Raptors are atop East, but Toronto has five reasons to worry about NBA Finals prospects

You weren’t going to get Raptors coach Dwane Casey to chew. By the point final week’s All-Star Recreation rolled round, his staff was in first place within the East, two full video games forward of the Celtics and 6.5 forward of the Cavaliers. Toronto had made a a lot-ballyhooed change in its offensive technique, de-emphasizing the DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry decide-and-rolls that had dominated their offense final season, and moving into an offense with extra ball motion and open photographs for all.  

With the Celtics slumping and the Cavs present process a commerce-deadline overhaul, the Raptors have ascended to a lofty place, thought-about by some now to be the favorites to win the Japanese Convention. Toronto has been recognized in recent times for its strong common seasons and ensuing playoff flameouts, which have put Casey’s job on the road at numerous occasions, so maybe that’s why he addresses any notion of a Raptors coronation with warning.

“I don’t know,” Casey stated when requested if the Raptors have been the convention’s greatest group. “The report says we are, but for me to sit right here and say we are the most effective staff? We now have confidence, but I’m not going to sit right here and say we are the most effective group. Proper now, we’re No. 1. The numbers say that.”

The numbers additionally present the web influence of the modifications the Raptors made to their offense, and the reasons they did so. They wanted to reduce on PNRs and discover extra shooters. Examine how the Raptors offense appeared final season to the way it seemed within the playoffs — and the place Toronto is now.

Raptors offense 2018 2017 2017 playoffs (rank of sixteen)
PNR Ballhandler % of performs (rank) 20.1 (5) 24.2 (1) 19.2 (6)
PNR effectivity (rank) zero.89 (7) zero.ninety five (2) zero.86 (12)
PNR FG % (rank) forty one.9 (19) forty six.1 (2) forty.four (12)
Spot-up photographs % of performs (rank) 21.9 (6) 19.5 (20) 24.zero (three)
Spot-up effectivity (rank) 1.02 (14) 1.00 (14) zero.ninety three (15)
Passes per recreation (rank) 297.four (19) 2773.four (27) 269.7 (7)
Offensive effectivity score (rank) one hundred ten.7 (four) 109.eight (6) a hundred and one.three (14)

Toronto was the heaviest decide-and-roll group within the league final yr and very environment friendly with the play. The Raptors didn’t move a lot, nor did they get spot-up photographs. That value them within the playoffs, the place groups have been in a position to take them out of the decide-and-roll and pressure them to shoot extra. Because the numbers present, the offense sputtered, from 109.eight factors per one hundred possessions within the common season to one hundred and one.three within the playoffs.

The numbers for 2018 present a extra numerous offense. The ball handler decide-and-roll is down from 24.2 % of the offense to 20.1 %, they usually’ve gone from twentieth in spot-up photographs tried final season to sixth this yr. They’re solely nineteenth in passes, but they have been twenty seventh final yr, they usually’re making 24.zero extra passes per recreation, which is the third-largest leap from final yr to this yr within the NBA.  

The hope is that the Raptors shall be higher ready for the defenses they’ll see within the playoffs this yr, and that groups who take out both Lowry or DeRozan — or each — will discover the Raptors produce other respectable choices. Toronto has been higher on the defensive finish (they rank fourth in effectivity), too, and the workforce has the highest-rated bench within the league. All this could give Casey a sure ebullience.

But Casey spouts warning when it comes to inflating the Raptors’ prospects. The East is there for the taking, with Boston and Cleveland weak. But we will look nearer at Casey’s pessimism and see that he has some extent. There are five good reasons to be fearful about Toronto and its odds of reaching the NBA Finals.

Bench youth

This was Casey’s main concern.

“I feel our younger core is coming alongside in a great way,” he stated, “but I wouldn’t say they’re proper prepared to step by means of the door proper now. They’re younger guys. That may be the rationale I might not say that that is the yr we have now to do it as a result of I do know they’ve rather a lot to study.”

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Casey is true. The Raptors’ bench has a internet score of plus-eight.7, second-greatest within the NBA. But with Norman Powell being nudged out of the rotation these days, 4 of the staff’s five prime bench gamers are 25 or youthful and, mixed, they’ve simply 198 minutes of playoff expertise. That’ll scare a coach. (Powell, for the document, has 433 minutes.)

The one man with vital playoff expertise is veteran wing C.J. Miles, but his postseason monitor document is abysmal. In 34 video games, he has averaged 6.7 factors, shot 39.1 % from the sector and 26.5 % from the three-level line. A lot of that have got here when he was very younger in Utah, but he went to the playoffs the final two seasons with Indiana, and people have been particularly poor showings: eleven video games, four.eight factors, 33.9 % capturing, 19.four % three-level capturing.

Clutch struggles

It was Lowry, not Casey, who introduced up one other darkish spot on the Raptors’ current ledger: They’ve gone chilly in clutch conditions over the previous seven weeks.

“Simply ending video games higher,” Lowry stated when requested about areas for Raptors enchancment. “Once we’re in shut video games, ending higher.”

