If you’ve watched even a handful of Raptors games this season you’ve undoubtedly attempted to claw your own eyes out. The league’s 18th ranked offense is perhaps one of the most isolation-heavy offenses in the league. According to Synergy Sports the Raptors are in the top three in the NBA when it comes to “isolation plays”, with 12.1% of the plays basically being a guy going one-on-one. Here’s an example (HTML5 Video, GIF) of one such play as per Synergy.
I get it, we got guys who have never been part of winning teams, guys who have a severe case of “me ball”, and a coach that doesn’t punish the behaviour, hence the numbers. I don’t like it, but I can at least understand why we are where we are in that category. What perplexes me is this:
Notice that of every type of play the Raptors run, the pick ‘n roll with a pass to the roll guy is the second-least run play. This is despite having two great (not good, great) roll guys in Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas in the starting lineup. Let that sink in. The offensive play that suits 40% of our starting lineup is run only 4.5% of the time, and we wonder why our big men are inconsistent.
OK, once that has sunk in, focus your attention to the right of that graphic. That play, the one we only run 4.5% of the time, has a success rate of 43.6% – the highest of any set play we run! Let that sink in. The play that we run the least is the play that we have the most success with. To highlight this is essentially the point of this post.
The problem isn’t exactly hard to identify: the two highest usage guys on the team are Rudy Gay (31%) and DeMar DeRozan (27%), neither of which are great at pick ‘n roll play. The next highest usage rate for a starter is Kyle Lowry and he’s at 18%, that’s a full 13% behind Rudy Gay! Let that sink in. The guy that is best suited to kickstart our most effective play (the pick ‘n roll) has a usage rate which is 6th on the team, and the two guys that are most ill-suited to run that play are #1 and #2.
I wonder if Dwane Casey has completely lost control of the offense or if Rudy Gay and the gang have been given cart blanche on things. Casey is an NBA head coach and knows more about basketball than the entire Raptors blogosphere collectively, so why this sort of madness continues is beyond me. The only explanation I can muster is that there are non-basketball matters at play, like players not following direction or some other matter. I really have no idea as all I have to go by is what I see on the court, which makes no sense.
There’s been a general uproar about the lack of touches Jonas Valanciunas has gotten (8th on team in usage rate, 4th amongst starters). That’s primarily been because, as it stands whether you like it or not, he is considered a cornerstone of the franchise and the last thing we want to do is pull off another Tracy McGrady where we starve a young kid of the basketball. I contend that he needs touches, not just because he needs nourishment, but because it’s the right thing to do from a basketball perspective.
He is the only big man that has any sort of post-presence. He is the only big man that allows you to play an inside-out game, adding some variety to an offense that otherwise reeks of selfish play (dead last in assists, nothing speaks more than that). Does he have flaws? Many of them, sometimes even he’s hard to watch when he’s deciding between faking a shot the defense wants him to take or driving head-first into a defender perfectly placed for a charge. However, that’s a small price to pay for sprinkling a pinch of diversity into the offense and giving the defense a look that they don’t see coming for a mile.
People slag on Valanciunas for his defensive play and rightfully so, but I’ll tell you this, and this is true if you’re playing pick-up, rec league, college, or the NBA: if you know you’re not getting your due on offense, your going to have a tough time convincing yourself to bust your butt on defense. We’re not talking about Reggie Evans here, a guy who will rebound no matter what because that’s all he can do, we’re talking about a 21-year old skilled 7-footer that needs to be managed carefully because he will walk out the door at the end of his contract if things continue as-is.
This post isn’t specifically about Valanciunas, Gay or DeRozan. It’s about the team doing what makes sense and playing a brand of team basketball that’s suited to its strengths, and Gay and DeRozan hoisting up bad shots without repercussion is not a strength.