The HQ breaks down another loss to the Bobcats and notes that some better free-throw shooting numbers would go a long way for this club.
Late last night, a reader and friend of mine, Kai Brown, texted me a quote which I had missed during the March Madness coverage.
The quote was actually an exchange between CBS's current talking heads, Greg Anthony, and Charles Barkley regarding the dominance of the Kentucky Wildcats so far in this NCAA tournament, and went like this:
Anthony: "Who do you think can beat Kentucky, Chuck?"
Barkley: "The Toronto Raptors."
After last night's' 107 to 103 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, I'm sure there are many Dino fans questioning whether the Raps could even beat Big Blue.
The six win Bobcats came back from deficits as big as 15, to outlast the Raptors in Charlotte, and take a 2-0 series lead between the clubs this season.
It wasn't pretty, even on the replay of the affair that I took in early this morning. This was another one that Toronto should have gotten a W at the end of, but a terrible stretch in the third quarter (the Raps were outscored 38 to 14) did them in, even with a late run. The Raps suddenly were sloppy on O, turning it over far too often (they finished the game with an egregious 24 in this category), missing open looks, and getting called for fouls that were often the result of simply not being sharp.
And as Dwane Casey noted post-game, who can blame them?
The club fought it out with Memphis in OT 24 hours before, got stuck in the land of Elvis due to mechanical issues with their flight, had to endure a fire alarm and semi-evacuation upon arrival at the arena, and apparently didn't even have dry uniforms before hitting the court.
Add in that this was the club's fourth game in five nights and you could argue that the team simply ran out of gas.
But something else jumped out at me in this loss. Or I should say, something else that's been a major factor in losses this year, occurred again last night.
Toronto got out-shot at the free-throw line.
The Raptors have shot 76.4 per cent from the free-throw line this season. It's not 90 per cent, but it's a solid mark that puts them a shade out of a top 10 spot in the league in that statistical category.
The club however only attempts about 22 free-throws per match (21.9), which puts them a shade out of the bottom 10 spots in the league in this regard. Considering their ability to knock them down from the stripe, a good strategy, on paper, would be to get there more often, to take advantage of this strength.
Especially when the Raptors allow their opponents to take on average six more free-throws a game against them.
I can't emphasize this point enough. Toronto is tied with Golden State for the worst free-throw attempt differential in the league as essentially each game, the Dinos are starting from 4.5 points down (their free-throw make discrepancy with opponents.) Considering that of 18 of the Raptors 45 games this season have been decided by seven points or less, that stat is HUGE. That's 40 per cent of Toronto's matches essentially coming down to the wire, and due to the Raptors' issues of getting to the line, and the fact they foul at such a high rate, this stat is really impeding their progress in the win category.
Even against Memphis on Friday night Toronto was out-shot at the charity stripe 51 to 38. Toronto walked away from that one with a win, but not by much and really, it was thanks to the Grizzlies' own issues at the line, hitting only 31 of said 51 attempts.
However there's a tradeoff going on here. Toronto's foul prone ways (they average a league-worst 24.4 per game) are slowing down the pace of the game and preventing many of the open looks, especially in the paint, that opponents got in the Jay Triano era. This has helped to boost the team's defensive statistics, so it's not as if one can simply say "stop fouling and you'll win more games Toronto!"
But at some point I do think something will have to give. The best teams in the league foul the least usually (San Antonio and Chicago for instance average only about 17 fouls a game) but it's not only due to their defensive schemes, they also simply have superior defenders stocking their rosters. Toronto doesn't have that luxury, so the fouling is the current solution to the club's previous defensive woes. However if you keep negating a good chunk of your club's improvement on D statistically by parading the opponent to the free-throw line...
You'll probably have about 15 wins on the season.
That's why this upcoming offseason is huge in my books, not just in terms of upgrading the club's offense, but the D as well. The Raps need a lot better defensive players on the perimeter as the team still struggles in this regard. DJ Augustin has torn TO's D apart the two times the clubs have met, last night being a catalyst in the come-from-behind win.
A solid two-way wing who can not only help lock opposing slashers down (like a Corey Maggette, he of 14 free-throw attempts last night), and get to the rim himself would be huge.
Whether they can get that in the draft or via free-agency remains to be seen, but I truly feel that acquiring one would be a huge boost for a club looking to turn their fortunes around.