As the league leading Raptors embark on a tough stretch of games, there are some areas in which they can improve on to stay atop.
By: Papa Minnow
When the Toronto Raptors traded their franchise player DeMar DeRozan alongside their young big man Jakob Poeltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, there were many questions regarding the future of the team and what was in store for the upcoming season.
Since then, the Raptors took off to start the season with a franchise record six straight wins and currently sit atop the standings with a league best 18-4 record, while on a six game win streak. Their current schedule hasn’t been the most difficult with five of those wins coming against teams under .500. However, they’ve managed to take care of business even when they’ve faltered to big deficits or squandered big leads in those games.
The real test will commence when they face off against the Golden State Warriors at home on Thursday night, followed by match ups against nine teams above .500 in their next 12 games including another meeting with the Warriors on December 12th. With a much tougher stretch of games, here’s how they can stay atop the league.
Three Point Shooting
Raptors fans have a lot to be excited for as the team continues to improve offensively with the progression of the season. They currently rank 3rd in PPG at 117.0 (according to NBA.com), 2nd in OFFRTG at 114.3 (according to NBA.com), and 2nd in NBA Team Average Scoring Margin at +8.9 (according to teamrankings.com).
Those numbers across 22 games show that they are one of the most elite offensive teams in the league, but here’s the best part: The Raptors are slightly below average when it comes to three point shooting.
They rank 17th in the league shooting 35.1% (according to NBA.com) and 30.2% of their scoring comes from distance (according to teamrankings.com). During their six game win streak they shot 40%, 26.5%, 54.5%, 43.6%, 27.8%, and 31.4% against their opponents for a margin of victory of +19 over their first three opponents; and +12 over their last three opponents (according to teamrankings.com). They’ve been streaky from distance and quite a few of those shots have been uncontested.
This may be due to fresh faces, and new roles that have been assigned to players within this new offence under coach Nick Nurse. Kawhi Leonard, Fred VanVleet, CJ Miles, and Kyle Lowry are all shooting the three under their career averages at the rate of 33%, 35.2%, 28%, and 36.2% respectively (according to ESPN.com), with only Danny Green shooting it higher than his career average with 44% of his three pointers being made this year.
As this team continues to gel, one can expect that those open shots from key three point shooters will start to drop and their individual numbers will improve the team’s overall offensive output.
Not giving the opponents the ball has been an issue for the Raptors this season. With a new offence and new pieces comes growing pains, so it’s unclear whether turnovers will decline as the season goes on, or if this is just a part of the team’s DNA; however it should be an area in which this team looks to improve in order to get better.
The Raptors currently rank 20th in turnovers per game averaging 15.2 per game on the season which falls right under the Houston Rockets (15.0) and above the Chicago Bulls (15.3). If the Raptors can shave down that number to around 14.5 per game and become middle of the pack, it will give them more opportunities to best their opponents and less opportunities for their opponents to best them.