DeMar DeRozan is the 38th Best Player in Basketball

DeMar 50

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: DeMar DeRozan does two things very well: he gets to the basket, and he draws fouls. He does them better than just about anyone. he makes 63% of his shots within three feet of the basket. Only centers do that. James Harden is the only other guard in that class. Speaking of Harden, only he and DeMarcus Cousins shot more free throws last year. If you want someone to do those two specific things, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than DeRozan.

But give DeMar credit, he’s trying to expand his game. He took almost two three-pointers per game last season and made almost 34% of them. That’s not good, but we’re talking about someone who takes more long-two’s than just about anyone in basketball. Any time he takes a step back and tries for the extra point is a good thing, and he’s finally hitting them at least at a league-average rate. That threat is largely responsible for his career high in points per game last year.

And hey, at least he tries on defense now! With his length he can almost always affect shooters, but he’s tall enough to switch onto most modern forwards. He’s a versatile C- defender which makes him a C+ or so overall. Teams can live with that considering what he provides on offense.

Why He’s Below No. 37 (C.J McCollum): C.J. may not be as big as DeMar, but he tries way harder on defense and is getting a lot better at just staying in front of guys and being helpful. That counts for something considering McCollum’s shooting makes him a more valuable offensive player. If a tiebreaker were necessary, it would go to C.J. for his passing as well.

DeRozan’s skill set is just so specific, you need to build around it and that’s a tough ask for someone who can’t shoot three’s or pass. That’s why the Raptors were so much better without him on the floor, their net rating jumped from +3.0 with him to +7.6 without him. Part of what made the Toronto bench so good was how freely they were able to move the ball without worrying about DeRozan’s isolations.

Take this stat, lineups with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph averaged 22.7 assists per 100 possessions. That’s more than any team averaged over the entire season and it’s not close. But the Raptors as a whole, including DeRozan’s minutes, were 28th in the league in assists per 100. That’s the DeRozan effect. It’s manageable with the right players around him, but if his team isn’t careful it’s just so easy to devolve into strict isolation basketball.

Why DeMar DeRozan Will Return to the Toronto Raptors

Demar Raps 1

Rather than answer whether or not DeMar DeRozan will come back to Toronto, let’s ask ourselves this: should the Raptors even want DeRozan back?

If he says “I’m coming back, give me the max,” they’ll have to do it. Toronto just came within two wins of the Finals. It’s the same logic that got Dwayne Casey an extension even though you just know Masai Ujiri is itching to fire him and will at the first sign of trouble next season. But does nearly winning a weak conference make this Toronto team viable?

They got extraordinarily lucky in these playoffs. Had Frank Vogel not used all-bench lineups at key points in Games 5 and 7 of their first round series with Indiana, the Raptors would likely have lost there for the third straight season. Had Miami stayed healthy, they would have lost in the second round.

Toronto’s roster is highly flawed. The offense is based far too much on isolations, the defense is based mostly on higher regular season effort that other teams don’t bother giving. They outperform their regular season expectations every year and then get far worse in the playoffs.

DeRozan doesn’t get as many calls, DeRozan’s defense slips, DeRozan is a big part of Toronto’s playoff failings. All things considered, the Raptors would probably be better off letting him go, trading Kyle Lowry and starting things over. They have plenty of draft picks and young players to kickstart a rebuild.

But again, they can’t do that. They have to bring the gang back for another shot, and this time next year we’ll be asking ourselves if Toronto can dump DeMar’s contract. If anything, their best bet is probably just hoping the Lakers do the wrong thing and convince him to come because hey, he’s an All Star and the Lakers should sign All Stars!

Ujiri would be thrilled if Mitch Kupchack decided to go that route, but at this point it seems unlikely. He’s going to give DeMar the max and regret it within six months.

Likely Contract: Five Years, Max

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 6/22/16: Gallo to Toronto

Gallo Raps1

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs, each week will feature seven fake trades of one star player. This is Danilo Gallinari Week. 



