One Team, One Stat: Toronto Raptors struggled to defend the league's best
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Toronto Raptors, who struggled to defend the league’s best offenses.
That was the league’s biggest such differential. Toronto had the league’s second best defense against the bottom 20 offenses and the second worst defense against the top 10.
Overall, the Raptors were the only team that ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, the first time in franchise history (23 years) that they ranked in the top five on defense.
But that top-five ranking was a little deceiving, because the Raptors fattened up on the league’s not-so great offenses.
It’s important to take care of business. The league’s best record (35-2) against the 12 teams that finished below .500 helped the Raptors earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Washington Wizards fell to the 8 seed partly because they went 20-15 against those same 12 teams with losing records. In games played between the 18 teams that finished with winning records, Toronto (24-21) had just one more win than Washington (23-24).
Of course, you don’t see the bad teams in the playoffs. And in the Raptors’ case, there was clearly more to see in how they played against better competition, especially defensively.
Toronto actually played the fewest regular season games (20) against the league’s top 10 offenses, because…
- Only three of the top 10 offensive teams were in the Eastern Conference.
- The Raptors were one of those three teams.
- They played only three regular season games against each of the other two (Cleveland and Milwaukee).
The difference between the Raptors’ defense in those 20 games vs. the other 62 was in their opponents’ effective field goal percentage and their opponents’ turnover rate, which happen to be, of the “four factors” of defense, the most important ones.
The Raptors basically forced the same shots against the top 10 offenses (64 percent of shots came from the restricted area or 3-point range) as they did against the bottom 20 (62 percent). And though the top 10 offenses shot better in the paint, Toronto still ranked seventh on those shots against that group. It was on shots from the outside where there was a more dramatic difference.
The top 15 scorers against the Raptors (those that scored at least 25 points per game) were all perimeter players, most of them were the primary ball-handler for their team, and rookie OG Anunoby was the primary defender on most of those primary guys.
But against the top-10 offenses, the Raptors’ defense was at its best (109 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Anunoby on the floor, and it was the best bench in basketball that really struggled to hold its own defensively. The players with the biggest differential between how many points the Raptors allowed against the top-10 or not-top-10 offenses were C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright.
In the conference semifinals, the defense was pretty dreadful no matter who was on the floor. After allowing the Washington Wizards (the No. 14-ranked offense in the regular season) to score 106.7 points per 100 possessions in the first round, the Raptors allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 5 offense in the regular season) to score 121.5 in the conference semis. That was the biggest DefRtg increase from round to round for any team in the 2018 postseason.
Furthermore, the 121.5 was 18.5 more than Cleveland scored in the first round and the fourth best mark for any team in a playoff series over the last 20 years. And again, it was on the perimeter where the Raptors’ defense really struggled. Cleveland shot 41 percent from 3-point range (compared to 32 percent in their other three series) and the 8.2 turnovers per 100 possessions that the Cavs committed were the fewest for any team in a playoff series over the last 20 years.
Good news! Not only has LeBron James taken his talents to the Western Conference, but the Raptors also acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green from the team that has ranked in the top five defensively for each of the last six seasons.
It’s possible that, with a year of NBA experience under his belt, Anunoby will be one of the league’s best wing defenders this season. If so, if Leonard is healthy, and if Green doesn’t see much drop-off at the age of 31, the Raptors will have three of league’s best wing defenders. Not only will they be able to put together some terrific defensive lineups, but they’ll also (and maybe more importantly) be able to keep at least one stopper on the floor at all times.
Playing in an Eastern Conference that lost its best offensive player, the Raptors will certainly be a top-10 defensive team once again. But where progress can be made is in their ability to defend the best.
Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).
RAPTORS NOTES – GENERAL
- Best regular-season record (263-147, .641) in the Eastern Conference over the last five years and one of three teams (Cleveland and Golden State are the others) that have won a playoff series in each of the last three.
- Tied with Houston for the league’s best home record (34-7) and had the league’s best point differential per 100 possessions (plus-10.4) at home.
- Were both the league’s best second quarter team (plus-11.0 points per 100 possessions) and its best fourth quarter team (plus-8.3).
- Led the league in wins after trailing by double-digits for the third straight season. Last season, they went 15-17 after trailing by 10-plus, tied with Boston (15-20), Golden State (15-19) and New Orleans (15-27).
- Had only four regular-season losses, fewest in the league (no other team had fewer than seven), that weren’t within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. They had three such losses in the playoffs.
RAPTORS NOTES – OFFENSE
- One of two teams (the Clippers are the other) that have ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency in each of the last five seasons.
- Have ranked in the top 10 in turnover percentage (fewest turnovers per 100 possessions) in each of the last six seasons and in 13 of the last 15.
