Is the Raptors Offense Doomed to Mediocrity?

A look at how Demar Derozan and Rudy Gay are keeping the Raptor’s offense above water-level, but just barely so.

The Heat. The Spurs. The Grizzlies. The Raptors, The Thunder.

In order, those five teams featured the most successful five-man units last season (min 300 minutes played). I (Jason) kid you not; The Raptor’s quintet of Lowry-Derozan-Gay-Johnson-Valanciunas was more successful than the Thunder’s Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins (by Net Rating; 12.9 vs 12.3).

Now, this statistic is descriptive, meaning it tells us what happened, but we can’t be sure if it is predictive, meaning we don’t know if we can use it to anticipate future events. Certainly, it’s one number that is open to interpretation; is it just a mirage (data fluctuation), is it legitimate, or is it some of both? I don’t know. I’m not here to talk about that.

A closer look at the lineup reveals that the combination flourished on defense, while being merely average on offense. The defensive rating clocked in at a sterling 92.5, while their offensive rating checked in at a good, but not great 105. 4.

The offensive rating perplexed me. I thought the lineup would be more successful on offense. Kyle Lowry was an above average shooter, Amir Johnson was a great shooter and Jonas Valanciunas was one of the most efficient offensive players in the league (9th in NBA in TS% at 61.2% per Hoopdata). How could that lineup be merely average on offense?

Well, one obvious reason is the duo of Rudy Gay and Demar Derozan shot poorly (let’s leave out random fluctuation and personnel adjustment). You know the story already; Demar shot at a slightly below average efficiency and Gay shot a horrid 49.4 TS% (compared to 54% for league average SF).

Now, the problem isn’t necessarily that the wings shot poorly, it’s that they shot poorly AND often. Compare their usage rates (an estimation of how many possessions a player uses) to that of other wing combinations across the NBA (zero on the X-axis represents league average, standard deviation is just a measure of “how different”, see note 1 below):


Rudy+DD used over half (53%) of the Raptor’s offensive possessions, and they were only topped by the Knicks (Carmelo + JR Smith) and the Heat (some dudes named Lebron and Wade). Now, like I said earlier, disproportionate offensive loads is not necessarily a problem. It’s only a problem when they aren’t very efficient. Compare how Toronto’s duo stacked up to other wing combinations in the NBA:


Toronto’s wings shot a tonne, but they scored at a poor rate. Given that their combined usage was 53%, the offense, or at least as currently constructed, is pretty much doomed to be around average (and don’t tell me that DD’s usage will go down with Gay around, DD averaged MORE shot attempts per game with Gay in Toronto).

Well, that is unless the wings shoot better.

Demar’s biggest problem is that he shoots a lot of long-two’s and that he can’t sink three-pointers. Can he develop a three-pointer? Sure, it’s possible, but the historical prescient is against him.

On the other hand, Gay has a history of being an average shooter (career 52.5 TS%) and his percentages last season were certainly career lows, meaning he he’s probably due for some positive regression. However, the biggest unknown is how his vision-correction surgery will impact his shooting. Will it have any impact? If so, will it be positive or negative, and by how much?

If Gay and Derozan were to improve their jumpshooting, they would likely create some positive externalities for Johnson, Valanciunas and Lowry. As it currently stands, the startling lineup features almost no three-point shooting. If DD and Gay become threats from deep, this will give Valanciunas and Johnson more room to operate.

Certainly, there are unknowns, but one thing is known; if Gay and Demar shoot as much, and at the same rate they did last season, the Raptors’ offense is doomed to mediocrity. Here’s to hoping that something changes for the better.

Note 1: Only players who played over 25+ minutes per game and 30+ games were included. This left Sacramento, Minnesota, Utah and Phoenix with only one player, and thus they were eliminated. Several teams featured multiple players who fit the criteria. On that basis, I chose the two players who started the most games for their team. For example, Chicago had Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli qualify. However, Belinelli started more games than Butler (27 vs 20), therefore Belinelli was chosen alongside Deng. The full list and data can be found here.

Thanks to Hoopdata, Basketball-Reference, ESPN, the NBA Geek and NBA Stats for the data used in this post.

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