After winning against the Washington Wizards on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors sit with a 6-7 record atop the Atlantic Division. They have the sixth best record in the East and if the playoffs started today, they would be the fourth seed. Great news, right? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
Sure, there are a lot of Raptor fans that just want to enjoy the team’s success and hope for the best. But ignoring the realities of the situation is only going to lead to disappointment down the line. If you’re the type of fan that just wants happy thoughts, then read no further. You’ve been warned.
Back before the start of the season, all the writers at Raptors Republic were asked to make a bold prediction. Mine was that the Raptors would start the season 6-14. Considering they’ve already reached the 6 win mark, it’s safe to say my prediction is going to be a little off.
Making predictions is always a tricky game because there are always so many variables. And there was one variable that I completely miscalculated. And that’s just how bad the rest of the Eastern Conference was going to be.
– Currently, there are only five teams at or above .500 in the East (and one of them is Charlotte!!!), as compared to twelve in the West.
– The Bulls, who have the fourth best record in the East would just sneak into the playoffs in the West, as an 8th seed, if they were held today. And that’s just because Minnesota lost against Houston last night.
– The Raptors would have the third WORST record in the West, as opposed to having the sixth best record in the East.
The reason for this disparity would take up an entire column.
So what does all this really mean?
The East may look bad, with their poor records, but they’re actually even worse than they appear. Why? Because their records are inflated due to playing one another.
Let’s look how the all the Eastern Conference teams did against their own conference and against the West.
Record against East vs West
Indiana: 10-1 / 2-0
Miami: 8-3 / 2-0
Atlanta: 7-3 / 1-3
Toronto: 4-5 / 2-2
Chicago: 5-3 / 1-2
Charlotte: 6-4 / 0-3
Philadelphia: 5-5 / 1-4
Orlando: 2-6 / 2-2
Detroit: 3-3 / 1-5
Washington: 4-5 / 1-3
Cleveland: 3-7 / 1-4
Boston: 4-5 / 1-5
New York: 3-6 / 0-3
Brooklyn: 1-5 / 2-4
Milwaukee: 2-6 / 0-3
Totals: 67-67 / 17-41
Against their own Conference, the East teams were .500, which is basically what you should expect. Against the West, though, the East’s winning percentage is .293. Over the course of an 82 game season, that’s equivalent to just 24 wins. That’s horrible.
And, conversely, the West is feasting on the bad teams in the East. Portland is playing well, yes, but their 12-2 record is definitely helped by having played more games against Eastern teams than anyone else in the West. While their record is a very good 6-2 against their own Conference, they’ve gone 6-0 against the East.
Dallas is a .500 team against their own conference, but 5-1 against the East.
Six teams in the West have a perfect record against the East, so far. Only two in the East have a perfect record against the West. Try and guess which ones they are.
So while the Raptors have a 6-7 record, they also haven’t beaten a team that has been above .500 (Memphis went on a winning streak after losing against Toronto). In the East, though, they won’t have to face a whole lot of teams above .500. The Raptors aren’t a bad team, but they’re also not a good one, either. And they’re not even as good as their mediocre record (or their place in the Atlantic Division) might indicate.
Of course, team records aren’t everything. What is happening on the floor is more important, right?
Well, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Raptor’s offense has been pretty poor. Much has been made about the Raptors being last in the league in assists per game (now 29th, slightly ahead of Boston). There are only three teams in the bottom 15 in assists that are above .500. And obviously, only three teams in the top 15 in assists are below .500. That kind of highlights the importance of passing.
Of course, if they weren’t such poor shooters, the team might get more assists. The Raptors are 26th in the league in effective field goal percentage. Among the bottom 15 teams in effective field goal percentage, again, only three are above .500.
And the problem with the Raptors is they seem to be equally bad from everywhere. They have the 6th worst shooting percentage within five feet (although take the 6th most shots from that range), the 11th worst from five to nine feet, the 6th worst from 10-14 feet, the 9th worst fifteen to nineteen feet and the 10th worst beyond that. Basically, they suck shooting from everywhere.
You want to know one of the only stats they actually do well in? Offensive rebounding.
So while Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan get most of the attention for their scoring, if it wasn’t for Tyler Hansbrough, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson grabbing all the offensive boards, the Raptors wouldn’t have near the record they do.
