2013-14 RaptorsRank

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October brings about a fascination with subjective NBA player rankings as a new season draws near, so why not get in on the fun with a 2013-14 edition of RaptorsRank?

Here you’ll find my rankings of all 14 players currently on the Raptors roster, along with a brief analysis of each player. I’ve also included three tables of advanced stats from last season – Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus, Win Shares and Player Efficiency Rating (Note: These are the same three metrics Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney included in their top-100 list for SI.com).

For the record and for reference in future debates, these rankings are not measured by which player is the most naturally talented or by empty offensive numbers. These are my rankings of each player’s effectiveness on an NBA court heading into the 2013-14 season, based on what I’ve seen from each player over the last year and what I expect from each player this year.

So without further ado…

First, I’ll show you how each player stacks up based on three advanced statistics measured during the 2012-13 season.

According to 82games.com, Adjusted Plus/Minus ratings ”indicate how many additional points are contributed to a team’s scoring margin by a given player in comparison to the league-average player over the span of a typical game (100 offensive and defensive possessions).

Furthermore, “They do not explicitly include box score statistics, but they do reflect the value created by amassing such statistics as they contribute to a team’s net point differential. In addition, adjusted +/- ratings capture the valuable effect of myriad aspects of the game that go unrecorded in box scores, such as setting picks, boxing out, and defensive play.”

Regiularized Adjusted Plus/Minus, or RAPM, takes Adjusted Plus/Minus and uses ridge regression to produce a much more accurate rating. While no stat is flawless, RAPM is one of the more dependable statistics available to us.

The SI rankings define RAPM like this: “A variation of plus-minus that compares the on-court impact of every NBA player to a league-average standard (0). The adjustment helps account for much of the statistical noise that exists in raw plus-minus measures.”

And here’s how the current Raptors stacked up last season:

Player 2012-13 RAPM
Amir Johnson +4.7
Kyle Lowry +3.7
Rudy Gay +0.4
Quincy Acy +0.1
Landry Fields -0.4
Tyler Hansbrough -0.7
DeMar DeRozan -1.3
Jonas Valanciunas -1.3
Austin Daye -1.6
Steve Novak -1.7
Aaron Gray -3.3
D.J. Augustin -3.7
Terrence Ross -4.3
Dwight Buycks (N/A)

*RAPM measures according to Stats for the NBA

Basketball Reference defines Win Shares as “An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.“ Win Shares per 48 minutes is defined as “an estimate of the number of wins contributed by the player per 48 minutes,” where league average is approximately 0.100.

Here’s how the 13 Raptors who played in the NBA last season stacked up:

Player 2012-13 Win Shares (Win Shares per 48 minutes)
Amir Johnson 7.3 (.151)
Kyle Lowry 5.6 (.133)
DeMar DeRozan 4.7 (.075)
Tyler Hansbrough 4.4 (.154)
Steve Novak 4.0 (.116)
Rudy Gay 4.0 (.072)
Jonas Valanciunas 3.9 (.127)
D.J. Augustin 2.8 (.112)
Austin Daye 1.6 (.117)
Quincy Acy 1.1 (.157)
Landry Fields 1.1 (.052)
Terrence Ross 0.9 (.034)
Aaron Gray 0.5 (.050)
Dwight Buycks N/A

*Win Shares measures according to Basketball Reference

Basketball Reference defines PER as “a rating developed by John Hollinger. In John’s words, ‘The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.’

Player 2012-13 PER
Kyle Lowry 17.51
Amir Johnson 17.33
Quincy Acy 15.93
Rudy Gay 15.66
Jonas Valanciunas 15.62
Tyler Hansbrough 15.35
DeMar DeRozan 14.81
Austin Daye 12.96
Steve Novak 11.33
D.J. Augustin 11.04
Terrence Ross 10.48
Landry Fields 10.31
Aaron Gray 8.98
Dwight Buycks N/A

*PER measures according to ESPN

And now the players, in reverse order

Not Rated (14): Dwight Buycks

Buycks comes in at the bottom of the list by default only – he’s an undrafted player who hasn’t played a minute of NBA ball – but I get the feeling he could be a wild card on this roster.

Buycks is a quick guard who can get to the rim, draw fouls and convert once at the rim or free throw line. He’s not seen as a passing point guard and is probably more of a natural combo guard, but he flashed some impressive playmaking abilities in Summer League, where passing is usually a rarity, and he’s a decent enough three-point shooter and defender that he may very well push D.J. Augustin for backup point guard duties.

