So we’re roughly a ¼ into the 2017-2018 season and one thing is certain – the culture reset that Masai and Coach Casey alluded to at the end of the horrifying sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers – is indeed real. This new style of basketball was evident during the pre-season when the ball was being passed around like a hot potato and the team was making it rain 3’s like they were playing for Mike D’Antoni. But despite what everyone saw during pre-season, many were still doubting just how much this team can and has changed. Considering the long-standing history of the Raptors being a defense-minded team, many questioned if this change in style was even possible. Well haters we got some news for you - not only have we seen a change in style but it looks like it’s here to stay.
With 16 games under the belt of this new offense-hungry Raptors, they have gone 11-5 putting them second in the Atlantic Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference. We have already witnessed them play the two offensive juggernauts of the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets and from what we have seen, it’s safe to say we can roll with them.
During the first meeting with the Warriors in October, the Raptors battled through a tough game but lost 112-117. Raptors had an impressive 30-assist game and shot 45.5% from the field. Unfortunately, their 3-point shooting wasn’t up to par as they only made 8 out of 34 attempts which couldn’t compare to the GWS’ 12 for 26. They learned from their mistakes and made up for it during their game against Houston where they left with a dominating 129-113 win. During this win, the Raptors had 28 assists and shot 46.7% from the three, outperforming the Rockets who only shot 30.8%. Mind you, James Harden had 38 points for the night but the Raptors kept him to just 3 for 11 at the 3-point line.
As entertaining as these games were to watch, it is safe to say that these outings are not just outliers. They have consistently shown that this new style of play is sticking around and it is something that the organization as a whole has bought in to.
But what is it about the new Raptors that looks so different? Here are 4 factors that The Post Up has come up with:
Three-J Miles aka Bench Dad, aka CJ Kilometers, you get the point…
First lets just say that we all loved Cory Joseph. He was the homegrown talent that finally got the chance to play for his hometown. That man wore number 6 for crying out loud but what we got in exchange for him is on a whole ‘nother level. Coming into this organization, everyone knew that C.J. Miles was a shooter hence the reason why Masai and Webster went after him. In 2016-2017, C.J. averaged a 41.3% shooting percentage from the 3 and was 20th overall in 3-PT FG%. Having C.J. Miles really lightens up the offensive load that’s placed on our All-Star back court Kyle and DeMar. With the loss of Demarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson, C.J. Miles was the perfect shoe-in as the player who can stretch the floor and provide substance on both ends of the court. In his young career as a Raptors thus far, he is averaging 19.2 minutes, 10.6 points, 41.5% from the field and the equal in 3 PT%. Not only does C.J. provide offense for this team but he as also provides leadership off the bench. Listen to any post-game interview with C.J. and one thing you will notice is humbleness and a deep understanding of what he can be to the second unit. He makes an effort to instill confidence in the young squad and let's them know that they are just important to this team as the starters. He didn’t get the nickname of “bench dad” for nothing. As a 12-season veteran, C.J. is someone that our young second unit listens to and trusts. C.J. knows that these young guys are so receptive to what he has to say that he feels almost obligated to share and lead them. With the addition of C.J. Miles, the Raptors are finally able to see that 3-and-D guy that they have been searching for.
Ball Movement and Assists
During their playoff run last season, Meghan McPeak of TSN 1050 said that the ball moves faster than a human being; therefore ball movement needs to happen in order for this team be successful. Well, the Raptors heard you loud and clear Megan because this ball is M-O-V-I-N-G. During the 2016-2017 season, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists – that’s dead last – averaging 18.5 assists per game. I know that we’re just 16 games into this 82-game season but we sit 8th in the league in assists and are averaging 23 per game. You can also tell that this is an aspect the team is focusing on when their go-to-guy for offense has found a way to improve his passing. DeMar DeRozan averaged 3.9 assists last season and now he’s averaging 4.6 per game. This is a guy that specifically has iso-plays drawn up for him yet he even has found a way to play unselfish basketball and effectively utilize his teammates. The Raptors still have a long way to go considering the top teams like GSW, 76ers and Pelicans average anywhere from 26-30 assists per game but what we’ve seen so far is a testament that they’re for real about passing the rock.
When Coach Casey said that everyone on the team will be working on their three's this off-season, he was not joking. In this season so far, the Raptors are 8th overall in 3-point attempts (3PA) and 12th in 3-point made (3PM). Last season the Raptors finished 22nd overall in 3PA and 21st in 3PM which already shows that they’re putting an emphasis on what kind of shots are being taken. Again, we look back to the offensive leader on the team - DeMar DeRozan - to determine if this team has really bought into this new style of play. Last season, DeMar averaged 1.7 3PA, 0.4 3PM and shot 26.6% from the three. Now, not only is DeMar attempting more 3’s (2.9 3PA) but he’s also banking more where he averages 1 three point per game. Now you’re thinking “ONE three-pointer from the guy who’s supposed be leading this team? That’s ridiculous!” But considering this guy has been dubbed the mid-range king, an expansion into long-ball by him is a glimpse as to what direction this team wants to go in.
Minutes and Depth
The lack of minute distribution on this team has been something that the Raptors have been heavily criticised for in the past seasons. Last season, Kyle Lowry ranked 2nd overall averaging 37.4 minutes per game just shy of King James who averaged 37.8 minutes. This eventually caught up to the team when he was left more than bumped and bruised by the end of the season. DeMar DeRozan wasn’t too far behind with an average of 35.4 minutes per game. Fast forward to the 2017-2018 season, our infamous backcourt averages 31.9 minutes for Kyle and 34.5 minutes for DeMar. A lot of factors go into the change in minute distribution but it comes down to the depth of this team. As Jared Dubin said in his Fansided article, the Raptors have some new kids on the bench that have been, at times, carrying this team. In a stat the article shared from early on in the season, the bench had a better net rating than their starters. Additionally, four games into the season, our second unit was outscoring their opponents by 17 points. The efficiency and effectiveness of our second unit has helped taken pressure off our two All-Stars and has given them the break that they deserve. Assuming that Kyle and DeMar sees this kind of playing time for the rest of the regular season, the decrease in minutes will help in the longevity of this team not only within hard-fought games but also for deep play-off runs.
With all of that in mind, the argument can be made that we are only 16 games into a very long season and majority of our schedule have been the lower classes of the league. How is this a true representation of their actual style of play? One thing we can say for certain is that there’s consistency. With most, if not all of their games, the Raptors as a whole have shown that they are committed to this new persona of a point-scoring team. Many questioned if Coach Casey could make the change and so far, he has shown that he can and has. As the season progresses, only time will tell if the Raptors can become the Rockets or Warriors of the East.