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Figures and Facts - Are the Raptors Actually in the Same Class as the Hawks?

Was the Hawks' performance in the playoffs a bit like Screech from Saved by the Bell?

Was the Hawks' performance in the playoffs a bit like Screech from Saved by the Bell?

The Eastern Conferences playoffs so far have offered up both the best and worst of the NBA. The best? Undoubtedly the Boston-Chicago series that will go down in NBA lore. The worst – how about the bizarre Hawks-Heat series, possibly the most lop-sided seven-gamer of all time.

Check the stats:

The closest game in the series was a 10 point Atlanta win in game four. The rest? Teams won by an average of nearly 21 POINTS??!! Did either team even WANT to win this one?

It was sort of like a match-up between Waldo from Family Matters and Screech from Saved by the Bell; the one who makes the less bone-headed decisions wins.

So as was the case last week after watching Philadelphia, again, this got me thinking back to some of the Raptors’ comments as the season was winding down. Was the Toronto team that we saw over the final 15 or so games a better club than either of these two excuses for playoff contenders? Or better yet, considering Atlanta ended up winning the series, were the Raptors as good a playoff team as the Hawks?

Let’s look at some stats to see if we can make a determination…

1) Starting Unit Efficiency:

As we did with Philly, we start our analysis at comparing each team’s top 5-man units. Again, by examining things this way, it’s quite possible to compare Toronto’s starting five through the final few months, to that of Atlanta’s. Toronto overall on the season did a better job than Atlanta in terms of leading after the first quarter but the Hawks were a much more even-keeled team throughout the entire game. They ranked between 5 and 11 in the league in terms of percentage of time they lead by quarter whereas after their great start to games, the Raptors quickly plummeted to the bottom of the league rankings the rest of the way.

Comparing individual five-man units, statistically, Atlanta’s starting five of Bibby, Johnson, Williams, Smith and Horford posted similar "effective field goal percentage" numbers (field goal percentage adjusted for the value of the 3-point shot) at both ends as the Dinos. Both teams hit about 50% of shots under these conditions however the Hawks were slightly better defensively allowing opponents to post an effective field goal percentage of 51% from their opponents as opposed to 55% from the Raps.

However statistics like rebounding rate, points allowed per possession, and collective +/-, all weighed in the Hawks’ favour.

The stat that really jumped out at me however was net free-throw attempts by each unit. Even with Marion and a healthy Jose, the Raptors unit netted 40 free-throw attempts when they were on the floor together compared to almost SEVENTY for the Hawks. Perhaps this comes as no surprise to readers considering the constant moans regarding a lack of a shot-creator from the perimeter, but this stat really paints a vivid picture. Essentially that Hawks’ group was able to get to the free-throw line almost 30 times more than Calderon, Parker, Marion, Bosh and Andrea were able to, a huge advantage, especially in late-game situations.

Advantage – Atlanta.

2) Bench Efficiency:

Similar to Philadelphia, the Hawks don’t go very deep on their bench outside of Maurice Evans, Zaza Pachulia, Flip Murray, and the occasional appearance from the likes of Solomon Jones and Acie Law. In last night’s blow-out win of the Heat, Evans was pressed into the starting duties thanks to the injury to Marvin Williams so only Pachulia and Murray played over four minutes in reserve roles! Again, contrast this to the Raptors who at times this past season played Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, Roko Ukic and even Jake Voskuhl for extended periods.

It’s hard therefore to do an accurate comparison, as rarely did Atlanta play without at least two starters on the floor with the second group. As we know, the Raptors on the other hand sometimes had Roko, JK, Graham, and guys like Hump, Big Jake or Pops out there with either Bosh or Bargs.

So once more, instead of looking at the effectiveness of various combinations of bench units, I thought it might be more interesting to look at the PER, ESPN stat guru John Hollinger’s measure of a player’s efficiency, for each option for each team off the proverbial pine.

The average PER for the Raptors’ bench group that finished off the year, that is to say Jason Kapono (8.97), Roko Ukic (9.84), Joey Graham (11.99), Pops Mensah-Bonsu (14.73), Patrick O’Bryant (11.65) and Quincy Douby (10.26) was 11.24 – not exactly anything to write home about. (I didn’t include Marcus Banks or Kris Humphries obviously because of injury, and Nathan Jawai and Jake Voskuhl were eliminated as well due to insufficient playing time.)

