More thoughts on Rudy Gay and Demar Derozan’s offense, and how changes in coaching directives can help them improve.

I may have been a tad too pessimistic in yesterday’s post about the Raptors offense.

Yes, having approximately half of the offense coming from two sub-par shooters is a bad thing for the offense, but pointing out that fact alone is not productive. It outlines a problem without proposing a solution. I answered the “what“, and “how much“, but I failed to touch on “how” and “why“. To solve a problem, you need to have some understanding of how, and why a problem exists.

Just to recap, the “what” is that Demar and Gay use up a lot of Raptors possessions, but they fail to convert their chances at an above-average clip. The “how much” is that the two use up 50%+ of possessions, while converting at ~51 TS%, which is about 3 percentage points lower than their respective positional averages (this makes a BIG difference).

But, “how” do Demar and Gay spend their possessions? Are they always taking long jumpers (as they are in my mind), are they slashing to the rim or are they heaving half-court threes? This is an important question, no? If they’re having to bear all the isolation plays within the offense, their shot efficiency numbers will suffer in comparison to a player like Amir Johnson, who gets to crash the boards and shoot closer to the rim. It’s the nature of basketball; not all shots are created, nor taken, equally.

Similarly, answering “why” DD and Gay are taking the shorts that they’re taking is also important. Is it a lack of discretion from Gay and Demar? Are they simply taking what the defense is conceding to them? Or is it a reflection of Dwane Casey’s coaching directives? Without answering “why”, we cannot propose a credible solution.

With that in mind, let’s look at the how for Demar and Gay.

Gay and Derozan both xzibit exhibit the prototypical scoring profiles for scoring wings. They both expend the majority of their possessions in isolation, spot-ups and pick and rolls. Their play usage breakdowns is below (data courtesy of synergy stats). It’s pretty clear that DD and Gay aren’t just cleaning up the glass, or cutting for wide-open passes. They’re bearing the brunt of the playmaking (isolation and pick and roll) while receiving a large number of play-calls from Dwane Casey (as indicated by their spot-ups). Derozan’s numbers are depicted by the red bars and Gay’s numbers are in blue.

both usage

Unfortunately, where the two fail, for the most part, is with execution. Their efficiencies on each play is listed below by NBA rank. A lower bar indicates better performance (ie: ranking 35th in the NBA is better than ranking 350th). Both players took a lot of jumpers, but not from 3-point range, which really hurt their points per play averages. In particular, Gay ranked horribly in things like spot-up shooting, which is not a surprise to anyone who watched (in horror) as he launched jumper after jumper in last year’s games. Again, DD in red, RG in blue (Gay didn’t shoot enough hand-offs and cuts to qualify).

combined rank

What do these fancy charts tell us? Well, it corroborates much of what we already know; Rudy and Demar bear the brunt of playmaking in the offense. Now we know the “how”; we can see just exactly how they utilize their offensive possessions.

On to “why“; why do DD and Gay use the plays the way they do, and why do they fail or succeed on these plays?

Well, the question of why is actually really hard to answer with any measure of accuracy. For example, we can’t be sure if Demar takes a pull-up jumper because A) he chose to, B) the defense took away all other options, C) that’s how Casey drew it up, or D) he wanted to imitate Kobe. We just don’t know. It’s really hard to evaluate these things.

However, by watching enough video, we can parse out the general directives of Dwane Casey’s playcalling. I mean, if the set out of the timeout is a pin-down screen to get Demar an open jumper, that’s probably in large part the coach’s doing, right?

With that in mind, I combed through a swath of videos and found two play calls that Casey liked to implement; running down screens to generate action to get Demar a jumper, and drawing up spot-ups for Rudy Gay. You can see the plays in the videos below (I apologize for the terrible quality/music).

Spot-up attempts accounted for ~14% and ~19% of Gay and Derozan’s possessions, respectively. However, Casey should really reconsider; they really shouldn’t be running these plays.

Why not? Well, two reason; one, both players shot poorly on spot-ups, and two, there are better (and attainable) options for both players. Consider the table below:

Rudy Gay Spot-ups 14.3 354
Rudy Gay Isolation 19.9 29
Demar Derozan Spot-ups 18.8 153
Demar Derozan PR Ball Handler 14.2 30

As you can see, Gay and Demar aren’t very good on spot-ups (okay, Demar was decent, Gay was just abysmal), but they do excel in other areas. Coach Casey and his staff should reorient the offense towards maximizing their strengths.

Demar is excellent when he attacks in the pick and roll. He’s tightened up his dribble (as compared to his previous seasons) and he’s an excellent finisher at the rim (68.4 FG% at the rim). He uses his athleticism well and is generally able to finish with both hands (there’s a joke here). The downside is that he’s not particularly adept at passing, but his scoring prowess makes up for that.

