The Raptors have lost their secret advantage this year

The Raptors, for all their issues last year, at least had a hack to win games. That's gone this year.

For all its flaws, the Star Wars prequel trilogy was charming, in its own way. The acting was miserable, and there was no small amount of racism inherent to the trade federation characters, and the plot wasn’t particularly scintillating. But Darth Maul was cool, and the trilogy contained a fair amount of interesting political economic layering, if you thought about it. 

With all those negatives known and in the review mirror, the sequel trilogy somehow ended up worse than the prequels. Plot ideas introduced in the first movie were abandoned going forward, and the movies were aimless, and the stakes were completely uncompelling. Oh, and the things that made the prequels interesting? The villain(s) in the sequels were flat as the prairies, and there was no world-building in the least. Even the small charms of the bad sequels were gone in the worse prequels. 

It seems that these Toronto Raptors might be following the same script. 

There are improvements from last season to this season, in terms of helping the team win basketball games. First and foremost, Scottie Barnes is a star now. He has improved across the board, in virtually every area on the basketball court, on both offense and defense. That’s going to help a team improve! Dennis Schroder is also a very nice addition

But on the other hand, Fred VanVleet is a tough loss. His Houston Rockets are a better team than the Raptors at the moment, and VanVleet once again is an advanced-stats god on the offensive end. Schroder has ably replaced him, and with the money factored in it’s no contest who the Raptors are happier to have. Still, losing VanVleet makes it harder for Toronto to win basketball games in the present. 

And most importantly, the Raptors have lost the three things that helped the team win basketball games last year. (This is excluding playing their starters more than anyone else, which helped the team win earlier in the year but arguably not later, when the legs were gone.) 

Toronto’s hacks included rebounding the absolute shit out of the basketball, stealing the ball on defense as much as humanly possible, and not turning the ball over on offense. All three of those components combined into one advantage: Toronto took far, far more shots than opponents in any individual game. 

Toronto last year finished third in offensive rebounding rate, first in forcing opposing turnovers, and first in limiting their own turnovers. As a result, they attempted 9.0 more field goals per game than their opponents -- a truly outrageous number, and according to Joe Wolfond, the third-largest gap in league history. The Raptors sure weren’t great in the half-court, but it didn’t matter as long as they got to shoot the ball so frequently. Given the average shooting possession is worth approximately 1.0 points, that meant the Raptors started all games with a very rough 9-point advantage, given the possession disparity. 

And this year? That’s gone.