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Five Things I Dig and Don’t Dig About the Toronto Raptors

If you want a run down of the East playoff picture and don’t like reading, I made a video summarizing the situation.

*All data is prior to April 9th’s night games

Game 82.

Boy has it been a grind on the ol’ ticker. It takes a toll defending your team against the whole of the United States NBA fan base, the whole of American basketball media, and a minority, but loud cannibalistic legion of Raptor fans while also having your own critical eye.

Glad we proved all of them wrong. I can’t wait for the predictors to take Philly over Toronto first round. Cannnnn’t wait.

1. What to look for tonight

At first you probably wondered WHY IN THE HELL THE RAPTORS PLAYED THE HOUSTON ROCKETS LIKE IT WAS COACH K’S LAST GAME OF HIS CAREER!?

After yelling at Pascal to stop diving on the floor and potentially hurting his perfect All-NBA body and whispering to yourself “Please, G*d[s], if you exist tell Scottie to stop going up for one-legged crams in transition”, after all that, you’d realize there’s a rhyme and a very convoluted reason to why Toronto has played so hard in the last few games.

I had mentioned on Thursday about [cue this guy’s voice] a world in which Toronto could go 3-0 and Philly could go 0-3 slinking the Raptors into home-court advantage for the first round at 4th.

There were a multitude of good reasons for Toronto to do this:

  • Ensure playing Philly first round
    • Harden has been playing like he hadn’t eaten and crammed several Tequila Sunrises b2b before heading to the bar
    • No wing depth
    • Mr. Ineligible, Mathisse Thybulle, abhors needles

  • Avoid Milwaukee and Boston and, likely, Brooklyn until the Eastern Conference Finals
  • Play winner of Miami v 8th seed

Thus, the Raps treated the Philly game like Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs – also made sense from a confidence and make your enemy shit their pants psychological angle – and the Houston game like they were playing a team of Aliens who would eviscerate the world if Toronto didn’t win.

It would have been ideal to rest the guys on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, but the Raptors held the power. However slim the chance of 4th might be.

***UPDATE: Philly won last night. So, Toronto’s stone is set in 5th. All that’s left to decide is whether Boston or Philly finish 3rd or 4th. Both likely want 3rd. You tell me who you’d rather have: an ailing Chicago Bulls team or a hot-to-trot battalion of Toronto Raptors. Ya, me neither.

So here’s the dilly:

Man, this is actually quite interesting.

If both Boston and Philly win tomorrow, they tie. Boston, according to CBS Sports, owns the tiebreaker by having the better Atlantic Division record [go figure] and would take 3rd. The plot thickens: if Boston wins and Milwaukee loses they tie. This is how tiebreakers go:

  • First tiebreaker: Head-to-head

  • Second tiebreaker: Division winner

  • Third tiebreaker: Conference record

  • Fourth tiebreaker: Record vs. Eastern Conference playoffs teams

~Source: CBS Sports

They split the season series, they both were division winners, and if Milwaukee loses and Boston wins they will have the same conferenced record, so it goes to the 4th tie-breaker which is record versus Eastern Conference playoffs teams. Boston is 20-13 and would beat Milwaukee’s 17-15 record.

All that means Boston can actually move all the way up to 2nd. They have more to play for.

Milwaukee plays Cleveland who could finish anywhere from 7th to 10th, I’m not going into all those tiebreaker situations, nope, sorry. You do that.

The Celtics are playing Memphis who are on the latter half of a back-to-back. Memphis is solidly in 2nd and has nothing to play for.

The 76ers are playing on their own end of a back-to-back after beating Indiana yesterday. They’ll take on Detroit who are incentivized to lose. If they win and Oklahoma City loses, they would tie for the 4th worst record in the NBA – the bottom 3 have better draft odds (14% chance for 1st overall pick) than 4th (12.5% chance). OKC is also hoping to throw the game and they’ve been doing a good job of that lately.

So silly.

Don’t ask me what the tie breaker is for OKC and Detroit. All I know is they split the season series and sure as Hell aren’t division winners.

Did you get all that? Here’s what I think: Boston and Philly win and Milwaukee loses and it finishes out Boston 2nd, Milwaukee 3rd, and Philly 4th.

2. Depth

All year we bemoaned this team and its bench. The minutes played by Toronto’s starters absurd; the contribution from non-starters putrid.

Post-trade deadline, few cheered the Thad addition; it didn’t fulfill their bench needs. (What they didn’t realize is Toronto only has one type of bench need).

