Before the season started, I posted “45 wins won’t be a layup” where I stated “… I believe there are a few keys IF the Raptors are to get somewhere in the 45 win range – which would likely place them in the 4 to 6 spot in the East.“ This update checks in at the All-Star break and reviews the Raptors’ progress. So far, so good. We’re 6 games above .500 and 5th in the East. It’s been an up and down season, but I’ll take it. Hopefully, our momentum in the last two months will continue to give confidence to this ball club. Christopher Wesson Bosh has been a monster and obviously the key reason why we’re winning. But there are other factors.
Defence – in the pre-season update I thought we needed to reduce the opponent’s FG percentage by 1% from last year. Doesn’t sound like much, but over the last few years, holding your opponent’s FG to 45.5% or better generally translated into 45 or more wins. See for further details. Overall, our defence has been weak to say the least. But the Raptors have had their moments – and when they bring it on D, the results are telling.
In Toronto’s wins this season, the Raptors held its opponents to a 42.4% FG% (uncannily close to last year’s 42.3% figure) while losses, on average, were due to 51.1% FG% (vs 49.3% last season) shooting by its opponents. That’s a huge difference.
So is that “magic” number of 45.5% still reliable? It seems so:
Andrea Bargnani stepping up – We pitched in our original post that Andrea Bargnani needs to “become” Brad Miller. Miller’s not flashy, but can shoot the 3 ball, bang for rebounds, and is a great distributor for a big man. Isn’t this (and more) exactly what we need from Bargs? We largely did this update in our post “A Better Bargnani”. As per that post, we pointed out the improvement in many areas of Andrea’s game – and the one glaring weakness: he’s still a ball stopper.
Other winning factors
Amir Johnson the role player – Amir is fourth in the league in BOTH on/off court Defensive Rating and Offensive Rebounding rate. That is, he’s had a huge impact for the Raptors in two of their weaker areas. He is right there among other defensive specialists, including Dampier, Horford, Varejao, Andersen, Garnett, Artest, Wallace, Lowry, Bryant and Howard who are all in the top 20.
Rebounding differential has also be a key metric in wins – yet another reason to keep Amir at his 17 minutes per game or more.
And yes the foul machine (6.8 per 36 minutes!) needs to address this issue. However, if the fouls are a result of help defence or battling for rebounds, I’m fine. He needs to clean it up though; there are some nights where we may need extra minutes from him. He knows his role and does it well. His shot selection (largely put backs) have resulted in an impressive 67% FG% in the last month.
Recent improved D (and from three) by the wings – Both Sonny Weems and Antoine Wright have helped address our weakness at the backup wing positions. I pitched for Sonny’s minutes here over Wright. The backup wings (add Belinelli to this group) have been quite inconsistent all year. However, in the last month, Wright has turned it on – hopefully this version of Wright carries through to season’s end. When I
spoke with harassed Triano in the airport late last week, he said Wright was fighting through injuries early in the year and has been healthy and very dedicated over the last bit. I would still like to see Weems get his minutes and thus Belinelli would move down the bench. Here’s Wright’s 180 degree turn – by the numbers:
Source: data from basketball-reference.com
In my original post, I submitted “45 wins will be anything but a ‘layup’”. The Raptors are tracking a bit better than my original expectations, but the schedule gets a bit tougher in the remaining 30 games. Predicting it game by game, I believe 15-15 is reasonable to end the season at 44 wins. Not bad. Continuing to improve on D will be the primary factor in determining if the Raptors are ultimately more successful than that.