Denver Nuggets Receive: 

Terrence Ross

Patrick Patterson

No. 27 Overall Pick


 Toronto Raptors Receive:

 Danilo Gallinari



Why Denver would make this trade: Ross isn’t the player he should be, but he’s still a useful young two-way forward when he’s engaged, and the No. 27 pick gives them another piece that fits into their long-term timeline.

Why Toronto would make this trade: With Kyle Lowry’s ability to guard bigger players, the Raptors could switch 1-4 defensively and Gallinari adds a nice dash of passing and shooting to an offense that needs both. It hurts their bench, but that’s what the mid-level exception is for.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 6/11/16: Blake to Toronto

Blake Raps

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs, each week will feature seven fake trades of one star player. This is Blake Griffin Week. 

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Los Angeles Clippers Receive:                                         Toronto Raptors Receive:

Demarre Carroll                                                                    Blake Griffin

Patrick Patterson                                                                

No. 9 Overall Pick  



Why Los Angeles would make this trade: Carroll and Patterson would be their starting forwards. They can both shoot, Carroll is an excellent defender, and it’s never a bad thing to have the No. 9 overall pick. That’s a fluid asset they could either trade or use on a rookie they like.

Why Toronto would make this trade: It’s amazing how well-situated the Raptors are for a consolidation trade like this considering they just made the Eastern Conference Finals. Griffin would slide right in at power forward, giving the Raptors another big time scorer and infusing their offense with some more ball movement, but they really lose little in the way of depth. Norman Powell is ready to step into a bigger role, Terrance Ross and Cory Joseph are still on the bench and signed for several more years, and the group of Delon Wright, Bebe Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo probably needs to start getting minutes anyway. Squeezing enough defense out of this group might be tough unless they chose to trade Jonas Valanciunas and keep Bismack Biyombo (and his market will be robust), but scoring shouldn’t be a problem.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 4/24/16: Carmelo Heads North

Carmelo Raptors

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs, each week will feature seven fake trades of one star player. This is Carmelo Anthony Week. 

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New York Knicks receive:            Toronto Raptors receive:                  Oklahoma City Thunder Receive:

Jonas Valanciunas                          Carmelo Anthony                                  Demarre Carroll

Cameron Payne                                                              

Mitch McGary

Kyle Singler

Nick Collison

New York Knicks’ 2016 First Round Draft Pick                                                                            


Why New York Would Make this Trade: Volume. New York gets a bonafide young low-post scorer in Jonas, a promising point guard in Payne, their own first round pick back and a chance to see if Mitch McGary is an NBA player. All together, that’s worth Anthony.

Why Toronto Would Make This Trade: If Toronto loses in the playoffs again this year, it will be clear that they simply need a talent upgrade to take things to the next level. Adding Anthony to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan might be redundant, but the scoring potential is through the roof.

Why Oklahoma City Would Make This Trade: The Thunder need another wing to play a true small ball lineup against the Warriors. If Carroll is healthy, he’s one of the best three-and-D role players in basketball. This is a coup for the Thunder.


What if Toronto Drafted LaMarcus Aldridge?

LaMarcus Aldridge Raptors

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes. 

Most pundits decide that the 2006 NBA Draft does not have a surefire superstar. The Toronto Raptors disagree, and their use of the No. 1 overall pick on Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge leads to a series of events that change the NBA forever.

The Raptors win 51 games in the 2006-07 season, slowly realizing the advantages of playing Aldridge and Chris Bosh at the same time. Both big men have range on their shots, and when paired with marksmen like Anthony Parker and Jose Calderon the floor is spaced so well that drives and post ups become markedly easier. They may lose their second round series to Cleveland, but with their new style of shooting big men have discovered a method of team-building largely ignored throughout the rest of the league.

Portland, the other team in the draft most interested in Aldridge, settles for Italian forward Andrea Bargnani and stumbles to only 29 wins. Had they won only three games more, the lottery balls might have earned them one of the draft’s two top prizes, Ohio State’s Greg Oden or Texas’ Kevin Durant. Instead, Atlanta and Minnesota leap up to the top spots forcing the Blazers to settle for the No. 3 pick and lesser prospect Al Horford. Atlanta eagerly scoops up Oden, while Durant goes to Minnesota to learn from Kevin Garnett.


