After setting a blistering pace to start off the season, the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors were dealt quite a blow when their All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan went down with a tear in his left adductor longus tendon. It would have been easy for the Raptors to crumble without the presence of one of their best (arguably the best) players, but they didn’t. Since DeMar’s injury the Raptors have gone 9-4 and were riding a six-game winning streak until last evening’s defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. Still not impressed? Again, the Toronto Raptors have the best record in the Eastern Conference after losing one of their best players almost a month ago.
Now many people would take the stance that the team is enduring this situation. They are making do with Band-Aid solutions and scraping out wins, and that this is not sustainable. I won’t disagree with that thought process, but I will offer this counter point; this is the best thing for the Raptors!
Teams often times lean heavily on the crutch that is a star player. Some teams base their offence around post play down low, or screens and ball movement up high. Some teams get so set in their ways that making any change to it, or facing any adversity with it is enough to have it all come crashing down around them. The Raptors have played a perimeter game, but what made it work so well was having DeRozan cut to the basket and draw defenders down with him, freeing up open jumpers from the arc. There is no true emulator of his skills on the Raptors bench, so the Raptors have had to find ways to make it work without him, and they are doing it!
Kyle Lowry has been a revelation, Terrence Ross has stepped up his play tremendously, and Lou Williams is finally looking the Lou of old, but can the Raptors keep up this sort of winning ratio without DeMar? Likely not. The stat line might be a little misleading as the Raptors have beaten (and sometimes needing overtime to do so) teams towards the bottom end of the standings and been destroyed by the Cavaliers, and the Lakers. But the point isn’t really in the now; it’s more for the future. When DeRozan returns, and if by chance things do start to fall apart in at a critical point in a game, the team can take head and rally around the games they won without their superstar. They can lean on that experience and recall the things that worked when they didn’t have DeMar on the court drawing consideration of a possible double team from the opposing coach.
The team has been scraping out wins, but that is a good thing. You want to win in the NBA you have to believe you can win. No matter who you’re playing, no matter the score. The Raptors are showing to everyone that they believe they can win, that they should win, that this is their time. The Raptors have done nothing short of set the table for another Atlantic Division Championship banner to be raised in the Air Canada Centre at the end of the season. When DeRozan does come back expect this team to put the hammer down and show you exactly why that is.