In the entirety of the year, Toronto is last in bench-points scored (25.3). Very not good.

Hold your horses, Jack, that’s not the whole story. Take a glance at the +/- and the Raptors bench is 9th (+0.7). Basically, the Toronto Raptors bench provides the least entertaining type of basketball around: they score little and allow even less (secret admission: I love that kind of basketball).

Lets forget the first half of the year. This team, likely, more than any other, needed time to coagulate and develop. Between Tampa, Pascal’s shoulder, Khem and OG’s bad luck and Precious, Gary, Flynn, and Scottie’s need to spread their wings, it was going to take a while.

For most of the year, Toronto was a .500 team: the journey a bumpy road of injuries, experimentation, and maturation.

Now, it’s all come together. Toronto’s tied for the most wins post-All Star break despite crudstick stinkers to Detroit and Orlando and a bs loss to the Lakers in OT.

In that time, Toronto’s bench production improved by a WHOPPER BURGER of 6 whole points with its +/- moving up to 7th in the league (+1.3).

If you hone in on the last 17 games, where Toronto has the best record in the league (14-3), the points drop, but the +/- skyrockets to +2.1.

You may Scoff! at the hyperbole. I doth protest. We watched how inept this bench was, no matter the combination. Freddy and Pascal played 40+ minutes because a few single moments without one of them on the floor were total debacles.

There is a correlation of bench success and health. Though, not entirely. OG (5/24 games) and Freddy (15/24) have missed chunks of post-All-Star games.

Ultimately, this bench’s success comes from the Long Boyz – Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher, and Precious Achiuwa – finding and growing within their roles.

The former two are rebound despots absolutely terrorizing defensive rebounding populations (Boucher is in the 65th percentile in offensive rebounding % for bigs [he’s not a big] and Thad is in the 98th percentile for forwards) and hitting their 3-pointers at a high enough clip (Boucher 30% on 3 attempts; Thad 32% on 2 attempts) to enable both of them to play at the same time. Thad showing flashes of his old offensive self at times too.

On defence, they harangue victims (both above the 90th percentile in defensive turnover percentage).

Precious, on the other hand, is more than a ferocious roleplayer [he is that too]. He’s becoming a consistent offensive threat both from 3 and at the rim. His game growing by the hour it feels like. You know you have an anxiety disorder when you’re already panicking at the thought of trying to pay all these guys in two years. These following two plays make me nauseous over how good he could become:

Toronto can’t afford to not have Precious on the floor at the defensive end either. He guards all five positions easy-peasy allowing the Raps to remain big without giving up much quickness.

The three are producing at such a high level that the Raps are able to get away with more minutes Freddy or Pascal-less.

With Freddy Off

When any of the three are on the floor and Freddy is off, they are -1.4 per 100 possessions in 2104 possessions (43rd percentile); the lineup with the most possessions (103) of Precious, Boucher, Pascal, Scottie, and Gary is +18.4 (86th percentile within the league). When all 3 are on the floor and Freddy is off, the team is +6.9 per 100 (87th percentile); the line up with the most possessions (54) Pascal and Gary and the trio are +27.8 per 100 possessions.

With Pascal Off

When any of the three are on the floor and Pascal is off, they are -1.7 per 100 possessions in 1997 possessions (41st percentile); the lineup with the 2nd most possessions (68) [I didn’t choose the most because it was Precious and the starters] of Freddy, Gary, Scottie, Chris, and Precious are +6.1 per 100 possessions. When all three are on the floor and Pascal is off the floor, they are +2.1 per 100 possessions in only 190 possessions (46th percentile); the lineup with the most possessions (40) of Freddy, Gary, Scottie, and the trio is +5 per 100 possessions.

Come Playoffs, the rotation is more or less set. I anticipate Khem to play 10-15 mins a game against either Milwaukee or Philly. He’s +1.7 per 100 possessions in total. Otherwise, when everyone’s healthy, off the bench will come Precious and Boucher together and then Thad at some point. No one else, as Nurse, kinda, alluded to, explicitly:

National media loves reporting that no team wants to face the Raptors in the playoffs. I don’t blame them.

Our starting five will run and smother you to death; the three off the bench trample you.

3. Depth Parte Deux

Another little lineup tidbit. Lineups with both Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal, but without OG and Freddy are in the 86th percentile of points scored per 100 possessions in 900 possessions.

