With media attention focused on the record setting Warriors in their chase of 72 wins, other NBA stories have continued to fight for publicity. Furthermore, when the Warriors segment ends, the Spurs, Cavaliers and Clippers have spurred plenty of headlines to fill a show. Consequently, in the Eastern Conference, the vast majority of teams are flying heavily under the radar, even the team located furthest North.
Toronto has quietly ripped off 11 straight wins to finds themselves comfortably in the two seed just 2 games behind first place Cleveland. Fueled by the similarly underrated, but dynamic, backcourt of All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan, Toronto should be in both the conversation to contend for the Eastern conference and title of “best back court in the NBA”.
I’m not ready to declare Toronto’s back court better than Golden State’s by any means, but DeRozan and Lowry average 23.2 and 21 points per game respectively, both boasting PER rankings over 21. Along with the Splash Bro’s of Curry and Thompson, they are one of two backcourts in the NBA to be represented in the All-Star game together.
Surprisingly, if you compare the two duos, while it may seem obvious that Steph would win the point guard battle, DeRozan actually has a leg up on Klay in the stat sheet. He is over a full assist and rebound better than Klay while averaging two more points per game accumulating to a PER that is three points better. Still, Steph’s statistics are so amazing that he can carry Klay’s averages to comfortably surpass Lowry and DeRozan.
Last year the new “back court of the future” was in Washington with Bradley Beal and John Wall. While Beal has missed some games this year causing Washington to fall below .500, neither he nor Wall have put up great numbers. Toronto’s back court PER ratings are a collective 9 points better, while their points per game are 6.6 points better. Even if your compare from the 2014-15 season, the same trend shows, and while Toronto did get embarrassed in the playoffs, keep in mind they had home court for that series. Nonetheless, this season, Toronto and their back court have taken a large step forward while Washington has gone backwards.
Other pre-season arguments like Wade and Dragic, Butler and Rose, or Lawson and Harden have failed to take form. With lack of cohesion and injuries resulting in mediocre records, cumulative PER, and scoring averages, these back courts don’t compare well on paper to the likes of DeRozan and Lowry.
A compelling case can be made for Chris Paul and JJ Redick who have thrived in the absence of Blake Griffin. In fact, Paul and Redick actually outweigh the Raptor duo in certain categories, but the lack of production from JJ Redick in any category other than scoring really hurts their cause. Fouls per game is Redick’s 2nd highest stat at 1.7 and his scoring (16.1ppg) is still 5 points a game lower than Lowry’s and 7 lower than DeRozan. Furthermore, perhaps the bane of the Redick and Paul Argument is that when healthy, Reddick is probably the 4thbest player on the Clippers while DeRozan and Lowry are clearly the driving forces behind Toronto’s success.
Toronto’s success isn’t anything to look past. Their point differential per game is 5th in the NBA 2nd in the East, and the Raptors have been playing much better on the road. Toronto is on pace to go about 56-26, including 26-15 away from home. That’s significantly better than the 49-33 overall and 22-19 road record of a season ago.
These totals would’ve given them the second seed in the East beating Cleveland both in overall and road wins while tying Atlanta’s road success. Looking at the NBA as a whole, only 1 team won over 26 road games in 2014-15, and that team went on to win a championship. Go back one year further and you’ll find the same trend.
We’re still just past the halfway point in the season, but this 11 game win streak should open some eyes. Toronto has a chance and is fueled by an explosive scoring duo that averages 44 points between them. Coming off an embarrassing postseason defeat a year ago, they are playing with something to prove. I’m not saying to pick them to upset Cleveland and make it out of the East or that DeRozan and Lowry are better than Klay and Steph, I’m just saying they should be mentioned.
Look out for the Raptors to make some noise in the second half of the season and beyond. Their team is assembled with the right pieces and has merit to a group looking to make a playoff push. With Lowry and DeRozan, they’ll always be in the conversation.