Note: This post was updated around 3:30pm on 9/28 due to an error in the data – Usage Rate/40min was originally used instead of Usg% as intended. Also, OffEff from ESPN was changed to ORtg from BR. Heatmapping was changed to reflect league average values. Some analysis has changed to reflect the new data.

The Raptors turned over half of their roster in the offseason, including their new starting point guard, floor general and alpha dog. With the addition of three rookies, two point guards, and two wing players, there’s going to be a whole lot of ‘new’ to get used to during training camp.

I set out to look at some of the offensive statistics of the Raptors and identify areas where they may see improvement, decline, or just change. For example, the Raptors had an above-average percentage of their field goals come assisted last year, but their starting point guard is now someone who has a much lower assist rate than the previous one. In addition, while the Raptors took a below-average proportion of their field goal attempts from long range last year, they added Lowry, Fields and Lucas, who all shoot a healthy amount of threes.

The chart below shows a handful of different stats for the new and carryover Raptors from last season, heatmapped with the league average and the mark of last seasons’ Raptor team.

Revised, 9/28 15:30

Kyle Lowry’s Impact / Starters’ Usage
The first thing that becomes obvious is the difference in style between Lowry and Calderon. It’s difficult to get a handle on exactly how the minutes will be distributed at the point, especially with Casey admitting there will be times when two of Lowry, Calderon and Lucas are on the floor together. Still, the difference is important.

The two are different more or less across the board. Lowry uses more possessions, has a much lower assist rate, rebounds more, draws more fouls, and shoots a higher percentage of his shots from long range. While this isn’t to say one style is better than the other, it does at least show us that when both players are on the floor, Lowry will likely play a role closer to that of a two-guard on offense.

For the rest of the starting lineup, there are implications as well. Since Lowry uses more possessions than Calderon, it means there will be fewer possessions for other starters. While Fields has a lower usage rate than last year’s starting small forwards, the team’s total usage percentage is greater than 100 (about 106). With Lowry and Bargnani inarguably the team’s two most potent offensive weapons, it would be difficult to argue that either should see their usage decreased (in fact, you could argue Lowry’s should increase given his new role on the team). Thus, there may be times when Bargnani plays with members of the second unit and is the key initiator on offense then. The argument could also be made that with such a usage-heavy starting unit, Aaron Gray may make sense has a small-minute starter since he commands so few possessions. I’ll discuss the potential impact on DeRozan shortly, but if the starting five is as we seem to be assuming, his usage rate could be the one that takes a hit.

Beyond who starts, Lowry’s lower assist rate will also have an impact on the production of DeRozan, Fields, and Bargnani, who all had a higher than average proportion of their field goals come assisted. Either Lowry will work to assist on more baskets than he traditionally has, or these players will have to work a bit more to get their own shots.

Lowry also draws a lot of fouls, making our assumed starting lineup great at drawing fouls but leaving the bench relatively weak in that regard.

The Rookies
Some of this commentary or the numbers in general may be flawed because we don’t know how Ross and Valanciunas will get involved. We can probably assume that Valanciunas’ offense will come from the pick-and-roll, leading to a high proportion of assisted field goals, and you’d hope his rebounding rates are above par as well.

Meanwhile, Ross’ range of styles and outcomes is much wider, making his role and fit hard to predict. If Ross ends up being a slash-and-shoot threat who can get to the line and hit from long range, he’ll make a great second option on the second unit and a strong complement to Jose and the pick-and-roll bigs. However, if he struggles with range or creating for himself, there will be an enormous burden on Calderon to create all of the non-Kleiza offense, though that’s something he’s pretty accustomed to now.

Big Combos
With Johnson, Davis, Bargnani, Gray, and Valanciunas all likely to split the minutes at power forward and center, it will be interesting to see how Casey pairs up his bigs to maximize their output. For instance, the Raptors like Bargnani and Johnson together because of the defensive implications of having a strong help defender (Amir) with a decent man defender who is poor from the weak side (Bargs), and because of the offensive implications of having a strong offensive rebounder (Amir) with a big who plays further from the basket (Bargs).

This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a tag team with Davis and Valanciunas spelling them, though. Ed is less of a factor offensively than Amir but he does certain things better, like overall rebounding and his ability to draw fouls. Unfortunately, we don’t have evidence on Valanciunas yet to show who he may play best with. It’s my assumption that you’ll see Bargnani play with Johnson, Gray and Valanciunas given his large minutes load, and then you’ll see Davis tag in for backup power forward minutes with whichever center he ends up playing best with (my guess is Valanciunas, since pairing him with Gray takes too much offense off the floor, and pairing him with Johnson leaves the unit a bit small).

