Raptors need to develop leadership and chemistry to contend

Milwaukee, WI - APRIL 27: DeMar DeRozan
Milwaukee, WI - APRIL 27: DeMar DeRozan /

The Raptors have the talent to contend – do they have the intangibles, like leadership among the players?

The East’s top contenders, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics are in a state of disarray following the trade of Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. The Raptors are sitting comfy by betting on the same core and adding some high potential players to the roster.

The Raptors made a disappointing playoff run last year and looked far from the eastern conference finals contenders we saw prior. They struggled with the “Greek freak” led Milwaukee Bucks and fell completely flat against the King’s Cavaliers.

The Raptors prefer to be isolated

TORONTO, CANADA – MAY 5: DeMar DeRozan /

As Toronto looks for an answer to why the Raptors have so much success in the regular-season as opposed to the post-season, blame seems to be all over the place. It isn’t the Raptors having a hole at the small-forward position, due to Coach Casey being unable to find the same success the Atlanta Hawks had with DeMarre Caroll. It is the Raptors being unable to find their offense and defense consistently throughout the intense level of the NBA playoffs.

Basketball is a team sport, however, being on the same page as your teammates will give you an advantage, as your defense and offensive games have a similar flow. With the Raptors, nobody is really on the same page, nobody has trust in one another to do their jobs. The Raptors allow their two stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, freedom to create their own offense. This creates more isolation plays than a team free-flowing offensive system.

“I wasn’t happy… We thought the style of ball was going to be different, it was going to be more team-oriented, but I guess it was still ISO.” Said former Raptor DeMarre Carroll “I feel like Toronto is an ISO team, that’s what they win off (of), that’s what they’ve been playing off of for five, six years now.”

The Raptors give so much freedom to their stars to create their offense that their game becomes too predictable. Opponents find their way on defense to slow down the dynamic duo and at times, completely shut them down. The duo is thought to be the leaders of the Toronto Raptors and struggle to have decent games in playoffs and completely derails the offense when both stars are cold.

When DeMar DeRozan shot over 50% Field Goal percentage they won every game against the Bucks versus when he shot under 50% FG they lost every game. The problem with the Raptors relying so heavily on Lowry and DeRozan is, once they shoot their way out of the game, there’s no coming back from it, such as DeMar’s Bucks series game 3 where he attempted 8 shots and made 0, or Lowry’s Bucks game 1, 4 point game.

It was initially thought to just be an issue of Raptors stars confidence but it seems to be more of a leadership role that is missing from the Raptors. They are clearly not on the same page at all and mostly rely on the stars to provide, which if Toronto hopes to make a playoff push into the finals, it must come to an end.

CLEVELAND, OH – MAY 1: DeMarre Carroll
CLEVELAND, OH – MAY 1: DeMarre Carroll /

“They say they’re going to try something different, I would love to see it (work)…” said Caroll you have to build it from the ground up and that’s what we did in Atlanta. We built the (culture) moving the ball and trusting each other.”

What the Raptors need to prevent extinction.

The Raptors clearly need a leader and it doesn’t seem like Lowry, DeRozan and Serge Ibaka are looking to fill that role. There’s a large difference between leading a team on offense as their most skilled player and being a vocal leader who will rally and keep the team focused and move as a unit.

TORONTO,ON – NOVEMBER 13: Kyle Lowry /

An example of a player who was LEADING a team was 2011 Derrick Rose who had an injury riddled roster but still found success in the regular-season with his freedom to create his own offense in isolation and pick and roll plays, leading the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the NBA. In playoff time, it didn’t take long for the Miami Heat to figure him out and slow down the former MVP. Slowing him caused issues between the team’s chemistry and offense throughout the series.

TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 26: C.J. McCollum /

Differing leadership styles

Another example is Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s Portland Trail Blazers, where the duo is relied on to lead the team offensively. However come playoff time, the opposing team figures them out and manages to slow them down. In a competitive western conference it’s no surprise to see them get blown out of their playoff series.

The same type of leader these players are and the situations their team is put in, is what Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are to the Raptors.

Then there are vocal leaders, guys such as Joakim Noah, Draymond Green, Kevin Garnett or Chris Paul who don’t even have to be involved in the game offensively to make a difference. They do a great job at keeping the team rallied together on both ends on the floor, known as the heart and soul of the team. This is what the Raptors need to be able to keep their team united throughout the post-season.


Kyle & DeMar: step it up

Obviously, DeMar and Lowry are great at LEADING the team through their offense, but as the team leaders who are supposed to keep everyone involved and on the same level, they’re not very good at it. An example could be used from DeRozan stating that the Raptors would’ve won if they had LeBron too. This is something a player who is considered the LEADER should never say because it makes the team seem weak and shows the terrible mindset they had throughout the series as if the team has given up attempting to dethrone LeBron James. Instead, the Raptors leaders should be convinced they can win without LeBron and believe they will come back much better the next year and have a strong confident mindset, leaving their disappointing season on a positive note.

Hopefully, the Raptors are able to develop a team-oriented offensive game next season and develop a vocal leader on the team to keep them rallied together and energized for the playoffs.

If the Raptors hope to beat the Boston Celtics who have just traded away their leader and the Cleveland Cavaliers who will try to gel with an injured Thomas, the first step is teamwork and leadership.

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