Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors

Earlier this week, I wrote about how the Raptors are still far from a surefire playoff team next season, and I maintain that. Upset wins over teams like the Pacers and Knicks or blowout wins over the Pistons don’t make any more of a statement for next season than losses to the Bobcats, Cavaliers and Wizards do.

If you recall though, my main concerns in the immediate future of this team are addressing the glaring hole at backup point guard, finding another competent big man (whether a solid bench big or a starter who can let Amir excel as the third big) and getting some value out of either trading or amnestying Andrea Bargnani. The current starting lineup, however, despite all of the negative attention on the combined shot selection of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, may just be good enough heading into 2013-14.

The Raptors are only 10-13 with Gay in the lineup, but a number of those losses have had to do with poor bench production, and a look at the numbers tells us that the five-man unit of Gay, DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas is actually getting the job done.

In fact, according to NBA.com, the Raptors’ current starting lineup has an impressive net rating of +16.5, which ranks fourth in the Association among all five-man units that have played at least 200 minutes together. The three units ahead of them belong to the Spurs, Knicks and Heat, and of the top 18 five-man units, the only one that belongs to a non-playoff team is the Raptors’ starting unit (An Orlando combination is 19th). This speaks to the potential of this group going forward, but it also reinforces the need for depth behind what has actually turned out to be a solid starting five.

Now, the shot selection of DeRozan and Gay at the wings can have a clearly negative impact on the offence and at least one of those two players is going to have to become somewhat of a threat behind the arc to space the Raptors’ attack out (Gay has shown signs recently of regaining his three-point stroke), but the efficient frontcourt combination of Johnson and Valanciunas balances things out nicely and still gives the five-man combination a decent offensive rating of 102.1 (points scored per 100 possessions), good for 33rd among listed units.

You can get by with an average offence like that if you have a great defence, and so far in their short time together, the athletic combination of Lowry, DeRozan, Gay, Johnson and Valanciunas has been great on the defensive end.

Without question, the most encouraging statistic on this team right now is the phenomenal defensive rating of their current starting lineup. Their stingy defensive rating of 85.7 is second-best in the NBA among five-man units, with the only combination that allows less points per possession belonging to San Antonio (Duncan, Green, Leonard, Parker, Splitter) at 84.6. Even more impressive is that the third-best defensive rating, which belongs to Memphis, is more than three points per possession worse than Toronto’s best defensive unit.

If utilized correctly, that stellar D can also improve the average offence, as the Raptors are athletic enough to turn stops and turnovers into easy fast break points the other way, which is why you often hear Dwane Casey talking about how he wants his team to run.

It’s premature and naive to talk about this team as a shoe-in for the postseason next year, but the backbone of a top notch defensive team and a well above average starting lineup seems to be in place according to the numbers. The question now is can those numbers be built upon or even improved upon heading into next season, and can the Raptors utilize the limited cap flexibility available to them to plug the glaring holes they have outside of that starting lineup?

Comments (25)

  1. It’s not just about the massive black hole on the Raptor’s bench, it’s also about how Casey is utilizing that bench. The offense runs through Anderson WAY too much, and his poor shot selection have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for Toronto on many nights.

    We have 2 trigger-happy point guards on the bench who are either game makers or breakers. Credit to John Lucas for actually hitting some of the 3′s he’s making (38%), but he’s also shooting abysmal from everywhere else.

    Terrence Ross can hopefully develop into the 3pt threat Toronto DEEPLY needs, because there is virtually no problems at the big spot aside from just finding someone to fill minutes who isn’t named Aaron Gray.

    I’d really, really like to see all the minutes Alan Anderson is getting shifted over to Landry Fields. Fields is a smart hustle player who provides big on both ends, whether it’s making cuts, diving for the loose ball, making defensive stops. If the guys in Toronto can help him rework his shot like they did with Ed Davis, that contract might not sear the eyes of anyone who looks at it.

    • I’m a big proponent of giving Fields more minutes. He’s an above average defender who spaces the floor offensively with his smart off-ball movement. It would obviously be great if he can find his shooting form again, but even this year while his shot has been AWOL, Landry has still had a positive impact on the floor.

