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The Toronto Raptors visit the Sacramento Kings tonight, and while Zarar did a good job setting the stage in the Gameday post, I thought it was worth a little more reflection. How far we’ve come.

On December 8, Rudy Gay was held out of the Raptors lineup against the Los Angeles Lakers as rumors swirled that he had been dealt to the Sacramento Kings. The following day, the trade would be made official – Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy were headed to Sacramento with Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes coming back as a return.

It was a win, if for no other reason than the added payroll certainty moving forward. It was also, however, expected to be the first in a series of tear-down moves to push the team firmly into the tank, which hasn’t at all been the case.

At the time of the deal, Tim Chisholm warned us that the trade may actually improve the team:

Regardless of how Salmons plays, though, this club has just done a pretty significant remodelling job on large swaths of their roster, and how the rotation shakes out will take a couple of weeks to determine. You can definitely expect Vasquez to get serious minutes, and Salmons will likely see time considering how shallow the wings are. Patterson fits ideally next to Valanciunas on offence, but Hayes fits better on defence, and lest we forget the Raptors already have two effective big men in Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough that have yet to give any reason to be unseated from their spots in the pecking order.

My focus, meanwhile, was primarily on the long-term impact of the deal and the trickle-down effect of more shots for the incumbent rotation players:

Gay’s absence creates further opportunities for the players left on the roster, specifically Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. The offense should become more fluid and balanced, with the only potential detriment coming if DeMar DeRozan is unable to navigate increased defensive attention. Still, there are more shots and more touches available now, and that’s not insignificant for a young, rebuilding squad.

Those are big savings, and they’re savings that could help Ujiri reshape the roster. Flexibility and cap space are transactional currencies that extend beyond attracting big-name free agents to Toronto.

But here’s the thing, as you’re well aware: the Raptors haven’t made further moves to bottom out, and whether it be from addition by subtraction or addition by addition, the team has gotten much better since the deal. They’re 26-22 overall, tops in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference, and those rankings don’t look like mirages. They are a top-four team in the East – damning praise though that may be – and we’re looking at a possible playoff series with home court advantage.

In the immortal words of DeMar DeRozan, this team had the option to sink or float (I know it’s sink or swim, but he said sink or float), and they’re out here like Michael Phelps.

Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System ranks the Raptors as the league’s 11th best outfit and the third best team in the East. ESPN’s Hollinger Power Rankings agree on both counts, and they miss the playoffs in just five out of 5,000 ESPN Playoff Odds simulations (hilariously winning the title 4.6 percent of the time). The defense ranks sixth overall, the offense 13th.

But even this lofty praise kind of skews how good the Raptors have been since the deal went down. Consider:

Toronto Raptors W L Ortg Rank DRtg Rank Net Rating Rank
To Dec 7 6 12 101 19 102.1 16 -1 19
Since Dec 8 20 10 105.9 10 99.6 5 6.3 5

The trade of Gay coincided with a major spike in offense and an improvement on defense.They’re now an above-average offense and a nearly-elite defense. The former isn’t surprising given that Gay had performed so poorly (with high usage), well below his expected level of performance. The latter, however, is a bit more surprising considering Gay, when engaged, was one of the team’s best individual defenders. Terrence Ross has been embracing the stopper’s role and Hayes is a solid post defender, but none of the other acquisitions are major plusses on defense.

Perhaps head coach Dwane Casey simply feels more free to have the team rely on the system rather than Gay checking the opposing team’s best player. Maybe the improved offense has just flowed into better defense, with better effort and, since they’re scoring more frequently, fewer transition opportunities for opponents.

Specifically, the team went from allowing 20.7 3-point attempts and 23.3 free throw attempts per game to allowing 18.8 and 22.8, respectively. They also went from allowing 30.5 attempts a game within five feet and a 57.9 percent mark in that area to allowing 30.2 at a 55.4 percent clip. These are tiny gains on their own (two fewer threes, an extra stop in the paint, one less And-1 a game) but add up pretty quickly, hence the additional 2.5 points per 100 possessions (PPC) that the team is saving.

The primary story has been on offense, however, and it’s easy to see why; the narrative is simple. Gay was using 30.6 percent of the team’s possessions with a league-average player efficiency rating (PER) and one of the worst true shooting percentage imaginable (42.1 percent). Simply spreading those shots out to more efficient players was bound to improve the offense, while the less tangible benefits of better ball movement and a less obvious offensive scheme would also improve the team’s scoring rate.

And, well, yup:

Toronto Raptors Ortg Rank 3FGA/gm FGA in 5ft/gm FG% in 5ft FTA/gm Ast%
To Dec 7 101 19 21.4 30.4 53.30% 25.6 49.20%
Since Dec 8 105.9 10 23.5 24.6 58.30% 23.4 62.30%

The two things that stand out the most are the additional two threes a game and the huge spike in assist rate. If we assume assist rate is a fair proxy for ball movement (and perhaps even “ease of baskets”), that spike pretty much explains everything you need to know about the post-Rudy Raptors. Yes, they’re getting to the rim and to the line slightly less, which is a drawback, but the positive is outweighing the negative in a major way.

