With 5:28 to play in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s blowout victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors may have gotten an irksome monkey off their back.
James Johnson found Patrick Patterson wide open in the left corner and Patterson canned the triple.
It mattered little for the game’s end result but the Raptors are likely hoping it’s a play that changed the tide for Patterson moving forward. Prior to that make, Patterson had missed four threes in the game and travelled collecting himself to attack closeouts on two other occasions. Stretching back four games, he had missed 13 consecutive 3-point attempts, and even the make couldn’t push his season-long conversion rate to 30 percent (it’s at 29.4).
Patterson’s primary value is derived from his ability to help stretch the floor from the power forward position. Because Patterson’s an ineffective rebounder and a game but merely average defender, he’s barely better than a replacement-level piece if he’s not knocking down outside looks. His shooting theoretically helps the Raptors get away with playing a rim-tethered center and a non-shooting shooting guard, and it gives head coach Dwane Casey the option to invert the offense when another range-challenged wing, like a James Johnson, takes the floor. Patterson’s stroke is why many argued he should start over Amir Johnson at times last season and why many believed he’d be the starter ahead of Luis Scola this year.
Things haven’t worked out that way for Patterson or the Raptors early on. He’s 10-of-34 from long-range, quite a divergence from his 36.5-percent career rate from outside and his 38.2-percent mark as a Raptor entering this season. All but two of those attempts were of the catch-and-shoot variety and all but one was classified as “open” or “wide open” by NBA.com. He’s missing remarkably easy looks for a player of his shooting caliber, and, like with Terrence Ross’ pre-injury struggles, the only real answer for the Raptors is to continue to be patient.
That’s not exactly a palatable answer, but it’s the only one the Raptors have. You can’t design more open looks than the ones Patterson is missing, and there’s nobody else to take those shots.
Ross was shooting 28 percent on threes before his injury and DeMarre Carroll was shooting 33.3 percent from outside before his current plantar fasciitis-mandated three-game reprieve. Outside of Kyle Lowry (a robust 38.8 percent) and Patterson, Ross and Carroll are supposed to be the team’s big outside threats. The players tasked with replacing them, namely Johnson and Norman Powell, have 3-point shooting as weaknesses on their respective scouting reports, even if Powell’s jumper is looking tighter aesthetically. Scola is a surprising 5-of-10 from outside but DeRozan remains ineffective at 3-of-13 and despite decent numbers in several small samples over the course of his NBA and D-League career, Cory Joseph remains blatantly hesitant to shoot from outside (2-of-7) or even from mid-range when defenders go under screens. (And would-be stretch-four Anthony Bennett is decidedly a won’t-be stretch-four.)
On Wednesday, the Raptors finished 5-of-18 from outside, the sixth consecutive game in which they’ve hit five or fewer threes, their longest such streak since the tail end of the 2010-11 season. For a franchise known more for ridiculous streaks of 3-point success, it’s a stark contrast.
The Raptors rank 23rd in the NBA with a 31.6-percent mark on triples. What’s worse, they rank 25th in the proportion of shots that come from outside the arc, taking 23.8 percent of their attempts from outside. As the league continues to shift to a more 3-point heavy approach – it’s not a fad, as those shots are higher efficiency propositions than shots from the mid-range – the Raptors play like somewhat of a Grizzlies-adjace relic.
The numbers don’t get much better breaking them down further. The Raptors have hit 32.9 percent of threes classified as open or wide open and rank 24th in catch-and-shoot situations from anywhere on the floor. Meanwhile, they’re 8-of-40 on pull-up threes and while they’re average shooting from the corners, those pull-ups serve to drop their above-the-break 3-point percentage below 30 percent (29.8). The Raptors are hurt some by the fact that they rank second in 3-point attempts (7-of-27) with the shot clock off (potential late-quarter heaves) but the bulk of their attempts come with seven or more seconds left on the clock, hardly rushed looks.
The Raptors are, put simply, not a strong shooting team. At least not with Ross and Carroll out, both players and Patterson struggling, and little in the way of shooting on the bench. (That last point and the struggles of Ross and Patterson have also served to highlight another preseason concern: Bench scoring. But that’s for another day.)
Worrying over the offense as a whole may be a bit premature, sure. The Raptors rank ninth in offensive efficiency (seventh if you prefer Basketball Reference over NBA.com, as the two sites calculate possession totals differently), and they’re 6-3. Surprisingly, the offense has outplayed the defense so far, though that’s in part a product of Carroll missing time. The offense has been a little better than average but it may not be able to hold up as such without better shooting unless the Raptors can maintain extreme performances in other areas.
The offense is succeeding because the Raptors do two other high-efficiency things very well: No team has made more free throws per game (only the Clippers attempt more per-field goal attempt), and the Raptors rank fourth in offensive rebounding rate. The free-throws are a legitimate part of the Raptors’ approach to offense and stand as a nice counter to shooting issues. The team also ranks sixth in shots per-game within five feet of the rim, another high-efficiency endeavor. The offensive rebounding success is subject to tactical changes, and Casey may opt to get less aggressive crashing the glass in response to the team’s occasional struggles with transition defense. For now, they’re getting aggressive in turning a good chunk of their missed looks into second chances and living at the line, long a Raptors staple.
In other words, the Raptors seem to recognize that they’re not a good outside shooting team and have game-planned well to try to make up for it. For Ross, Carroll, and Patterson, the shooting will regress closer to their established rates and the offense will see a boost as a result. As hard as it is, patience with the injuries and Patterson’s slump are the only real answers to the shooting struggles. That puts undue pressure on the rest of the offense in the meantime but probably isn’t the end of the world.