Raptors Have New Faces, Have They Really Changed?


The Raptors are almost ten games into the regular season now and with them holding a 6-3 record against some pretty mixed competition, fans are still left wondering about the state of this years team. After getting off to a five game winning streak, against some pretty solid teams, the Raptors would than dropped three in a row, before beating the 76ers last night by 16 points. It was noted during the game against the Knicks, that the Raptors played a lineup in the third quarter that only had one returning player on it. After last years second half/playoff collapse, the Raptors went through somewhat of a bench revitalization project, while bringing in two new starters. The faces on the court have for sure changed, but have the Raptors really changed at all?

At the end of last season, General Manager Masai Ujiri took responsibility for the teams lack of defensive presence on the floor. After bringing in DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, and other defensive minded players, it seemed like the Raptors finally had balance throughout the lineup, which would lead to playoff success. Does this team look that different though? On both sides on the floor, we are seeing a lot of the same problems we had last year.

The defence might have improved from last year, but when you upgrade and remove players like Greveis Vasquez, and replace them with Cory Joseph, you automatically should get better on defense. So has the defense really improved this year? The sample size could be small right now, but allowing the 76ers who haven’t won a game all year, without a go to scorer, to score over a hundred points isn’t great. We could possibly attribute this to absence of DeMarre Carroll in the lineup, but with the insertion of James Johnson at the starting three, there isn’t too much difference defensively. Their DefRtg difference is only a 9.1 in favor of Carroll, this includes a performance from James Johnson where he guarded an unstoppable Carmelo Anthony.

The offense is really where the questions remain. Last year the Raptors were a top ten defensive team in the NBA. Now it seems like at least once a game, they will have a quarter where they can’t buy a bucket! This season, while leading the Miami heat 47-44 going in to the half, the Raptors would allow Miami to score 30 points in the third quarter, while the Raptors would only score 29 points in the second half! Watching the ISO-ball we became accustomed to last year, has yet again translated into this year. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have become frequent ball stoppers this season, going to high screen pick and rolls or ISO plays, while the other players just stand and watch. Lowry and DeRozan both boast USG% of over 25%, for two guys who play a majority of their minutes together. Thats a ton of time with the ball not in the hands of the other players. Watching teams that space out more efficiently than the Raptors do is almost like watching another sport.

Watching the Golden State Warriors on plays like this is a common occurrence. In this play, the ball only touches the floor 7 times past half court, with 5 passes and it’s a more fluent offence. The spacing from the elite teams in the league is what makes them so great. Teams like the Hawks, Warriors, and Rockets are what teams strive to be like. The reason why all those teams are good three-point shooting teams is simple – they take open shots!

This season, Jonas Valanciunas is finding his way to the floor in the fourth quarter. Playing crunch time minutes is a huge step for Valanciunas, and one that makes sense since the Raptors struggle with rebounding down the stretch of games. Valanciunas is a good enough free throw shooter, that he doesn’t warrant the fourth quarter benching, like other centres in the league like Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan. Even though Valanciunas is finding more minutes, it doesn’t mean the ball is finding him when he’s on the floor. Valanciunas’ USG% is only 19.3%, more than 7% less than the starting backcourt. Lowry and DeRozan combine for an average of 29.5FGA per game, while Jonas is at 9.6FGA. For someone to be playing the minutes Jonas does, to be shooting 61%FG, and have a PIE of 16.4 (well higher than Lowry and DeRozan), it is crazy this player isn’t getting more touches. Jonas might be the most elite offensive player in the league, not getting set plays run for him. With a TS% of 66%, it will be hard to fathom Jonas not getting touches in future games.

Next: Is Demar Derozan In Trouble?

Change has happened, but change hasn’t been implemented. The lack of a defensive identity, the inefficient offensive play, and the underutilization of players like Valanciunas, will continue leaving Raptors fans shaking their heads in confusion. Dwayne Casey has been given several chances, to prove his worth as a head coach for the Raptors. If this upcoming west coast road trip doesn’t go well, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear the ‘Casey on the Hot Seat’ rumours circling around.