The 2020-21 and 2021-2022 Golden State Warriors were very similar, if you ignore the results. The leaders on both teams were Steph Curry and Draymond Green, and they played more games in the shortened 2020-21 season than the following one. Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole were young, variable contributors. Both teams were elite defenses that had fantastic effective field-goal percentages.
Then you add in the records, and you see that the 2022 team won the championship, while the 2021 team didn't reach the playoffs.
Statistically, one major difference came in the possession game. For example, the team jumped from 30th to 17th in offensive rebounding percentage and from 22nd to 10th in defensive rebounding percentage. Overall, the team took 61 fewer shots than opponents in 2021 and only 11 fewer the next year. That small change paid big dividends. Furthermore, the team had a better offense with more spacing, a stronger back-end to the rotation, and more veteran contributors.
One key change that affected all of the above came in a quiet free agency addition between the two seasons: The signing of Otto Porter jr. For the 2021-22 Warriors, Porter had the second-best on/off differential behind only Steph Curry. That came largely because he added so much of what good teams want -- shooting, cutting, defense, quick decision-making -- while also helping around the edges, by rebounding, failing to commit turnovers, and also refusing to foul.
That's exactly what the 2023-24 Toronto Raptors (as well as previous iterations) have needed. And in only a few appearances so far for these Raptors, that's exactly what Porter has offered.
Against the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto's monstrous, 22-point comeback largely coincided with Porter's minutes. The team was shelled in the first half, as Porter played for only five minutes early in the second quarter. Toronto committed an ugly 12 turnovers, frequently tossing the ball away while driving for would-be lay-downs, and scored a minuscule 35 points. Then in the second half and overtime, Porter played 12 minutes, even closing instead of Jakob Poeltl. He hit two triples, and Toronto won his minutes by nine points -- enough to force overtime and win the game. Toronto committed just one turnover in the second half and another one in overtime.
Porter himself committed zero turnovers. He grabbed three big defensive rebounds, two of which came in traffic as he snatched the ball away from San Antonio's center, Zach Collins. Porter is long and strong and does his work on the glass early. Toronto flipped the possession differential in the second half, and that, in combination with Porter's spacing, changed the story of the game.
Porter gives a team full of versatile players the ability to play in versatile ways. The Raptors are built out of players who can do so much on the court -- cut, create, play off of others, pass, defend, run in transition, rebound, and more. The only issue is that when you throw them all together, roles don't make a ton of sense, and there isn't a whole lot of positive. The team as a whole has created the 22rd-high rate of uncontested shots in the half-court this season, with so much that they do create appearing to cost a heavy burden.
No other team makes offense look quite so hard as the Raptors.
Perhaps Porter's biggest gift is that he helps to make what should be easy feel easy. In the fourth quarter, with Toronto closing the game against the Spurs, it found some of the easiest shots it had all game. That largely came because of the spacing offered by a lineup of Dennis Schroder, Porter, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes. Schroder was the speed demon with the ball. Porter and Anunoby are well-established shooters. Barnes was hot in the game -- he finished with five made triples. And Pascal Siakam was in the strong-side corner -- where, perhaps help should have peeled off of him, but that would have been against most defensive principles, and he is shooting 3-of-6 from that right corner on the season.