The Toronto Raptors finished 34-48 last season which was good for 10th in the East. This offseason, they’ve hired Masai Ujiri as the GM and he subsequently jettisoned Toronto’s two biggest headaches. He amnestied Linas Kleiza (thank God, he’s looked horrible in Eurobasket) and he off-loaded Bargnani onto the the Knicks for scrap pieces and picks (apparently the ghost of Isiah Thomas still haunts MSG).

However, the team is more or less the same as where Colangelo left it; expensive and mediocre. The financial situation left Ujiri in a bind as he was limited to making small signings for bench players (Hansbrough, Daye, Augustin, Buycks, etc). For the most part, it’s pretty much the same team. Same coach, same roster, same wing-heavy offense.

So, why will the Raptors improve?

Well, we can (and mostly have) thrust the majority of our scant hopes onto the strongly-built shoulders of Jonas Valanciunas, but we should be cautious not to bury him if he fails to improve right away. Don’t forget; he’s only 21. We shouldn’t let our frustration turn into impatience with the promising big-man. He’s still young and has a long way to go (as demonstrated by his recent benching in Eurobasket).

We can, however, pin some of our hope to the marginal acquisitions that Masai Ujiri made. Lost amiss all the hand-wringing over their insignificance was that Ujiri deftly made targeted and specific moves to improve two of Toronto’s biggest weaknesses; spot-up shooting and post-defense.


According to Synergy Stats, 20.9% (~a fifth) of Toronto’s possessions last season ended in a spot-up shot (their most frequently used play). Given that the coaching staff and the main principles of the offense are still here (Gay, DD, Lowry), it’s a fair bet that the composition of the Raptors offense will look pretty similar this upcoming season.

Unfortunately, they only scored 0.95 points per spot-up which was good for 18th in the NBA (their worst NBA ranking by play-type).

Why did they struggle? Let’s take a look at who took these shots:

Spot up distribution

This distribution is hardly surprising to anyone who watched Raptors games. Most of our spot ups came from the wing positions (largely because our point guards preferred to facilitate, and the bigs couldn’t shoot). But how did they fare in terms of efficiency?

points per spot up

Before I go on, I’d like to make the disclaimer that points per play for spot-up shots is a little skewed because of three-pointers. A player like Demar who almost never shoots from deep (because he can’t) will rarely post a high PPP on spot-ups simply because two-pointers are worth less.

Half of those players are no longer on the Raptors. Bargnani, Anderson, Lucas, Pietrus and Calderon are now wearing new uniforms (or street clothes in the case of Pietrus). However, Calderon, Lucas and Anderson were the first, third and fifth best spot-up shooters on the roster; why would them leaving be a plus?

It’s a plus because those shots will be redistributed to Novak (Bargnani), Gay/Daye (Anderson) and Augustin (Lucas). Compare their numbers (Calderon is excluded because his shots will go to Lowry):

income outcome points per spot up

I can see two criticisms forming in your head. One, you’re thinking that Anderson’s shots will go to Gay, not Daye. Two, you’re sceptical that Novak will be as effective without a magnetic offensive talent like Carmelo Anthony beside him.

The first point is fair. It’s far more likely that Gay, rather than Daye, takes Anderson’s shots. Gay had his worst shooting output by far last season, but he’s likely to due for some positive regression (his percentages last season were career lows). There’s also the matter of his vision-corrective surgery which could potentially improve his shooting (although I doubt it’ll change very much).

I can address the second criticism. The majority of Novak’s three’s were not a product of Melo drawing extra defenders, but rather clever play design and execution by the Knicks.

Throw in the fact that Landry had serious issues with his shooting elbow, sprinkle in a little sophomore improvement for Ross (maybe he corrects his form or is more selective), and the Raptors should perform much better on spot-ups next season.


Honestly, you’re going to laugh, but I really think Tyler Hansbrough will make a big difference.

Go ahead. Get it out of your system.

Okay, are you done? Good, let’s move on.

The Raptors ranked 19th in the NBA with 0.85 points allowed per post-up last season. The majority of the blame rests on Amir and Jonas’s shoulders because they faced the vast majority of post-ups and they both allowed 0.84 points per post up. I’m not sure how much this will change this season given that they’ll both likely play at least the same amount of minutes (probably more for JV), but Jonas has bulked up and has been a very effective rim defender in the Eurobasket tournament thus far.

