Try sharing, guys.
Try sharing, guys.

With the acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and John Lucas this offseason, the Raptors find themselves with three capable point guards all deserving of minutes.

Moving Jose
The end game is pretty clear – Jose Calderon’s $10M expiring contract, experience, and offensive playmaking ability represent a potentially huge chip in the trade market. If Calderon could be used as a piece in a package to bring back an elite wing player, Bryan Colangelo would likely pull the trigger in a second. However, this scenario has been analyzed to death and nothing has materialized.

In addition, though, the league’s current CBA is structured such that teams with greater flexibility built into their financial structure have somewhat of an advantage in that they may be able to leverage this flexibility to take advantage of other teams. As the luxury tax penalties become more and more prohibitive over the next couple of years, there is the potential for teams to have to dump salary without getting fair value back, so the fact that the Raptors have staggered their contract lengths and have a $10M chunk coming off of the books this summer is important. That is, if Jose can’t be moved as part of a deal for a difference maker, it’s equally as logical to hold on to him and create further financial flexibility rather than trading him for the sake of “getting something.”

With that said, it seems there is somewhere in the neighbourhood of a 50/50 chance that the team plays out the season with all three point guards. Last year the three combined for 81 minutes per game on different teams, so someone, if not two of them, is going to see a significant minutes cut. With only 48 minutes available per game at the point guard spot, there simply isn’t enough playing time unless injuries strike (in which case the Raptors are well-suited to handle it).

Casey on 2-PG Looks
With all three guards performing well, Dwane Casey recently broached the idea of playing two of them together at times to get them all more minutes. It makes sense at first glance, since the Raptors’ biggest weakness is at the wing spots, so shifting a point guard to shooting guard allows for fewer wings to see minutes while affording more minutes to the point guards.

But does it make sense to play two point guards together?

Ask anyone and they will likely give some variation of the answer “sure, in limited minutes” or “yeah, with the right matchup.” Some, of course, would strictly give a Stone Cold Steve Austin “hell yeah” or a Daniel Bryan/Kane “hell no,” but wrestling references aside, it seems there is some common understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of the two-point guard lineup.

Offense vs. Defense
Primarily, running two-point guards will improve your offense and hurt your defense. Again, this is based on match-ups to some degree, and the type of point guards a team employs, but I think anecdotally most would agree a two-guard look sacrifices defense for improved offense.

Obviously on offense, two guards allows for better ball-handlers, generally better shooters, and better creators, improving the versatility and flexibility of offensive sets. To wit, running Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon together greatly improves the team’s three-point shooting and gives the team two capable ball-handlers to run the pick-and-roll. At the same time, Calderon is a relatively unathletic 6’3” who struggles defensively against point guards and is not big or strong enough to guard shooting guards, while Kyle Lowry is a great defender of point guards but at an even 6’0” would struggle to handle shooting guards. You can make the same narrative substituting John Lucas, a 5’11” high-effort defender, for either Lowry or Calderon and still come to the same conclusion on offense or defense.

Without a point guard capable of defending shooting guards, a two-point guard lineup is likely to get torched by an opposition playing a more standard lineup. But does the offense make up for it?

Recent Raptors 2-PG Usage
This is something the Raptors have toyed with a fair amount over the past few years, playing Jose Calderon with Jarrett Jack, T.J. Ford, and Jerryd Bayless at times, since the team always seems to have two point guards on the roster that are “too good to be a backup.” The table below shows the On/Off Court Rating for Raptors point guards since 2007-08 (I know Forderon existed before this, but this was the cut-off year for something I did later).

This doesn’t really tell us much alone, but what I did next was use Basketball-Reference’s Play Index + tool. Using all lineups that the team used for at least 25 possessions between 2007-08 and 2011-12, I pulled the “Net Points” (simply points scored minus points allowed) for all of them. This gave me 305 different lineup combinations, or about 61 per year, on average, that the team used for at least 25 possessions (roughly a quarter of a game).

Then, excluding Leandro Barbosa (who is a shooting guard, though he is sometimes described as a “combo guard”), I identified every one of these lineup combinations where the Raptors used two point guards. There were 18 such lineups, so, since 2007-08 the Raptors have employed 18 different two-point guard lineups for at least 25 possessions.

My goal was to compare how these lineups did against regular Raptors lineups over the time frame. I don’t want to get too stat-heavy, because I’ve already laid out my hypothesis based on watching the games – offense will improve, defense will suffer. I simply wanted some stats to back this up. So, the table below compares the Raptors’ overall performance with their performance in two-point guard lineups over the time frame.

