NBA

Leonard vs. DeRozan: A mid-season examination of the controversial trade

The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs square off on Thursday night for the first time since their trade this off-season that saw DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick head to the Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. But who got the better end of the deal?

A post mortem on the off-season deal that shook up the NBA

Kawhi Leonard, left, and DeMar DeRozan, right, pictured here in 2015, are set to go against one another on Thursday night for the first time since the controversial July trade. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

After his team was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs for the second straight season, Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri decided to roll the dice.

First, he fired Dwane Casey, the winningest coach in franchise history. Two months later, Ujiri traded DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. 

DeRozan was beloved in Toronto, and often spoke about his desire to play with the Raptors for the duration of his career. Leonard on the other hand, came to the team with just one year remaining on his current contract. Several reports had him bolting to Los Angeles — to either the Lakers or Clippers — once the season is over. There was considerable debate about whether this was a good deal for Toronto.

WATCH | Former Raptor Jerome Williams discusses Leonard-DeRozan trade:

Former Toronto Raptor Jerome Williams catches up with CBC Sports Anson Henry about the Raptors and the DeMar DeRozan trade while sharing his favourite gameday meal. 4:42

On Thursday night, the Raptors and Spurs square off for the first time since the controversial deal.

So which team has fared better as a result of the trade? 

At first glance, Toronto appears to have the upper hand. As of Thursday, the Raptors boast the second-best record in the NBA at 28-11, while the Spurs currently hold the seventh spot in the Western Conference with a record of 21-17.

But things become murkier when you delve a little deeper.

Kawhi in the North

After appearing in just nine games last season for the Spurs with a variety of injuries, there was speculation about whether Leonard would be back to his former dominant self this season.

Those questions appear to have been answered. Leonard is averaging 27.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game while shooting 49.7 per cent from the floor, and 36.1 per cent from three-point range.

He's flashed some of the defence that helped him win two Defensive Player of the Year Awards.

While Leonard has shown a dominant ability to score, he is averaging just under three assists per game, and it's clear that some of his teammates fare better when playing with point guard Kyle Lowry than Leonard.

Serge Ibaka shoots 58.7 per cent from the field when he shares the floor with Lowry without Leonard, and just 42.3 per cent when he's on the floor with Leonard and no Lowry. Pascal Siakam shoots 58 per cent from the field with Lowry, and just 46.2 per cent with Leonard.

The Raptors have also fared extremely well without Leonard, going 7-2 in games without the 2014 Finals MVP, including impressive road wins over the Warriors, Lakers, and Jazz. 

DeRozan in the Lone Star State

The Spurs are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997, but it's unfair to pin this on the four-time all-star.

The team's roster is mediocre at best. Manu Ginobli retired this off-season while Tony Parker left San Antonio to sign a free-agent contract in Charlotte. The point guard tasked with replacing Parker, Dejounte Murray, tore his ACL in a pre-season game. Pau Gasol is 38 years old, and just returned after missing 28 games with a stress fracture in his left foot.

Essentially, DeRozan has carried a shallow roster to respectability. He's averaging 22.9 points per game, a career-high 6.3 assists per game, and is shooting 47.7 per cent from the field.  He's put the finishing touches on wins like he did in Toronto.

Still, the 29-year-old's often-criticized flaws, 3-point shooting and defence, have continued to be suspect in a Spurs uniform. The Compton, Calif., native is shooting 18 per cent from beyond the arc, having hit just seven 3-pointers all season.

The Spurs' defence has also been a tad better with DeRozan off the court. Opponents have scored 2.27 points per minute he's on the court, and 2.24 points per minute he's on the bench.

Who won the trade?

The results to this point appear to favour the Raptors. But Toronto's superior record has a lot to do with its better roster, in addition to Leonard and Green. The Raptors had an identical record of 28-11 after 39 games last season with DeRozan at the helm.

In reality, the victor of the trade is yet to be determined. 

How the Raptors fare in the playoffs, and whether or not they can re-sign Leonard will be more determinative of the trade's success than any regular-season affair.  

But as far as regular-season matchups go, there won't be many more intriguing games than the Spurs hosting the Raptors.

In discussing the game, Spurs forward Lamarcus Aldridge told reporters, "If I could get some popcorn and watch it I would, but I might have to play." 

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