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Raptors First in East – Examining the Numbers

Entering the fourth week of the 2014-15 season the Toronto Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied with Golden State for the third best record in the Association. Though 10-games is a small sample size, looking at the numbers we can decipher some interesting facts as to why the Raptors have ascended to the upper tier.


Offensive Rating: Toronto ranks fifth in the NBA with 109 points scored per 100 possessions. A closer look has the Raptors in a virtual 3-way tie with New Orleans and Portland while Dallas is first and Cleveland has surged into second. Boston and Chicago are the two other Eastern teams who crack the top ten.

Offensive Rank Week 3

Defensive Rating: Toronto is tied for seventh with 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Eastern Conference has five teams who rank in the top ten defensively of which Milwaukee who ranks second is the only Eastern team in the top five. Washington ranks sixth, Indiana is ninth and Chicago completes the top ten.

Defensive Rank Week 3

Teams Ranked Top Ten in Offense and Defense:
Only four teams rank top ten in both offense and defense with an equal split of East and West representatives and once again Toronto makes the grade:

  • Golden State: seventh in offense and third in defense
  • Portland: fourth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
  • Toronto: fifth in offense and tied for seventh in defense
  • Chicago: ninth in offense and tenth in defense


Net Rating: Using the formula of taking a team’s offensive rating and subtracting their defensive rating provides the overall net rating. This principle reveals Toronto (8.4) as the highest ranked Eastern team sitting in fifth overall. Chicago ranks eighth, Washington is ninth and Cleveland tenth.

Net Ranking Week 3
The net ranking isn’t necessarily the best way to isolate the top ten teams especially with teams who allow their opponent to score above the league average. Conversely a team who ranks in the top ten defensively and can put points on the board has a greater propensity to rise up the chart. For example, Houston was in the top ten offensively last week but following the low scoring game vs. Oklahoma on Sunday (69-65) they fell out of the top ten offense however still find themselves first in defense and third in net ranking.

To be fair this early in the season one game like this can completely skew the numbers and subsequently a team’s placement. Case in point the offensive explosion by Cleveland this week versus New Orleans (118), Boston (122) and Atlanta (127) found them jumping to second in offense (110.7) yet they rank twenty-fifth in defense allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions and of the 3-games above only held Atlanta under 100 points.


Turnovers: Toronto ranks first for fewest turnovers with 11.6 per 100 possessions. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider the amount of individual ball handling the Raptors utilize. Three other East teams rank in the top ten: Cleveland (4), Detroit (7) and Washington (8).


Free Throws: The Raptors rank second for Free Throws Made (24.4) and Attempted (31.4) behind Sacramento who ranks first in both categories. Cleveland (7th in attempts/5th in makes) and Chicago (9th in attempts/makes) join Toronto as the only other Eastern teams in the top ten. The Raptors get to the line because they aggressively take the ball into the paint and have three players in DeRozan, Lowry and Williams who are masters at drawing fouls from outside the paint.


Points: Toronto ranks fifth in scoring with 106 points per game. Two other Eastern teams in the top ten are Cleveland who ranks third with 107.9 ppg and Boston who is fourth with 106.6 ppg.


Plus/Minus: A category every team aims to be in the top tier is plus/minus differential which highlights how much a team is winning or losing by. Toronto rank second with a plus 9.6 per game average and are the only Eastern team in the top five. Chicago (4.3) and Cleveland (3.8) also make the top ten however their point differential is less than half of Toronto.


Opposition Turnover Rate: While Toronto is taking care of the ball with the fewest turnovers in the Association they are also forcing turnovers on the defensive end ranking third by forcing 18.9 per 100 possessions.

Steals: A category the Raptors have shown improvement in over last season is steals. Through the first 3-weeks Toronto is tied with Memphis in sixth with 8.5 steals per game.

Steals through week 3


Fourth Quarter Dominance: If there was one area Toronto wanted to carry forward this season it would be their league leading fourth quarter dominance. Happily this trend continues with the Raptors ranking first with a plus 4.9 point differential. Though other Eastern teams made the top ten none of them (Atlanta, Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte) factor into the top ten of the other main categories.


Clutch: Looking closer at how the Raptors perform in clutch situations we find the Raptors are by far the best team in the NBA with a 143 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations. Looking at the top Eastern teams (Chicago, Cleveland, Washington) their closest competitor is Cleveland almost 30 points lower with 115.3 points per 100 possessions. Putting this into perspective Toronto’s clutch net ranking is plus 38.4 while Cleveland has a plus 9.6 differential.