13. Aaron Gray

Gray’s rebound rates took a step back last season (His 15.4 rebound rate in 2012-13 was the lowest of his six-year career) and he’ll be behind at least three bigs on the depth chart, but if he provides the kind of physical defence and good rebounding he’s capable of, he’ll be of value at the end of the bench.

12. Austin Daye

Like Buycks, Daye is a wild card of this interesting roster. He’s a freakishly long forward with shot-blocking ability and the shooting touch of a guard, but he rarely does enough outside of his three-point shooting to earn meaningful, consistent playing time. He’s supposedly added strength this summer, but that’s a common pre-season claim in the Association.

Unless Daye can start nailing threes at the same ridiculous pace of Steve Novak or unless he’s added enough to his game where he can carve out a role doing ‘the little things‘ like Landry Fields, I don’t see how he breaks into the regular rotation.

11. Quincy Acy

Acy was effective in the small sample of minutes we saw him in last season, but it’s still asking too much to expect him to become a difference maker in regular rotation minutes.

Having said that, Acy’s rebounding and defence are solid enough that he should continue to get spot minutes from coach Casey here and there, and if his jumper and foul rate can improve over time, I still believe he carves out an NBA career.

10. D.J. Augustin

Augustin was brought in so that Casey would have an experienced, dependable point guard backing up Kyle Lowry and running the second unit, but if D.J. returns as the same player we saw last year, it will be tough to call him dependable.

Augustin’s a poor defender and isn’t much of an offensive threat outside of his three-point shooting, so the hope would have to be that last season’s struggles had more to do with sporadic playing time than an actual loss of ability, and that the quick guard can take advantage of his three-point shooting and free throw shooting to become a bench weapon for Toronto.

Again though, don’t be surprised if he’s pushed for minutes by rookie Buycks.

9. Landry Fields

When you look past the fact that Fields will make $12.5 million over the next two years and simply focus on his game, here’s what you see – a high IQ wing player who rebounds well, who creates offensive space for teammates with excellent off-ball movement, and who can defend two-to-four positions depending on the matchup.

If Landry can ever get back to shooting 39.6 per cent from deep as he did in his rookie campaign, or even just a league average three-point percentage, he could be of serious value to this team. Unfortunately, between his performance over the last two seasons (33-of-135 from three) and his 2012 elbow surgery, I wouldn’t bet on a return to form offensively. Instead, the Raptors will have to settle for the positives mentioned above, which is fine for your eighth-to-10th man, just not at $6.25 million per year.

8. Tyler Hansbrough

Regular RaptorBlog readers know about the “fake tough guy” label I placed on Hansbrough after the cheap shot he gave Valanciunas last season, and Hansbrough can be frustrating when he fails to see his limitations on offence, but he does enough good on a basketball court to warrant a spot in the Raptors’ rotation.

Hansbrough, who should carve out a role as Toronto’s third big this year, is an excellent offensive rebounder, a solid defender, and does a surprisingly great job of drawing fouls. In fact, between his free throw attempts and his offensive rebounding, he almost makes up for the poor and excessive jump-shooting.

7. Steve Novak

Look, Novak’s not going to do much (if anything) inside the three-point arc on offence and he’ll have to be masked on defence, but he’s in such an elite class in the one thing he does exceptionally well (three-point shooting) that he finds himself in the top half of these rankings.

Lowry commented on Media Day that kicking it out to Novak is pretty much an automatic bucket, and he wasn’t that far off, as the 30-year-old has converted an insane 45.4 per cent of his 679 three-point attempts over the last three seasons. If he brings that marksmanship north of the border (and there’s no reason to believe he won’t), Novak will stretch opposing defences thin and open things up for the slashers on this roster.

6. Terrence Ross

I look at Terrence Ross and see a phenomenal athlete with the foundation of a beautiful jumper and the ability to evolve into a standout defender. In short, it adds up to some pretty mouth watering upside, so why doesn’t it feel like Ross is anywhere near becoming that player?

Regardless, even if Ross doesn’t emerge as the dependable Sixth Man I hope he becomes this season, the aforementioned combination of talent and expected natural progression in the 22-year-old’s game makes him the obvious choice as the best player not in the starting lineup.

5. DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan’s a great athlete who gets to the free throw line and compliments that with a solid mid-range game, but his poor ball handling and his lack of a three-point shot coupled with his poor shot selection makes him an inefficient option for the Raptors. Having said that, if his three-point shot is as respectable as expected this season and he continues to build on the playmaking improvements he showed last season, DeRozan may now be the offensive player Raptors fans have always expected him to be.

He’ll have to improve his defence if he truly wants to be considered among this team’s two or three best players, but I think this is the year we finally get to see some fruits of DeMar’s labour, because if there’s one thing he’s got going for him, it’s his well documented work ethic.

4. Jonas Valanciunas

The advanced metrics from Valanciunas’ rookie season may not be as convincing as you assumed (though his .619 True Shooting Percentage was fifth all-time among rookies with at least 50 games played), but all indications are that the 21-year-old is poised for a breakout season that could see him among the NBA’s most improved players.

Jonas’s defence should continue to improve with Amir Johnson beside him and his rapidly developing offensive game will be on display this season with a larger role in the Raptors’ playbook. If you ask me, we’ll be debating about whether JV is already the team’s best player a year from now.

3. Rudy Gay

Gay’s ranking has nothing to do with his contract and everything to do with his game. He’s unquestionably the team’s most talented player, possessing a combination of size, speed and strength that should see him rank among the game’s elite. But between his insistence on taking the lowest possible percentage field goal attempts, refusing to attack the basket to get to the line and his propensity to coast on defence from time to time, there’s just no conceivable way I could put Gay above Lowry and Johnson on this list.

Now having said that, Gay’s contract and his flaws shouldn’t take away from his strengths. He’s a much better defender and rebounder than people give him credit for and he often still commands double-teams on the offensive end, freeing things up for his teammates. If Gay’s vision problems are behind him and he’s even a little bit smarter about the way he approaches his offence, he should have a bounce-back year that sees him reclaim much of the respect his game has lost over the last year or two.

If he finds a way to put all of his tools together in a career year or in an attempt to lock down another massive contract (Remember, Gay can opt out after this season), he’s more than capable of his first All-Star berth and the No. 1 spot on this list. The question, though, is what have we seen to make us believe that will be the case?

2. Kyle Lowry

Lowry had a disappointing first season in Toronto, but then you go back and review things and look at the numbers and you realize that he was still one of the best two players on the team. Now he enters a contract year in obviously better shape/health with something to prove. Translation? Expect big things.

Lowry will force things from time to time, leading to wasted opportunities and frustrating turnovers, but at his best he’s efficient enough to more than make up for it offensively. On defence he has a tendency to gamble, but there’s no denying his place among the NBA’s best defensive point guards. All in all, I think we’re going to see the Kyle Lowry we were all jacked up to see when the Raptors first traded for him, ensuring that we all tweet in unison this season…Kyle Lowry Over Everything (Except Amir Johnson and future Valanciunas).

1. Amir Johnson

Rudy Gay should be the Raptors’ best player. Kyle Lowry could be the Raptors’ best player this season with health and some consistency. Jonas Valanciunas has the most upside on the roster and might be No. 1 on this list as soon as next year. But if we’re talking about who the most effective Raptor on an NBA court is and who the best player in Toronto is right now, then the conversation begins and ends with Amir Johnson.

After a disappointing and inconsistent 2011-12 season, I feared that Johnson was potentially one more disappointing season away from becoming a legitimate amnesty candidate. Instead, Amir made me look foolish (And I couldn’t be happier about it) in 2012-13, turning in a career year that helped him garner the kind of respect his play deserves.

Johnson is a ridiculously efficient offensive player whose range has expanded year after year and a significant defensive presence whose only major defensive weakness is his propensity to commit fouls. Amir led the league with 301 personal fouls last season, but his fouls-per-minute dropped for a fourth consecutive year and if that improvement continues, he’ll be able to log the 30-plus minutes per night that the Raptors desperately need from him.

On a closing note, I’ll leave you with the words of ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, who had this to write about Johnson in his Raptors player by player preview:

In his age-25 season, Johnson emerged as the Raptors’ best player for his two-way body of work. The Raptors were a staggering 14 points per 100 possessions better with Johnson on the floor, with vast improvement coming on both ends. In sum, the Raptors were a playoff team when Johnson played.

Haberstroh later concluded his assessment of Amir with this:

Amazingly, Johnson is just now entering his prime even though he’s an eight-year vet. If he can continue making strides in the foul department, he’ll rank among the best power forwards in the game and help push the Raptors into the playoff picture.