    • Finally a comment that isnt negative
      Raptors need to get vets to help the young fellas grow like how vince carter was surrounded by vets
      Trust me the raptors are one step closer to a playoff threat
      Lowry and gay are really helping this team grow

  2. Those 5 guys are fun to watch, especially now with Bargs out they get more consistent time as a group.

    This team desperately needs a consistent 3pt shooter as well (DeRozan, Gay, Fields and Ross need to get those down in the offseason).

    • Ross’ three-point stroke is fine and his percentages will improve with time, but one of DeRozan/Gay HAS to start hitting threes at even an average rate.

      • Agreed,

        Ross has the purest looking shot of anyone, hopefully time (this offseason) will just get it more consistent. Every time he shoots, I anticipate it going in just based on his mechanics.

        The benefits to the offence if Gay or DeRozan get their 3pt percentage higher would be quite significant in my opinion, just in terms of spacing alone.

  3. Nice post, Joseph. Always glad to see people looking into lineup data.

    What intrigues me as much as the +18.3 (per b-ball ref) lineup is how easily it can be improved my replacing DD with a good 3 point shooter who only has to be as good as DD defensively, which is almost a guarantee.

    That simple change, along with a redistribution of usage to Lowry will easily create an above average offense.

    Lastly, I think at this point even suggesting Amir as a potential 3rd big is insane. What more can the guy do to show he’s a starter, even for good teams. The Raps are a +5.2 team with Amir on the floor and -11.7 team without him. He’s been the Raptors best player for the past 3 years and any suggestions of him not starting going forward are absurd.

    • I’m with you on your first point, but I think the Raptors already have that guy in Terrence Ross, who is a more natural shooter and defender than DeRozan. I remain convinced that Ross has a higher ceiling than DeMar and that he’d be a better fit in this offence beside Gay, but he has to develop first. Once Terrence learns to mix up his offence a bit and bulks up, he’ll have a chance to surpass DeRozan.

      I’m also with you on the offence needing a redistribution of usage to Lowry. He should be initializing the offence more than he is right now.

      As for Amir, believe me, I’d have no problem if he and JV enter next season as the starting bigs, but I still think a third guy is needed to fill out the rotation.

      • I like Ross, and really hope he develops nicely. It’s definitely not a guarantee though. I don’t think you can go into next expecting much from Ross. I really wonder what the market for Derozan is? I have basically no idea.

        The Raps need to use some of the MLE on a dime a dozen shooter like Meeks, or Morrow, etc. (examples, not necessarily FA’s.) If only Fields could hit a damn 3.

        Re: Lowry. The problem is entirely based on a lack of spacing (and likely Casey). The Raps need Lowry to space the floor so desperately that it doesn’t allow him to handle the ball.

        Re: Amir. Sure, but chances are any big acquired is going to be a worse player than Amir. Especially since the list of PF’s who are better than Amir on both sides of the ball is very, very short.

      • Whoa……Ross is one of the worst defenders on the team. He misses rotations all the time out there. When you see the other team’s 3 point shooter wide open and wonder why there is no one out there……9/10 it’s T Ross’s man. He’s slightly improved his 1 vs 1 defence but it’s a team game. The main reason his ass has been nailed to the bench for so much of the season is cuz of his missed roations. DD might not be the defender I wish he was, but at least he is out there putting in work and contesting. DD puts in WORK on his offseasons to be a better all around player. You can’t hate on a guy who works with Gary Payton in the offseason to learn from a great. If he can become 3/4 of a player that Payton was on defence i’d be thrilled.

        The Raptors need to calm down on their 3 point attempts……they’re 10th in the league in attempts. 26th in the league in made 3′s. Think of how many close games they lost this year. If a handful of those 3′s went in then maybe we’d be talking playoffs, or if they looked for a higher percentage shot instead.

        I still think the Raptors need to focus on stingy defence and turning it into fast break points. On offence, Lowry needs to penetrate more and be aggressive. Not necessarily shoot more, but attack and create more space. JV has improved a lot on D, notice he’s not getting into foul trouble anymore. However, it seems like he bites on every pump fake thrown his way.

