Since the start of the season, Jay Triano and Bryan Colangelo have made it clear that the development of their prized rookie DeMar DeRozan would be a priority this season.
For the most part, that’s a strategy one cannot argue with.
From preseason on, DeRozan found himself in the starting lineup. The rationale being this would give the rookie valuable experience playing against top talent and enable the Raptors coaching staff to monitor and maintain his minutes in the rotation.
For the most part, the Raptors have stuck with their game plan for DeRozan.
He has never failed to play double-digit minutes and never played more than 30 minutes in a game. DeRozan has averaged 21 minutes per game this season by playing 17 to 24 minutes on most nights.
And the Raptors coaches have stuck with the plan whether their rookie was deserving of those minutes each night or not.
While DeRozan has averaged better than eight points and three rebounds, he has often struggled on the defensive end of the floor. On many nights, the more experienced starting guards he has faced have abused him at every opportunity.
It becomes particularly obvious when opposing wings are deliberately creating switches in order to have their turn with rookie defender.
The Raptors number one five-man unit of Jack-DeRozan-Turkoglu-Bargnani-Bosh is also one of Raptors least effective five-man sets.
Of the Raptors most used five-man units (82games.com ), this unit is the worst offensive unit with 104 points per 100 possessions (Raptors average 111.5); the worst plus/minus at minus 47 (the next worst is minus 11); and they are the second worst rebounding unit.
The substitution of Weems for DeRozan in this five-man unit improves both the offensive and defensive ratings brings a positive plus/minus, and a substantial improvement in rebounding.
And while these types of statistics can be misleading, it appears obvious when watching the games that Weems is bringing more energy to both ends of the floor than DeRozan is.
But the continued development of DeRozan is important.
The rookie mistake of freezing during offensive sets and neither going for the rebound nor running back on defense is something DeRozan should overcome with more experience—as painful as this is to endure now.
Getting abused in half-court sets by more experienced players is something that every rookie suffers through to some extent.
But making DeRozan learn by watching from the bench is not a strategy that is likely to make him a better player.
And it is worth noting that on a per 36 minute basis, DeRozan is putting up 13.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and a half a block per game. As the 20-year-old rookie matures, those statistics indicate a very respectable starting shooting guard should appear.
The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of a playoff run and there is likely a maximum amount of abuse any rookie should face in order to protect their confidence.
Is it time for Jay Triano to consider a change to the starting lineup to help both the team and his rookie?
Since the preseason, it has been obvious that Weems and DeRozan have had some chemistry both on and off the court.
From DeMar’s request of Weems to help him in the dunk contest, to their stated friendship in numerous interviews, and to their willingness to share the ball on the court, the two young men appear to be pushing each other along this season.
And the five-man unit of Jack-DeRozan-Weems-Bargnani-Bosh has been one of the Raptors most effective offensive and defensive units.
Also, it has been suggested that Antoine Wright’s defensive play has earned him a spot in the starting rotation. With his new found effectiveness as a spot up shooter, it would seem to make him the more effective wing to play with Hedo Turkoglu.
And playing a fifth-year veteran over a rookie should make the Raptors starting unit much more effective defensively at the start of games.
Jay Triano has the option to bring his rookie off the bench to play with his friend Weems and keep DeRozan minutes in the 17 to 24 range.
Such a change does appear to have merit.
A possible way to both boost DeRozan’s confidence and the team’s success is to let DeRozan play against back-ups and build on the apparent chemistry between Weems and DeRozan.
It appears to improve the Raptors defensively.
Letting DeRozan build his stats a bit against second unit players couldn’t hurt?
As the Raptors enter the post All-Star break push for playoff position, it may be time to start formulating postseason lineups that build on the team’s experience during the season.
And while DeMar DeRozan looks like the Raptors starting shooting guard of the future, his play does not resemble that of a starting shooting guard of today.
Time for a change Coach Triano?