Hansbrough will reprise Ed Davis’s role as the first big off the bench (backing up Amir when he inevitably gets in foul trouble). Luckily, Hansbrough is much better at defending post-ups (no – I really didn’t need to put this in a chart):

hansbrough davis

Again, I could see two arguments for this one. First, you doubt that Hansbrough will be as effective without Roy Hibbert and Indiana’s defense behind him. Second, you’ll point to the fact that Ed Davis is the much better shot-blocker. I’ll address both critiques.

First, I also agree that his numbers will suffer without Hibbert (one of the best rim-defenders in the NBA; hi, Jermaine O’Neal!) backing him up. However, he only played around half of his minutes with Hibbert, and he was equally as effective with Hibbert or Mahimni (compare Hill-Stephenson-George-Hansbrough-Hibbert/Mahimni; small sample size warning!). Given how good his numbers are (8th best in NBA at defending post-ups), it’s more likely that Hansbrough is actually a really good post-defender rather than a by-product of his environment.

Second, while it’s true that Davis is a much better shot blocker, there are more factors to consider when it comes to post-defense. Strength is a really important factor; it allows you to hold your ground which keeps players farther away from the rim. Hansbrough may not have the length nor leaping ability of ED!, but he is much stronger able to keep his opponents away from the basket.

Given the upgrade, plus Valanciunas’ added bulk, and the Raptors should fare better on post-defense this season (hopefully; I want to stop thinking about Roy Hibbert every time someone dunks on us).

So there you have it. The Raptors should hit more of their spot-ups, and fare better in the post. I have no idea how much this will actually impact wins, but I guess we’ll find out when the season begins. Let me know what you think in the comments. Go Raptors!

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  • ZZ

    “(or street clothes in the case of Pietrus and Lucas)”

    Lucas signed with the Jazz

    • DDayLewis

      Fixed. Thanks.

      • onemanweave

        Good balanced article. Use of stats but not enough to make this old-timer’s eyes glaze over. Hope our beloved moderator doesn’t decide to tank and trade this writer for a senior English student at Stanford with Hemingwayesque ablility.

        • onemanweave

          The eyesight debate is Shakespearean in scope — Much Ado About Not Much.

          • DDayLewis

            Smart. I see it more as Taming of the Shrew.

          • SR

            A sure sign that it’s September…opening night can’t come soon enough! Bring on Rondo & The Scrubs!

  • ItsAboutFun

    Still peddling that “medical analysis” of Gay’s shooting improvement possibilities, based on an 8 year old study of several (at least a few of those players actually had dramatic improvement in actual batting average) BATTING stats of a small handful of MLB players, of their averages before (with contacts or glasses, unlike Rudy) and after similar surgeries performed 9-15 years ago (no advancement in medicine these days either, right?),,, eh. Got any better medical advice for Rudy, Dr. Lewis?

    • DDayLewis

      So I have an article published in a medical journal. You have what, a disqus account and your opinion?

      • ItsAboutFun

        You cite an article written about baseball players, hitting 95 mph pitches, who previously wore contacts/glasses, neither of which applies to Gay, but great find.

        • DDayLewis

          Yeah, shooting a basketball doesn’t require hand-eye coordination. Not at all.

          • ItsAboutFun

            doh,,,,,, ask MJ how much his incredible hand-eye coordination, honed with many years of shooting basketballs, helped him hitting .202 against 3rd rate pitchers in AA

            • DDayLewis

              Same skill, different application. Look, what my claim is this:

              1. The study found no statistically significant difference in performance before/after the surgery for baseball players.
              2. Visual acuity is more intensively used in baseball than basketball (assumption)
              3. If 2 is true, then given that 1 didn’t help 2, it might not help basketball players.

              Have I made any conclusions? I have not. I’ve made an inference. I will say no more about the topic. I could be right, I could be wrong.

              • ItsAboutFun

                Stop peddling garbage, man.

              • DanH

                The study would seem completely valid in this application to me if it weren’t for the fact that the players in the study wore glasses beforehand. The theoretical difference between wearing glasses and having the surgery is nil, and the study supports that. The theoretical difference between Rudy Gay NOT wearing glasses and getting the surgery is significant, and the study seems irrelevant for that reason.

                • DDayLewis

                  This is a very valid point. The players in that study did wear glasses/contacts before the surgery. The gap is bigger for Gay than it was for the baseball players.