Here we basically confirm what I laid out initially – two-point guard lineups are strong offensively and terrible defensively. (Note: eFG% was all that was available for this analysis. TS% would have been better, but I am relatively certain we’d get the same result.) Every single two-point guard lineup performed below the league average (and almost always below the team season average) in terms of an opponent’s effective field goal percentage, while they, with some exceptions, outperformed those marks on offense.

In terms of overall value to the team, we see that our two smallest sample seasons, 2007-08 and 2008-09, which both had less than a full game’s worth of data, perform well. However, as a whole over the past five years, Raptors two-point guard lineups have been net negatives, seeing the Raptors outscored by four points per 100 possessions compared to two and a half points per 100 possessions overall.

It’s difficult to extrapolate these results with certainty for this year’s team (without me diving into an insanely heavy data dump and lineup analysis), since Lucas and Lowry weren’t on any of these teams. However, Calderon is a common thread, and it’s safe to say the team hasn’t played well when he shares the court with another point guard.

To make sure I wasn’t missing something, I looked at Lowry and Lucas’ 82games profiles to see if there were any heavily-used lineup combinations they were a part of with two point guards on the floor (specifically, Lucas-Rose or Lowry-Dragic). It turns out the Lowry-Dragic combination was occasionally effective depending on who else was on the floor with them (though they were all smallish samples, and they were no more effective than Lowry-only lineups). Lucas rarely played with another guard.

Of course, Casey isn’t going to have much choice but to occasionally play a pair of point guards together. As I mentioned, 48 minutes just isn’t enough for these three, and the offensive potential of such lineups will make it tantalizing as a change-of-pace option, especially against slower units.

There’s nothing wrong with changing looks and spreading the minutes around in this manner, just don’t expect much success defensively or the move to be a long-term solution.

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  • AB7.38pt.on.CB4

    I don’t like the 2 PG solution because:

    -usually is a “cover up” to roster weakness. 
    -decrease SG players confidence
    -increase confusion on set plays
    -stats says “NO”

    • Nilanka15

      Just curious.  Why do you think it increases confusion?

      • mountio

        Believe it or not, some NBA players get confused when they are out of position. Its kind of natural I guess – If you play point, you know that you always cut to this spot after you pass it to the wing, make this back screen and so on. All of a sudden, when you receive the first pass, you arent used to the cut you are supposed to make after you reverse the ball, place you are supposed to be to keep spacing consistent, whether you are supposed to crash the boards or be the release man to get back on the fast break etc.

        On the one hand, its not rocket science, but on the other, NBA players are creatures or habit and get used to doing certain things. This is much more accute for PGs (as opposed to 2/3 or 4/5, where offensive positions are often identical, just on the other side of the court)

        • Nilanka15

          I understand the reasoning, but I don’t buy it as an excuse.  Even NFL quarterbacks know how to run a flea flicker once in a while.  It just comes down to discipline, repetition and awareness.  At the pro level, “confusion” shouldn’t be a legitimate concern.

          • mountio

            Shouldnt be .. I completely agree. shit, you should know what every player is doing on every play whether you are playing 1 thru 5. But, the same way that shitty foul shooters “should” be able to practice and figure it out .. they sometimes cant. From what I understand, there are a lot of players who cant even learn the offense for their own position (JR smith.. ) .. so not that crazy to think some struggle learning it for two positions…

  • j bean

    Didn’t Casey close out the Wizards game with Lowry and Lucas? That seemed to work out pretty good.

    • FAQ

      I thought it was Lucas and Jose… and the commentators opined that Jose was kept in to be a SG… and he did score 3 pointers.  He’s a good set up shooter.

      When Casey is desperate for late game scoring, he may just insert Jose together with Lowry or Lucas… if the bigs are exhausted and unable to score because the defense is stopping them.

      • Destro

        Umm if he wants scoring he’ll prolly go to a Lucas,Lowry combo…

        • FAQ

          I’m talking about closing out a close game, with Lucas and Lowry tired and erratic … well maybe not Lucas.  Jose is always calm and collected, and if he’s the third PG he should be good for SG duty at game’s end.  That’s what the game commentators were alluding to too.

  • Sheptor

    “Oh yeah DD, not only did we draft Ross but we’re keeping Jose around to play the 2″….

    • FAQ

      DD has peaked and plateaued now… and no amount of further ‘development’ will help him improve.  Remember, BC is not currently offering DD a contract extension… and may try to package him with Jose.

      DD is just not a go-to player who can turn a game around… he’s a pussy cat.

  • Destro

    I think you can play Lucas and Lowry in stretches together depending on the game,team,matchups..if you have an undersized 2 or a SG whos more of a shooter than slasher or if it just seems to click for a quarter on both ends but as soon as its not working immediately ABORT ABORT ABORT…

  • Mass

    No. Stats shmats. Its never worked

    • FAQ

      How about 3 PGs… and Twin Towers Bargs and JonasV ….???!!!