I think we’re really on to something here. First, it’s another demonstration of how deep and versatile this team actually is. Second, I’ve been saying for a while now that it’s a mistake to play the starting line up of Freddy, Gary, OG, Scottie, Pascal. They’re not all that punishing (+1.8 points per 100 possessions). It feels a bit of a waste of talent, in my humble opinion.

Two reasons. One I think OG and Scottie feel crowded by Gary and Pascal. The positional fluidity, paradoxically, cramps their styles. Everyone operates in similar spaces.

Two, the aforementioned power of Pascal and Gary. Without OG and Freddy, the two of them are the primary and secondary options, respectively, with Scottie and, typically, Precious asserting themselves accordingly. There’s a natural hierarchy.

It also stretches Toronto’s firepower. The converse of OG and Freddy without either Pascal or Gary is +0.7 points per 100 possessions. Most of that coming from their stifling defence. That’s okay. Both lineups are winning their matchups. That’s all that matters when you’re looking to “buy time” until your best unit is back together.

Ultimately, games will close with Freddy, Gary, OG, Scottie, Pascal – I’d expect Precious to be there often too (when Precious replaces OG they have an offensive rating of 119 and defensive rating of 105 in the fourth quarter). That’s fine when the game is on the line.

I’d just like to see these guys spread out a bit.

Think about starting Thad at the 5 and bring Gary off the bench. Early substitution of Freddy, OG, and Thad, with Boucher, Gary, and Precious and roll your lineups from there.

Might be too late to experiment. On the other hand, it’s never too late for Nurse to experiment.

4. Kyle Lowry King

Kyle Lowry returned to Toronto on Tuesday.  I nearly cried during the tribute video.

This also brings me tears:

Watching him do all the little things to leverage advantages totally killed me. The quick chest passes down court, the charges, the bickering. This, though, this was the most nostalgic of it all:

Classic Lowry Game: 18 points on 8 shots, 10 assists, 6 boards, 2 turnovers.

He’s the lone reason I don’t want to play Miami in the post-season. He’s too resilient and it hurts too much to cheer against.

Love you, you Bastard.

5. Hard Practices

There have been some epic on-TV revelations.

The shitbag dumbass tyrannical murderer of Belarus openly revealed Russia’s invasion strategy on National TV – including what looked like a plan to invade Moldova.

There’s the infamous Orlando Magic tweeting it’s Free Agency prospects incident and, of course, the Sacramento Kings not to be outdone revealed that they favoured big men DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley over Luka Dončić (Trae Young nor Jaren Jackson Jr. weren’t even on the list).

Nick Nurse, recently, had his moment.

Us overly protective Raptors fans are so often confounded by the sudden Raptors injuries that occur outside of games. They don’t play for some number of games and then there’s OG or Birch or Gary on the injury report. We pontificate aloud “What the Hell are they doing in these practices?” rather rhetorically or with a bit of sarcasm.

Well, we got some insight. On March 15th, Nick Nurse was interviewed in a practice facility when lo-and-behold what happens in the background.

https://twitter.com/anunobysteam/status/1509689335288901638?s=20&t=UndlzoPmmpgMQKE2TDRJXQ

I’m sure a lot of NBA practices are similarly jingoistic. Still, very hilarious with Nurse’s notoriety as a Tom Thibideauian-type grinder that right behind him poor Yuta Watanabe gets undercut and almost eats it.

You know what, though, that’s what makes these guys so Goddamn tough. And, I bet they feed off of it too.

It’s why they like to turn games into trench warfare. Scar tissue doesn’t hurt.

Honourable Mention

YutaBFree

Finally, Yuta got some playing time. He played 12 minutes against the Houston Rockets on Friday. Nurse played a Super-Size lineup of Scottie, Pascal, Yuta, Khem, Thad, which is possibly the largest conceivable lineup the Raptors can field. They were +34.7 per 100 possessions (yes, in only 9 possession). Yuta was 1/3 with 3 points, 3 boards, and 2 steals.

HE CAN HELP THIS TEAM!

His TSN Highlight plays – good and bad – per 100 possessions is probably highest in the league. The latest was a dunk folly.

Co-Rookies of the Year

Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes both deserve it. Why cut either down – Scottie does have the best case though heh heh. Let’em share it. Hell, get Cade in there too. He’s been playing out of his mind of late. What better way to honour how freaking awesome this draft class is? Three-way. Why not? No need for the bickering. Lets all be happy.

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