Here I am waiting in the lobby as my car’s getting an oil change and I remember that I got to write something for this Wednesday.  If it weren’t severely off-topic, I would write, in great detail, about how the early-30s salesman is hitting on the young cashier without success.  He’ll probably go home still thinking about her, whereas she’ll be out with her 20-something friends at a Boston Pizza in the suburbs “living it up” and Instagramming the whole experience, filters intact and the camera angles tailored to hide her lesser features.  Maybe I’m too quick to dismiss the feasibility or the potential of this union – maybe she should pause and cater to the advances made, and contemplate what, in the grand scheme of things, this chap has to offer.  A steady income at the very least, maybe even a house, and most certainly a car.   Something to think about, though he’s likely married.

Back to basketball and I’ve got to thinking about driving the ball.  On observation alone you are likely to make a case that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the two main drivers of the ball on the Raptors.  You would be right as DeRozan ranks 20th in the league in drives per game at 7.2 and Lowry sits at 35 with 6.2 drives per game.  A drive here is defined as “any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks”. Not surprisingly, Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, and Monta Ellis are the top drivers of the ball in the NBA.   That’s all well and good, but what is the effectiveness of those drives?  If you look at how many points their respective teams get from their drives, the same three lead the pack again.  OK, so these players drive a lot and their teams reap the benefits.  Simplistic stuff.

Where things get interesting from a Raptors perspective is when we consider points per drive, i.e., irrespective of how many drives a player makes, how many points per drive does their team get out of it? Among players who drive more than five times a game, Lowry ranks fourth in the NBA getting his team 1.27 points per drive.  That’s only behind Kevin Durant (1.45), LeBron James (1.32) and James Harden (1.29).   This, at the very least, indicates that Lowry driving the ball is hugely beneficial to the unit.  The difference  between him and, Durant and James is that when the latter two drive, they tend to finish at the rim at a much higher percentage than Lowry (Lowry is at 50%, whereas Durant and James are at 59% and 64%, respectively).  That’s acceptable because Lowry is a smaller player who will look to pass more often than try to finish among the trees.

DeRozan is 12th at 1.22 points per drive.  DeRozan, on average, drives one more time than Lowry and has a lesser yield.   Why? Partially because he shoots 48.7% on drives which is slightly lower than Lowry’s 50%.  You might have also surmised that this is because he doesn’t pass well out of drive situations.  Assists alone aren’t a good indicator of a player’s effectiveness in these situations because in most cases the defense makes the initial rotation, and it’s the second rotation they fall short on, which is what the “secondary assists per game” stat tell us (basically, a hockey assist).  Kyle Lowry is at 1.5 hockey assists per game (18th) whereas DeRozan is at 0.8 (86th).  Keep in mind that it’s awfully difficult for shooting guard’s to keep this stat high, for instance, the first non-PG to appear on the list is Gordon Hayward at 27th, followed by LeBron James at 28th , both at 1.3.

In the absence of a statistic correlating drives with hockey assists, if we focus on this aspect of the offense, i.e., what DeRozan does after he drives, it may be a constraint we can exploit to good effect.  DeRozan is already excellent at getting himself to the paint, it’s what he does next, or what the court setup allows him to do next, that can be examined here.  I found that when he got to the lane, he often had one outcome in mind: getting to the FT line.  It’s a solid strategy and it carried the Raptors last year as he averaged a 8 FTs which was good for 7th in the NBA.  To elevate his game, though, Dwane Casey has to structure the court in a way that there are multiple outcomes on his drives and that they don’t do or die solely on the basis of him getting to the FT line.

Adding a slasher like James Johnson will help in this regard because he provides a moving option on the court, which is what Landry Fields was supposed to be.  Throwing Lou Williams into the mix should also help in terms of court-spacing and a full year with Patrick Patterson – excellent at presenting himself – should help in this matter.  What the Raptors have here is a great weapon that attracts and collapses a defense.  Last year I thought the Raptors did the bare minimum in taking advantage of such a skill, and next season they have to make this a focal point because as DeRozan gets stronger and gains more experience, his ability to attract defenders will only improve.  It’s what he does next that’ll heavily influence the Raptors offense.

  • acfaubs

    Best opening paragraph in RR history.

    • j bean

      Thought I was on the wrong site and was reading the opening of a Times Best Sellers novel.

    • webfeat

      I for one wouldn’t mind reading more about the salesman and the cashier.

  • puffer

    Great topic and worth looking at. One can only hope that in going over the past seasons games, Casey and staff find a variety of options that have opened up for the player because of the improved roster. I think the Raptors did fine during the regular season, partially because other teams only saw them a few times after the Gay trade, and they had developed a completely different rhythm and attack. During the playoffs, the Nets were able to exploit the “one trick pony” aspects of their game. With almost a full season of playing together for the players, a full off-season for the coaching staff to analyse what they have, a full off-season for JV, Ross, DeMar, Johnson and Patterson to add to or build onto their personal skill set and a couple of interesting new wrinkles like Williams and James, the Raptors should be able to provide multiple different looks throughout the season and during the playoffs.

    • John

      Which is why I see the ECF as a realistic possibility this season, health permitting.

  • uke2themax

    “So you drove the ball to the net.” Pictured: a Brooklyn player. I see what you did there..

    • Justin Seto

      clever, I didn’t notice that

  • Roarque

    The next step for DDR is to engineer more “and ones” when he drives the ball. Harden is never satisfied with the two points from getting into the paint; he searches out a defender to make contact. Demar does this well but often misses the shot thereby “settling” for the two free throws.

    • Will

      I actually thought DeRozan did a pretty good job of getting and-ones last year, especially on jump shots. He does a good job of not releasing the shot until the last moment, after any potential contact.

      • Roarque

        So did I. But I’d be interested in the statistical comparison between DDR and Harden. As the two initiate a drive, who gets two points (from free throws) and who gets “two and one”? From Demar’s track record I have no doubt that he’s working hard on his handle so that he too can draw the foul and score on the shot as well.
        I’m not trying to knock DDR. I just want him to become a perennial all-star in the NBA.

    • Truth Teller

      Harden flops. Half his drives have no contact, so of course hes going to get the AND1

  • afrocarter

    I think an improvement in DeRozan’s court vision would really increase the effectiveness of his drives, especially when they come off the PnR and in transition. When you have bigs like Amir and JV rolling to the basket, you have to be able to find them with more regularity!

    • Trini

      His 4apg last year wasn’t too shabby, but if he can work on getting a couple more a game off pick n rolls/pops with our 3 bigs, we could become an elite offensive team.