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Are DeRozan & Lowry New Orleans-Bound?

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have their sights set on New Orleans.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have their sights set on New Orleans.

In their 19-season history, the Toronto Raptors' franchise has sent an underwhelming three players - Vince Carter, Antonio Davis and Chris Bosh - to the league's annual All-Star Game.

Sure, Carter and Bosh bost numerous All-Star appearances between them and that figure doesn't include a horde of players (from Damon Stoudamire right up to Terrence Ross) that have been invited to take part in the weekend's festivities while employed by the Raps. But the three All-Star representatives does speak to Toronto's lack of league-wide relevance and star power for much of its existence.

This year, however, its entirely possible that DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry could change that. Though neither will be voted in as a starting guard in the game (a post-Christmas voting tally revealed that Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving have those spots all but locked up in the East), both are posting numbers that put them firmly in the mix amid a fairly unimpressive Eastern Conference field.

The Case for DeRozan

DeRozan, who you may have noticed squeezed in as the 10th-ranked Eastern guard in voting tallies, is probably the better positioned of the two Raptor All-Star hopefuls. Although his 21.1 PPG average hardly seems groundbreaking, its a strong enough number to place him first in scoring among all Eastern shooting guards and fifth among all players in the Conference. He also ranks among the top five shooting guards in rebounds, assists and steals.

Whether or not he does get selected for his first All-Star appearance, he is clearly having a career season. DeRozan is currently averaging 5.4 points, 1.5 assists and 0.7 rebounds more than his career averages, taking over as the focal point of the Raptors' offence while also improving his three-point shot (.305%, up from .283% last season) and getting to the free throw line more regularly (6.3 attempts per game, up from 5.2).

Assuming Wade gets the go-ahead to start in the two-guard role, DeRozan's prospective positional rivals thin out in a hurry. Veterans like Joe Johnson and Ray Allen hold the name recognition, but either haven't performed well enough to warrant an All-Star invite (Johnson) or simply don't have a big enough role to merit one (Allen).

The fourth-year Raptor's chief competition (assuming the East coaches elect to bring along multiple shooting guards) should come from Orlando's Arron Afflalo, who boasts a similar 20.9/4.5/4.0 stat line to DeRozan's 21.1/4.3/3.4, and Indiana's Lance Stephenson, who compensates for a lack of scoring (13.4 PPG) with his rebounding (6.5) and play-making (5.1 assists). However, Afflalo has been putting up solid stats on an abysmal 10-24 Magic squad and Stephenson, while on the elite Pacers, ranks no better than the third-best player on his own team.

Projection: Barring any drastic occurrences over the next couple of weeks, I believe DeRozan will make the team

The Case for Lowry

While DeRozan is the club's scoring leader, you could make the argument that Kyle Lowry has been more integral to the recent success of the Raptors. His surge in play and intensity, which came right around the time that trade rumours had him all but shipped off to the Big Apple, has provided a spark that had boosted the play of the rest of the starting five.

From a purely statistical standpoint, Lowry lags slightly. He ranks just sixth in scoring among Eastern point guards (15.7 points, well behind Irving's 22.2 points) and fourth in assists (7.6) and rebounds (4.1). However, he stands as one of the most reliable floor generals in the Conference, ranking second among point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.47, behind Shelvin Mack's 3.48) and No. 3 in Player Efficiency Rating (19.53).

Cracking the Eastern Conference point guard mix for an All-Star spot would have been a pipe dream if not for injuries to Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, who still ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the second voting return. Still, Lowry has plenty of tough competition for a spot in the February 16th game.

Allowing that Irving will hold onto the starting spot through fan voting, Lowry will still have to contend with John Wall (19.7 points, Conference-leading 8.8 assists), Brandon Jennings (17.0, 8.3), Jeff Teague (16.9, 8.0) and Kemba Walker (18.0, 4.6). Of that group, Wall probably gets the nod as Irving's primary back-up (even though the Raps' starting PG recently outplayed him), leaving Lowry in the mix with the other three for one or two roster spots. Although he lags behind other guys in most statistical categories, he boasts a bigger role than Teague and plays on a better team than Jennings and Walker.

Projection: Barring injury, I see Lowry narrowly missing the cut.

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