Raptors More Efficient Without Derozan, But Still Need him Back

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Toronto, ON- With a loss on Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns, the Toronto Raptors concluded their toughest stretch of the season, a six-game road trip, including five on the west coast. The Raps finished 2-4 on the road trip and lost their grip on first place in the Eastern Conference. At 24-10, they find themselves tied for second place in the East with the Chicago Bulls.

Photo courtesy: CBC

Photo courtesy: CBC

Now, the Raptors get a few days off, and head back to Toronto for a six-game homestand, and a stretch of nine of 12 games against teams under .500.

More importantly, Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Demar Derozan, the Raptors highest scorer, is set to make his return on Thursday against the Charlotte Hornets. Derozan has missed 18 games after tearing a tendon in his groin against the Dallas Mavericks back on Nov. 28.

The Raptors performed admirably in his absence, going 11-7. In fact, offensively, the Raptors did not miss a step. In the month of November, with Demar Derozan, the Raptors scored 108.4 PPG with an offensive efficiency rating of 107.6 points per 100 possessions. Without him, in December, they managed 107.7 PPG, but improved to 111.5 points per 100 possessions.

You would expect a team’s offensive production to drop when they lose their best scorer for 18 games.

Now, no one in their right mind could argue that the Raptors are better throughout an 82-game season without Derozan. However, him being away for 18 games provided a glimpse into a team that had to find new ways to score, and other players to trust with the ball in their hands more often. Perhaps there were a few positives coach Dwane Casey saw in his team that he might move forward with, even when Derozan returns to the court.

Considering Derozan was injured on November 28th, we can use monthly splits (November vs. December)- courtesy ESPN- to see how certain players stepped up, declined, or took on new offensive roles with Derozan injured.

First off, lets take a look at how the Raptors distributed the 16 shots Derozan takes per game. These numbers indicate the increase in field goals taken by each player per game with Derozan out.

Photo courtesy: David Cooper/Toronto Star

Photo courtesy: David Cooper/Toronto Star

Who Took More Shots with Derozan Out?

  • Terrence Ross: 2.8 FGA
  • James Johnson: 2.5 FGA
  • Kyle Lowry: 2.3 FGA
  • Patrick Patterson: 2.1 FGA
  • Landry Fields 1.9: FGA
  • Jonas Valanciunas: 1.7 FGA
  • Lou Williams: 1.4 FGA
  • Greivis Vasquez: 0.8 FGA
  • Amir Johnson: 0.5 FGA
  • Tyler Hansbrough: 0.1 FGA

Lets start with the good.

Kyle Lowry has been the best overall player and the motor on this Raptors team since their emergence last season. When they needed Lowry the most, after Derozan’s injury, he found a way to step up even further. Lowry played some of the best basketball of his career in the month of December, and did so without his all-star backcourt mate. His numbers tell the story.

Kyle Lowry November VS December

November

  • 33.8 MPG
  • 19.7 PPG
  • 6.6 FGM/14.8 FGA (44.7%)
  • 1.6 3PTM/5.4 3PTA (31%)
  • 4.8 FTM/6.1 FTA (78.6%)

December

  • 35.3 MPG
  • 22.3 PPG
  • 7.9 FGM/17.1 FGA (46.3%)
  • 2.0 3PTM/4.9 3PTA (40.5%)
  • 4.5 FTM/5.2 FTA (85.9%)

Lowry took over for the Raptors offensively, and was the reason the team was successful sans Derozan. He shot more, scored more, and was one of three players who got to the free throw line with any consistency. In addition to his offensive dominance, he also increased his assist total from 6.9 APG in November, to 8.9 in December. It’s clear that Lowry shouldered the largest load left by Derozan’s absence, and did so in magnificent fashion.

Photo courtesy: USA Today

Photo courtesy: USA Today

The second best player during the Derozan injury has been Patrick Patterson. Patterson put on a shooting clinic in December, seeing his offensive production skyrocket across the board. From November to December, his FG% jumped up from 43.7 to 55. His 3-PT% also increased from 40.9 to 52.6. This led to almost four extra points per game, going from 6.8 PPG in November, to 10.6 in December. Because of his ridiculously hot shooting in December, Patterson now stands as the sixth best three-point shooter in the NBA.

Another player to emerge in the absence of Derozan was James Johnson. At the time of the injury, I predicted Johnson would fill in in the starting lineup. Johnson did start five games, but played a larger role coming off the bench. Coach Dwane Casey rewarded Johnson with five minutes more per game in December, and those minutes were put to good use. Johnson scored 9.3 PPG up from 6.8 the previous month. He took 2.5 more shots, while slightly increasing his FG% from 58.7 to 59.1. He also used his size to add an extra rebound per game. Furthermore, Johnson, who is not known as a great jump-shooter, could often be trusted to get the rim. Using his dribble-drive, or a plethora of postup moves, Johnson proved that he could create for himself and finish at the rim when he needed too.

