The Toronto Raptors’ offensive problem is quite simple to explain. The two players in the starting lineup who score at the least efficient rates, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, take the most field-goal attempts. The starting wings have combined to average 38.5 shots per game. The player who is the most efficient scorer in the group, Amir Johnson, takes the fewest shots. The solution to that problem, though, is tougher to communicate — if it exists with this roster at all. The Raptors cannot simply dump the ball into either Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas, since neither excels in those roles. The biggest reason Johnson scores so efficiently is that he confines himself to certain shots. And the Raptors cannot just start playing a different style, for a very obvious reason.
While there are no guarantees in professional sports, where surprise results pop up almost nightly, DeRozan and the Raptors have to see the next three days as a chance to make at least a minor statement about themselves. The 76ers, losers of seven of nine and a team very much built for the future rather than the present, are up Wednesday night in Philadelphia, and the somewhat disappointing Washington Wizards bring a desultory record and a slow start to Toronto on Friday. Toss in a home game next Tuesday against the aging-more-every-minute Brooklyn Nets and their rookie head coach Jason Kidd and there are three of those games that DeRozan was talking about.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay are poor passers and – to put it lightly – treat high-percentage shots like the plague. Per NBA.com/stats, both are among the league leaders in midrange shots attempted per game; to rub in a little more salt, they only make about a third of those attempts. Given that Gay and DeRozan use nearly 60% of the team’s possessions when they share the floor, that’s a recipe for ugly and inefficient basketball. (“Your 2013-14 Raptors! Leaders in ugly and inefficient basketball!” Come on Raptors marketing department, get on it!). Despite the unappealing exterior, the Raptors still sport a league-average offense through the first 11 games of the season, lending some support to Ziller’s argument that offense and assist rate don’t always go hand-in-hand. Still, I suspect that ranking will drop if the team’s offensive profile continues to skew to the most inefficient option.
It has been a focus for Dwane Casey’s team early this season after spending most of training camp emphasizing defensive principles. The Raptor’s coach has shouted it from the sidelines, preached it after games and drilled it in practice but still, sharing the ball appears to be an incurable allergy for this team, as its currently constructed. “We’re 30th in the league in assists, so we’re trying to promote ball movement,” Casey acknowledged after practice Tuesday afternoon. “It’s something we’ve just got to stay on, harp on and try to do what fits our team.”
It’s still early and things can change — and they’ve begun to, since Philadelphia has dropped three straight without injured rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams — but nobody saw this team leading the division at any point this season. Equally stunning, would be what would happen should the Raptors win on Wednesday in the City of Brotherly Love. The Raptors would move into first in the Atlantic for the first time this “late” in a season (with 10 games or more having been played) since 2006-07. That was the year the Raptors caught fire in the second half and won a division title for the first time in team history.
Entering Tuesday night’s games, Toronto ranks 20th in points per game (96.9), 23rd in three-point shooting (32.6 percent), 25th in field goal percentage (41.9) and dead-last in assists (16.5 per game). So, it wouldn’t be hard to understand if the fans in Philly, Washington and Brooklyn were looking at a game against the Raptors as a chance to get ‘healthy’ as well.
Saddled with the roster as it is currently comprised, head coach Dwane Casey has relied upon Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan—the team’s resident gunners—to carry the offence. As a result, offensive flow and efficiency have suffered. In addition to those offensive struggles, this style of play has had an adverse effect on Toronto’s one budding star, a player that in a few short years could be the all-star the club needs—Valanciunas.
“(Our young guys) have really given us lifts, very big lifts a lot of times,” Novak said. “They make rookie mistakes, they make young mistakes like we all did, but I think for the most part they have come in and shown that they – when they understand their role and are clear on what they are to be out there doing – Quincy (Acy) comes out there and gives us so much energy and rebounds and gets big boards out of his area. Dwight (Buycks) comes in and he when pushes that ball, it gives us a good lift when we need it. So, we just have to continue to have them understand what their roles are and have them go out there and do it.”
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