Raptors’ Offense
It’s obviously difficult from some stats and scouting reports to guess how the team’s offense will change. Like I’ve mentioned, the difference between Lowry and Calderon is the biggest catalyst for change, but I think the biggest strategic change we’ll see is the Raptors ratcheting up their percentage of field goal attempts from downtown.

With offensive players that tend to do better getting to the line, the 2012-13 Raptors will likely put increased pressure on opposing defenses, freeing up shooters more than last year. In addition, the Raptors have added Fields and Ross as floor stretchers and Valanciunas as a threat as the dive-man off pick-and-rolls, making the offense at once more versatile and dangerous.

In terms of individual roles, I think we’ll know very quickly what kind of work DeRozan has done over the offseason. I’ve basically been working under the assumption, to this point, that DeRozan will have a similar profile to last year, but that’s almost certainly incorrect. If DeRozan hasn’t made significant strides, specifically in terms of efficiency and long-range shooting, it seems likely his role would be diminished in order to get the other wing players and point guards more floor time, as well as to free up possessions in the starting unit. If, however, DeRozan makes the long-expected leap to being a reliable, semi-efficient 20-point man, his development could require Lowry to give up some possessions and relegate Fields to more of a spot-up shooter than any sort of key cog (or move to the bench). I think we’ll know in short order how this particular kink is going to get ironed out, as it has the potential to impact multiple roles in the offense.

My assumed starting lineup so far has been Lowry, DeRozan, Fields, Bargnani and Johnson, which I believe to be the general consensus at this point. That would mean the second unit is Calderon, Ross, Kleiza, Davis and Valanciunas with some Lucas and McGuire sprinkled in.

That first unit has been discussed in pretty great detail, but it’s interesting to look at how the numbers stack up – a high usage rate profile; a slightly below-average assist rate but a higher than average percentage of field goals that come from assists (something’s gotta give); a below average rebounding unit; an above average unit at getting to the line; a slightly below average proportion of field goals from long range but an arguably abover-average three-point shooting unit depending on how you feel Fields will bounce back. Either the starters will have to be staggered with the second unit, one high-volume player (DeRozan?) may have to join the reserves, or someone’s usage rate is going to take a hit, and it shouldn’t be Lowry or Bargnani.

As for the second unit, it’s tougher to tell with two rookies in the mix, but the drop in usage rate from Lowry to Calderon, DeRozan to Ross, and Johnson to Davis can be made up in part by the fact that Kleiza commands a lot more possessions (for good or for bad) and Lucas can be utilized with the second unit to improve its ability to create offense, possibly in a Calderon-Lucas-Ross-Davis-Valanciunas combination.

I think, given the usage profiles we’ve identified, I would prefer DeRozan to join the second unit, with Terrence Ross starting. While Ross needs touches to develop, he certainly won’t command as many possessions as DeRozan. In addition, if he is an adequate three-point shooter as expected, he adds a dangerous weapon as a corner-three man to the starting unit, whereas DeRozan’s ability to create his own offense and get to the line is somewhat redundant with Lowry and Bargnani commanding possessions. This could weaken the defense of the second unit a bit, but that’s less of a concern than finding shots for everyone. I don’t think swapping Gray for Johnson is the answer, given how well Johnson and Bargnani complement each other.

What would your preferred units be?

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26 Responses to “Roster Turnover and Offensive Changes (Updated)”

  1. Daniel

    The second unit of Jose, Ross, Kleiza, Amir, and Jonas would beat the first unit of Lowry, DeRozan, Fields, Andrea, and Gray 6 times out of 10 in the second part of the season. By that time though the starters and the bench will be different than at the beginning of the season. We need a perfect training camp in order to start the season as a cohesive unit with so much turnover. It doesn’t help that the schedule is very tough the first 20 games or so. I’m really afraid of an implosion after the first 20 games, especially if one or two key players get injured.

    • j bean

      We don’t know if JV will start or not. It depends on what he does before the start of the season. Comparing the rest of the starters to the backups I give the starters a slight edge at every position so I’m gonna disagree with your prediction that the backups win 6 of 10. 