Much has been said about DeMar DeRozan’s improvement this year, scoring a career high 21.2 points per game and being a more dangerous scorer. But, again, looking more closely gives you a bit of a different view. While DeRozan’s scoring has improved, he’s only scoring efficiently when comparing him to his teammate, Rudy Gay. He’s still taking most of his shots from the 15-19 foot range, and shooting poorly from that distance. In fact, he takes more shots from beyond 15 feet than from inside 15 feet.
The main reason DeRozan is able to score as much as he does is because he he takes the 6th most shots in the entire league (Rudy is 3rd). Yet he’s 16th in the league in scoring. Ten more players in the league score more than DeRozan while taking fewer shots.
Not only is his offense not as good as it seems, he’s also still below average rebounding and passing the ball, and his defense is still below average. Clearly, the idea that DeRozan has taken a major step towards stardom is being overstated.
To make matters worse, the player who most hoped would make the biggest developmental leap, and who many pinned the hopes for the future of the franchise on, Jonas Valanciunas, has not only not improved over last season, but actually regressed. He’s scoring at a lower rate and much less efficiently than last year. His assist percentage has declined as has his block percentage. The only area he seems to improved in is rebounding.
And Valanciunas is still struggling defensively, which is one of the reasons he’s playing as little as he is.
Even Amir Johnson is having an off year, with a career low rebounding percentage.
Too few of the high usage players on this team actually make their teammates better. And it’s hurting the development of many of the young players.
Of course, the defense, which saw so much improvement two years ago, seems to be back to acceptable levels. They have the 8th best Defensive Rating in the league, and are 7th best in Points Against.
The problem, however, is that a lot of the improvement has been caused by simply slowing the pace down to a crawl (26th in the league), instead of actually being good defensively. There have been many teams that have hidden their lack of talent by slowing games down, which limits possessions and gives the less talented teams more of a chance to win.
Most Raptor fans will remember the Kevin O’Neal days. He did the same thing.
It’s not that the Raptors are bad defensively, but they’re not as good as they appear.
While the team has been bad offensively and fairly mediocre defensively, there’s always the prospect of improvement, right? We’ve already seen signs of some improvement recently, with back-to-back wins. The team seems to be passing more and the offense doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out, at least part of the time.
There certainly is the possibility for improvement, but there are two problems with that.
The first is why would there be improvement in the first place. The starting five played together for half a season already (plus this season). This isn’t Brooklyn or Detroit or Cleveland or one of the many other teams around the league that has multiple new players in the starting lineup that have to get used to playing with one another.
These are the same players with the same coach as last season. There really shouldn’t be much adjustment here.
There’s also the issue of these other teams, who should also improve. There are eight teams in the Eastern Conference that have at least two new starters in the lineup, and most of those also have new coaches. The teams that tend to make the biggest improvement throughout the season are typically teams that had to become familiar with one another.
It’s not just the present that the team is not quite in as good a position as it initially appears. I’ve always felt that Rudy Gay opting out next summer is a likely scenario, despite the fact that it’s unlikely he’ll make what he’s scheduled to make next year if he doesn’t opt out. There are simply too many teams scheduled to have cap room next summer, and too few top tier free agents. They’ll be so many teams with cap room desperate to make a splash, that Gay will probably be overpaid (again) despite his inability to fulfill his potential.
What’s worse, losing Gay for nothing or re-signing him for $14 million a season, for the next five years?
But Gay not opting out might be an even worse scenario. If Gay doesn’t opt out, then that might make re-signing Lowry a difficult proposition. In a sellers market, Lowry is likely to get 8 digit offers, which, after the draft, would put the Raptors perilously close to the luxury tax, if not into it. Would ownership really want to pay the luxury tax on a team that’s as mediocre as the Raptors?
There’s also a fair chance that both Gay AND Lowry could end up leaving for nothing, next summer. Neither player was drafted by the Raptors, and neither will have been with the team for more than two years. There will likely be greener pastures elsewhere and it’s difficult to see a reason to remain loyal to a team that doesn’t appear to have a bright future (at the moment) unless they end up offering more money than anyone else.
And that’s not good for the future of the franchise.