This year the Raptors' defence is much improved, currently sitting 10th in the league in defensive rating. This is a massive improvement over last season where the defence, although it started out well, had already slipped to 21st on it's way to a 23rd overall ranking on the year. Here is a quick look at how well the defence is against some specific types of plays.
Pick and Roll - Roll Man
Let's start somewhere the defence struggles. When defending pick and rolls, if the other team hits the big man rolling to the rim or popping for a jump shot, the Raptors give up 1.09 points per possession (PPP), second worst in the league. This is absolutely a system "issue," as several big men on the team struggle here. Jonas Valanciunas performs quite poorly here -- among players with at least 20 of these plays defended, he ranks 4th worst in the league with 1.28 PPP given up. Scola is not much better at 9th worst with 1.19 PPP given up. They sit at the 7th and 12th percentile respectively. Even a quicker defender who is known to shut down the paint has struggled a bit, with Biyombo sitting in the 46th percentile with a below average 0.93 PPP given up on these plays.
Seems like a problem. And the Raptors give up a roll man play about 6.6 percent of the time, 11th least in the league. But let's take a look at the other primary way a pick and roll can end.
Pick and Roll - Ball Handler
This is where the ball handler takes a shot after being freed up by the screener. If you are a Raptor fan you should be well familiar with this play type, as they finish about 20 percent of their plays this way. Defensively, the Raptors allow teams to finish plays this way 17 percent of the time (almost three times as often as the roll man finishes the play). And here's the good news: they rank second in the league in defensive efficiency on these plays, with only 0.73 PPP given up.
So it appears that the defence on the roll man is being sacrificed to ensure solid coverage on the ball handler, which fits with what we've seen this year. Between the two pick and roll play types, the Raptors average about 0.83 PPP on those plays, which make up about a quarter of all the plays the team faces.
Here we'll take a quick look at the individual play types - isolation and post up plays. The Raptors face very few isolation plays (3rd least in the league at 6 percent of their plays), which is bad, as that is a poor offensive set and ideally you want your defence to deny other plays to force the opposition to get sucked into isolation play.
Meanwhile, the team gives up a lot of spot up shot attempts - 4th most in the league at 22% of their defensive plays, and allow a higher than average shooting percentage when they do (bottom 10 in PPP). That speaks to a defence that is allowing the opposition to run its plays to generate open looks.
As for post ups, the team ranks best in the league at defending the post, with only 0.72 PPP given up. A lot of credit for this has to go to Jonas Valanciunas, who has the best defensive rating among all players with at least 25 post plays faced, and sits in the 98th percentile even with small sample defenders included, giving up only 0.45 PPP given up on almost 60 post ups (a full quarter of all the post-ups the Raptors have faced, and about a 6th of all the defensive possessions where JV has defended the player who finishes the play).
So, what do you guys think about the defence this year? Clearly it has been better, but do you see any area that can be improved, either through rotations or system tweaks?
All stats from NBA.com.