I thought with pre-season having wrapped up it would be a good time to quickly look back at some of the items we’ve been discussing and reflect on them as we head into the season opener on Wednesday.
Preseason – Does it Mean Anything?
A 6-1 record is nothing to sneeze it, especially when it’s accompanied by a top-5 offensive efficiency just a year after being 29th in the stat. The defense wasn’t quite where coach Dwane Casey wants it, but the offense was on point. In addition, newcomers Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas seem to have acclimated themselves well, though Terrence Ross and Landry Fields have been a bit slower to come around and get comfortable in their roles.
I wrote an article for Hoop Data yesterday (I’ll hyperlink when it’s up Monday) that outlines whether or not we should put much stock in the preseason. The answer is yes, a little bit, as very few teams in recent years have been this successful in the preseason without seeing resultant gains in the regular season.
DeMar DeRozan Shooting Patterns
Originally this article was going to be strictly about DeRozan’s shooting habits in the preseason, which appear, to my eye (note: I only saw four of the seven games) to be more what we’re hoping for, with a continued focus on attacking the rim. As it is, only one of the seven preseason games have shot charts available for them, so this is damn near impossible to do (play by play results don’t always show shot distances). So, I’m left to simply use free throw attempts as a gauge.
And it’s impressive. Last year, DeMar averaged 5.3 free throw attempts per game in 35 minutes, or 5.45 per 36 minutes. He also averaged 14.3 field goal attempts, meaning he took 0.37 free throws for every field goal. In the preseason those rates improved to 5.7 attempts per game in just 26 minutes, good for a rate of 7.9 attempts per 36 minutes, or a 45% increase in free throw attempt frequency. That’s the same rate as LeBron last year, as a reference point. He shot just under 11 field goals per contest, meaning he took 0.53 free throws for every field goal, a 43% improvement.
So yes, DeMar has been shooting from the field a bit more but also from the line a lot more, which is a huge positive. I wish I could break down where those other shots were coming from in terms of at the rim (good), mid-range (less good), or long-twos (bad), but I can’t.
Jonas Valanciunas – Saviour
The Lethaluanian has been a treat to watch so far, and great to listen to off the floor based on sound bites and media reports. It’s a nice sign that he’s so eager to learn and please, and I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it check out Eric Koreen’s recent profile on him and Holly MacKenzie’s earlier profile on him. Those are must-reads for Raptor fans.
In terms of numbers, Jonas fared well in his 23 minutes of action a night. Valanciunas posted 6.8 rebounds per game, two of those on the offensive glass, while adding 8.3 points a night on 48.5% shooting. Perhaps more importantly, he took 3.8 trips to the line per game and converted at a 78.3% clip, a great sign early for the young stud. He also led all rookies with 1.8 blocks per game, though he was also third with 2.7 turnovers, showing he’s still a bit green. The biggest positive might be that he averaged just 3.3 fouls in 23.3 minutes, meaning that given an anticipated workload of 25 minutes a night, he shouldn’t find himself in foul trouble all too often (sometimes, sure).
Overall, he certainly passes the eye test. He dives and cuts hard, sets strong screens, and seems to have an IQ at both ends of the floor that is rare for a big at his age. He has strong blocking instincts and a good work ethic for rebounds, and there have been multiple times where his presence as a dive-man has disrupted defenses and led to scoring opportunities for teammates. He’s going to be a very good player eventually, and I’m sticking by my prediction that the Rookie of the Year voting will end up Davis-Lillard-Jonas with the latter two tied (random, I know).
Amir’s Jumper: Wet
Oh yeah, it’s wet alright. Amir shot 61.4% for the preseason, and while some of those were in close, he also stepped out almost as far as the three-point line on occasion. Those aren’t the shots you want from the offense, but the fact that they’re falling when he takes them is a positive.
As I said before, this guy is a pleasure to watch. Can’t wait to see him when real games are on the line.
He hasn’t been great, struggling with his shot and finding his role to some degree. He has looked good in the open court, and his jumper is fundamentally strong so his poor shooting may be a result of a small sample size and some rookie jitters more than any fatal flaw. He’ll be in tough for any bulky chunk of minutes early on, but the best way for him to carve out a spot in Casey’s rotation will be for him to work his ass off at the defensive end and disrupt other wing players with his length and athleticism. Hopefully he was watching closely against Trick or Treat Tony in Memphis.
Landry Field’s Shot
We’ve all been wondering if Field’s silky rookie three-point jumper would return this year or if we’d be subjected to his awful sophomore stroke. Well, there’s no answer yet, as he only fired up eight attempts in the preseason, hitting one. If he’s only going to take one a game to provide the perceived threat of floor spacing, then he doesn’t need to hit that many. But so far in his career he’s averaged north of two attempts a game, so we need to see 33% of them fall to be comfortable. Unfortunately, he also shot just 46% on two-point field goals, which is well below his career mark of 54%. Again, small sample sizes are at play here with just 39 attempts, and his defense and off-ball offense have been great.
Jamaal Magloire, Peace Out
Magloire has been released and will likely join the coaching staff in a Boogie Williams-ish role as a coach and practice body. May your All Star recognition rest in peace now that “centers” don’t have to be shoehorned onto the ballot.
What have been your key positive and negative takeaways from the preseason? Are you a believer in 38-wins and/or a chance at the 8th seed? Is Dwane Casey right to give Ed and Ross both minutes to further prove themselves, or should he let them earn it in practice and keep a tight rotation early on? Should I troll everyone with some outlandish Bargnani and DeRozan comments right here?