The addition of such a talented rookie completely rejuvenates KG. The Timberwolves storm to 50 wins and their first playoff berth since 2005, and though they lose to the Hornets, Garnett feels confident enough in Durant’s future that he assures the franchise that he will stay in Minnesota for the rest of his career.

Things in the east are far muddier. The 60-win Pistons grasp the No. 1 seed fairly easily, but Boston (with newly added Ray Allen and Pau Gasol), Cleveland, Orlando and Toronto spend the entire season fighting for position behind them. The Raptors end up in fifth, losing the Celtics in the first round but in an encouraging enough way to extend the contract of head coach Sam Mitchell for three more years. The Pistons and Spurs meet in a rematch of the 2005 Finals, and the result is the same. The Spurs win the series in six games to capture their fifth championship.

After missing out on Aldridge and Durant in back-to-back years, the draft gods finally grant Portland the break they need. The Blazers, with the eighth-worst record in the NBA behind the solid play of Horford and not much else, shock the NBA and win the lottery. They grab Memphis point guard Derrick Rose with the first pick and suddenly appear to be one of the more promising teams in the league.

That draft produces several meaningful players. The league’s worst team, the future Oklahoma City Thunder, use the second pick on Michael Beasley to give their new city a face for the franchise. Miami, picking third, settles for UCLA’s Russell Westbrook. Memphis takes O.J. Mayo fourth, clearing the way for the New York Knicks to grab UCLA’s other top prospect: Kevin Love.

A later pick of note belongs to the Raptors. Knowing their stature as a playoff team affords them the patience to draft an international player, Toronto grabs yet another shooting big man, Serge Ibaka from the Republic of Congo. The way they figure, he’ll be a useful backup for a few years and serve as eventual Bosh insurance should he choose to leave as a free agent in 2010.


That worry grows into the eventual reality. Though Aldridge grows into a legitimate star, the Raptors can’t break past Orlando in the East. The Magic win the conference in both 2009 and 2010 and earn the NBA championship in ’09. They simply don’t have an answer for Dwight Howard’s raw strength. Bosh goes into free agency determined to find a team that can get him past Orlando.

Luckily for him, Cleveland’s LeBron James has the same problem. The two secretly decide to pair up, and though they attempt to recruit Miami’s Dwyane Wade with them, the exciting development of his new backcourt partner Westbrook makes both he and the organization hesitant to commit to such a risky strategy. Instead, the pair look to one of their former Olympic coaches, New York’s Mike D’antoni. His Knicks are on the rise thanks to the emerging Love, and that entices two of the biggest free agents in league history enough to jump to the Big Apple.

Of course, the star-studded Knicks aren’t completed until a year later. After their shocking loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, New York dangles Love to the Hornets for the point guard D’antoni has always craved: Chris Paul. Eventually, a deal is consummated and the trio of Paul, James and Bosh prepare to bring New York its first championship in almost 40 years. Of course, to do so, they’ll have to get past Aldridge, Ibaka and the ascendent Raptors.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day DEADLINE DAY: Ryan Anderson to Toronto

Ryan Anderson Raptors

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper.

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Toronto Raptors Receive:                                    New Orleans Pelicans Receive:

Ryan Anderson                                                        Luis Scola

                                                                                    James Johnson

                                                                                    Delon Wright

                                                                                    Raptors 2016 First Round Pick



Why Toronto Would Make This Trade: Adding Anderson would make Toronto nearly impossible to defend. Defenses want to pack the paint on DeMar DeRozan drives, but the combination of Kyle Lowry, Anderson and a healthy DeMarre Carroll makes that a tough pill to swallow. It also opens the door to more creative pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, and Anderson’s bird rights would allow Toronto to keep him beyond 2016 without dipping into cap space.

Why New Orleans Would Make This Trade: New Orleans essentially gets two first round picks for a player they’re going to lose anyway. They aren’t going to find better value than that for a rental.