Is This 2018 NBA Team Any Good?: Toronto Raptors

by Fox Doucette

The Toronto Raptors are the last remaining holdout for the idea that old-school basketball can actually win games, and they went 51-31 despite ranking 22nd in the NBA in three-point attempts in 2017. While the Rockets and Warriors were breaking basketball with triples aplenty, the Raptors’ efficient inside-out game managed to rank sixth in offensive rating even as they were 24th in pace.

Casey says he wants to modernize the offense a little this year, shoot more threes, look more like a pace-and-space team, but with the Mid Ranger playing shooting guard, will it be hi ho Silver, away? Or will it be slow and steady wins the race once again when the realities of how DeMar DeRozan plays basketball once again begin to set in?

Either way, if they could be something other than the most boring team in the Eastern Conference, that’d be a nice start.

Stats via Basketball Reference. Over/under via Sports Insights. Let’s do the preview, eh?

2016-17 record: 51-31
2018 over/under: 48

Guys, Kyle Lowry Can Shoot Now

Kyle Lowry is the loudest argument against Kemba Walker fans saying their guy in Charlotte belongs in the All-Star Game. After all, when you rank the best point guards in the league, Lowry’s usually third or fourth in the tier that includes John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Isaiah Thomas.

And it’s not just empty praise either. Lowry put up a .464/.412/.819 slash line that represented a massive leap in eFG% from a career average of .498 all the way up to .569. He hit on more than half of his deuces for the first time in his career, powered by a honey of a midrange jump shot on which he connected 46.9 percent of the time between 10 and 16 feet and a newfound ability to finish at the rim that saw him convert 68 percent of the time from three feet and in.

Plus, as if to provide a sneak preview for coach Casey’s plans, Lowry took more than half his shots from that post beyond the arc where he tickled the twine at a career-best rate.

It’s not out of the question to suggest that maybe Lowry should be starting on that All-Star team. Yeah, Wall, Irving, and Thomas are fantastic (and Walker, fifth on the list, is no slouch), but Lowry has quietly become one of the best shooting primary ballhandlers in the league.

Oh, and he’s also fantastic at taking care of the ball, with a fantastic 2.6:1 assist to turnover ratio for his career, a far cry from “passing wizards” James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who come at the price of a ton of turnovers for their often selfish assists.

Toronto’s DeRozan Problem

Man, is there a player in the league that gets more props for scoring despite being a lousy scorer than DeMar DeRozan? He’s an Iversonian “30 points on 30 shots” kind of guy, who averaged 27.3 points per game and impressed the hell out of the look-at-the-counting-stats idiots while shooting 26.7 percent on three-pointers and taking 20.9 shots a game.

You will not in any universe convince me that a guy who shoots nothing but midrange jump shots and can’t make oh, about 54 percent of them, belongs as the primary focal point of a pace-and-space era NBA offense.

Plus, he’s an atrocious defender, a guy whose defense is so awful that he actually has a negative overall Box Plus/Minus for his career.

What he’s good at is powering his way to the free throw line, where he averaged just under nine attempts per game last season in the course of making 84.2 percent of them. It was enough to propel him to the best True Shooting (.552) he’s put up since his rookie year (.554, in 2009-10.)

I’m not going to say that a guy who puts up .166 WS/48 sucks. But I’ll be damned if I call a guy with a .477 eFG% who shoots 21 times a game good either.

Enjoy CJ Miles, Raptors Fans

Speaking as a Pacers guy, there is not a more frustrating guy in the league to watch than Calvin Miles, Jr. He put up a .434/.413/.903 slash line while taking a wacky-wild-Kool-Aid-Style 63.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, in the process putting up an eye-popping .565 eFG% and being the single greatest exemplar not named Stephen Curry of the notion that three is more than two.

But he is streakier than window cleaner you get at the dollar store. He will go through stretches where he’ll go 2-of-7 or 3-of-11 or some other equally ridiculous sub-30 percent slump and shoot a team out of a game, then bounce back and go 9-of-11 for 27 points (total, on 9-of-11 shooting overall) and get on SportsCenter.

Nobody is a bigger asset than Miles when he’s on. And nobody is a bigger liability than Miles when he’s off. He is manic depression in basketball player form. He is also, like DeRozan, a terrible defender, another guy who has a negative career BPM entirely because of his defense.

Lithuanian Monster Man Vs. World

Jonas Valanciunas is a beast. He’s the second-best player on the team by WS/48 (.183) even while he was third (behind the backcourt) in PER (20.1) and sixth in VORP (0.7).

But he pulls down nearly 30 percent of defensive rebounds (29.1, ninth in the league), makes his free throws (81.1 percent, sixth among centers with at least 100 attempts last year), and takes care of the ball (only 106 turnovers in over 2,000 minutes.)

If he’s the third-best player on your team, you’re in good hands.

THE VERDICT!

Look, this was never going to be anything other than Confirmed. Yes, there is no player in the league with the possible exception of LaMarcus Aldridge who is more infuriating to watch shoot midrange jump shots, but you make do with what you have. It’d be nice if DeRozan shot the ball less and let Lowry and even Miles do their voodoo on the wing like a proper 2017-18 NBA team, but you know what? The Raptors won 51 games last year and managed to be 11th in Defensive Rating despite having so many guys who on paper can’t play defense.

They’re greater than the sum of their parts. Best to keep calm and carry on, even if their ceiling is getting smacked around in the second round of the playoffs by Boston or Cleveland the way the Cavs swept them last year.

50-32 looks about right for these guys. Confirmed.

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