Written By: Kent Tukeli
Depending on point of view, New Year’s resolutions for the Toronto Raptors range from ridiculous to reasonable. Resolving to sign DeMarcus Cousins would be a nifty but unreasonable goal, similar to promising Vancouver another NBA franchise.
Vinsanity defined Canadian basketball for a couple of generations, but there’s never been a better time than now to be a Toronto Raptors fan.
Instead of absurd New Year’s resolutions, let’s dive into the numbers to reveal realistic tweaks in 2018. A few minor improvements would improve Raptors online betting odds with Bodog Canada, and Toronto’s chances of winning the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history.
New Year’s Resolutions – Offence
The Raptors become extremely difficult to guard when they commit to consistent ball movement. Toronto’s 11th in the league with 22.8 assists per game, a massive improvement over last season, when the Raps were dead last with 18.5 APG.
Iso-ball became painfully problematic when Toronto was nearly booted out of the first round during the 2017 playoffs. Coach Kidd adjusted the Bucks defensive scheme, assaulting DeRozan and Lowry in the paint while daring anyone else to hit shots.
Coach Casey, DeRozan and Lowry should receive credit for successfully switching strategy, but the team still falls back on old habits every now and then, wasting precious possessions with dinosaur-era roundball. Perpetual ball motion gives the Raptors the best odds of transcending expectations.
Run Raptors Run
Despite forcing the third-most turnovers in the association, the Raptors rank 10th in pace, according to NBA statisticians. These numbers suggest that Toronto doesn’t run the floor enough when given transition opportunities.
The best teams in the league step on your throat in transition, converting turnovers into easy points. Increased aggression after turnovers will help the Raps improve both assist and three-point production for the rest of the campaign.
Better Three Point Conversion
Toronto attempts 7.6 more threes per game this season, a strategy which would reap greater results if they weren’t sixth worst in the league with a .350 three-point percentage. Given the additional volume, a small dip in three-point efficiency would be understandable, but the Raptors plunged 13 percentage points compared to 2016-17.
Maintaining zippy ball movement and running the floor will help the squad edge back towards the league average, which hovers around 36 percent from beyond the arc.
New Year’s Resolutions – Defense
Reduce Fouls Via Smart Aggression
During the 2017-18 campaign, the average NBA team cedes 1.3 fewer free throw attempts per game, a trend the Raptors have failed to adhere to. Toronto infractions this year remain remarkably consistent compared to the previous annum, averaging 20.3 personal fouls in both seasons while allowing 0.1 fewer free throws this season.
Toronto’s fourth in steals and second in blocked shots, helping the team rank ninth in points allowed per game. Teams with superior defences tend to reduce aggression just enough to prevent a high rate of shooting fouls – except for the Memphis Grizzlies, who foul as a way of life.
The numbers imply that Toronto would be close to top-five in PPG allowed if they reduced opportunities at the charity stripe to a league average of 16.7 free throws on 21.8 attempts. San Antonio giving up the fewest PPG and the least number of free throws isn’t coincidental.
Chase Teams Off Perimeter Without Exposing Paint
Perimeter defence represents the most impressive improvement for the Raptors on that side of the ball this year. Toronto was in the middle of the pack last year, letting teams rain 9.7 threes on 27.3 attempts per game. In 2017-18, the Raps have locked down the perimeter, allowing only 9.1 threes on 25.9 attempts per game, reducing opponents’ success rate by four percentage points.
Unfortunately, the Raptors now allow more two-point attempts at a higher success rate. Enemies hit 1.3 additional two-points shots per game compared to last season, which places Toronto just above the NBA average. Easier said than done, but the Raps rotation could bend more often instead of breaking when chasing shooters off the perimeter.
Toronto Raptors New Year’s Schedule
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors
New Year’s Day – 8:00 PM EST
Toronto will enjoy an opportunity to show progress by welcoming the team which nearly embarrassed them off the court during the 2017 playoffs. Giannis didn’t have the option of Eric Bledsoe to relieve some of the scoring pressure heaped on the Greek Freak, creating new chemistry for the Raps to defend. Expect a close game unless Giannis gets loaded on the Danforth during New Year’s Eve.
Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls
January 3rd – 7:30 PM EST
The Bulls pulled off a surprising seven-game win streak during December, almost as miraculous as Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic sharing the court in Chicago. Toronto fans shouldn’t expect the Bulls to be the same pushover as the beginning of the year. The Raptors have lost 11 of their last 14 against the Bulls, which means that Chicago could be favored at home for this Windy City clash.
Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks
January 5th – 8:00 PM EST