So far, the Raptors have done an excellent job surviving without Lowry in the lineup. The defense has stepped up with the additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka making life a lot easier, but scoring hasn’t come as easy. Lowry is the Raptors best creator, not only for others, but when a basket needed to be scored in big moments, Lowry was the best shot creator for himself. The Raptors may be winning right now, but they are playing like a much different team.
Let’s start with the defense, the additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have been massive upgrades on the defensive end, the perfect players the Raptors have been looking for all season. Ibaka, has shown a great ability to be a defensive anchor, defending the rim, and being stellar in pick and roll coverages. Tucker, was put on this earth to stop players like Paul George. George, one of the toughest covers in the league, was limited to 18 points in yesterday’s game, with Tucker tasked to guard him for most of the second half. Tucker is a great one on one defender, with a knack for any ball that has the possibility of being stripped away from the ball handler. While Tucker might not bring a lot on the offensive end, he is a force to be reckoned with on defense, and his tenacity can change games.
The Raptors weren’t a very competent team defensively before the All-Star break. After being the 11th ranked defense in the NBA last year, the Raptors went into this year with the same “defense first” mantra, but failed to execute their most basic principles. Pre All-Star break, the Raptors posted a 106 defensive rating, good for 16th in the NBA. With the new defensive weapons added to the roster, the Raptors have posted the third best defensive rating in the NBA since the All-Star break at 101.7, trailing only the Golden State Warriors, and San Antonio Spurs.
The defense has been encouraging recently, since the collapse and players meeting after the blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Raptors have posted two really impressive defensive games. The Pistons might not be a great offensive team, but the Raptors still held them to 9 points in the fourth quarter, and the Pistons were only able to score 75 points. The Indiana Pacers might not be a great road team, going 11-24 on the road this season. The Raptors were aggressive all game and had their biggest lead up to 27 points, the Raps were able to hold the Pacers to 91 points. The Raptors look like they have re-embraced their tough defensive mentality that the coaching staff harps on, and they look like a new team.
While the improved defense is nice to see, the offense hasn’t been pretty at times. This is where the Raptors might continue to struggle, specifically on nights when the Raptors face good defensive teams like the Thunder or Atlanta Hawks. The rotations, the approach of the offense, and spacing have all struggled without Lowry in the lineup. Lowry was having a career shooting year, 46% from the field on 15.5 field goal attempts per game, and 41.7% from three on close to eight attempts. Taking out 22 points per game, the best shot creator, and the deadliest three-point threat on the team, the Raptors have been pushed into a corner a lot of games, searching for anything to get the offense going.
The three point shooting has been really troublesome recently. Before the All-Star break, the Raptors took the quality, not quantity approach to shooting threes, being very effective in their limited three-point attempts. Post All-Star break, the Raptors have fallen into a less quantity and less quality slump.
Three-point shooting wasn’t going to be one of the Raptors strong points, but it’s easy to see that they have been arguably one of the worst teams from deep without Lowry. You would hope when they clog the paint and have wide open kick outs, that sometimes open shooters could take advantage of these high percentage shots.
Below is a chart of all the Raptors players who take over one three-point attempt per game since the All-Star break, and as you can see the numbers aren’t great. Patrick Patterson and Ibaka are the only two players below shooting over 35%, that group below in total is shooting an abysmal 31%. Hopefully, the Raptors game against the Pacers is a sign of things to come. Finishing the game shooting 44% on 27 attempts, if the Raptors could come somewhat close to that for a stretch of games, the offense would take a massive step forward.
Life Without Lowry has been inconsistent, the night to night performances have been a coin flip. The last two games might be a sign of what’s to come for the Raptors, taking on a defensive identity, if the offense can reach slightly over 100 points, against a pretty weak schedule, there’s no reason why the Raptors couldn’t finish off these next 12 games on a high note. Games against the Pistons and Pacers show how deep this teams roster is, but at the same time, you have to think about how much fun this team will be when Lowry joins the rotation.
Follow – @Spenred