        The future looks bright contrary to a lot of the haters who frequent this site think. It’s nice to see a positive post. Find a backup point guard and continue to improve on D and it’s playoff time in Raptor land.

        • Ya… the future is bright if your expectations for the team is to lose in the first round of the playoffs year after year.

          So, congratulations, the team has set the bar low, and can now just barely get over it.

          • @BP You have to look at the bright spots. While you are absolutely correct as to the immediate sealing of this team. Playoff basketball is exciting and at the very least it goes to improve the media visibility that the raptors will garner as a result. Additionally, it is important to point out the development of JV. Even though the immediate future of this team isn’t in the true contender status we have a young budding center who looks to fill one of the toughest position to fill in basketball. JV can be our starting center for years to come. I think that while our point guard positiion is still some what in the air (not every one believes Kyle Lowry is the best man for the job) we have at least taken steps towards trying something new (getting rid of JOSE as much as he will be missed). At the SG spot Demar will continue to make strides and if you look at his stats vs the others in the league he is up there overall and will continue to make strides towards allstar status even if he doesn’t quite make it. SF Rudy Gay is a pleasant change he isn’t the perfect player but he is young enough that he has the change to really develop into something. Let us not forget he is a gold medalist for the US and will at the very least always be included in conversations with allstar caliber level talent and that is saying something. Amir is a beast nough said… its a good thing we didn’t trade him or amnesty him.
            The biggest concern that needs to be addressed this summer is the bench.
            We can do without the majority of our bench minus Fields who has shown other ways to be productive (rbs, defence, good movement) and T.Ross (exciting shows promise of being the 3pt specialist we need).

            Demar will most likely continue to work on his 3pt game which has improved and will also improve on his defence since he has started to work with the GLOVE.

            I don’t see any serious major concerns this teams starting five talent. It is young,atheletic, and hardworking.

            One last thing: I think it will be interesting to see what happens this summer regarding Andrea. If we can some how flip Andrea for something useful (maybe PAU….or maybe Boozer or maybe a productive bench player), this team will be in good overall shape.

        • No raptors don’t need to take less threes, they should be taking more of them and from better spots on the floor (ie: the corners) and way less mid to long range twos.

          I don’t know who’s responsible for this offense but if its presumably Casey, he should be out the door along with colangelo.

        • Hey I totally agree with you. I don’t get why people are hating on dd when every year the guy has improved. Puts in lots of time during the summer and will get better. Say what you want but Ross is not even close to being near dd ceiling. He’s had lots of work to do! DD is gonna keep improving to be that starter going forward. But hey like always toronto fans hate on the guys that actually want to stay in toronto and not test free agency and leave!

  4. should of kept reggie . would of been a nice role player coming off the bench to grabb boards . why did they let him go again ?

  5. This team cannot and will not make that next leap until Casey starts making sane coaching decisions – The head coach might have been even a bigger disappointment than Bargnani this season.

  6. Nice to read a post that is not nihilistic, with some numbers to support the case

  7. wow… those are impressive stats. Only further supports my argument that there is no need to touch the raps starting five… we need better bench players.

  8. Great post:
    Three things this team needs (IMO):

    1) Improvement from the rookie’s (JV and TR – take the next step) and DD ( almost there but needs to make his final step) next year.
    2) Bench improvement: PF, PG, 3 pts threat and a defensive glue guy
    3) A new coach: No point making the changes if the coach stay inconsistent

    Three positives from this year:

    1) JV looks like he will be all-star material
    2) Derozan took the steps he was asked too
    3) Our starting five looks good for next year and has time this year to gel.

    • Hey young James great post. My point exactly dd took the correct steps and will continue to get better and stronger. Great over all post today. Raptors do have a great starting line up. They have to work hard this summer at the bench. Get rid of everyone and get some serious depth. Backup point, like a Heinrich, big man waiting to be seen. Some serious defensive stoppers as well!

    • Young james, we already have that defensive glue guy, Landry Fields. But besides that, yah, good points.

      What the raptors should do is go after Josh Smith or try to outbid the Knicks for Kenyon Martin next year. I got no clue why we didn’t go after Martin already, he’s an improvement over Gray.

  9. I don’t believe Lowery is a starting PG. He has too many turnovers and cannot create his own shot.

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