What have we learned after seven preseason games about the Toronto Raptors? (Answer: never read anything into preseason games)

DeRozan’s Struggles

Let’s start with the negatives. DeMar DeRozan looked absolutely terrible in six preseason contests. He put up 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and three assists per game on 28.8 percent shooting from the floor and zero (seriously, he missed all eight of his attempts) from deep.

A cursory glance at his shot chart confirms our worst fears. Almost half of his attempts originated from the midrange area, where he hit just 25.9 percent.

Shotchart_1445825530849

At least the free-throw numbers were strong, which is DeRozan’s saving grace in his current role as one of two lead guards on the Raptors. DeRozan took 6.7 free throws per 36 minutes, which is good, but still two off last season’s average. Going by the eye test, DeRozan did find success when he attacked the basket in terms of drawing fouls despite some poor finishing.

There’s two sides to these numbers.

One: DeRozan’s track record is way too long for us to freak out over six preseason games. The safe bet is that DeRozan’s numbers will normalize, and that he’ll ultimately settle into where he always does.

Two: Losing Amir Johnson really hurts DeRozan. They played a mean two-man game, and while the on/off numbers don’t bear it out, the two played together for six seasons and worked magic on hand-offs on the left side of the floor. Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola simply don’t understand DeRozan’s idiosyncrasies as well as Johnson.

The upshot to point one is that it’s a problem, especially for anyone who held out hope that DeRozan would make a significant improvement this summer. We know he works hard, we know he’s a gym rat, we know he’s improved a lot to get to this point, but any hope of DeRozan finally improving his 3-point shot, well, it’s long overdue. Let go of that hope.

As for the second, if my theory is true, then it could partially explain Patterson’s struggles. Those two need to work in tandem the way Johnson and DeRozan did, and hopefully, with more understanding, they can help each other get better. The hope is that Patterson opens more room for DeRozan to attack, while DeRozan’s drives free up Patterson for open looks.

But for someone who might command a maximum contract next summer, it’d be great if it wasn’t always hope with DeRozan.

Improved Rebounding

Good news: the Raptors ranked third in defensive rebounding percentage this preseason. They secured 80.7 percent of their misses.

I have two theories about this.

First, icing pick-and-rolls has naturally kept bigs closer to the basket, which is making rebounding an easier endeavor. Instead of having Patterson or Valanciunas stretched out to the perimeter to hedge and trap, they’re in the paint and in better position to grab misses.

Head coach Dwane Casey foretold this result in an interview with the National Post’s Eric Koreen during training camp.

“It’s not rocket science or anything Earth shattering,” Casey said. “We’re doing some things to keep him closer to the bucket, number one to help him in the pick-and-roll situation, and number two, to help him rebounding-wise on the defensive end. Our defensive rebounding percentage was terrible.”

Second, the Raptors are doing a better job of gang rebounding with their guards. Last season, wings would routinely leak out in hopes of poaching easy cherry-picking points. Lou Williams comes to mind. Further supporting this theory is the Raptors’ pace score, which ranked dead last in preseason, slower than even the Memphis Grizzlies. There’s a trade-off, but it’s hard to fix big problems.

Big Money Additions Making Big Money Plays

There are no guarantees that a player will remain consistent after changing teams. That especially applies to role players coming from team-oriented schemes like the Spurs and the Hawks.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that there’s no shortage of uncertainty surrounding DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph. The Raptors gave them big money with the hope that their games can carry over from their last stops. And since the Raptors aren’t anything like the Spurs or the Hawks, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I had my reservations.

Their preseason showings, however, have eased them ever so slightly.

Let’s start with Carroll. He’s supposed to be everything Terrence Ross wasn’t, and true to form, he’s been exactly that. He’s locking players down on defense, which was to be expected, but he’s also showing an expanded offensive arsenal. We’re seeing Carroll run a few pick-and-rolls (something he never did with the Hawks last season) and he’s shown an ability to make plays when the ball is swung to him. A few drives to the basket, making smart passes inside, creating his own shot (too many pull-up long twos for my liking, but hopefully that fades) in addition to his patented cuts to the basket. He actually is everything Ross was supposed to be.

He’s just a smart, instinctive player who understands how he can contribute to winning. His averages of 11.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 37.9 percent shooting from deep doesn’t leap off the page, but here’s something that does: the Raptors scored like a top-five offense and a top-10 defense with Carroll on the floor.

The same can be said of Joseph, who averaged 9.9 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 21.2 minutes per game. Again, not massive numbers, but tonnes of positives once you look deeper.

First off, Joseph showed a knack for getting to the basket, which is great, because the Raptors now have three to four players between Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, and Joseph who can drive the ball to the hoop. Generating penetration and forcing help rotations is a surefire way to generate quality offense.

There’s a certain craftiness about Joseph’s attacks. He’s always bouncing on his feet and looking to react to how the defense plays him. One false step, and Joseph has the quickness to blow by his man.

Joseph also canned his fair share of jumpers, which is definitely his biggest weakness on offense. The 3-point shot is a bit slow and inconsistent, but he hit 42.9 percent from deep, and for the most part, he hit them when he was open. The ability to hit jumpers also makes me excited about the two point guard lineup possibilities with Joseph and Lowry.

Shotchart_1445828565232

Finally, there’s the defense. I’ve seen enough of Jose Calderon, Greivis Vasquez, and Lou Williams coming off the bench to play offense and loaf on defense. Joseph goes and gets it, plain and simple. He positions himself beautifully, he has quick feet, and most importantly, he’s just flat-out willing to defend. Expect more of this during the regular season:

Sure, Marcin Gortat hit the shot, but it was their center taking a long two with the shot clock expiring. Why did Washington end up with that shot? Because Joseph navigated through three screens – two on-ball actions and a pin down – to cut off the point guard Ramon Sessions at the point of attack.

Joseph and Carroll are going to be crowd favorites. They’ve already won me over, and it’s just preseason.

Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

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