Note: Clearly, I am itching to learn lessons from the NBA. I am so itchy, in fact, that the limit of only two games of data will not deter me from writing about the team. I shouldn’t be doing this, but maybe some trends can be inferred. So it is important for me to note here that all of my lessons have small, noisy sample sizes.
1) The Raptors have empowered their shooters to shoot whenever, from basically wherever. Sidebar: pretty much everyone on the team now considers himself a shooter, even Lucas Nogueira! Serge Ibaka jacked up 14 3s in just 39 minutes. He has had a usage rate of over 30 (leads all starters). Some of his shots are incredibly poor choices, such as when he took this leaning, running, contested, mid-range fade away:
While Ibaka shouldn’t be shooting like that, he isn’t the only one shooting a huge number of distance shots. C.J. Miles is also slinging guns like a cowboy, but thus far like a poorly-aimed cowboy. He is shooting 5 attempts per game from 25+ feet and connecting on only 20% of them. Here is an example of Miles shooting off the dribble, coming off a screen, like Steph Curry:
Miles is one of the best standstill shooters in the league, but his percentages plummet as soon as he dribbles as the ball. One more problem with the above shot: as a lefty, coming off a screen to his right, Miles offers his defender the easiest possible angle to contest his shot. Regardless, he should start canning far more jumpers, especially as he becomes more integrated into the Raptors’ scheme and gets more rhythm taking the shots he likes and rejecting the ones he doesn’t.
Furthermore, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have played passively, but that is due to the preseason nature of the games. They don’t need to hone their skills, as they have both played in fine form. Expect their shot attempts and minutes to skyrocket when the season begins and the shot attempts of their supporting role players to decline.
2) The Raptors still have a dearth of playmakers on their roster. Lowry and DeRozan are both elite, tier-one playmakers of the NBA. They can create good shots for themselves or anyone else on the court whenever they please. The Raps can boast at bare minimum a league average offense with just one of them on the court (or far better, in the case of Lowry).
But when those two sit, the Raptors have few players on the court who can create efficient shots for themselves and others. The newly minted $42M man, Norman Powell does his best, but Raptors’ possessions with Powell on the court, and no Lowry or DeRozan, have often devolved into iso ball at the end of the shot clock. It looks ugly when he can’t get to the rim:
Delon Wright and Fred Van Vleet have performed admirably, but neither is comfortable enough yet to guide an offense again starter-level defense into efficient shots, every time down the floor. Can Jonas Valanciunas anchor an offense for 5 minutes at a time? Can enough Powell drives, Pascal Siakam run outs, and Jakob Poeltl screens combine to keep the Raptors’ heads above water? Thus far, the answer is a resounding no. Fortunately, the Raps should never have a minute (barring injury) without one of DeRozan or Lowry on the court, so the ugliest pre-season ball from the Raps shouldn’t carry over to the regular season.
3) Is Nogueira back in the Raptors’ rotation? It sure looks like it! In almost 21 minutes a game, he boasts an absurd 3.0 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. He offers a solid 100.0 defensive rating on the back of his ability to hold opponents to low shooting percentages all across the floor when he’s playing:
|Shot Attempts per game||Shooting Percentage (%)|
Ok, ok, yeah, I know. These are craaaazy small sample sizes and most likely have more to do with individual Clippers players and their individual shot attempts than Nogueira himself. But there is still enough here to get excited about.
Poeltl is a good defender because he is smart and leverages his body quickly and smartly into driving angles. Nogueira is a good defender because he creates something from nothing, occasionally snuffing away a sure thing for his hapless opponents. To put it statistically, while Poeltl makes the defense marginally better on every possession, perhaps reducing an opponents’ field goal percentage by one or two percentage points while he is defending them, Nogueira is able to sometimes reduce an opponents’ field goal percentage from 100% to 0% with a swing of his gargantuan arms. Just look at this:
That is some heady defense right there. Bebe blocks two shots on two consecutive defensive possessions, corrals both rebounds, and this leads directly to 5 Raptors points. That is some high-upside basketball! Bring on the season, baby.