Looking at Atlanta’s top backups in terms of minutes played, the numbers were very revealing. Their top five players off the bench, that is to say Ronald Murray (14.73), Acie Law (10.68), Solomon Jones (12.08), Maurice Evans (11.11), and Zaza Pachulia (14.14), had an average PER of 12.55.

While it’s not quite the same discrepancy as had existed between Toronto and Philadelphia, the difference in average PER in this case (12.55 to 11.24) still stands out. This is even more true when you examine only the average PER’s of Kapono, Ukic and Graham (Toronto’s top 3 bench members in terms of minutes played) versus the trio of Murray, Evans and Pachulia (10.27 vs 13.33). Suddenly then, this difference in average PER leaps to a few more points and again you see just why Toronto had such a tough time staying in games with their back-ups on the court. These players just weren’t producing at close to average levels for NBA reserves.

Again, the caveat here is that had Pops, one of Toronto’s best bench options, played more minutes, then things would have evened out a bit more statistically. But the point again is that Atlanta this season had a lot more effective bench options to turn to then did the Raptors.

Advantage – Atlanta.

3) Team Statistics:

In last week’s statistical comparison between Toronto and Philadelphia, I discussed the difficulty of looking at overall team statistics due to the fact that most that I could find, only examined both teams’ bodies of work over an entire season. I of course wanted to scrutinize only that period of time from Shawn Marion’s arrival on the scene because over an entire season, things skew strongly in Atlanta’s favour.

Case in point - Atlanta was one of the top clubs in terms of John Hollinger’s offensive efficiency marks (10th compared to 22nd for Toronto) and defensively things weren’t much better for the Dinos (11th for ATL, 22nd for TO in terms of defensive efficiency.) Atlanta played at a much slower pace than Toronto, and while didn’t post that much better of a rebounding rate, they got to the free-throw line ninth most in the league. (Toronto was 25th in this stat.) Combine this with the fact that the Hawks also hit almost two more 3’s on average per game than the Dinosaurs, and you see why it’s much more important to get a look at the two teams during only the post-JO trade era. So once more, I turned to David Berri’s "wins produced" metric.

Comparing the two teams, Toronto has a ghastly four players in the bottom 25 regarding "wins produced" (Andrea Bargnani, Jason Kapono, Roko Ukic and Jake Voskuhl) whereas Atlanta didn’t have a single one.

On the flip side, the Raptors Chris Bosh, Shawn Marion and Jose Calderon are all among the top 30 in the league in terms of wins produced, whereas the Hawks only have Mike Bibby.

The problem is, much like with our previous analysis, the drop-off from TO’s top 3 is substantial. Atlanta again simply has players that produce a higher amount of wins than does Toronto. On average, each Hawk produced 1.62 wins. The Raptors? 1.43, and that difference is magnified if you take out the top 3 Raptors scores provided by Bosh, Calderon and Marion, and do the same for Philly by subtracting Bibby, Horford and Johnson. As was the case with our last analysis this shows that a good chunk of the Raptors’ starters are on par with most of the league, but the drop-off after that "ain’t pretty."

Advantage – Atlanta.

4) Conclusion:

So back to the basics here; was the final version of the Raptors worthy of fighting it out for a top four playoff seed with Atlanta?

I think from our overall analysis above, the answer is a resounding no.

That’s not to say that in a seven game series, the Raps couldn’t have won a game or two. But I think the difference in the end would have been defense. Many questioned if last spring’s Hawks club that took the eventual Champ Boston to seven games would even make the dance again. Many felt it was simply a poor match-up for the Celtics, not a result of anything the Hawks were doing as a collective unit.

However what many failed to notice is just how much this team has improved defensively over the past few seasons, and in every type of metric I examined, this point kept sticking out. You may not think it at first glance, but Atlanta was one of the better defensive teams in the league, something the Raptors certainly were not, even with Marion on board.

I think then based on these two sets of analysis, this and last week’s comparing the Raps to the 76ers, it’s quite evident that not only does Toronto need some major bench help, but they also need some major assistance on D.

Will these needs start to be addressed via the draft?

We might get the first glimpse of whether that’s the case in just over two weeks time when Toronto finds out just what spot they’ll be picking from.