No game tonight, no Raptors news floating around, nothing much to talk about after giving you roughly 1,000 words on the home opener. So let’s take a look at some interesting numbers through two games.
I realize that we’re only one-thirty-third (or 3.03%) through the new season and that most of these numbers will mean nothing in no time at all, but part of the intriguing factor of looking at these figures is debating whether or not they are attainable over 66 games.
Let’s get to it.
- Through two regular season games, the player who has played the most minutes isn’t even a starter. James Johnson has averaged 32.5 minutes (65 total minutes), and that’s enough to lead the team. If Johnson keeps playing well off of the bench and gets starter’s minutes anyway, then there is no need to reinsert him into the starting lineup. I don’t know what stands out more to me about this stat, that Johnson leads the team or that no Raptor has played more than 65 minutes through two games. Dwane Casey has kept true to his word about keeping a tighter rotation too, as only six players have averaged 20-plus minutes (James Johnson, Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Calderon, DeRozan, Barbosa).
- A guy averaging just under 20 minutes through two games is Ed Davis. Over the course of the season, I definitely expect Ed to get that number over 20, and right now, he actually leads the team in Player Efficiency Rating, but with Bargnani playing well, Amir working his tail off and Dwane Casey wanting to give Jamaal Magloire (and eventually Aaron Gray) some burn to have a true centre on the court, Davis will not get anything easy. He’s going to have to work and play his way into more minutes, or hope that Bargnani and/or Amir hit a stumbling block.
- Back to James Johnson. If you’re wondering why he’s played the most minutes so far, you might want to take a look at his defensive numbers and then remember that he’s playing for a defensive specialist in Dwane Casey. I realize that steals and blocks don’t even come close to telling the whole story on the defensive end, but still, Johnson’s totals of eight steals and five blocks in just two games are impressive, especially for a small forward. His five turnovers continue to be the weakest link in an otherwise solid all around game, but the steals and seven assists somewhat negate those turnovers. Can he sustain those defensive numbers? Absolutely not, but if J.J. can limit his turnovers while continuing to put in the overall effort he’s shown thus far, I don’t see how anyone will steal minutes from him at the three this season.
- One thing I mentioned in my reaction to last night’s game was DeMar DeRozan’s ability to recover from slow offensive starts in both games. After very poor shooting performances to start both contests, DeRozan still found a way to total 37 points on 16-of-29 shooting, culminating with his 16-point fourth quarter on Wednesday (which included hitting five shots in a row). His mid-range game, which had already grown by leaps and bounds last season, looks even better, and he’s made two of his three attempts from behind the arc. I’d still like to see him dramatically improve his ball handling skills, but his off-season work on extending his range looks to be producing results early in the season, despite his first half performances.
- Another positive for the Raptors through two games is Amir Johnson’s rebounding. Amir has recorded double-digit rebounding performances in both games to total 23 boards in 61 minutes, which works out to over 13 rebounds per 36 minutes. While a lot of numbers you see in the first couple weeks of a new season are dramatically inflated and rarely attainable over an entire season, this is one of the numbers here that I actually think could stand for 66 games. Of course, a lot depends on Amir’s ability to stay on the floor (averaging four fouls per game right now) and his health, but if he continues to play 30 minutes per game, I could definitely see him flirting with a double-digit rebounding average.
- From good rebounding to frustrating rebounding, Andrea Bargnani, who has looked better overall, has just 10 rebounds through two games, or six less than what Dwane Casey expects of him. As I mentioned in my last post, Bargnani’s low rebounding numbers this season seem to be more a case of “butter-fingers” than a case of lacking effort. He’s chased and followed rebounds better, has gotten into better positions and isn’t getting out-muscled as much. But it doesn’t matter, because he’s letting loose balls just slip through his hands, and as we all know, a good defensive stand doesn’t end until you grab and secure the rebound. Until Bargnani proves he can do that consistently, I can’t totally buy into him as a changed player.
A positive note about Bargnani though is his seemingly improved court vision. I’ve always thought Andrea was an underrated passer for a big man, but it’s never really showed on the stat-sheets (Bargs has never averaged more than 1.8 assists per game). This season, Andrea has seven assists already for an average of 3.5 per game. Chances are, his low rebounding numbers have a better chance of standing all season than his assists do, but one thing I’ll be keeping an eye on with Bargnani now is his passing, and I didn’t think I’d say that at any point this season.
- Lastly, from a team standpoint, I wanted to talk defence and the “Casey Effect” through the first two games. The Cavaliers are just a horrible basketball team right now and the Pacers, although I like their team this season, are not exactly an offensive juggernaut, so we’ll have to take these numbers with a giant grain of salt, but the numbers really do jump out at you. Last season, the Raptors allowed opponents to shoot over 48 per cent from the field and allowed 110 points per 100 possessions. In two games this season, the new look Raps have allowed the Cavs and Pacers to shoot just 40.4 per cent and have allowed 101.1 points per 100 possessions. Toronto sustaining anything close to those numbers would obviously be a massive turnaround in both important statistical categories. They’re also a plus-six in the rebound department and have allowed 78 points in the paint (39 per game) after allowing a league worst 47.4 per game last season.
Again, I’m not declaring the defence is fixed because of two games, but only a fool can’t see that it has certainly improved. The new additions to the roster (Jamaal Magloire, Rasual Butler, Gary Forbes, Aaron Gray, Anthony Carter) haven’t played enough to put the improvement on them, with only Magloire, Butler and Forbes combining for 60 total minutes. The rest of the roster is virtually the same, so it’s not like any one player or group of players can get the credit. The difference is Dwane Casey right now. Even if you argue that the team is and will be better defensively because each player is playing better individual defence (which I can agree with right now), then you still have to ask the question, why are the same players playing so much better and harder on defence than they were just eight months ago?
Will any of these numbers be relevant months from now, weeks from now, or even three games from now? The answers are part of the fun of watching a new look team this season, and will go a long way in telling us exactly who these players are and what this team is.