With an Eye to Their Offense, Raptors Court John Lucas III
Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said it himself in an interview with Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com: If the first year of the Raptors' reboot was defined by a defensive culture change, the season to come will be an effort in establishing a more balanced offense.
With that emphasis squarely in mind, the Raptors are, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, reportedly close to a deal that would lock up former Chicago Bull John Lucas III in Toronto for a few seasons. Lucas is slightly undersized by conventional NBA standards, and his style of play is decidedly disparate from the point guard ideal; Lucas averaged a career-high 5.4 assists per 36 minutes last season, and at 29, it's a bit unrealistic to expect much better. Lucas is who he is, for better or worse, and the Raptors have taken all of that in stride as they attempt to make Lucas their backup point guard behind Kyle Lowry.
It's a decent decision considering both how effective a scorer Lucas was last season and how utterly miserable Toronto's offense was for the same duration. Lucas is hardly a cure-all in that regard, but considering the gains already made in importing Lowry to be the team's full-time ball-handler, he'll hardly be asked to. Lucas' role will be incredibly familiar to him: take care of the ball, work hard on defense and fill it up offensively.
That last dimension is where Lucas really stands out; scoring is often seen as a differentiating factor between stars and role players, but Lucas is an epitomical example of a scoring role player. In fact, his limitations are exactly what makes him an intriguing candidate for the Raptors. Flexibility is incredibly important to a team in Toronto's position, and the less that the Raps can commit salary-wise while maintaining their current trajectory, the better. Lucas manages to meet a need, and due to the fact that he's both a scoring point guard and an otherwise limited player, Toronto's likely to get him at a discount.
Lucas' primary function is to put up points, and, in turn, the other aspects of the game force him to lag behind. That's a less peculiar characterization than one might think; the NBA has developed in a way that stars and role players alike tend to come in a variety of forms. Even though pure bucket-getting has long been a deciding factor in name recognition, contract negotiation and general perception around the league, the NBA has taken a series of subtle steps that have rounded out the process of playing and earning across all kinds of basketball talents.
The fact that Lucas scored 18.3 points per 36 minutes last season—and that he had a few particularly notable performances on national television—may make him more visible than most third-string guards, but he's a specialist nonetheless. He's not so different from the spot-up three-point shooter, the energetic rebounder or the lockdown defender—his trade is just a bit more obvious, and still, despite the aforementioned movement in perception, a bit more widely appreciated.
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