DeMar DeRozan has finally returned to the Toronto Raptors. In his absence, the Atlanta Hawks took over top spot in the Eastern Conference. Can DeRozan get Toronto past the Hawks and the NBA odds?
Jason’s record as of Jan. 15: 23-23-2 ATS, 2-4 Totals
They say you need at least two All-Stars to be an elite team in the NBA. The Toronto Raptors found that out the hard way. They started the season at 13-3 SU and 10-6 ATS, led by the gifted backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry (23.4 PER) and DeMar DeRozan (17.0 PER). But then DeRozan suffered a left groin strain in late November. Toronto continued to thrive, at first, then the wheels started falling off. The Raptors started 2015 by losing four of out of five SU and ATS.
Just in time, DeRozan retuned to action Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers – and Toronto still failed to beat the NBA odds, winning 100-84 as a 17.5-point home chalk. Now the Raptors have to face the new No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (31-8 SU, 28-11 ATS), who have won 10 straight games SU and ATS. Atlanta opened as a 3-point road dog for Friday’s matchup (7:30 p.m. ET) before moving to +1.5 in after an early flow of NBA picks shortened the line.
Technically, only one current Raptor has been named to an All-Star team, that being DeRozan last year. But Lowry is the actual superstar player here, and he’s gotten even better in 2014-15. In what’s turning into the Year of the Point Guard, Lowry is sixth in the league in Wins Above Replacement (6.61 WAR), and fourth in Real Plus-Minus (6.23 RPM).
We won’t split hairs over DeRozan’s All-Star status. Still, he’s been something of a contentious figure within the stathead community ever since he came out of USC in 2009. DeRozan is one of those volume shooters who takes plenty of long 2-pointers – the least efficient shot there is in the NBA, unless you include trying to bank it in off the scoreboard. We saw what happened with the Raptors when both DeRozan and Rudy Gay were on the team (shudder).
Needs More Johnson
The thing is, DeRozan does make quite a few of those shots. Or at least he used to; the former Trojan is shooting a career-low 40.7 percent this season. As a result, his Offensive Box-Plus Minus has dropped from plus-1.2 last year to minus-1.2 this year. Maybe taking December off is the tonic DeRozan needed, though. He nailed nine of his 14 attempts against Philadelphia for a team-high 20 points.
This Raptors team still has its warts. Terrence Ross (11.7 PER) has regressed in his third year in the NBA, failing to develop into the “3-and-D” wing that he projected as when Toronto took him eighth overall in 2012. The “3” part of the equation is not too bad at 37.9 percent, but his offensive repertoire is limited, and Ross is posting a minus-1.4 Defensive BPM this year. The Raptors are already lacking in defense at No. 22 in efficiency (104.6 points allowed per 100 possessions). The sooner that Toronto hands our man James Johnson (17.7 PER, plus-2.3 DBPM) the starting gig, the better.
The Hawks can tell you all about the value of two All-Stars. They’ve got both Al Horford (19.7 PER) and Paul Millsap (19.4 PER) together and healthy on the frontline, and this year, Jeff Teague (23.1 PER) has taken the leap to All-Star level, as well. And for spacing, you can’t do much better than Kyle Korver (15.9 PER), who’s hitting a ridiculous 52.5 percent from downtown.
There’s no way in heck we’re going to recommend fading Atlanta at this juncture. We’re talking about a team that has gone 24-3 SU and 23-4 ATS since DeRozan was injured. That’s obviously not going to last, and it wouldn’t have lasted this long had anyone been paying attention to the Hawks. So get it while you can.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Hawks +1 at 5Dimes