Has DeMar Derozan Taken Over the Raptors from Kyle Lowry?

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The Raptors are back again this season with their core group of players that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and took the Cavaliers to six games. This core includes DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, Cory Joesph, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, but most notably their all-star back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan.

Lowry and Derozan have played at an all-star level since the 2013-14 season. They have each been to the game in two of the three years since then. Lowry was snubbed out of an appearance in 2013-14 despite playing at a high level with 17.9 points and 7.4 assists per game with 11.7 win shares that season. Derozan missed the game in 2014-15 due to various injuries that caused him to miss 22 games, but he still played at an all-star level with 20.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.

Tom Szczerbowski / USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski / USA TODAY Sports

Both players’ high levels of play have caused the Raptors to finish as a top four team in the Eastern Conference each of the last three seasons, but it has also caused a debate as to who is the ultimate alpha on Toronto. In these three preceding seasons. Lowry was subtly the team’s best player. Lowry and Derozan were about even in terms of the box score averages. From 2013-14 to 2015-16, here are the two players respective stats:

Lowry Per Game Table
Season G MP FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% TRB AST STL PTS
2013-14 79 36.2 .423 2.4 .380 4.0 .813 4.7 7.4 1.5 17.9
2014-15 70 34.5 .412 1.9 .338 3.6 .808 4.7 6.8 1.6 17.8
2015-16 77 37.0 .427 2.8 .388 5.2 .811 4.7 6.4 2.1 21.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/4/2016.
Derozan Per Game Table
Season G MP FG FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% TRB AST STL PTS
2013-14 79 38.2 7.6 .429 0.8 .305 6.6 .824 4.3 4.0 1.1 22.7
2014-15 60 35.0 6.8 .413 0.4 .284 6.0 .832 4.6 3.5 1.2 20.1
2015-16 78 35.9 7.9 .446 0.6 .338 7.1 .850 4.5 4.0 1.0 23.5
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/4/2016.

In terms of total points created, Lowry and Derozan were about even. The extra points Derozan scored were evened out by Lowry’s extra assists. Derozan shot a higher field goal percentage, but Lowry’s would have been higher had he attempted less threes. Whereas Lowry contributed an efficient three point shot, Derozan demonstrated one of the best abilities to get to the rim and draw fouls.

Jack Boland / Toronto Sun
Jack Boland / Toronto Sun

Where Lowry might have had the edge was in the analytical eye. Lowry bested Derozan in both offensive and defensive rating, as well as PER, win shares and win share rate, and on/off. Here is a comparison of their advanced stats over this three season period:

Lowry and Derozan 2013-14 through 2015-16
Player PER Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Win Shares Win Shares per 48 minutes On / Off
Lowry 20.6 115 106 30.4 .180 +4.3
Derozan 19.2 110 108 22.7 .137 -2.5
Difference 1.4 5 2 7.7 .043 6.8

These differences were only more prominent in the playoffs:

Lowry and Derozan Playoffs 2013-14 through 2015-16
Player PER Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Win Shares Win Shares per 48 minutes On / Off
Lowry 15.8 103 110 1.6 .068 +1.2
Derozan 15.4 99 111 0.9 .037 -14.2
Difference 0.4 4 1 0.7 .031 15.4

The fact that, over the last three seasons, the Raptors were 14.2 points per 100 possessions worse with their star shooting guard who played 38.3 minutes per game in the playoffs was very discouraging. When Derozan was handed his five year 139 million dollar contract, the 2nd largest contract in NBA history, many people criticized it. Looking at this lack of team-productive impact by Derozan, the criticism was fair.

Jack Boland / Toronto Sun / Postmedia Network
Jack Boland / Toronto Sun / Postmedia Network

This season, however, has been a completely different story. Derozan has stepped up his already-all-star level box score stats. He is currently averaging 36.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 steals on 55.6% shooting. He is leading the league in scoring average, and scoring at an incredibly efficient rate.

These games weren’t against slouch teams either. In the four games thus far, three were against .500 or above teams. One of them was even against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, yet Derozan has played uber efficient basketball. His field goal percentage is fantastic, so too are his PER (34.8,) offensive and defensive rating (121 and 105,) win shares per 48 minutes (.309,) and on/off (+15.8.) This is actually the 2nd season in Derozan’s career that he has had a positive on/off, and the first in which outscored their opponents only when he was on the court.

Lowry, on the other hand, is in the midst of a relative slump. His numbers are down across the board, and the team has struggled with him on the court. That’s actually an understatement. It’s amazing that the team is 3-1 with Lowry playing 37.0 minutes per game because the Raptors are 22.6 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the court. He’s only shooting 40.3% from the field and 28.6% from three, and this is the first season since 2007-08 that Lowry’s win shares per 48 minutes is below the league average .100 (.083.)

Jack Boland / Toronto Sun
Jack Boland / Toronto Sun

Of course it is too early to determine the rest of the NBA season from just the first four games, but Derozan has simply been so much more dominant than Lowry. It is Derozan embodying the concept of “putting the team on his back,” as Derozan has stepped up his performance exponentially as his star teammate has struggled. Derozan is also at a much better age (27 years and 89 days) to have an NBA prime than Lowry (30 years and 224 days.)

It is very early into the season, but Derozan is already beginning to show signs of becoming this team’s alpha player. He has favorable matchups over the next few games with Dion Waiters on Miami, an aging Arron Afflalo on Sacramento, and Victor Oladipo on Oklahoma City, who has the worst defensive rating on the Thunder. The NBA’s leader in scoring average right now should remain on top for a good while if he keeps it up.

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