      (Think outside the box!)

  • Statement

    Blake, where did you get your averages from for the 2pg lineup?  I took a simple average of opponent eFG% and didn’t come up with 60.3% and it doesn’t look like a weighed average.

    • BlakeMurphy

      Shoot me an email/tweet and I’ll send you the Excel dump that I used if you want. It’s a weighted average of eFG% from each 2PG lineup based on minutes (close approximation – pulling all the totals and recalculating eFG would have taken forever and lead us to the same conclusion).

      • Statement

        That’s fine,

        Have a good one.

  • CalgaryRapsFan

    Rather than force a square peg into a round hole (ie: PG playing SG, SG playing SF, PF playing C), I’d much rather see the Raptors actually make some trades.  I think it makes much more sense to turn tradeable assets from positions of strength/depth (ie: PG, SG & PF), to address weaknesses at other positions (ie: SF).  Of course I’m assuming equal talent will be returned, just in the form of a player who can be asked to play at their natural position.

    Beyond that, I’m not a fan of 2-PG lineups.  They can work in certain situations and against certain matchups, but I really hope it doesn’t become a common lineup this season.  I’d much rather see DeRozan (23), Ross (21/22), Fields (24) and Kleiza (27) – all with room to develop and something to prove – get lots of burn at the wing spots and let Lucas (29/30) rot on the bench.  Lucas isn’t part of this team’s future, whereas the 4 primary wings could very well be (as Raptors or as key trade bait).

  • Southie

    Isn’t playing 2 guards just a “look” to be used periodically?  A little extra offense, a little less defense, a different look to spice things up for a few minutes here and there.  
    Statistically speaking, what interests me is the Raptors win streak at the opening, because this is there best time.  Their first one, two, three, or four games.  This is their golden hour.  They catch everyone off guard.  In a year like this, I expect them to win the first three games.  And then lose 16 of the following 20.
    Watch for the wins!

  • tmk

    Noooo thank you. This never works ever, and I can see that stats support that. Though to be honest, I can really see Lucas dropping off significantly once the season starts, I mean the guy’s shooting almost 50% and 43%, that’s not maintainable. Also, Jose has stretches during the season that his shot stops dropping or he simply stops playing as well so I think it’ll cancel each other out.

  • Roarque

    BC is in a fix. Every GM worth his salt knows Jose must be moved so they’re not going to give the Raptors fair value in a trade at this point in the NBA season. BC must wait for a need on another team to force another GM to up the ante. It’ll be a draft pick from a contender plus a second string wing man. Today it would just be the wing.

    • unknown guest

      Plus Jose isn’t the most durable of players. Factoring in an Olympic year, what would be the over/under on the number of games Jose will play this season?

    • CJT

      Disagree,  He is just as valuable coming off of our books as he is any other teams.  Unless there is a deal for a difference maker it is not a forgone conclusion at all. 

  • unknown guest

    On a completely different tangent, how would Jose look as an “instant offense” benchplayer?  
    He has decent range, and if signed to a “cheap” (sub-3 million or less) salary once his contract is over, he could be the kind of player that Kapono (and others that failed as shooters) could have been to the Raptors.Anyone know how he fares in a catch and shoot situation? Not saying he would be the next Dell Curry, but would that be something he could do?

    • CalgaryRapsFan

      I’d be most happy using Calderon as a trade asset this season, then seeing the Raptors (re)sign him as a free agent in the offseason to be Lowry’s veteran backup pass-first PG for the next 2-3 seasons (2 year contract with 1 or 2 additional team-option years, taking him 34 or 35 years old).

      • unknown guest

        Yeah, one could hope, granted he sign on the cheap.

    • Nilanka15

      Calderon just doesn’t have the “instant offense” mentality.  It takes a certain “selfish” persona.  It doesn’t seem to be in his DNA.  Throughout his entire NBA career, the knock on Calderon (aside from his defence) has always been his lack of aggression on the offensive end.

      • unknown guest

        You are right. He really has that “too-unselfish” mentality, even on the National Team. On the flip-side, if it’s something he’s actually asked to do (ie. score/shoot), one wonders how he would adjust. And yes, I realize that defense is ALSO something i’m sure he’s been asked to do.

      • mountio

        Also, while he has a very nice jump shot .. hes got a pretty slow release (think of his exaaaagerated shot fake). Having said that, I like the concept of trying to use him MORE in this role. Hell never be perfectly fit for it .. but he can add some shooting stroke (espeically if wide open on a lowry dish)

  • Konanas

    It could work only against Milwaukee because they are playing with Jennings and Ellis 🙂

  • p00ka

    They’ll use it sparingly. No big deal. Every team in the league, that doesn’t have a great ball handling SG, does it with certain match-ups, usually down the stretch.

