Aren’t Raptors overdue for better 3-point shooting?

WASHINGTON, DC -  MARCH 2: Kyle Lowry /

The Raptors have flipped the script this season. They have largely abandoned their isolation-oriented offense in favour of ball movement leading to a 3-ball try. It’s not all working.

The Toronto Raptors have been on a serious roll, particularly after starting the season 2-2. Since then, they are 45-15, meaning they have won 3 of every 4 games played. There are many reasons for the team’s success, including the consistent high-quality contributions of their All-Stars, the remarkable performance of the second unit, and the low incidence of injuries. I’ve leaving out a bunch of others.

There’s just one dark cloud hanging over the team, and that’s the stubborn lack of improvement in 3-point shooting. Let’s get the depressing data out of the way:

  • October, 2017      – 29.9% (#30 in NBA) on 32.8 Attempts Per Game (#3 in NBA)
  • November, 2017 – 37.8% (# 8) on 31.2  APG (#t10)
  • December, 2017  – 34.4% (#23) on 32.1 APG (#4)
  • January, 2018       – 35.0% (#16) on 31.4 APG (#9)
  • February, 2018     – 38.7% (# 6) on 35.9 APG (#4)
  • March, 2018          – 29.3% (#29) on 37.5 APG (#3)
    • season to date – 35.3% (#22) on 32.8 APG (#3)

Team President Masai Ujiri famously said he wanted to lead a “culture reset”.  While he wasn’t specific at the time, we in fandom assume he meant a strong desire to catch up with what’s happening and have the Raptors shoot more three-balls. There’s no doubt coach Dwane Casey has found the right combination of Xs and Os to create opportunities for the team to fire away from beyond the arc. The problem remains the massive gap between the attempts and the success rate.

TORONTO, ON – MARCH 6: Fred VanVleet
TORONTO, ON – MARCH 6: Fred VanVleet /

Great shooting means wins, right? Not so fast

We need to be cautious about assuming an impressive connection rate is a short cut to excellence. In second place, right behind the no-surprise Golden State Warriors with their gaudy 39.6%, sit the Sacramento Kings at 38.3%. They won’t win 30 games. Meanwhile the Houston Rockets are eleventh at 36.7%, but lead in attempts by the absurd margin of 7.2 PG….over Brooklyn. The Rockets boast the NBA’s best record at 51-13. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s viewpoint seems to be that there’s no such thing as a bad 3-point attempt, and the results bear him out.

Who’s letting down the side?

Drilling down into the Raptors data shows us more or less what we already knew. DeMar DeRozan’s excellent season would shine even brighter if he could somehow bump his current rate of 31.7% a few percentage points. Pascal Siakam seems to have made a Faustian bargain with Casey, to wit: “Pascal, do everything else we need of you, and I’ll let you take long balls.” How else to excuse our otherwise excellent swingman (no, guys, he’s really not a power forward) shooting at a 18.6% rate from deep, and not being subbed out?

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There’s reason for cautious hope. The February numbers were highly impressive, and March has only begun, so we shouldn’t be downcast. But if Fred VanVleet (3 for 22 from deep in his last 4 games) and Kyle Lowry (6 for 24 in the same span) end the season in a funk, I won’t be looking forward to the playoffs.

[All data courtesy of]