                • DanH

                  Point though is that when you wear glasses properly prescribed, there is NO gap between glasses and the surgery, so the expectation is that there would be no difference in performance. The gap won’t be “bigger” – it will exist as compared to not existing. That’s why I take nothing from that study in the case of Gay. Now, this doesn’t mean I expect a big improvement in his shooting – I just don’t think that particular study is relevant to the discussion.

                • DDayLewis

                  Well, there’s not no gap. Lasik eye surgery corrects your vision to better than 20/20. Also, as someone with glasses, I can tell you that there is a lag in terms of prescription, especially when your eyes are maturing (stays steady after ~25 years old). There is some correction going on, just not as big as it will be for Gay.

                • SR

                  There’s a big difference between glasses and contacts or surgery. Glasses lenses only bring objects properly into focus right in the centre of the lense, directly in front of your eye. Vision at the periphery of the lenses is distorted at best, and out of focus at worst. Then there’s the fact that you have very poor (natural) peripheral vision outside of the lenses.

                  With contacts/surgery there is no distortion in your field of view and your peripheral vision is much, much better.

                  But I’m not surprised there’s no measurable difference in sports, which are played with good lighting and generally when players are focused on/looking directly at what they want to be looking at.

                  The difference in low-light conditions, ex. night driving (especially in the rain!) is very noticeable, as anyone who switches between glasses/contacts/surgery will tell you.

                  I’m curious about how the surgery will or won’t affect Gay’s shooting this coming season. Even if his vision was off from range, your brain and body are great at compensating. Repetitive shooting drills probably should have compensated for his vision problems.

      • I have personally had the laser eye surgery – I don’t hit baseballs or shoot jump shots, but the entire world was a whole lot brighter and clearer after getting the surgery. I could see a lot better afterwards than just putting on my glasses ever did. No corrective lens could do what the surgery did.

    • DDayLewis

      Look, all it says is that they found no statistically significant difference. That’s all.

      • ItsAboutFun

        That’s what the medical people concluded 8 years ago about a very different function, in a very different sport, and with a very different scenario 9contacts/glasses, vs neither),,,,, but you conclude even more than they did: that it’s unlikely Rudy’s shooting will improve. How did you conclude more than the medical experts did?

        • DDayLewis

          I didn’t conclude anything. In fact, I specifically said the following:

          Does this mean that it won’t help Gay’s shooting? No it doesn’t. What it means is that there is no evidence of lasik eye surgery improving a player’s performance in baseball. These results should be translatable to basketball because basketball requires the same visual skills, but are less demanding of these skills as baseball is.

          There’s inference, and then there’s conclusions. They aren’t the same thing.

          • ItsAboutFun

            Thanks for the English lesson. So you infer a totally unreasonable translation of your uncovered “study” of players performing a very different function, in a different sport, that examines the difference between players with glasses/contacts (not gay’s case at all) vs after surgery. The doctors who did the study would be laughed at as fools if they inferred any such thing in the medical journal, but you’re incredibly determined to push that article of yours,,, sheeesh.

            • Guy

              Careful…….. Don’t want to get too disrespectful with your comments……..

          • Pop

            It doesn’t matter if it’s an inference or conclusion, that’s just bad writing.

    • Jimi

      “There’s also the matter of his vision-corrective surgery which could potentially improve his shooting (although I doubt it’ll change very much).”

      How in God’s name is that peddling?

      • ItsAboutFun

        “How in God’s name is that peddling?”

        A little late to the party, I guess,,, but perhaps my ‘S t i l l peddling….” may have been a clue that this “discovery” of an irrelevant (to Rudy’s scenario) medical article, has been promoted here before, once again linking to his article about it on his own site. Peddling, as in peddling his own website, through linking to his peddling of garbage/irrelevant interpretation of a medical study, imo,,,,,, weeks after the first pitch of the same article.

        • Jimi

          “Peddling, as in peddling his own website, through linking to his peddling of garbage/irrelevant interpretation of a medical study, imo,,,,,, weeks after the first pitch of the same article.”

          Yup. I got it. Hence my:

          “EDIT: Nevermind, I understand now.”

  • StabbyRaccoon

    This is really helpful, good analysis. I have just been using some very simple logic to predict that they’ll be reasonably competitive this year.