On the other hand, Gay is an excellent isolation player. Now, it might seem ridiculous to suggest that a player who already devotes ~20% of his possessions to isolations to increase his usage, but if the increase in iso-plays comes at the expense of spot-ups, this will actually be a big win for the Raptors offense. Gay scored 0.94 points per isolation as compared to 0.62 points per spot-up.

Gay’s tremendous length and athleticism, combined with his excellent above average ball-handling ability, really allows him to score in a number of ways in isolation. Sure, he sometimes settles for long jumpers, but he’s money when he’s attacking the rim. He’s got an assortment of dribble-moves at his disposal to create space for him to operate, and he’s able to draw multiple defenders to his vicinity (unfortunately he never passes -.-).

Personally, I think that these changes are plausible. Running more pick and rolls for Demar, and isolation plays for Gay is certainly within the control of the Raptors offense. If these changes are made, the impact on Derozan and Gay’s performances will be marginal, but given that they use up so many possessions, the effect on the Raptors’ offense should be significant.

Then again, I want to clearly state that we have not found the solution to cure all of what ails the Raptors (not by a long shot). We’ve simply pointed out two weaknesses in Demar and Gay’s games, and suggested a plausible solution based on the information that is publicly available. Whether the staff should implement this, or to reject it, is why the coaches get paid the big bucks.

But it’s certainly food for thought, no? Maybe the Raptors offense isn’t doomed after all?


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  • black angus

    If 25% of the set plays do not go through JV something is wrong. This does not mean Jonas has to take a shot one out of every four possessions, but he should be touching the ball (with an opportunity to score) at least a quarter of all set plays.

    • DDayLewis

      I agree. I love seeing offenses that operate through their bigs (like Chicago/Memphis). If JV’s passing ability is up for the task, I would definitely like to see the ball go through him.

    • Guest

      I’m not sure that JV is ready for that many touches. However, that doesn’t mean Casey shouldn’t do it anyway on the principle that in-game experience is the only way he is going to get better at identifying double teams, when to pass, when to face up a man defender, etc.
      We can hope he develops half the ability that guys like Sabonis and Divac had as facilitators on offence.

    • Ian Reynolds

      If Demar increased his PnR ballhandling opportunities, JV or Amir would likely be involved in the offense a lot more. However, he’s not a great passer, so his actual touches may not increase that much.

      Also, if a big man like JV was facilitating in the posts, those situations would likely lead to increased spotting up on the perimeter, and guys coming off of screens to shoot, neither of which we have anyone that’s anything special at.

  • Casey Sherman

    “excellent ball-handler” I think you’re giving Rudy too much credit here. Yes, he can do some fancy dribble moves but he turns the ball over a lot–one of my main areas of improvement for him actually. And the reason he does this (I think) is cause he tries to go for too much. His elite length and shotmaking ability enable to him to score off simple moves that get him just that little bit of space. I wrote an article on this a while back.

    As for the spot-up statistics, I don’t know. I bet there’s a good amount of variance year to year. Maybe this year Rudy won’t be as good on iso but better on spot-ups. I don’t think these figures are as steady as you think

    • DDayLewis

      They’re probably not that steady. Unfortunately there’s only one year of data. Things like spot-up shooting is probably very contextual.

      Okay, maybe not excellent. I kinda threw in an adjective in the editing. IMO it’s good, especially with his size.

  • black angus

    I know I am going to get slammed for this, but I would actually prefer to see a guy like Landry Fields get some more playing time – with either DD or Gay. Is passing, court awareness, and general basketball IQ is way better than either DD or Gay. He would help keep the ball moving on offense, be able to move into seams to accept a pass, and when a play breaks down find a location on the floor to provide balance. Also, he is a far better pass in transition then either DD or Gay, and is a way better rebounder than DD. Okay, I’ll just come out and say it – trade DD (hopefully for a high pick or legit PG) – and give Fields and Ross more playing time.

    • RaptorFan

      I was going to slam you……but decided to let your ridiculous comment speak for itself. 🙂 I’m waiting to see Fields shoot again before i comment on whether or not he’s still useful.

      • DDayLewis

        Fields is useful even if his jumper doesn’t come back. He might be worth that contract if he could hit 40%+ of his three’s, but he still cuts, moves the ball, plays good defense and rebound well.

        • black angus

          That was my point – I think there is enough scoring from Lowry, Gay or DD, JV and even Amir. For all the things that Lowry does well – he is not the best passing point guard in the league. The offence would move a lot smoother with another facilitator on the floor.

          • DDayLewis

            Lawson, Parker, Conley, Wall, Holiday, Lillard, Walker, Curry, Irving.

            Lowry’s assist rate (rate of assists against possessions used) was better than all of those players.

            He’s pretty good at the whole passing thing.

          • RaptorFan

            Another facilitator who isn’t a threat to score from the outside? How will that give JV or Gay or even DD any room to operate??

