cavs as their sole All-Star representative, DeMar DeRozan was a rookie for the Toronto Raptors. If being an All-Star was on his radar, it was a goal way, way down the line, an achievement he had yet to earn. Not too many 8.6 points per game players make it to the All-Star game. But six years later, here he is.
Kyle Lowry in 2010 was a 9.1 points per game backup for the Houston Rockets, a team who would trade Lowry three years later because he was a headache to deal with. The last thing the Rockets imagined was Lowry as an All-Star and as the driving energy in the one-two punch of the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference.
No one is talking about the Toronto Raptors, the second best team in the East, nor is anyone giving Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan credit outside of the backhanded compliments once Steph Curry-Klay Thompson make the rounds of oohs and aahs. But it makes sense. It fits within a particular subtext of NBA history. To get the reward of nauseating praise you have to do something in the playoffs. You have to prove yourself. John Wall got to the second round. Jimmy Butler made it to the second round. Jeff Teague appeared in the conference finals. Lowry and DeRozan?
They have failed. Until they win in the playoffs, they will always be undervalued. But they are having some kind of season.
DeRozan is putting up a career high in assists, assist percentage, scoring, PER, usage rate. He leads the league in drives to the rim in his contract year.
|Career Highs, DeMar DeRozan||Points||Assists||PER||Usage Rate|
Lowry is having a career high in 3-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, steals, steal percentage, blocks, turnovers, points, PER, usage rate. Lowry is making 47.8% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 48.% of this catch and shoot threes.
|Career Highs, Kyle Lowry||Points||FG%||3-Point%||Rebounds|
They lead a backcourt that is first in assists, first in steals, second in rebounds, second in blocks, third in points. The Raptors offensive rating is 5th in the league.
Last season, when the Atlanta Hawks were the best team record wise in the East, there were a legion of doubters. They said the Hawks, who won 60 games, didn’t have a star and in the playoffs you have to have a star to depend on. As much as the average fan wants to think of the NBA as a socialist culture, it is not. You have your great players who deliver big victories.
The Raptors have come up short in the playoffs because their stars, Lowry and DeRoza, just can’t make shots, shooting less than 40%. Whether it’s the pressure, or going up against quality defenders and playoff schemes designed to stop you for four games, they haven’t been able to take their game to the next level. They have not shown a second gear.
The Raptors are on pace to win 56 games, a franchise high, far surpassing anything the Vince Carter Raptors were able to pull off. They are currently 2 games behind the Cavs for first in the conference. They have more confernce wins (24) than the Cavs. And they have more All-Stars.
31 games are left, half of those against teams currently in the playoffs. The last three games of the season are against lottery teams: Knicks, 76ers, Nets. The Cavs last three games are against playoff teams: Bulls, Hawks, Pistons. If the Raptors keep pace with Cleveland, they can gut it out in the end and (possibly) get the top seed in the conference, a reward for everything they have accomplished all year. If it happens, don’t be surprised if no one outside of Toronto cares.
The playoffs will be how the Lowry-DeRozan backcourt will ultimately be judged.
photo via llananba