      • Daniel

        JV will have 2 fouls in the first 5 minutes of the game. He should be eased into the starting role once he gets accustomed with the NBA strength and speed. In any case, the “second unit” as configured is more potent offensively than the “first unit” (I put them in brackets because there is no much talent difference across the roster): Jose, Ross, and Kleiza can shoot the 3 and open the floor for Amir and Jonas to operate the PnR with Jose. Both bigs are also good shooters from the elbow so they can play PnP at 12-15 feet from the basket. The “first unit” has more slashing ability with Lowry and DeRozan however a frontcourt of Kleiza, Amir and Jonas can clog the paint and force them to shoot from the outside. There is no PnR or PnP with Lowry and Andrea or Gray. Fields couldn’t hit the side of the barn last season so he’s at best an unknown. Defensively the two units match pretty well, especially if Ross proves to be a better defender than DeRozan. How do you defend a bullhorn PnR with Jose on top of the key, Amir and Jonas screening at the elbow and Ross and Kleiza in the corner? Jose is one of the best PnR PG’s in the league, the two bigs are very agile and athletic, and Ross and Kleiza can both crash the boards. Their weakness defensively would be a high foul rate against a determined backcourt of Lowry and Demar.
        Of course, it is an exercise in futility when Jose and DeRozan/Davis will be traded. We can start though talking real b-ball and not only about expectations and hopes about the new season.

    • Justin Bonin

       What about Ed Davis? I think you mean the second unit of Jose, Ross, Kleiza, Davis and Jonas as backups then Lowry, DDR, Fields, Bargs and Amir as the starters.  As for which unit would beat the other, I don’t think that’s what we should be asking.

      Assuming Jose sticks around, we will have two very different and versatile units to throw out at opposing teams.  This is definitely a good thing.

      • Daniel

        B-ball is not hockey though and it doesn’t work this way. The starters usually play 32-38 minutes a game whereas the reserves play around 15-25 minutes. We will not throw an unit to the opposing teams, we will play the starters more and then we’ll mix and match whatever works best for us, especially in the 4th Quarter.
        Gray had been the starter in the 2nd half of the last season for specific defensive purposes. There are not enough minutes for Davis among Andrea, Amir, Gray, and Jonas. I guess Gray will start at the beginning of this season unless Casey changes the defensive strategy. Gray is the only C big enough to clog the paint and to occupy space under the basket, especially with a poor rebounder like Andrea. I personally like Amir a lot however I have no idea what happened last season and why he did not play more. 

        • Justin Bonin

          You need not remind me that basketball is not hockey… don`t even get me starter on the WWE on ice that is the NHL.

          You are the one who brought up the discussion of the first unit vs the second unit, I was just going along with what you already said, I just wanted to point that out.

          As for Aaron Gray… he doesn`t deserve to start at center and I am confident that when the regular season kicks off he will be the odd man in the Raps’ PF/C rotation with Bargs and Amir starting and Ed Davis and JV coming off the bench for the first half of the season then Bargs and JV starting and Ed Davis and Amir coming off the bench for the second half of the season… assuming JV’s calf strain really is as harmless as they`re making it out to be.

          • Daniel

            In reality I used the two units from the article and switched Amir with Gray based on the last season.
            Anyway, my starting until would be Jose, DeRozan, Kleiza, Andrea and Amir. My last 5 minutes line-up would be Jose, Lowry, DeRozan, Andrea and Amir.  

    • Destro

      smh @ you
      2 rookies in a 2nd unit BUT BUT a whopping 60 % you say..thats like saying they win almost half of the time well thats so irrelevant its almost worth posting because its not 95 % but a whopping 6 out of 10 times WHOA !!!

      and hearsay intrasquad fantasy games in our head to make non existant points **MINDBLOWN** 

  2. Oxnumbernine

    It will be a sad season again if the team’s 5th best big, Aaron Gray, is a starter or plays more than 800 minutes all season.

    Aaron is proof that effort does not always translate into effectiveness.

  3. BCStefanskiCaseyGots2Go!!!

    The only 2 roster constants since 2006 unto 2012 under BC have been Jose aka The 10 Million Dollar Man & Andrea aka I’m A PF Not A Center.

    I currently see the starters- baring injuries, as: Gray, AB, Fields/Kleiza/TRoss, DD, Lowry.