            • It’s likely Fields’ shooting will improve, but either way spacing isn’t just about being able to hit the three (although that does help). Fields knows where to be on the floor and when to cut to the basket, so his defender can’t simply ignore him. Plus, his passing and defense helps as well. I’d rather have a smart player who can play defense like Fields on the court than DeRozan, quite frankly.

        • RaptorFan

          Would you play tight “D” on someone who can’t shoot?? OR would you cheat and double team the other players on the floor? I don’t see why its so hard for you guys to see this…. its actually common sense. He needs to at least be a threat to shoot (mid range or 3 pointer) or else he’ll be a liability to the team. I hope he regains his rookie shooting form, but i’m not holding my breathe.

          • DDayLewis

            Yes, we do get that his lack of a jumper hurts floor spacing.

            Can you see how he contributes in other ways?

            • RaptorFan

              Yes, I can see how he contributes in other ways BUT he’s simply not great at anything …. so what’s the point of sacrificing our floor spacing?? We’re not that good at shooting 3’s as is….now you want to take away our spacing to get to the rim? Look as i said before, I hope he makes a 100 percent return to his rookie shooting form because i believe he will come closer to earning that contract he signed last summer. However, until then i’m in a wait and see approach.

              I wouldn’t trade DD to hand the keys to Ross or Fields at this time. I would need to see more from those guys.
              I would maybe consider trading Rudy as he could opt out of his contract after this season and he makes twice as much as DD. Also, i think we could get more for Rudy.

              • DDayLewis

                He’s a fantastic cutter, he rebounds very well, he’s a better defender than DD.

                Sacrificing our floor spacing? Because DD and Gay are such threats from deep? Come on; what floor spacing is there to be sacrificed.

                • SR

                  Calderon was the guy who always found Fields making backdoor cuts. Unfortunately Fields is a little less useful with Lowry/Gay/DD dominating the ball. None of them see the floor or anticipate movement as well as Jose.

              • hig dale

                While I never seem to agree with anything you say I do agree that Fields does need to knock down some jumpers to keep teams honest and make more free throws. I don’t think 3s was ever his strong point and his health effected his confidence somewhat last year but he won’t get a pass on that this season. Though he’s not great at any one thing he does a lot of things well at both ends of the court and has a skill set the Raptors could benefit from. He’s the only wing who can lead a fast break and make the right pass in transition we saw that at times last year. He would be more effective subbing for DD and playing with Gay because their games could compliment each other. If Fields subbed for Gay and Ross for DD Ross would benefit because Fields is a better playmaker and makes good decisions on the fly at full speed. I went back and looked at some highlights from games last season before the trade and Fields wasn’t a bad player and filled in nicely for Gay in the Bucks game Rudy was out with back spasms. Jose was the only one who threw Fields a lob last season even though he converted them time and time again playing with Lin in New York. Fields has an old school game and makes the game simple. He would be a good fit for a team like the Spurs that run an motion offense with lots of ball movement and unselfishness. I think Gay and DD are very good players but they don’t scare anybody because they don’t make other players around them better and if their shots aren’t falling how are they controlling the game. As far as Fields’ contract goes it is what it is. He didn’t ask for that much money BC offered it and no 3rd year player would have turned it down with such a short life span in the league. Gays’ contract on the other hand could be big problem in the future if the Raptors decide to go all in and he doesn’t live up to it.

  • hig dale

    When you watch Gay and see all that talent you would think he would have more double double games than the 5 he had all of last year ( including Memphis games ). He could flirt with triple doubles. Ball movement is key in the offense but Gay and DD are not treats to hit open cutters or pass and cut themselves so they can be one trick ponies at times. Hopefully they can see and be part of other scoring opportunities instead of mostly being playmakers for themselves. This could help to make their possessions more efficient by keeping the ball moving and getting more players involved in the offense. If not teams could pack the paint when they get the ball and force them to take contested jumpers with little chance of them getting offense rebounds. If defense can key the transition offense then they can get out run the floor and convert on the break but one or both of them will have to make better decisions if they find themselves in the middle on the break or it will add to their already high turnovers.

  • Jonathan Mac Lean

    Are these stats for their entire careers or just last season? If it’s the latter, I would like to see these same stats for their careers (especially Rudy). I refuse to believe Gay is really ranked 354th league wide in spot up shooting… that would put him behind so many PF/C who hardly even do spot up shooting… and if he is, and spent 15% of shots from the spot-up, then it must mean that something went wrong during the season. If he was that bad consistently (practices included), the coaching staff would have (surely) put a stop to it. I hope. I’m assuming he really isn’t that horrible, but just had a bad season from the spot-up. 354th… wow.. either give it up or prove us otherwise.

