The Raptors are making a meal of putting away the Indiana Pacers quite basically because their All-Star backcourt tandem of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry has unequivocally failed to bring the fire when Toronto needs it most. Following Ian Mahinmi’s standout 22 point performance to enable the Pacers tie the series at two, the Raptors faced a daunting task heading into Game 5. Unlike the games played prior to Game 5, DeRozan put Toronto in the right spot for a welcome second round playoff appearance with a better -34 point-showing.
Despite the improved performance, the Raptors had to witness Solomon Hill drain a late three point shot only for it to be overturned by game officials after reviews showed time had run out before the shot was made. Why a second seed would struggle mightily against a still rebuilding seventh seed would surely lie at the feet of team leaders. DeRozan and Lowry have been abysmal shooting the ball in the series combining for 40 conversions on 130 shots from the field through the first four games of the series. Even a better performance in Game 5 was not an exact reflection of the numbers the All-Star duo produced in the regular season.
DeRozan for instance shot connected 10 of 22 shots in Game five’s win. The team will need to bolster its roster in the offseason in order to ascend the Eastern Conference ladder. However, with almost every team in the league set to have ample cap space to sign the most expensive salaried players, the team will be handicapped to sign premium free agents in the market. Thanks to the NBA’s nine year 24 billion dollar TV deal, teams will be armed with huge amounts of cash to spend to detriment of the Raptors. The team’s location in the frigid conditions north of the Great Lakes make it an unattractive spot for players who have the luxury to choose much “pleasant” cities like Miami, Los Angeles, New York and Orlando.
That means signing DeRozan to a bumper deal this offseason is a priority as he is widely expected to opt out of his current deal which pays him some thousands of dollars short of 10 million dollars. Adding DeMarr Caroll to the roster prior to this season was a good omen for the team as Caroll’s lockdown defensive skills will always be needed for a team that is porous on the wing. But to be able to really challenge LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and to an extent the Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors will need a lot of help from this year’s draft to make that dream a reality. Toronto has struck gold in the draft with likes of Damon Stoudemire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Marcus Camby and DeRozan.
Unless you are the San Antonio Spurs who hit a homerun four out of five times in the draft, then there will surely be picks who will “flop”. Andrea Bargnani picked number one overall in 2006 and Rafael Araujo picked number eight in 2004, come to mind. The likes of Terrence Ross and Charlie Villanueva will be average players forever scouring the NBA. With a very good record of drafting better players, Toronto will be wise to use its’ ninth pick in this year’s draft on a player who can contribute right away. Drafting the right player will be an enticement to get DeRozan’s signature and can also be used as bait to trade for a player. The Raptors need a third scorer on the team much like Oklahoma City Thunder needing James Harden’s scoring skills behind those of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen needed same from Toni Kukoc.
The 2016 Draft is quite thin on NBA-ready prospects as highly touted guys like Skal Labissiere, Jakob Poeltl and Jamaal Murray are far from being the finish article. The talent pool gets shallower when it comes to shooting. Aside National Player of the Year Buddy Hield and projected number one pick Brandon Ingram, not much is there for teams to choose from. Grabbing a guy like Hield will give Toronto the scoring punch it needs off the bench as the rookie who averaged 25 points per game demonstrated he can shoot the ball.
Staying in school for four years will serve Hield well in the pros just as it has served seniors like Damian Lillard and Draymond Green and that makes him a must have for the Raptors. Ingram is this year’s version of Durant; a 6 foot 9 inch Small Forward with an insane 7 foot 3 inch wingspan. Ingram’s smooth game and shooting stroke will come in handy for a Toronto bench that has Patrick Patterson as the only viable threat from beyond the arc. The ninth pick can be used as bait in a trade with another team should Toronto use that option.
A sign and trade with Charlotte Hornets for free agent Nicholas Batum wouldn’t be a bad option to consider as Batum’s do it all skill level will give Dwayne Casey ample opportunity to shuffle his lineup without sacrificing anything. Having Batum on the floor as a Small Forward will give Toronto a small-ball lineup with Caroll as Power Forward, DeRozan and Lowry in the backcourt and Valanciunas at Center. It also helps Batum spent seven years of his NBA career in a Toronto-esque setting in Portland.