    If they had started the season with the roster after the Rudy Gay trade their record could be expected to be significantly better. Because it was afterwards. Also having a training camp with the team and building chemistry can be expected to improve that even more.

    They improved their roster in the off season! No question about that. Not anything profound but they did.

    And finally, it’s a young team that’s projected to improve at an individual level.

    This puts them at above .500 if the league and division isn’t any tougher this year than it was last year. Hard to tell, there are some better teams and some worse teams.

  • Roarque

    I’m dreaming of his new elbow
    Just like the one he had year one
    If his shot gets better
    And his confidence returns
    Fields could really, really help this team.

    • Teepo

      That was beautiful. Thank you.

  • Right Clique

    Points allowed per post-up? I’m curious to see how someone like Antonio Davis might have fared in such a category.

    • DDayLewis

      0.90 points allowed per post up (195th in NBA)

      • Right Clique

        Jesus, I thought he’d be better, I remember him being one of the better defenders on the block. Maybe memory has resulted in cloudy judgement.

        • DDayLewis

          synergy data should be taken with a grain of salt just like with any other stat. Let’s pretend Anthony Davis is defending Blake Griffin on the block, and Griffin beats him and drives the rim. Let’s further assume one of two scenarios; one he has Roy Hibbert behind him, who blocks the shot (thus making Davis’s PPP look good), or two he has Timothy Mozgov behind him and Blake dunks all over him (making Davis look bad, rightly so).

          What I’m trying to say is that it’s partially contextual. You can’t tell based on the data alone that he absolutely is, or is not a good defender. You’d have to delve deeper (ie: watch games, other numbers, etc).

          • mountio

            i think confusion Antonio vs Anthony ..

            • DDayLewis

              whoops! Yeah I have no idea how Antonio Davis fared on defense. Synergy data is only publicly available for this past season.

              • Right Clique

                Whew! I know my man Antonio Davis would not be ranked 195th in the NBA.

          • caccia

            Actually, if you look at Hansbrough’s overall defense number, he ranks 14 out of all the players in the league in PPP. Hibbert and Mahinmi both rank 169. Amir Johnson ranks 226. It’s only one measure, but helpful.

  • Thimble

    “Calderon is excluded because his shots will go to Lowry”

    Not sure why you would exclude Calderon for this reason? There was a stretch before the Trade where the team was playing well, and one of the reasons was Calderon’s above average efficiency.

    • DDayLewis

      You’re absolutely right. Calderon had one of the highest true shooting percentages last season. My point is that his shots would presumably go to Lowry rather than a replacement guy. His PPP on spot ups was pretty fantastic (as you can see in the first bar graph). Losing Calderon is tough.

  • ppellico

    um…is aaron gray still on the team?

    • Jonathan Mac Lean

      loooool, ya he is, still on contract

  • Jonathan Mac Lean

    Nice to see someone who has a little faith in the raptors. I’ve read so much over the summer and the vast majority of it casts much doubt on the team. I might be the only one, but I believe they can muster more than just “fighting for the 8th spot”. If you’re not gonna believe in your team, why follow them at all?
    And I’d like to say that most people seem to think that because they didn’t drastically improve or change in the offseason, they will amount to the same as last season… but look at it this way – they are one of the few teams who have not gone through big change since the offseason began. Many teams have either lost their main scoring options or found new ones, and that can take time for adjustment. We know who does what on the Raptors roster; same as last year. And we are bringing back the same head coach since we didnt play “coach musical chairs”. Bring back the same coach with the same players and you dont need to worry about chemistry as much. Plus, no confusion at the PG position, improved front court, the only question marks remain at the wings. Can DD find his 3-shot? Can Gay be a bit more effiecient? Can Ross pass back when he’s got a defender right in his face? If just 1 of those 3 is answered with a “YES” (and one will…), then the Raptors will surprise everyone. Believe it.

    • SR

      I’m also interested to see if/how some stability affects them. For years there’s been constant roster and coaching turnover – the team was always adjusting to itself, never mind focusing on the opponent or having some time to develop as a unit.

      • Jonathan Mac Lean

        exactly, I’m really excited for this season

  • Take it in

    There re gonna bust ass lock it down they may surprise folks and go in 6 or 7

  • DanH

    One lineup is how to compare Hansbrough playing with Mahinmi versus Hibbert? With Hibbert and TH on the floor, the team posted a DRTG of 98.2 and TH posted a DSPR of -0.4. WIth Mahinmi and TH on the floor, the team posted a DRTG of 103.9 and TH posted a DSPR of -0.7. That’s a very significant difference.

