The season's been over for almost two weeks now but the HQ crew isn't done breaking down just what went wrong. Today Franchise looks at the Raptors from various statistical viewpoints and reveals what many already know...a complete lack of defence prevented this club from coming close to achieving its full potential...
"There's only two things you need to know about a team when you're trying to decide if they're any good; do they play defence, and can they rebound the basketball."
Those words were spoken by the one and only Charles Barkley early in these NBA playoffs.
As a fan of TNT's pre-game and halftime antics, I usually tune in to see what sort of wisdom the Chuckster is going to drop, or better yet, how many jokes will come at his expense. However this particular statement made me put down the ESPN Mag that I was casually flipping through, and gaze at the TV in amazement.
So simple, yet so true.
It's been said in a million ways and shown via a million types of analysis but defence and rebounding are consistently key factors in Championship calibre NBA teams.
Of course, my next thought after "Chuck speaks the truth" was; "right...neither of which Toronto does well."
We know the basics of course.
Out of the 30 NBA teams, the Raptors were sixth in offensive efficiency, percentage points behind Denver, Cleveland and Atlanta. They were tied for fifth in the league in true shooting percentage, and sixth in effective field goal percentage.
And considering they poured in 104 points per game, fifth best in the league, this was obviously a very good offensive club.
That we know.
We also know that the defensive side of things wasn't so pretty.
A quick reminder:
While the Raps scored 104 points a game on average, they gave up 106! Pretty tough to win a ton of games when you consistently allow your opponent to outscore you.
They also were the least efficient defensive club in the league, giving up an incredible 110 points per 100 possessions, and at one point in the season were threatening to rank as the worst defensive teams in NBA history.
From T.Jose Caldeford:
And the rebounding story wasn't much better.
Only seven teams had worse rebounding rates than the Dinos and along with the Knicks, the Raptors as a team grabbed the sixth fewest boards in the league.
So getting back to Chuck's point, we're talking about a club here that couldn't clean the glass, or keep points off the board.
The frustrating thing was that the team's point differential (average points scored minus points given up) wasn't that bad at -1.8. This was simply because while Toronto's D was so bad, the offense was so good. To put this in perspective, the Raps are just the second team in the past 10 years according to basketballreference.com, who had an offensive rating of 111 or more but held a losing record! Had the team even been a middle of the road defensive team, or even in the lower tier, there's no doubt this club could have been playing in the post-season.
Evidence of this? Their point differential had them 19th in the league in this area, with teams like Houston and Memphis just ahead of them.
As well, in Wayne Winston's final NBA team ratings, Toronto finished 19th as well, struggling again in terms of their defensive score.
Notice a pattern? In the final overall standings, Houston was just ahead of and Memphis ended up with the same record as Toronto. These teams were in the Western Conference and not competing with Toronto for a playoff spot, so if you remove them from the picture, this puts the Raps 17th, and yes, just outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which was exactly what occured. Again, if the team could have played some semblance of D, a post-season berth would have been in the cards.
However this was not to be, and here we are, trying to figure out what went wrong in a season where so many predicted a return to the NBA's second season.
Hell, even I predicted a playoff trip, and using David Berri's "wins produced" methodology, pegged Toronto for the East's final spot when I did my season preview.
By this methodology, it looked like Toronto would win 38 games, which I argued was probably on the low end, with 45 being the high mark. My real estimate was a 42 win season. In the end my range was pretty bang on as the Raptors only hit the 40 win mark, however with a healthy Bosh I'm convinced they would have at least gotten to 42 and perhaps gone beyond that.
But what about my Eastern conference rankings based on Berri's "Wins Produced" scores?
The Detroit and Philly pieces were pretty good, and Atlanta and Toronto were at least close, but Indiana? Maybe had Washington avoided all the drama it went through it would have made a playoff push but I think it's pretty safe to say that 4th was a huge leap.
Unfortunately I had assumed that Charlotte and Milwaukee wouldn't challenge for a playoff spot so I didn't include their total wins produced scores in my season preview, but in retrospect, I obviously should have ranked them as well.
I think the point here is that while using an aggregate of a team's players' past performances is an interesting idea, it's no sure-fire way to predict future success. There are just too many mitigating factors that can emerge, from guns in locker rooms to season-ending injuries.
But let's get back to Toronto for a second.
From all the data we've examined so far, it should be pretty clear then that Bryan Colangelo's primary focus this off-season should be to do whatever it takes to significantly upgrade this club's defense, especially in terms of personnel.
However I've got little faith that that's in fact going to occur. Last season I sat and listened to BC preach defensive upgrades, and unbelievably, his changes resulted in the club going from 22nd to 30th in terms of overall defensive rating!
And that shouldn't be a surprise I guess.
Any time you replace Shawn Marion with Hedo Turkoglu, there's going to be some issues on D.
However again, I'll reference Chris Black's work at T. Jose Caldeford to point out how crucial defensive upgrades are. The following list shows the aggregate average defensive ratings from the past 9 Eastern Conference Champions's starting five:
Toronto's mark this past season?
There's just no way this team is going to get a whiff of the post-season let alone get out of the first round unless that improves drastically.
And forget strictly defense, what's really scary is that all statistics point to a huge drop-off should Bosh leave and his production not be replaced.
Forget simply replacing the 24 and 11 a game, those can be somewhat hollow statistics. But CB4 put up a career-high PER at 25.11, behind only LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Durant this season, and using Berri's wins produced score, Bosh accounted for nearly 12 of the Raptors' wins alone.
Who fills those voids?
By Berri's estimates, the club will be lucky to win 25 games next year without Bosh, and that's assuming players like Amir Johnson are kept around!
Perhaps that's a bit "doom and gloom" but I really want to stress how crucial this off-season now is for the Raptors. (Hence my desire for a lottery pick.) Toronto desperately needs defensive upgrades, as well as someone who can replace Bosh's scoring, rebounding, free-throw shooting, etc, etc. (Keep this in mind as we start to roll out our draft previews in the next few weeks, as these points will certainly be a reoccurring theme.)
In addition, there's a reason I asked Bryan Colangelo at the year-end press conference about his club's use of metrics and statistics. Because if Bosh is gone, and if BC for all his valiant attempts can't get much to replace him with or with which to upgrade the roster, Jay Triano and co will have to do a much better job with the talent it has.
The forced starting of DeMar DeRozan was a statistical nightmare from every angle this past season, as was the Hedo-Jack-Calderon "triangle of death," as one of our readers dubbed it. Hedo never got into shape, but even in "Orlando playoff mode," he'll never be Shawn Marion.
And of course there's the on-ball D of Jose Calderon, and the help D of Andrea Bargnani, which Jay Triano noted in his exit interview, Andrea "still didn't understand the concept of."
Considering its quite likely that all of the aforementioned return next season, barring assasination attempts on Hedo of course, again, Triano needs to start looking at the numbers much closer in terms of deciding who starts, who finishes, and who plays with who.
Because right now, there's just not a lot to work with in terms of defence from a personnel standpoint.
And that's why I'm suddenly quite excited for the NBA Draft.
It might be Toronto's best chance this off-season to acquire a key piece on what may be a long road back to defensive respectibility.