  4. black angus

    Starts – Lowry, DD, Kleiza, Bargs, Amir
    Backup – Jose, Ross, Fields, Davis, JV
    Spot Duty – Lucas, Gray, Anderson

  5. RaptorFan

    Stars – Lowry, DD, Fields, Bargs, Gray or Amir (temporary)
    Backup – Jose, Ross, Kleiza, Davis, JV
    Spot Duty – Lucas, Acy, Gray (insert name here)

    • RaptorFan

      starts*- Lowry, DD, Fields, Bargs, Gray or Amir (temporary)
      Backup – Jose, Ross, Kleiza, Davis, JV
      Spot Duty – Lucas, Acy, Gray (insert name here)

  6. FAQ

    You just can’t stick all these old and new players together on paper or in a training camp and declare them a functional NBA ‘team’.  Speculation is fun, but it’s only a game of guessing.

    The question is when will this disparate bunch of b’ball players ‘jell’ to play and compete as a ‘team’?….. Xmas?… trade deadline?… fight for 8th place??

    Let’s not be surprised if they experience a rocky start.  I’m hoping for the best and fear the worse…. after all it’s a totally revamped team even into the starting lineup.

    The Brand New Toronto Raptors … presented by BC, again.

    • Matt52

      ” The Brand New Toronto Raptors … presented by BC, again.”

      Very fair point given the last 4 years.  But I would add:

      “… and coached by Dwane Casey.”

      I think that is very important and cannot be underestimated – especially when he now has his finger prints on many on the new roster additions.

      • FAQ

        Yes… we all have high expectations of Casey’s coaching magic… with bated breath.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

        It’s a wait-and-see season for me.  Here’s hoping…..

        • Matt52

           Considering what he did last year with players that didn’t fit his system, numerous injuries, and lockout difficulties (experienced by every young team) I believe you can return to your normal state of breathing.

          Definitely can’t wait for the season to start and very much agreed here’s hoping.

    • Tinman

      “You just can’t stick all these old and new players together on paper or in a training camp and declare them a functional NBA ‘team'”

      I agree. You are taliking about the Nets and the Knicks right ?

  7. Kevin

    From Daryl Morey in an AMA on Reddit:

    I think analytics can help improve the quality of nearly all decisions to some extent but as you mention the potential efficacy will vary. The utility of analytics on a decision will also vary but I will just discuss efficacy since you brought it up.
    Yes, I agree, what I am stating about acquiring an all-star level player every NBA GM in 1965 could have also stated with confidence. It is just a fact that the structure of our sport requires this. No other major professional team sport comes remotely close to having a player like Lebron James who can single handedly shift a team from winning 3 out of 4 games (09-10 Cavs) to 1 out of 4 games (10-11 Cavs).
    The reason for this is numerous with two off the top of my head being fewer players on the court and a near asymptotic distribution function of high end talent. One way I describe it is imagine in baseball when Barry Bonds was at the height of his powers he could have kept calling himself to the plate over and over, ignoring the lineup card. This is essentially what the top players in basketball can do each time down the floor — they can “call their own number” and make sure the team gets a great possession each time.
    I do think analytics can improve the process to getting a top player but as you state, it has not created a new path to winning like has opened up in baseball with analytics where numerous small smart decisions and great roster management on player 2-25 can lead to a championship. No amount of work and good decisions on our players 2-15 could overcome not having an all-star level player.

  8. YourDaddy

    Who is going to play better this year?

    Kanter or Big Val ???

    This is a match up I like to see 🙂

  9. Gradgrind101

    I know your primary interest for this article is offense. You made an interesting connection between Lowry and Calderone and how distribute/keep the ball and the players that will be affected.
    From my perspective though the major difference will be on defense. Lowry will provide more ball pressure which leads to hurried or lower quality shots deeper in the shot count. Defensive rebounding will improve due to fewer defensive post player rotations resulting from the pg beaten off the dribble from the perimeter. Also better on ball defense leads to fewer wide open kick outs since wing defenders can be confident that Lowry won’t be beaten as easily off the dribble and therefore cover their perimeter assignments more effictively. Whereas in the past Jose always sags and the perimeter/wing defenders usually cheated towards help defense leaving the perimeter shooters wide open.

    Long story short…Jose does not bring a better than average NBA level of ball defense and Lowry does.

  10. Fortoek

    Lowry, DeRozan, Fields, Bargnani and Johnson
    James, Allen, Wade, Lewis and Bosh

    sounds like a wash to me
    or  a  long season


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