Truthfully, I'm not really sure how to preview this game.
Tonight the Toronto Raptors are hosting the Indiana Pacers, and I'm finding it hard to come up with anything too mind-bending to discuss.
After all, the Dinos are coming off two ridiculous losses at the hands of two of the league's worst clubs record-wise, the latter of the two losses against a bad team that was on paper even worse, missing its best player Kyrie Irving.
Sure, the Wizards have played a lot better of late, but if you took in Monday's fiasco, it wasn't as if Washington pulled out all the stops and the Raps just lost to the better team. Toronto shot 36.7 per cent from the field that night!
The club just hasn't looked that good and you can sort through all sorts of stats to back this up.
Toronto has dropped from the top 10 in offensive efficiency, hasn't exactly been gangbusters on D (although that's one area statistically that indeed has improved with the Rudy Gay trade), and is now turning the ball over more than they ever have, without a boost in assist metrics.
It leads me back to a post I wrote at the pinnacle of the recent Raptors' five-game win streak, a streak that in fact despite ending less than two weeks ago, feels like it could have occurred back in November. I wrote that despite the five straight victories, I still wasn't sure how good this Raptors' team was for a myriad of reasons, and took some heat for openly wondering if the club was that much better than the pre-Rudy Gay version.
It's still too early to tell one way or another obviously, but let's just say I'm not anxious to change my tune yet.
And frankly that sucks.
While I had my doubts and concerns about the move, the truth is, I wanted so desperately to be wrong. I wanted Rudy Gay to be reborn in Toronto as more efficient shooting, shot-creating, ball-hawking small forward, aka the player everyone thought he could be since his days at UCONN.
But unfortunately that hasn't been the case, especially in terms of efficiency as Rudy's true-shooting percentage since joining the Raps puts him 365th in the league.
Yep, read that one again.
Of course that's just one metric but it's pretty hard to win a ton of games when your go-to guy shoots like my 8 year old cousin.
Especially when his usage rate is eighth in the league amongst players who see more than 30 minutes of playing time a night.
The last two losses aren't all on Rudy Gay obviously, but the point here is that essentially a third of Toronto's offence is running through a player that's hitting about one of every three shots he takes when you factor in three-pointers (don't even look at his percentage from long-range.) And further complicating matters is that his teammates aren't exactly a crew of Ray Allen's to help make up for his errant attempts.
None of DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Alan Anderson or Terrence Ross rank in the league's top 250 in true shooting percentage and yet the bulk of the offence each game runs through three of those four, plus a guy like Kyle Lowry.
Toronto was winning games earlier this season thanks to its offence, and its time to get that going again.
Therefore instead of three keys to beating the Pacers tonight, I thought we'd look at three ways for the Raptors to get their offensive swagger back.
1) More Jonas. In his recap of Wednesday night's loss to the Cavs, Raptors Republic's Blake Murphy made some very keen observations, one of them being that Jonas Valanciunas is not getting enough touches on offense. He's fighting for post position, securing it, and then watching as his perimeter players go one-on-five or force tough jumpers.
The club has to trust him more down low, especially when he's got a size advantage on his defender. He had only four touches in 24 minutes of playing time Wednesday night, and this evening against a very stingy Pacers' defense, I'm hoping both he and Amir Johnson, Toronto's most efficient offensive option, get a lot more looks.
2) Motion on O. It's easy to say the Raptors need to move the ball more but the fact is, the club now starts a number of high-volume scorers who aren't very good at creating for teammates. Subtract Mr. Pass Jose Calderon and we're seeing way too many offensive sets ending with isolation situations as Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan try to create something out of nothing.
The onus is of course on Kyle Lowry to help in this regard, but the Raptors coaching staff needs to do a better job creating motion on offense via set plays. I'm hoping this is a work in progress as the newer players get acclimated to their roles but in the meantime, how about some more post-ups for Gay and DeRozan? This was an effective technique used when Gay first came on board, thus forcing double-teams which opened up driving and passing lanes. We've seen a lot less of that over the past two matches but with both Gay and DeRozan having solid skills down low, that's one thing I'd look to more in terms of helping to open things up.
If not that then, "horns up!"
3) Get the Right Guys on the Floor Together. The last key falls entirely on Coach Casey and his staff. While I think Casey has done a good job so far in his Raptors' tenure, his personnel and substitution decisions can be a bit puzzling to say the least. Of late I'd argue they haven't been puzzling so much though, they've just been bad.
Again as Blake noted in his recap, Casey made wholesale substitutions against the Cavs that resulted in too many minutes for his over-matched bench squad, and Cleveland took advantage. The hockey changes were possible pre-Gay as many of Toronto's bench options weren't so different talent-wise from his starters but that's no longer the case. Casey simply has to have a couple of his starters in with the second unit at all times, and some better combinations would help too. With Bargnani struggling so bad, maybe you don't play him as the lone defensive big? And maybe you make sure he's with Lowry and getting touches in his favourite spots?
And hey, maybe with the team unable to hit from long-range, Terrence Ross should you know, play?
The larger point here is that there are definitely some limitations offensively with this current roster, but there are options available to help ease what can be an inefficient group.
It's up to Casey and his staff tonight to make the necessary changes or against the Pacers, we'll be lucky to see Toronto score 80 points.