  • Rpsfan95

    with Lowry’s style and Jose being the “Spanish X-ray”, this probably won’t be an issue for too long

  • Destro

    After watching the 1st qtr against the Knicks absolutely no question who is the starting PG…..peee ewww at that spaniard….

    Offense is stagnant and you KNOW ur getting flabby and sick when you cant keep fat ass goomba Ray Ray in front of you….As soon as Lowry went out Felton never gave the ball up lol,he knew exactly who the weak link was on the floor…

  • Destro

    Bargnani is so cot damn soft..Geebus…How How can you be that big and be such a fckn kitten under the basket…

    • cesco

      Destroll , you mad at Andrea because he made Amar’e and Tyson his bitches ??

      • unknown guest

        Nope. He’s mad because he doesn’t do that every time he steps on the floor. He’s mad because he only seems to do that for one game, then gone the next. He’s mad because with one game he’s managed to incense his critics who want him to play like this every single night, and at the same time flame the passion of his fanatics. He’s also very, very, very mad, because like everyone else, we know he has the skills, we just wish he had more desire to use those skills. He’s mad, because we got Derrick Coleman.

        • Destro

          Fck no he aint DC
          Coleman was an all star in this league and a dominant 20/10 stud outta Syracuse dont ever compare this bitch Andrea to him…DC fell off too quick but he achieved things AB will never see in this league…

      • 300milesaway

        you think 8-21 is making someone ur bitch….AB is the 7 foot Kevin Martin most irrelevant scorer in this league and on this team…Kyle Lowry is the real leader and engine of this team..Ur man looks like he about to literally cry about it on the floor….

      • DC

        Cesco over / under 10 on how many double doubles ab gets this year I say the under. I don’t think ab has had more then 10 double doubles in one season his entire career. 

        • Destro

          UNDER !
          But he dont even need double double but cot damn play like ur 7 feet for fck sakes…Hes so incredibly soft under the basket its irritating…You see guys half his size using there body and hes literally on the 3pt line guarding the other teams SG….
          He shooting sucked but overrall the numbers werent bad and thats HIM in a nutshell hes a stat padder…who can have no effect on a game win or loss because you cant tell me you noticed him tonight…When the Raps took over in the 2nd half it was on the strength of Lucas and Lowry…

          Valanciunas hasnt played a single regular season game yet and hes already a tougher post defender..He was doing things on the block def that bargnani could learn from lol…

          • DC

            True that destro. I swear ab could shit on a bun and call it a double cheeseburger and the ab lovers would eat it up. At least just admit he’s soft as shit and he’s not a franchise player, not a star. He’s a role player at best. Wanna know why he can’t be traded? Because no team in the league wants to give up something for a 7 ft sg, with inefficient scoring, no strength, slow of foot, and doesn’t know or try to defend or rebound in their starting roster guarding the big boys. Call me a hater if you want at least im realistic. AB is a 6th man at best and that is the place that suits him best. Shit Id say if we moved him there Ab would win 6th man of the year. Starting and getting the majority of the shots though? no hes horrible and your going no where fast. 

            • cesco

               Plus/minus  Amar’e -15 , Tyson -19 , Andrea +28

               Rebounds    Amar’e  5   , Tyson  3   , Andrea  7                          

               Enough said .


              • cesco

                 Andrea 2 blocks made , 0 against . His bitches combined 2 blocks made , 3 against .

          • FAQ

            If you recall, before the draft, Bargs in Europe was just an outside shooter with great shooting stats.  He was called another “Dirk” in the making.

            Each season with the Raps he added to his development as requested of him because he was limited with Bosh there.

            I think Bargs was really never called upon to rebound much in Europe, and he never developed that aspect of his game.

            The challenge for Casey is how to utilize Bargs effectively as a team player… because he’s not likely to be an all-star player.  Nobody on the Raps will ever be all-stars… so obvious.

  • FAQ

    JonasV is rather fast and moves positively on both ends and from end to end.  Maybe the rook has some b’ball IQ in his pinhead … ya think?!

    If he abandoned his buzz cut and grew longer locks, they might call him a “Dirk”…!

    • EmarErozan

      In NBA slang every white guy is either a Dirk, a Nash or a Scalabrine.

      Soooooooooooooooo obvious.

      • FAQ

        NBA = Nothing But Africans …!!!

        (Hey, I didn’t say it first… I heard John Long (Detroit Bad Boys fame) say it on a CTV sport interview program.. OTR(?) I think.)