If there's one thing I’m looking forward to on the Raptors this season, it's got to be the starting lineup of Lowry-DeRozan-Gay-Johnson-Valanciunas. After all the dust settled from injuries and the Gay trade, this lineup got a decent run of play towards the end of the season--and performed excellently. In 343 minutes together, this lineup was one of the top-performing lineups in the entire league! They shot much better than their opponent, with a group TS% of 56.7 vs. 48.5 for the other team. That's a very nice differential. With those 343 minutes, an offseason and a training camp under their belt, I'm eager to see what this group can do. However, there are some questions about this unit. Namely, how will JV get shots? Last year it was fine cause he was a rookie, but this year people will want him to be featured prominently in the offense. Is this feasible with two shot-happy wings and a (by nature) shot-first point guard? Well, let’s see how they did it this year (stats from nbawowy.com):
I took a look at the usage rates (USG) of all 5 players in their minutes together, and found an interesting pattern. Here are the usage rates when playing together, with their season averages in brackets:
Lowry: 14.4 (20.4)
DeRozan: 29.2 (24.5)
Gay: 26.4 (29.3)
Johnson: 14.2 (16.9)
Valanciunas: 17.1 (18.1)
Rather strange, right? So Rudy, JV and Amir’s USG went slightly down playing in this unit. Makes sense: if you’re playing with starters you’re probably going to shoot and handle the ball a little less than when you’re playing with bench guys.
But Lowry and DeRozan’s patterns are wonky. Kyle took a massive hit in usage, which I think is clear evidence of Dwane Casey harassing him to become a pass-first PG towards the end of the season. DeRozan, on the other hand, had his usage increase with this lineup! He was featured more prominently than Rudy Gay, the star of the team! Here are the FGA data:
172!?!? That’s massive!. That’s more than double everyone else’s total besides Rudy. So here’s the question: why was DeRozan all of a sudden taking more shots with this unit, and where was he taking those shots from? The answer is shockingly clear: long two’s. Here are the numbers of 2pt FGA from 16 ft and beyond for this unit:
Yeah, I know. 78. That’s 45% of DeRozan’s shots on this unit coming from 16-23 ft. DeRozan shot more long two’s than Lowry shot field goals. Now, DeRozan shoots a lot of those in general (39% of his shots, which was among the highest rates in the league), but it’s still a very large number.
So back to Valanciunas: will he be able to get shots? I think the answer is yes, but it is contingent on DeRozan not taking an ungodly amount of shots. Specifically, if DeRozan could shoot fewer long two’s that’d be splendid. Ideally I’d like to see Lowry’s USG jump up a bit cause he’s a competent scorer, and to have him not shoot is a bit of a waste. Johnson’s USG of 14.2 is low as it is, so I think at the very least that should stay put. I do love a little AJ though and would love to see his leaning jump hook thing featured more, but that’s not urgent. Rudy’s USG should also stay the same, as he’s the star player. With a few minor adjustments, I think he will be more efficient this year, and deserving of the number one role. JV’s USG has to go up though, and that leaves only DeRozan to take from. But I think that’s doable: take DeRozan down ~5% and that’s still a rate of 23%, right around his career average. Here are the USG rates I think should be featured come November:
This sums to 101.3, which was the total for the group this past season.