At the individual level, it’s been Lowry who has had the biggest impact, using nearly three percent more of the team’s possessions while being the team’s most efficient scorer and best creator. DeRozan has used more possessions and doesn’t score all that efficiently, but he’s also improved his passing a great deal and rarely turns the ball over. Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson have all had similar upticks in usage, and all three are using those possessions more efficiently than Gay was.

Player pre-Trade pre-Trade pre-Trade post-Trade post-Trade post-Trade
Player Usg% TS% Ast% Usg% TS% Ast%
DeRozan 26.7 52.3 11.3 30 51.1 18.3
Lowry 19.1 54.9 26.7 21.8 59.2 31.8
Ross 16.2 51.9 5.4 19.8 54.1 5.5
Valanciunas 18.4 51.2 3.7 20.1 57.5 3.7
Johnson 16.5 60.2 6.3 17.9 57.5 6.3
Gay 31.1 46.4 9.5

Of course, Gay himself has turned things around in Sacramento, which simple regression would have predicted (though probably not to this degree) . Even though the Kings are 16-32 overall and just 10-15 with Gay in uniform, they’ve got what they signed up for from him.

Here’s how all the players traded have fared:

Player pre-Trade pre-Trade pre-Trade pre-Trade post-Trade post-Trade post-Trade post-Trade
Player MPG TS% PPG USG% MPG TS% PPG USG%
Gay 35.5 46.8 19.4 30.6 33.9 61.1 20.7 25.9
Acy 8.7 54.2 2.7 14.5 15.6 56.9 3.4 9.5
Gray 5 64.4 1.3 17.8 10.9 43 1.7 12.2
Patterson 24.4 45.7 6.9 15.4 22.4 56.7 9.6 19.1
Vasquez 25.8 53.6 9.8 18.1 19.3 45.2 7 22.3
Hayes 11.2 47 2.1 10.4 14.4 46.2 2.7 11.3
Salmons 24.7 43.7 5.8 13.3 24.5 52.1 6.4 12.9

That’s a lot of numbers to say that Patterson and Gay (and Acy, to some degree) have been the beneficiaries, Vasquez has been the one lowlight (more on that Friday) and the others are just kind of there. (Okay, Salmons has been good, too, I begrudgingly admit while fully expecting that performance to regress soon.)

In any case, it’s a far different Raptors team that will take the floor on Wednesday night than the one Gay and company left behind. The game itself means little more than one of 82 on a schedule and a chance to secure a winning record on a five-game west coast road trip (seriously!), but it makes for a nice point of reflection.

Nothing was the same, basically.

24 Responses to “Here’s What’s Changed Since You Left, Rudy Gay”

  1. mike, prague

    I’m glad to see the improvements in Gay’s and Acy’s game. Especially Acy, he deserves. Loved how he was cheering on Ross when he scored 51.

    Good read.

    Reply
  2. Matteemo

    I think part of the reason for the uptick on the defensive end since the trade is because we quite regularly played Gay at the 4 spot and when we did we tended to get hammered inside (only basing this on the eye test, no numbers to back that claim up). Whereas now we pretty much always have 2 bigs (term used loosely as Hayes is only 6’6″) on the floor with a more typical power forward manning the 4 spot (1 of Johnson, Patterson or Hansbrough). Although Gay was a good rebounder and neither Patterson or Hansbrough are big time rim protectors, they still seem to do a much better job bodying opposing bigs and making life difficult in the paint.

    Reply
  3. The Red Fury

    Good article however I have beef with one small line. The line represents what I am seeing from a lot of scared fans afraid to actually consider what we have here is a great team. Because fans / writers are afraid of disappointment.

    I don’t know why it’s ‘hilarious’ the raptors do have a bit over a 4% chance of winning the championship according to those odds calculators. There is nothing hilarious about it. It does not make me laugh. It makes me feel great about this team. There is still a lot of basketball to be played and a lot more gelling / learning to be done before the playoffs. How can you be a true fan and laugh at your own team for potentially making the finals? However small the chances might be, it is a possibility. Injuries happen, Jonas / TRoss have a lot more time to develop as playoffs draw closer and closer. As well as the team as a whole. Is there truly a small chance they make the finals? Yes. Is it laughable? Absolutely not. If they can make it to the semi-finals facing either Miami / Indiana, am I going to forfeit my belief as a fan that there is zero chance of winning this series? No I’m not. And neither are the Raptors. Because they believe in themselves, and we should believe in them too. Get on the train people or you are going to be left behind.

