Testing the Bosh Theory
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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ, March 23, 2007 -- I've watched a lot of Raptors' games this season and I've been impressed with some of their wins, the talent Bryan Colangelo brought in to surround Chris Bosh, and how they've grown more confident as the season goes on. But I can't say that any particular aspect of the Raptors offense or defense has impressed me all that much. I don't come away from a Toronto game saying, "Wow, they're really good at _____."

And if you look at their numbers, neither side of the floor stands out. Their offensive efficiency of 108.75 ranks eighth in the league and their defensive efficiency of 107.81 ranks 15th.

Efficiency = Points per Possession multiplied by 100

So, when I had the opportunity to interview Chris Bosh on Tuesday, one of my first questions was "How do you win games?". His answer:

We win games by moving the basketball, playing team basketball and making sure that everybody gets a touch. Passing and cutting and trying to get a couple of points on fast breaks. I think that's the thing that best helps this team out.

A fine response that made me say, "You know what? He's right. They do move the ball well." But of course, I wasn't going to trust my own Swiss-cheese memory or some All-Star power forward. I needed to break down the numbers.

The Raptors' season can be separated into three distinct parts:

Part 1: The first 19 games. The Raps go 7-12 (.368).
Part 2: Games 20-31, a 12-game stretch in which they go 6-6 (.500) without their All-Star, Bosh, who is out with an injured left knee.
Part 3: The last 37 games, where the Raps are 24-13 (.648).

The 6-6 record (including three straight wins) without Bosh tells me that the season started to turn around for the Raptors and they really started to find their stride once he returned to the floor in January.

I went on to discuss with Bosh how his absence actually forced the team to share the ball more. Let's see if the numbers bear that out, looking at assist-field goal ratio to measure sharing the ball...

First 19 7 12 .560 106.31
With Bosh Out 6 6 .566 103.94
Last 37 24 13 .617 111.65
Overall 37 31 .592 108.75

So, the numbers confirm what Bosh claimed. With him out of the lineup, the assist-field goal ratio picked up a bit, and it has really gone up in the time since he returned. And while their efficiency took a dip without their All-Star it has been at a level (111.65) that would rank them fourth in the Association since.

The next step to take is to see if, for the Raptors, a higher assist-field goal ratio translates into better offensive efficiency on a game-by-game basis.

Let's look at what their efficiency is when their assist-field goal ratio is at certain levels, and further, if that translates to wins.

.650-plus 113.62 13 9 .591
.551 - .650 107.82 14 11 .560
.550 or lower 104.79 10 11 .476

So, it's clear that moving and sharing the ball plays a big part in how efficient Toronto's offense is. To go a little deeper, let's see if it's as important that players other than Bosh are taking the shots off of that ball movement. To do that, we'll measure the percentage of the team's field goal attempts that Bosh is taking, and if that relates at all to their efficiency.

20 percent or more 110.10 16 11 .593
Less than 20 percent 109.53 15 14 .517

So, while their record is better when Bosh takes more shots, there's not much difference in their offensive efficiency. We can conclude then that it doesn't matter who's taking the shot, as long as it's coming off of ball movement.

Finally, let's take a look at how the Raptors' numbers compare to last season, when they finished 27-55 (.329 - 13 games out of the playoffs), to see if their improvement has come solely on the offensive end.

2005-06 111.17 .529 114.30 -2.67
2006-07 108.75 .592 107.81 -3.44

OK. This is where I say, "Wow." The Raptors were actually a better offensive team and a better rebounding team last year, and where they have really improved is on the defensive side of the ball. The additions of Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa are likely reasons for that.

Of course, the Raptors had a lot of room to improve. A defensive efficiency of 114.30 is terrible.

And these numbers shouldn't take away from the original theory of this analysis. The Raptors turned their season around when they decided to move the ball around. They have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket, and more important, a lot of guys who are willing to share.