The Toronto Raptors host the Washington Wizards on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre. The Wizards come in at 4-7, just a hair shy of the Raptors’ 5-7 record.
Sorry, that’s your Division Leading Toronto Raptors (#DLTR), how dare I.
Blake answers Kyle’s Raptor questions
Kyle: The Raps are 5-7 and — hey, hey, hey! — currently ranked fourth in the East (because they lead the bad Atlantic Division; otherwise Toronto has the sixth best winning percentage in the East). So, what has gone right thus far, what has gone not so right?
Blake: The Raps are 5-7 and — hey, hey, hey! — currently ranked fourth in the East (because they lead the bad Atlantic Division; otherwise Toronto has the sixth best winning percentage in the East). So, what has gone right thus far, what has gone not so right?
It’s hard to say much has gone “right” at 5-7, but there are some bright spots – the Raptors have actually outscored opponents and they’ve played basically a neutral schedule, so projection systems like them. In reality, though, they’re an average offense and maybe an above-average defense, though certainly not an elite one. They’ve been excellent on the glass, which definitely helps, and have actually limited fouls to the league-average (they were the league’s most foul-prone team last year). Basically, they’ve made a lot of smaller improvements at the margins that have come at an opportune time.
As for what’s gone wrong, the ball remains very sticky on offense and it’s easy to exploit the wing defense with screen action.
Kyle:Rudy Gay Three-Parter! — Will he be dumb enough to opt out of getting paid $19 million next season? If he does, what type of market do you think exists for him (total contract dollars and years)? And do you see (/want) him as a Raptor long-term?
Blake: A) Yes, I believe he will be, but I’m in the minority. If he can get back to his ‘regular’ numbers, he’d have a four-year offer worth eight figures annually waiting. Tough to walk away from $19 million, but it’s risky to also leave $40 million and longer-term security on the table.
B) As I mentioned, it’s tough to see him not getting a four-year deal worth upwards of $40 million based on comparables.
C) No. He’s a fine player and is in the so-hated-he’s-underrated class, but his price tag at ages 28-32 wouldn’t make sense for a building team that already has one expensive wing with similar strengths and weaknesses.
Kyle: What unheralded Raptor might surprise the Wizards on Friday night? (And if you had to waive either Landry Fields or Steve Novak, who would it be?)
Blake: Terrence Ross. He struggled as a rookie and has been wildly inconsistent, but he’s starting to hit threes with regularity and it’s clear he’s learning the necessary defensive principles.
Kyle provides two hilarious Tyler Hansbrough-Jan Vesley GIFs
Main Event: Kyle answers Blake’s Wizards questions
Blake: The Wizards have a somewhat odd shot mix, in that they are among the league leaders in both midrange attempts and corner three attempts (the least and most efficient shots on the court, respectively). Are the Wizards generally a franchise that leans on analytics, or is it just a matter of this team being a heavy jump-shooting team and struggling to get into the paint?
Kyle: Head of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld is more of a traditionalist. Romanian sensibilities, New York raised, and schooled at the University of Tennessee with his buddy Bernard King, Grunfeld rests his laurels on gutting-out the see and smell test when it comes to player evaluation. Strange that, from 30,000 feet, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee have provided much more value and NBA tenure than what is generally expected from their respective draft positions. But also, there are reasons why they slipped, and each helped set culture and basketball intelligence in Washington back by about three years.
That said, Grunfeld has long had stats guys on his staff (or has consulted with stats guys); the ones on the staff are getting promoted to more prominent positions, having consistently attended Sloan; and Washington was also one of the first NBA teams to install the SportVU cameras. Team owner Ted Leonsis, who took over in the summer of 2010, has brought an increased interest in statistical evaluation. But how much it currently predicates decision-making, who knows.
I think I’ve digressed from the main question. Yes, the Wizards are aiming to score tons and tons of points via the most efficient shot in the game, the corner 3 — they ranked fifth in made corner 3s last season (232), and second in percentage (45.6%) in the NBA. John Wall is one of the best at creating that shot and the Wizards have the likes of Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza (currently injured), Bradley Beal, and Al Harrington (currently injured) to knock ’em down.
Midrange shots. Most come via Bradley Beal (93 attempts, 31.2%). Sometimes he is settling for midrange shots when he shouldn’t. Sometimes these shots can be Beal’s bread-and-butter when finding seams in the defense. Wall is next (66 attempts, 25.8%), and out of all those in the NBA who’ve taken 50 or more attempts from midrange, Wall shoots the worst by far (Alec Burks is next, 50 attempts, 30%). But, it’s a shot that defenses give Wall and sometimes he must have the confidence to take them if he’s ever going to improve. He just needs to do much better in deciding when to take them. Then you have Marcin Gortat (45 attempts, 33.3%), and Nene (39 attempts, 46.2%). Both bigs have decent touch and are certainly capable of hitting midrange shots. Gortat needs improvement, he hits them at a similar rate as DeMarcus Cousins and Toronto’s own Jonas Valanciunas. Nene hits them similar to Al Horford, Chris Kaman, and Roy Hibbert. After all the explanation, the Wizards still need to significantly cut down on attempts from midrange.
Blake: Sticking with shot location data, the Wizards give up the second highest opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area at 65.8 percent, but they’ve allowed the third fewest attempts there. Is this an early-season anomaly, or is there something specific at the root of this apparent disparity?
Kyle: The Wizards let teams paint rolling them in the early going of the season, specifically Detroit and Philadelphia in the first two games of the season–the Wiz gave up 130 points in the paint in total. Nene, Washington’s best big man defender, missing games two through four didn’t help, either. The main issue was that both John Wall and Bradley Beal, as well as most anyone off the bench in the backcourt, struggled in allowing dribble penetration. As far as the rate in which other teams finish in the paint, both Nene and Marcin Gortat are savvy veteran defenders in terms of spacing and awareness (Gortat closer to adequate), but once an opposing big man gets position close to the rim, they aren’t the best at stopping them.
Blake: We can’t stop John Wall, we can only hope to contain him. Shooting just 35.9 percent from the floor with a career-low 4.2 free throw attempts per game, how can the Raptors invite Wall into taking poor shots rather than attacking the rim?
Kyle: How to get Wall to take poor shots? Well, he’ll take some anyway without the Raptors having to do anything at all. But if Tortonto really wants to neutralize Wall, they’ll make shots and play transition like the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, of course, rarely go for offensive rebounds, averaging the second lowest offensive rebound percentage in the NBA (20%). I see the Raptors have the second-highest offensive rebound percentage in the league at 30 percent. Which means they are going for them and going for them often. Which means doing such could really come back to claw them against Wall’s Wizards, who are averaging 19.3 fastbreak points per game, second most in the Association.
Normally I’d break this down further but this is already quite long and Kyle did a terrific job breaking down the Wizards, at both ends, in his responses.
If you caught me on a worse day, I’d say the Raptors won’t be disciplined enough to stay under screens and goad Wall into taking bad shots, or disciplined enough to stick on shooters in the corners (normally you can help from the weakside but, depending on the shooter, I’m not sure I’d do that against a team setting out for corner threes).
But it’s not a worse day, and I’ll give the troops the benefit of the doubt. Blind optimism! Homerism! Of course, most of you will say this is actually being anti-Raptors since it hurts the tank. Oh well.
Averages say: Raps by 2
Hollinger says: Raps by 7
Vegas says: Raps -4.5, 55% action on Toronto, 69% action on Over 192.5
The Rock says: It doesn’t matter
Blake says: Raptors by five, nearly coughing up a late lead.
Game time: 7 p.m. on TSN2, Air Canada Centre