- Saw the league’s biggest increase in assist percentage, assisting on 59 percent of their baskets (11th highest rate in the league), up from 47 percent (30th) last season. But they assisted on just 39 percent of their baskets (28th) with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
- Saw the league’s second biggest increase in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range, from 29 percent (22nd highest rate) last season to 38 percent (fifth highest) this season.
- Ranked 10th in player movement at 10.9 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession, up from 10.2 (22nd) in 2016-17. That was the league’s third biggest increase.
RAPTORS NOTES – DEFENSE
- Allowed the fewest points per possession (1.02) in transition.
- Saw the league’s biggest increase in the percentage of opponent shots that came from the restricted area, from 31 percent (12th lowest rate) in 2016-17 to 34 percent (fourth highest rate) last season. But they were one of two teams – Portland was the other – to hold opponents under 60 percent shooting in the restricted area.
- Saw the league’s biggest decrease in the percentage of opponent shots that came from 3-point range, from 33 percent (eighth highest rate) in 2016-17 to 29 percent (second lowest rate) last season.
- One of two teams – Philadelphia was the other – that allowed less than a point per possession on roll-man possessions.
RAPTORS NOTES – LINEUPS
- Had the league’s best aggregate bench NetRtg (plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions). Their five-man bench unit – Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl – outscored opponents by 17.1 points per 100 possessions, the second best mark among 29 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.
- The Raptors outscored their opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions with Fred VanVleet on the floor. That was the fourth highest on-court NetRtg among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games. VanVleet ranked second in total plus-minus (plus-352) off the bench.
- Starting lineup – Lowry, DeRozan, Anunoby, Ibaka and Valanciunas – outscored its opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions, the sixth best mark among 29 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.
- DeRozan and Poeltl are the only players gone from the playoff rotation, but no lineup of five returning players played more than nine minutes together (in the regular season or playoffs).
RAPTORS NOTES – INDIVIDUAL
- OG Anunoby had an effective field goal percentage of 57.7 percent, the third highest mark among rookies who attempted at least 300 shots. He attempted 18 times as many 3-pointers (197) as mid-range shots (11), the third highest rate among 207 players who attempted at least 200 total shots from outside the paint. In the playoffs, he had an effective field goal percentage of 68.3 percent, the third best mark among 92 players with at least 50 postseason field goal attempts.
- Danny Green is one of six players who have made at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in each of the last five seasons.
- Serge Ibaka shot just under 50 percent from mid-range, the best mark among players with at least 200 mid-range attempts.
- Kawhi Leonard has seen an increase in usage rate (the percentage of his team’s possessions he uses while on the floor) every season of his career.
- Ibaka and C.J. Miles both ranked in the bottom 12 in assist ratio among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games, having recorded assists on just 6.3 and 7.5 percent of their possessions, respectively.
- Kyle Lowry has shot 41 percent on pull-up 3-pointers over the last two seasons, the best mark among 22 players who have attempted at least 300 over that time.
- Last season, Lowry was assisted on 49 percent of his field goals, the highest rate of his career.
- Miles attempted 12.2 3-pointers per 36 minutes and accounted for 47 percent of the Raptors’ 3-pointers while he was on the floor. Both of those marks were the highest rate among players who played at least 1,000 total minutes last season.
- Greg Monroe was one of three players to record a triple-double off the bench last season.
- Pascal Siakam shot 22 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the worst mark among 203 players who attempted at least 100. He shot 27 percent on corner 3-pointers, the fourth worst mark among 125 players who have attempted at least 50. Norman Powell (29 percent) also ranked in the bottom 10 in corner 3-point percentage.
- 24.0 percent of Siakam’s points (137/589) were fast break points. That was the third highest rate among 219 players who scored at least 500 total points last season. Jonas Valanciunas (1.6 percent – 16/980) and Monroe (2.5 percent – 13/524) had the second and fourth lowest rates, respectively among the same group.
- Jonas Valanciunas made 30 3-pointers last season after making just one through his first five years in the league. He registered career highs in both effective field goal percentage (59.0 percent) and true shooting percentage (62.8 percent).
- Valanciunas played just 10 percent (176/1,1717) of his regulation minutes in the fourth quarter. That was the second lowest rate among 275 players who played at least 1,000 minutes in regulation. Fred VanVleet had the highest rate (44 percent) among those same 275 players.
- VanVleet had an effective field goal percentage of 61 percent in the first half of games and 47 percent in the second half. That was the biggest effective field goal percentage drop from half to half among 210 players with at least 200 field goal attempts in each half.
NBA TV’s Raptors preview premieres at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Sept. 27.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.