    Reply
    • DDayLewis

      Dude, chill out. It’s an oddity on the spreadsheet. Do the Raptors actually have a 4% chance of winning the championship? Sure, but it’s just odd, that’s all.

      Reply
      • siggian

        Actually, with a very good defense and above average offense, perhaps 4% might be understating their championship chances. We know that the champions typically have a top 5 defense and the Raptors potentially have that. Offense must be at least competent (if paired with an incredible defense) and more offensive ability the team has, the less pressure that there is on the defense.

        Raptors fans have been conditioned to expect the worse, because, well, Raptors.

        Reply
        • DDayLewis

          I’m sure Hollinger’s model factors in their defensive performance, in addition to a myriad of other factors. The number is certainly up for debate, but Hollinger’s research and knowledge supersedes any of ours, so I’m more inclined to trust his computations.

          Your point about championships having stalwart defenses is very true, and it’s an encouraging sign for this Raptors team.

          Reply
      • The Red Fury

        Expressing passion/commentary for the team that I love and have been following for years… no, I will not ‘chill out’. But I’ll certainly keep your request top of mind…

        Reply
    • Marshall

      Loved the article. I kind of agree with Red but not just specifically with this piece.

      As of now the Raps have the 4th most effective defense in the league, rated ahead of the mighty Spurs. Yet Blake refers to them as “nearly elite D”. They are in fact, an Elite defensive team. There are no two ways about it. 96.4 PA is incredible given what was expected of them.

      This is something that seems to permeate a majority of articles written about the Raps this season. There is always a caveat, always an allowance for regression to the norm. But guess what folks, this IS the new norm. 20-10 is nothing to sneeze at!

      As far as the Raps chances of winning a title, I would love to see that, obviously, do I see it happening short of a season ending injury to Lebron? (I believe we match up well with the Pacers and could push them in a 7 game series, and who knows…) Probably not.

      But if there’s one thing this team has been teaching us all season….never count them out.

      Reply
      • truth be told

        its hard to say something is definitively the new norm, when it hasn’t been kept up for more than half a season, no?

        It’s cool to be enthusiastic but just like there are many pessimistic fans round these parts based on what they have seen historically, the notion that what we see is what will be from now on, is also typical raptor fan sentiment.

        I would start calling it a norm once they at least get through a season and can continue this type of play into the future.

        Reply
        • Marshall

          That’s fair. I didn’t mean to sound as if they’ve “arrived” or anything like that. Just that with their defense being what it is coupled with the fact that they ALWAYS play hard (even if it’s not always for 4 quarters), they are almost always in a great position to get a win.

          They aren’t an Elite team overall, their ranking of 11th sounds about right to me. I feel as long as Masai keeps the core rotation intact along with Casey going forward, I don’t expect their play to change.

          And if it does, well at least we had a good ride and something to cheer for besides a lottery pick this year!

          Reply
          • truth be told

            Defence is definitely the key as you’ve pointed out. If they can stay a top 10 defensive team, that bodes very well for their fortunes moving forward.

            Reply
            • GetLicks

              Oh my God. Something positive from truth be told. I think I just saw a pig fly by my window! A good sign…

              Reply
    • moe

      its hilarious because raps have a better chance then the heat… like come on, the playoff odd is so flawed. Knicks only 30% making playoffs? lol

      Reply
      • The Red Fury

        Knicks are terrible. The only reason they are finally playing better is because Primo is injured. Blessing in disguise. They have also felt the impact of not having Jason Kidd this year. Despite his limited minutes, he was the quarterback of that team. And I will not be shocked if they don’t make the playoffs.

        Reply
    • raptorstand

      The other line that doesn’t make sense is the Salmons line of he is sure he will suck soon …?? Seriously ?? that’s just negative to be negative. Whiffs of the septic tank.

      Reply
  4. KJ-B

    IMO the biggest good “The Trade” did was establish Ujiri/Leiweke as the unquestionable leaders of MLSE on the Basketball side.

    No matter who you were, you and your contract could and would be traded. No question that puts fear into the soul of any locker room. Which is why I’m in the minority of not giving Lowry my full All Star nod. He waited til the trade rumours to come full circle in cleaning up his act. He saw his good buddy play for 3 teams in less than a year and it woke him up when he was being asked next to walk the plank.

    Believe it or not the biggest hero in the Gay Trade is: JAMES DOLAN. This was the Alvin Willams for Danny Fortson rescinded trade that this version of the Raps needed to get rolling. Funny that both Lowry/Alvin are from Philly…

    Reply
    • raptorstand

      Nice post Kjb , leadership from the top putting fear into the team ? Makes you harken back to the olden days of the reign of terror that was Harold Ballard for all of Toronto fans.

      Reply

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  1.  Here's What's Changed Since You Left, Rudy Gay | distributioncourier
  2.  Here’s What’s Changed Since You Left, Rudy Gay | Blake Murphy Sports Writing

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