The Toronto Raptors have played 22 games this season, meaning it’s now safe to start looking at statistics for meaningful trends and performance indicators. While there are still three quarters of the season to be be played, 10 Raptors have played 200 or more minutes already, and they’re the usual suspects:
|Player||Games Played||Total Minutes|
Even with these totals, however, only two of the Raptors’ five-man units have played 100 minutes or more together, which is usually the lowest accepted baseline when evaluating five-man lineups. Luckily, 34 two-man lineups have played 100 minutes or more together, and while two-man lineups are less likely to offer a full, nuanced look at how players perform together than five-man or even four-man lineups, they still hold some value and can highlight some interesting trends.
For example, according to NBA.com, the Raptors’ best offensive duo so far has been Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph. Those two have played 127 minutes together this season, and sport a great offensive rating of 119.4. It’s important to contextualize that data, though. Three of the Raptors’ best offensive lineups with Valanciunas and Joseph also have one of Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll, or DeMar DeRozan on the floor as well, suggesting that while Valanciunas and Joseph undoubtedly have a positive effect on the Raptors’ offense, they’re also fortunate enough to play significant minutes with some of the Raptors’ better players.
In fact, the Raptors’ best offensive five-man lineup with 30 or more minutes played this season happens to be all five of those players. Granted, that particular lineup has spent only 34 minutes together, but its net rating of 27.2 is exceptional even when accounting for the sample size. What does that mean, exactly? It means that a lineup of Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Carroll, and Valanciunas outscores opponents by an average of 27.2 points per 100 possessions. However you cut it, that’s phenomenal. Small ball really is the future.
Defensively, the Raptors’ best two-man lineup is Lowry and James Johnson, who’ve managed a defensive rating of 87.9 in 108 minutes together. Perhaps most interesting about that particular duo is that a significant number of their minutes together have also included Patrick Patterson. Patterson’s not a poor defender, but he’s not a great one, either. I suspect that the Raptors’ ability to switch on screens with both Johnson and Patterson on the floor is a big part of why this lineup is so successful on the defensive end. Both are capable perimeter defenders so long as they aren’t guarding the opponent’s point guard, and we all know the impact Lowry has on defense when he’s fully engaged.
(Side note: Johnson currently has the Raptors’ highest individual net rating, at 12. So that’s something.)
Terrence Ross, as you might expect if you’ve watched even five Raptors games this season, appears in very few of the Raptors’ better lineups. He had a great game against the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of days ago, and if he’s able to sustain that level of play, he should start popping up soon.
Ross’ defensive metrics are okay in most cases, though just how responsible he is for those numbers is debatable. Opponents shoot 41 percent from the field against the Raptors when Ross is on the floor, versus 43.5 percent when he’s off (as well as 34.9 percent from behind the arc when he’s on versus 37.2 percent when he’s off). For the record, opponents are shooting 42.8 percent against the Raptors overall, and 36.6 percent from behind the 3-point line. You might not want to hear this –– and you’re welcome to dispute it –– but Ross has the seventh-best net rating on the team, ahead of players like DeRozan and Carroll.
Again, while we can finally extrapolate some meaning from this season’s statistics, there are bound to be some outliers and misleading findings. Ross’ impact happens to be the latter if you’ve watched any Raptors games, though his defense has been passable more often than not. Still, maybe we’re so fixed on him underperforming –– especially given his new contract –– that we’re ready to crucify him for crimes he didn’t necessarily commit, or at least for crimes we’ve greatly exaggerated. His greatest weakness right now is some combination of his shot selection and shooting percentages, both of which are relatively easy to improve. But I digress.
As things stand, the Raptors’ best lineup is almost certainly Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Carroll, and Valanciunas. But with Valanciunas out until at least January, it’s probably Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Johnson, and Patterson. It’s often forgotten that basketball is ultimately a team sport, and rarely are things as simple as putting the best players on the floor together. Some players are able to mitigate others’ weaknesses and exploit their strengths at the same time. And while it’s a bit of a buzzword these days, chemistry is very real and has a tremendous impact on a given lineup’s effectiveness, regardless of the sum of a lineup’s parts.
It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve seen head coach Dwane Casey turn to both of those lineups in crunch time, or when the Raptors need to get on track and close a gap or extend a lead so the victory brigade can make an appearance. It will be very interesting to return to this topic in a few months, when Valanciunas is back and Ross has a few dozen more games to round out his numbers.