James World: A country on their backs

En route to the Raptors first playoff appearance in five seasons, both DeRozan and Lowry are turning in career years (Photo: Nathan Denette/CP)

The Raptors are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and they’ve got their backcourt to thank for it. In this week’s column, former Raptor Mike James breaks down DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s contributions and writes about the dangers of the team’s string of slow starts with the second season around the corner.

If your team is set up with a dominant threat in the middle and you’re guaranteed 15-20 points from your big man, then obviously you’re going to work to get him the ball—your offence will be created inside.

The Raptors don’t have that guy. And when your bigs are basically role players who feed off your backcourt, those guards have to be dominant scorers.

In Toronto, the bigs feed off of Kyle Lowry and his ability to get them easy baskets. Factor in DeMar DeRozan drawing a regular double-team, which allows the bigs to knock down open jump shots and slash to the basket, and you can see where the Raptors’ frontcourt is getting most of its points. It’s the way the offence is setup and it’s why the ball is in the backcourts’ hands.

That extra responsibility has allowed the Raptors’ backcourt to flourish. The trade that got rid of Rudy Gay opened up the floor for DeMar. Now he doesn’t have to share those touches. He’s the superstar, the one that other teams focus on, and he’s playing with a ton of confidence. He’s having an all-star year and putting up numbers, what else can you say?

Obviously, Kyle is having a career year, but I think a lot of his breakout comes down to his health. He’s always been a talented player but one of the biggest knocks against him has been his inability to stay healthy. This year he’s been able to stay on the court and he’s showing how much work he’s put in. He’s showing that he’s tough and plays with a ton of passion—and there’s really no substitute for that.

The situation is right, too.

It’s always easier knowing you don’t have to look behind you, that you’re going to play minutes every night and that the coach has your back and is going to let you have control on the basketball court. When you’re in that kind of situation, you can make a mistake and just shake it off, not get frustrated. You can just stay within the rhythm of the game.

Where Toronto could run into trouble heading into the post-season is if they continue to lean on fourth-quarter comebacks. You’ve got to come in from the start with the belief that every basket matters and every point counts, and defensively you need to lock in early. Don’t wait until the second half. Don’t wait until your back is against the wall before you start fighting.

If they play like that in the playoffs—acting like what they do in the first quarter won’t hurt them in the fourth— it’s going to be an easy rout for whichever team they play against. Simple as that.

Reader Questions

Mike! What’s been your favourite moment from March Madness so far? —Glen, Toronto

I’m enjoying Kentucky, because I’m familiar with the Harrison twins. They’re from Houston, where I’m training now, so I’m happy for their success. I think Michigan State is really good, but because of their bracket, Kentucky is a team with with a good chance to win it all.

How much of Andrew Wiggins’ quiet outing in his last game is on him and how much is on the Kansas coaching staff and system? —Mike, Thornhill

If you’re supposed to be the superstar then when the ball finds its way to you, you have to be prepared to take the shot. It’s not like Wiggins didn’t touch the ball; he just didn’t shoot. In that situation, something has got to click inside of him that says, “I have to take over.” But only superstars think that way. The greats always rise to the occasion, particularly when the game is close—they want the ball in the last five minutes. Whether they make or miss, they’re not afraid of the outcome.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.