Intangibles: This is another area the Raptors are showcasing their growth. Specifically, the Raptors rank third for the points they score off turnovers with 20.9 per game, sixth in scoring off second chance points with 14.8 per game and are tied for eleventh in fast break points with 12.9 per game.


Arguably more impressive is Toronto ranks first in not allowing teams to score when they do turn the ball over holding teams to 12.6 points per game and rank sixth for the amount of points their opposition scores on the fast break with 10.3. While there are definitely areas of the defense to clean up these stats highlight teams are not scoring as much this season in transition and Toronto is quick to respond on the defensive end following a turnover.


Miscellaneous: Other areas the Raptors are performing above average are PIE where they rank eighth, Pace where they rank eleventh and while they rank sixteenth in three point percentage this is a huge jump considering they’ve climbed from almost dead last the first week of the season.


Individual Honors:


Kyle Lowry: I’d love to take credit for my constant tweeting on the subject, but regardless of how it occurred Kyle Lowry climbed into the top ten MVP candidates this week. He makes his inaugural appearance at number 7 on the list. Considering the fact Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are ranked after our team captain it’s actually pretty heady company he joins.


Terrence Ross: Though there has been great debate on the boards regarding Terrence Ross’ growth or lack thereof this season the stats showcase some interesting numbers which point to his improvement:

  • First in offensive rate – when Ross is on the court the team scores 114.2 points per 100 possessions.
  • Defensive rank: of the starters Ross has the second best defensive rank (teams score 104.2 points per 100 possessions) which ranks him above DeRozan (104.5) Lowry (105.2) and Valanciunas (106.3) respectively
  • Second in net rating for the starters with a +9.9
  • Second on team for Pace behind only Vasquez meaning the team scores more often when he is on the court
  • Ross’ 57% true shooting percentage and 51.8% effective field goal percentage ranks first on the team
  • Surprisingly Ross ranks second in rebound percent with 51.3%

*Note: though Greg Steimsma and Landry Fields do register at the top of some categories they were removed from this analysis based on their lack of playing time.


Amir Johnson: Yes we all know he is playing injured, but the fact remains he is still the defensive mainstay on the Raptors even with James Johnson giving him a run for his money in some defensive categories. Amir ranks first in all rebound categories: 28.2% in offensive rebounds, 77.4% in defensive rebounds and 54% overall. His +11.9 net rating ties with James Johnson as team best. And, he ranks second in effective field goal percent (51.6%), third in true shooting percentage (56.1%) and has the highest PIE of the starters with 56%.


Raptors Who Rank in NBA Leaders:


Scoring:

  • DeRozan ranks 16 with 21.2 points
  • Lowry ranks 32 with 18.3 points

Rebounds:

  • Valanciunas ranks 28 with 8.0 rebounds


Assists:

  • Lowry ranks 20 with 5.8 assists

Steals:

  • DeRozan ranks 7 with 1.9 steals

Field Goal Percentage:

  • James Johnson – 57.4% *10
  • Amir Johnson – 55.8% *14
  • Valanciunas – 50% *tied 32
  • Lowry ranks 44 with 48.5%

Free Throw %:

  • Vasquez – 93.3% *6
  • Ross – 90.9% *10
  • Patterson – 83.3% *42
  • DeRozan ranks 46 with 82.8%

Three Point %:

  • Amir Johnson- 50% *9
  • Patterson ranks 24 with 42.9%
  • Ross – ranks 29 with 41.7%

Blocks:

  • James Johnson tied at 21 with 1.4
  • Amir Johnson tied at 22 with 1.3
  • Valanciunas tied at 22 with 1.3

*Note: these players do not appear on NBA.com leader board likely due to the number of attempts however their stats rank them as listed

Moving forward there are clearly areas the Raptors need to clean up, specifically lowering opposing team field goal percent as well as improving their rebound and assist totals. An argument can be made however that Toronto has been successful at driving the ball and getting fouled, affecting those assist totals. Certainly we’ll be watching closely as we move into the next ten games with a close eye to see which of the above categories improve.

For now the fact the Toronto Raptors find themselves once again in the top ten of both offense and defense in the league is definitely a positive to build upon. Today NBA.com and ESPN ranked the Raptors as the eighth best team behind only Chicago in the East.


Perhaps the best pronouncement of the early season came via Mike Fratello dubbed the Tzar and Rick Fox who exclaimed Saturday on NBA’s Game Time:

Fratello: “Excuse me, ah Chicago, Cleveland: Toronto is the number one team in the East!”

Fox: “Say it again – We The North!”

Enjoy the games this week as the Raptors face first place Memphis on Wednesday, Milwaukee on Friday and offensive juggernaut Cleveland on Saturday.

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