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6 Seconds on the Clock…

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The Raptors don't have an answer for LBJ up top...but do they need one?

The Raptors don't have an answer for LBJ up top...but do they need one?

With his back to the basket, Chris Bosh spins, sizes up his defender, fakes, and realizing he’s double-teamed, passes the ball back out to the perimeter.

Seconds later, Bosh reposts, and another entry pass is delivered by Raptors’ point guard Jose Calderon.

Bosh again tries his move, only this time he sees a cutting Jermaine O’Neal, and feathers a pass through the lane to him. However once he receives the ball, O’Neal realizes he has no room to operate, and sends the ball back out to Anthony Parker, near the 3 point line.

At this point, both offensive first options for Toronto have been exhausted and there remain only six seconds left on the shot clock.

Parker doesn’t have an open shot at the basket, so he must decide in a split second some way to create an open look…

The scenario I’ve just described is one that may occur at some point next year.

It’s certainly one that as Raptors’ fans we’ve seen on many an occasion and often, the result has been a wild shot fade-away by Parker or TJ Ford or a turnover giving the ball back to the opposing team.

So will this year be any different?

An interesting article from back in June triggered my thoughts about this topic.

From the ESPN the Magazine piece entitled "When All Else Fails," Chris Broussard takes a look at that crucial part in a team’s possession, when the first two offensive options have been thrown overboard and it’s up to usually a single player to come to the rescue.

Only problem is, for Toronto, who is that?

While Toronto has hopefully addressed some of its rebounding and defence issues, the club still lacks a player who can really create his own shot from the perimeter.

In fact, for all of his ups and downs, TJ Ford was probably Toronto’s best option (see 2006 wins against Portland and the LA Clippers for instance) and now he’s gone.

Jamario Moon has the athletic prowess to play this role, but he didn’t show much ability in this regard last year.

And Joey Graham…well…moving on.

In Broussard’s piece, he brings up several interesting stats thanks to the folks at 82games.com.

The first of these is that "one of five first-action possessions (any possession that doesn’t begin with an offensive rebound) in the recent regular season came down to the final six seconds of the shot clock."

One in five?

And he goes further to state that in the playoffs, probably because of the increased defensive intensity and scouting predicated on stopping an opponent’s first offensive strike, that number goes up to one in four.

Secondly, 82games.com identified five of last year’s final eight playoff teams as some of the best in the league at getting to the free-throw line or scoring in the final six seconds. The teams were the Jazz (the top club), the Lakers (right behind), the Magic, Pistons and Celtics.

In the article, one scout stated that 90 per cent of the time this last option comes down to a simple isolation or pick-and-roll sequence. And from the teams above, you can see that each either has an exceptional one-on-one player (see Lakers, Los Angeles), or excel at the pick-and-roll game, (see Jazz, Utah.) Other teams at the top of the list included the Cavs (Lebron), the Spurs (featuring Manu’s one-on-one ability), and the Wizards (Mr. Arenas might have something to do with this.)

So what about the Raptors, where do they fit in?

While the numbers aren’t out for last year, a similar squad in 2006-07 took the majority of its shots (37%) early in the shot clock, in fact in the first 10 seconds. This makes sense based on Colangelo and Mitchell’s ill-conceived "100 shots" plan that was eventually abandoned whereby we saw Toronto play at one of the league’s slower paces. However even with this slow pace, the Dinos took only 12 per cent of their shots with 21 or more seconds left on the clock and only 23 per cent between the 16 and 20 second mark. And in the final few ticks, the Raptors shot an ugly 41 per cent in terms of field goal efficiency.

In that clutch time, it was usually Chris Bosh or TJ Ford who were called upon and in fact Bosh is the only Raptors on 82games.com’s "clutch stats" list, at 19.

All these stats are interesting I suppose, but what does this mean for next year’s team?

Well one could argue that it would be reason for concern.

It could be argued that without Ford, more pressure is now on Bosh to make something happen in that time, as Jose Calderon doesn’t have the same one-on-one abilities as TJ.

And the loss of Carlos Delfino, probably Toronto’s second-best perimeter creator off the dribble, could intensify this even further. Based on the 2006-07 stats, Toronto scored a measly eight points per game in the final seconds of the shot clock and overall, nearly 70 per cent of shots taken were jumpers, numbers that I doubt changed much last year.

On the other hand, perhaps Toronto doesn’t need a perimeter creator as much. Toronto is one of the better pick-and-roll teams with Jose Calderon running the play to near perfection time and time again. The addition of Jermaine O’Neal as another "roll partner" could make Toronto nearly impossible to stop off of this play. If a team plays off of Bosh expecting the ball to go to JO off the screen-and-roll, Calderon could dish to Bosh for his lethal elbow jumper. Conversely if a team stays with Bosh, perhaps an alley-oop to a rolling O’Neal will be the best bet.

The New Orleans Hornets are a perfect example of this in fact.

While the team doesn’t have a Kobe Bryant or Lebron James on the perimeter, it was one of the better shot clock efficiency teams in the regular season. This was thanks to the heady point guard play of Chris Paul and the size and athleticism of Tyson Chandler. The two lead the league in alley-oops with 107 and even the threat of this play opened things up for shooters like Mo Pete and Peja Stojakovic, or forays to the basket for CP3.

Toronto could do a good amount of damage in the same way and Sam Mitchell would be smart to emphasize this in training camp, in addition to whatever Tim Duncan/David Robinson patterns that he envisions.

However all of this starts at the point guard position and it’s another reason why having as healthy a season as possible from Jose Calderon is paramount. Toronto has struggled in the past with late-game clock management and the team can no longer depend on the buzzer-beating antics of Mo Pete to get the job done.

No, the Raptors didn’t add an Andre Iguodala type one-on-one player from the perimeter in the off-season…

…but with a little creative coaching from Sam Mitchell, perhaps no one will be the wiser…

FRANCHISE