    As for DD, were his stats just taken from when Gay joined the team? Because before Gay was brought in, he was being double teamed left-right-and-center. Afterwards, he had a little more wiggle room. And if Valanciunas can be more of an offensive threat this season on the inside (which he will be), it will give DD and Gay just a little more of that precious wiggle room which they so desperately need. But we shall see..

    • DDayLewis

      Unfortunately, synergy data is only available for last season (as far as I’m aware of). Rudy’s numbers are from his time in Toronto.

      The stats for DD were taken from his entire season’s output. I can’t really split up his numbers by month. From basketball reference’s monthly splits, DD’s FG% was 43.9% before Gay, and 45.3% after Gay. The difference is most likely just randomness.

      • Casey Sherman

        I doubt it’s randomness. We’ve been through this before, haven’t we? There’s no sense in counting DeRozan’s stats with Rudy on the team but on the bench: when sharing the floor with Rudy, D’s shot 48% (TS 57). Small sample size? Sure, but it’s no smaller than the sample you use to draw your own conclusions about the efficacy of Gay on offense

        • DDayLewis

          You doubt 1.4 percentage points is not randomness? Really? Sure, there could be a logical reason behind the increase (again, debatable), but that difference is well within the error range.

          Gay ranked 299th in the NBA on spot-ups in his time with Memphis. He’s bad at spot-ups. It wasn’t like he had an unlucky patch in Toronto.

          • Casey Sherman

            You fucked up, William. 48 – 43.9 = 4.1, not 1.4. Elementary school subtraction, bruh. Learn it

            And keep in mind that Gay had a crap year all around

            • DDayLewis

              “DD’s FG% was 43.9% before Gay, and 45.3% after Gay. The difference is most likely just randomness.”

              You can breakdown the data yourself from B-R’s monthly splits.

              • Casey Sherman

                Lol I guess swearing is a no-go here? Whoops.

                Anyway, come on William. Read my darn comment. You’re a bright dude; I know you can do better. The difference is 4.1, not 1.4. You’re using the wrong numbers

                • DDayLewis

                  We’re talking about different numbers. I’m talking about his splits before and after Gay came to town. You’re talking about on/off with Gay.

                • Casey Sherman

                  Yes, and those are the more relevant numbers. Why count minutes where Rudy’s on the bench?

                • DDayLewis

                  Because Demar sometimes plays in Gay’s absence. It’s still relevant.

                • Casey Sherman

                  If we’re talking about whether an offense with Rudy AND DeMar on the floor will work, then it’s not relevant

                • DDayLewis

                  We weren’t talking about that. I was responding to Jonathan’s query about DD’s numbers pre and post Gay trade.

                • Casey Sherman

                  Ok my bad a little. You’re still wrong though. I was responding in the general context of the post (“Rethinking the Raptors Offense”)

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  • Rjak27

    Basically all NBA offences are the same.

    The attacking team pushes the ball up the court and looks for something in transition.

    If the defense gets back, the offense then calls and runs a play.

    If the play is covered or blown up by the defense, then it comes down to an isolation.

    With a 24 second shot clock there really isn’t much room for variation in that formula.

    This is why scorers like Rudy Gay are so valuable, and why the shooting percentages don’t tell the whole story.

    Rudy bails out the offense with his isolation play.

  • Rap fan 2

    Being the Raptors are one of the most athletic teams in the league I would run most of the plays towards attacking the rim. You’ll either get very high efficient shooting percentages and or you get a lot of free throws and you’ll get more open looks for players like Novac on the perimeter. Along with always playing great defense the Raptors might have a chance to win a few more games.

    • OvertheWall

      Since Rudy rarely passes even on triple teams, I don`t see any light at the end of the tunnel folks.

  • Marnix Saynor

    I think they need to ISO Gay closer to the hoop like you see Carmelo Anthony do in New York where he catches the ball with his back to the basket and can face up or quickly make a post move to the rim. This would mean that he would have to put on some weight if he wants to be really affective but with his length its almost always a mismatch

  • 26pasteur

    you guys should be rejoicing now for you have one of the top players in
    the league for attacking the rim, fighting for the ball and either
    getting the basket, a foul, or both. that player is TYLER HANSBROUGH. if
    given enough playing time and involvement in the offense, i.e., touches
    in good positions to shoot, he can consistently be counted upon to give
    20 ppg and 10 rbg. some/many of you may consider these statements to be
    delusional. my response is to simply check his stats over the past 4
    seasons in which he actually played. his production when playing 4-6
    minute spurts has been minimal since he is a rhythm player; therefore, when allowed to play more minutes, such
    as when DAVID WEST was injured, he usually responded w/double-doubles
    (in 4 games, 3 double-doubles). the opportunity for increased playing
    time was the main reason TYLER signed w/the RAPTORS. always expect
    double-doubles from TYLER HANSBROUGH whenever he is allowed to play
    enough minutes to get into his rhythm. GO RAPTORS!!!