Those who have followed the NBA season so far know the teams who have been in the headlines more than others. The Houston Rockets are one of the teams getting a lot of attention, due to James Harden’s MVP caliber play putting the Rockets near the top Western Conference standings. LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers have also been in the spotlight for their dismal performance early in the season, their midseason resurgence, and All-Star Isiah Thomas’ return from injury for the first time. These teams are accompanied by the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics as the main targets for the media’s focus. The one thing that all these teams have in common is that they get most of the attention because all have been deemed contenders to win the NBA Finals this year. However, there is one team north of the border that deserves to be recognized in this same class. That team is the Toronto Raptors, and behind the incredible season that DeMar DeRozan is having, they might be the sleeper pick to win the NBA championship.
After A Few Years Of Post-Season Appearances, The Raptors May Be Ready To Get Over The Hump And Get To The NBA Finals
Toronto has been good for the past few years, so it should be no surprise they might just put it all together this season. The Raptors have made the post-season the past four years after not making it to the playoffs the previous five, making their furthest run in during the 2015-2016 season when they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Their recent success directly correlates to DeMar DeRozan and his rise to superstardom in the NBA. With the team headed in an overall good direction and DeRozan developing into the star Toronto hoped he would become, they might finally be poised to make their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
DeMar DeRozan Has Continued To Raise His Level Of Play And Has The Chance To Help The Raptors Reach New Heights
As I previously stated, Toronto’s success as a team has followed right behind DeRozan’s ability to become a dominating force in this league over the past few years. According to Basketball Reference, DeRozan averaged less than 20 ppg during his first four seasons in the NBA, but since has averaged almost 24 ppg, including posting a career-high 27 ppg last season. He has followed up last year’s campaign by making some significant advancements to his game as a whole, which allowed him and his teammates to become better. Most importantly, DeRozan added a semi-consistent three-point shot to his arsenal and improved his average from behind the 3-point line from 26.6 percent last year to a 36.8 percent this year. This addition to his game has made defenders have to guard him more tightly on the perimeter, allowing him to more easily drive to the basket. DeRozan has also become a better facilitator in the offense and is averaging a career-high five assists per game. Toronto is great team as a whole, but the amount of success they ultimately attain will largely fall on the shoulders of DeMar DeRozan, who looks up to the challenge of carrying the Raptors to a deep post-season run.
Along With DeRozan Is All-Star Kyle Lowry And A Group Of Role Players Who Have Been Key To The Raptors’ Success
While DeRozan is the undisputed leader of the Raptors, their are other players pulling their weight in Toronto. At the top of that list is All-Star Kyle Lowry, who is posting 16 ppg and a team-high seven assists per game. With DeRozan being more of an isolation player, Lowry is able to keep the Raptors offense running smoothly. Toronto’s big men, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, are also having serviceable seasons, averaging 13.8 points and six rebounds and 10.6 and 7.5 rebounds per game, respectively. Rookie forward O.G Anunoby has created a place in the starting lineup for himself by being a strong defender and consistent three-point shooter. Other guys positively contributing for the Raptors are C.J Miles, Norman Powell, and Delon Wright. Being a well-rounded team with depth is one thing all great teams have, and the Raptors most certainly are doing well in that department.
The Toronto Raptors are by no means a lock for a spot in the Finals and will have to go through LeBron’s Cavs and Kyrie’s Celtics just for a chance to get there. However, with a superstar in DeMar DeRozan surrounded by a strong supporting cast, the Raptors may just have the perfect cast to get them to the Finals.