    • DDayLewis

      I’m not familiar with DSPR. Got a link?

      The link I used was (click on Hansbrough to see his breakdown; I can’t directly link to him for some reason). Lineup 1 and 14 on Hansbrough’s list shows the same Def coefficient (albeit in a small sample size).

      • DanH

        Yeah. Use for a much larger sample that doesn’t restrict to specific lineups, but rather how the team performed with Hansbrough and either Mahinmi or Hibbert.

        DSPR is Defensive Simple Player Rating – combination of steals, blocks, opp fg’s missed and possessions played. NBAwowy doesn’t have an individual DRTG so it is a similar measure to use.

        EIther way, that team DRTG difference is pretty huge.

        • DDayLewis

          TBH I’m not the biggest fan of +/- stats (rah rah too much context), but this site is very cool. Thanks for sharing.

      • DanH

        You could also use basketball reference’s two-man lineup filter to compare team stats if you prefer. NBAwowy is a bit faster.

    • Jonathan Mac Lean

      Don’t get me wrong, I love stats. They’re one of my favorite things to look at after games. But dig deep enough and you can make any player look both good and bad using different kinds of numbers. End of the day, if Hansbrough is on the team, opponents know they’re in for tough play.

  • mike, prague

    @DDayLewis:disqus your officially a permanent on these grounds?
    If so:
    good for you!

    What will happen with your official blog?
    why aren’t you?

    • DDayLewis

      For the time being, I am. I will still write at my blog (both teams played soft) but the posts will be more sporadic. Thanks for reading.

  • Pop

    “his percentages in his 33 games as a Raptor are career lows”

    Did you even look at the link you linked? His numbers while HE WAS IN MEMPHIS were career lows.

    • DDayLewis

      Good catch. Fixed.

  • Marnix Saynor

    I think having guys like Daye and Novak will help DeRozan and Gay more than DeRozan or Gay will help them because last season there were no shooters which allowed teams to play a zone type help defense and crowd the paint when they had the ball but now with these 2 new shooters on the wings there will be less help defenders because if they help and the ball goes to Daye or Novak it’ll cost them. Also our record will be much better seeing as how we were a 500 team after acquiring Rudy Gay so I think we can do that for an entire season and because our biggest defensive liability in Bargnani is gone and I doubt we’ll start off as poorly as we did last season because well thats almost impossible. Theres only one way to go and a fresh training camp with the same core should work wonders for the Toronto Raptors

  • MikeyLawson

    Good article buddy. Tired of people jumping in and talkin s#!t about these articles. You do good work and these idiot wanna jump down your throat. Happy to be a raptors fan. We’re lucky to still have a team if you ask me! Keep on keepin on!

    • DDayLewis


  • bad

    Linus was an after thought to the rotation, his level of play has no importance its all about $$ in his case.
    Also you cannot assume that the offense will run the same because the raptors have a NEW coaching staff outside of coach Casey. This coaching staff has had the summer to plan and work with the starting 5 and a NEW bench.
    Also you cannot assume where Alan Anderson’s shots will go because he is a blackhole.
    Too much reading of stats and not enough watching the game for you.

    • DDayLewis

      Hey, they’re just assumptions. They could be wrong, but there is reason behind them.

      First, the coaching staff may very well come up with a new offense, but spot-up shooting will still be very prevalent in this offense. In fact, spot-ups is EVERY team’s most frequently used play (see link at the end) Plus, the guy in charge is still here, and most of the highest usage players are still here. It’s not that much of a stretch to assume that the offense will look similar to last year’s.

      Second, I get that it’s inexact, but there’s reason to believe that Anderson’s shots will go to Gay/Daye. Gay takes Anderon’s creative off-the-dribble stuff, and Daye takes his spot-ups. They all kinda play the same position (Daye moonlights as a PF sometimes, AA as a SG).

  • Kleiza has looked exactly like he did with the Raptors. When his knees are rested – not hurting – he’ll put up 15-20 points and looks great. But he can’t play on short rest – he looks terrible in the next game and the Eurobasket doesn’t give many days off. He is getting 3 full days off before the quarter-finals vs Italy though – who he scored 18 pts on in August