All yr, the Raptors haven’t been a superb clutch group. They’re 14-thirteen when video games are inside five factors within the ultimate five minutes, and their internet score is minus-eleven.9 in these conditions.

Nevertheless it’s been particularly dangerous recently. Going again to Jan. 9, the Raptors are four-7 in clutch conditions. Their offensive score is ninety six.6 factors per one hundred possessions, and their defensive score is one hundred twenty.three. That’s a internet of minus-23.7, which ranks twenty seventh in that span — forward of solely tanking groups Orlando, Dallas and Phoenix.

The prime culprits have been Lowry and DeRozan. Within the Raptors’ final eleven clutch conditions, Lowry has scored 2.1 factors on 33.three % capturing and 12.5 % three-level capturing. DeRozan has averaged three.three factors on forty.6 % capturing. When the playoffs come, the Raptors will want to depend on their two prime stars to shut out video games, but that’s not occurring now.

So-so capturing

The Raptors have gone to nice lengths to change the offense and create open seems for quite a lot of shooters, but there’s one hitch in that strategy: These are not nice shooters.

Toronto is capturing 35.5 % from the three-level line, which ranks twenty first within the league. That makes an offense designed, partially, to create extra open three-pointers an iffy proposition. The charts under examine the Raptors’ 2016-17 three-level capturing, damaged down by the proximity of the closest defender, with this yr’s three-level capturing.

2016-17 three-pts, closest defender
Distance % of photographs taken (rank) three-level FG % (rank)
2-four ft four.zero (10) 30.1 (12)
four-6 ft eleven.2 (15) 35.6 (15)
6-plus ft 14.6 (25) 39.zero (12)
2017-18 three-pts, closest defender
Distance % of photographs taken (rank) three-level FG % (rank)
2-four ft 5.7 (5) 31.1 (14)
four-6 ft 12.7 (sixteen) 34.three (18)
6-plus ft 19.eight (7) 37.6 (22)

The Raptors have been above common (39.zero %) on extensive-open 3s final yr, which explains why they needed extra of these photographs this yr. But they’ve been within the backside third of the league (37.6 %) at flattening even vast-open appears this season. That’s a purple flag.

Street woes

The Raptors can be beneath some strain to provide you with the No. 1 seed within the East this yr, and Casey stated it will be a great accomplishment for the franchise greater than anything.

“It’s necessary moreso for our group and our progress sample that we have now, and satisfaction,” Casey stated. “We now have put in a whole lot of time and work and sweat, the place individuals doubted us… It’s necessary, but once more, if we are [the No. 1 or No. 2 seed] the place we now have house-courtroom benefit, that’s simply as essential for this season. For the large image, it’ll be a feather in our cap and a motivational piece to end on the prime.”

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However the Raptors haven’t been an awesome street staff this yr, and that’s an element right here, too. They’re 17-12, which is sweet sufficient for second within the East, but they’ve loaded up on wins towards dangerous groups to compile that mark. The Raptors are eleven-2 towards sub-.500 groups on the street, and simply 6-10 towards groups over .500.

This relates to Casey’s considerations about the youth on his bench — the Raptors reserves are significantly much less efficient in away video games, because the chart exhibits.

  Scoring Off. score Def. score Internet score
Starters, residence 70.1 111.three 102.5 eight.eight
Starters, street seventy two.four 112.1 106.1 6.zero
Bench, residence forty two.eight 112.1 ninety seven.eight 14.three
Bench, street 38.6 106.7 103.7 three.zero

At house, the bench has a plus-14.three internet effectivity score, but on the street that’s simply plus-three.zero. Solely two different groups (Philadelphia and New York) have greater disparities between how the bench performs at residence vs. the street.  

LeBron James

It’s easy, and it’s the issue that any East staff hoping to attain the NBA Finals has to settle for. For seven straight years, the convention has been represented by James’ staff, and regardless of the troubles Cleveland is working by means of now, the James drawback shouldn’t be going anyplace.

“So long as you might have LeBron as your chief and the top of your staff,” Casey stated, “you all the time have an opportunity to be good.”

Casey has skilled this firsthand. The Raptors have been eradicated by James’ Cavaliers in every of the final two playoffs, and James was a wrecking ball in each collection. The litany of Raps defenders he laid to waste is lengthy: DeMarre Carroll, Powell, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, P.J. Tucker.

Within the 10 playoff video games, James shot higher than 50 % each time, scoring 30.zero factors with eight.four rebounds and 6.1 assists per recreation. But the actual story of his dominance is advised together with his capturing: 60.1 % from the sector and forty one.7 % from the three-level line.

The Raptors have had nobody available who might decelerate James within the final two years. This yr? Rookie OG Anunoby would get huge minutes on James, but after him, it’s the likes of Powell and Miles.

Getting to the Finals in all probability means knocking off James’ Cavs, within the second spherical or the convention finals. Toronto has had no luck reining in James the final two postseasons. Might they do it this time? It’s a troublesome query, one of some for this Raptors workforce.