Dwane Casey will also be happy with the production he got out of Landry Fields, the former bench warmer turned starter. Fields fit into the starting lineup seamlessly, providing glimpses of active defense, rebounding and creative passing in his 20.8 MPG. His offensive production in December wont blow you away-4.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.5 APG- but Casey could trust Fields to use his touches wisely. Also, starting Fields allowed Casey to keep his bench rotation, and the chemistry they have developed, in tact. However, expect Fields’ minutes to drop significantly when Derozan returns.

Finally, Jonas Valanciunas was solid in the month of December, and showed glimpses of his potential to be a great NBA centre. Valanciunas averaged 13.1 PPG and nine RPG, adding five double-doubles and three games of 20+ points. Dwane Casey still does not use him in many late game scenarios, and against teams who play small, but when on the court, Valanciunas continues to find ways to contribute. According to player efficiency rating, Valanciunas ranks second on the team at 20.32, only behind Lowry.

Now, the bad.

If you have been watching Raptors games on television, you will have heard the announcers talk about how Terrence Ross has stepped up in Derozan’s absence. He hasn’t. It’s been a disappointing stretch for Ross, who had the most to gain from Derozan’s injury. Ross had a chance to prove he was more than just a catch-and-shoot, third option scorer when on the court. Instead, he reaffirmed it.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

In December, Ross received more minutes, and took the greatest share of Derozan’s shots, but didn’t deliver. Ross shot 40.5% from the field, and 34.1% from the three-point range, down from 45.5% and 42.1%, respectively, in November. He averaged less than a free throw per game in December, which was an area the Raptors could have used more support from Ross. Instead, he showed no ability or interest in taking the ball to the rim unless it was on a fast-break. Ross did increase his scoring from 11.1 PPG in November to 13.1 in December, but that was simply due to his increase in field goal attempts, from 8.9 to 12.7 month-to-month.

Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams have provided the Raptors with pivotal scoring off the bench this season, but it is important to note that both struggled with their shot in December. They each shot under 40% from the field and from three-point range, which is significant considering, combined, they took over 21 shots per game. There was bound to be a bit of a letdown for Lou Williams, whose lights out shooting earned him a player of the week award at the end of November. However in December, he looked more like the shot-happy Rudy Gay than the Lou of November.

Photo courtesy: Toronto Sun

Photo courtesy: Toronto Sun

So what have we learned about this Raptors team minus Demar Derozan?

December taught us, definitively, that the Raptors are Kyle Lowry’s team. They are better off when the ball is in his hands with him making the decisions. This is something that was evident even last season, but watching Lowry’s production drastically increase without Derozan proved that point.

Secondly, the Raptors turned many of Derozan’s inefficient 17-foot jumpshots into three-pointers from guys like Lowry, Ross, Williams, Vasquez and Patterson. In November, with Derozan, the Raptors took 23.6 three-point shots, while in December, without him, the team took 26.2 shots from beyond the arc. This could explain the Raptors increase in offensive efficiency without Derozan. Analytics show the three-pointer is always a better shot option than a long two-a beloved Derozan shot.

However, at times, the Raptors fell in love with that three-point shot, and sorely missed Derozan’s ability to get to the rim and the free throw line, especially in late game situations. The perimeter players struggled to get to the basket and draw contact, instead opting to live and die with their long distance shooting. Without Derozan, only Lowry (4.6 FTA per game) and Williams (4.1 FTA) got to the charity stripe enough to make an impact. Derozan’s ability to penetrate, finish at the rim and draw contact is what sets himself apart from his teammates and most in the league. The 7.8 FTA Derozan brings to the table will be a major boost, especially when the team needs to stop the clock in crunch time.

Finally, watching how his team was able to score without him, Derozan should realize that he does not need to force shots. He doesn’t need to be a volume shooter when there are so many capable scoring options around him. Scoring 19.4 PPG is wonderful. Doing it with 16.2 FGA per game is inefficient. While he should continue to take open mid-range jumpshots, and driving to the rim when he sees the opportunity, Derozan should also look to weed out some of the low-percentage shots he likes to take. That means fewer contested, turnaround and/or fadeaway jump shots.

Thanks to their solid 24-10 record, the Raptors have built themselves a cushion that will allow Derozan to comfortably return and transition back into being a key cog on the team. He is a fantastic scorer when he is firing at all cylinders, and his ability to get to the free-throw line will help the Raptors in abundance. But making this already high-octane offense a little better might be a case of “addition by subtraction” for Derozan.

However, that decision is ultimately up to him.

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