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Numbers Game: The Raptors are Shooting the Lights Out

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Remember how the Raptors couldn’t hit open shots? Neither do we.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The narrative through the first nine games of the season was the Raptors’ complete inability to hit open shots, especially from three point range. After the Raptors’ ninth game, they were ranked second-last in 3-point percentage (at 29 percent, just ahead of the Pelicans at 28.7 percent) and third-last in 3-point makes per game. This was causing some concerns over the performance of the team’s role players and shooters, especially with a tough stretch of six games on the road out of seven, against a brutal set of opponents (including the Warriors and Clippers on the second half of two back-to-backs), coming up next.

And those concerns were fair — good three point shooting may be the key to the team’s offence being close to unstoppable, rather than just very good, as spacing can do wonders for players like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas that like to produce points in the paint.

That said, those concerns were also over a small sample of only nine games, and cooler heads seem to have been correct for the moment. After that tough stretch of seven games (plus last night’s blowout win against the 76ers), the Raptors’ three point percentage for the season is up to 37 percent, good for sixth in the league, and right in line with where they were last season. This is thanks to them shooting a league best 45.1 percent from three over those eight games.

The improvement comes on the backs of the role players who were missing shots earlier in the season. DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson combined for 27 percent from three in the first nine games, and combined for 47 percent since. Kyle Lowry remembering how to shoot helps too (50 percent in the past eight games compared to 29 percent before then). Thankfully, the team’s early struggles appear to be simply that — early struggles. And it seems reasonable to expect a shooting performance from the team in line with last season’s.

Which is good news, because over the past eight games when their shooting has caught fire, their overall offence has been incredible. The following is a list of the last eight games, the Raptors’ 30point percentage in those games, and the Raptors’ offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) in each game.

Game | 3PT% | ORTG

@ CLE | 45% | 117
vs GSW | 40% | 119
@ DEN | 35% | 100
@ SAC | 38% | 105
@ LAC | 42% | 114
@ HOU | 52% | 117
@ MIL | 45% | 118
vs PHI | 68% | 129

For reference, the current average ORTG for the league is 103. So that’s two mediocre offensive performances in the middle (in their two worst shooting nights), and six games, against some very good teams, with incredible offensive performances. Over that stretch, the team has averaged a 115 ORTG, which would be good for first in the league. For the record, the team is already second in the league in offense — less than three points behind the Warriors with an 111.7 ORTG.

If the improved shooting can continue, things are looking up for the Raptors’ offence in general.

Your Weekly Reminder

The Raptors continue to insist on starting the wrong power forward, Pascal Siakam over Patterson. The relevant lineups’ ORTG, DRTG (points allowed per 100 possessions) and RTG (point differential per 100 possessions) through last night’s game:

Starters: 174 MP, 110.0 ORTG, 107.6 DRTG, +2.4 RTG
Starters with Patterson in Siakam’s place: 55 MP, 119.0 ORTG, 95.6 DRTG, +23.4 RTG

Moving on.

Awesome Lineups

But not moving too far. You may have noticed that Patterson starting lineup has an amazing net rating of +23.4 in a pretty decent sample of 55 minutes played. That would mean a 20+ point victory over 48 minutes, on average.

There is another lineup that has been as effective as hoped, and then some — the Lowry plus bench unit. When Lowry takes the court with Joseph, Ross, Patterson and Nogueira, that lineup has a mind-boggling +27.6 net rating in 75 minutes played.

Finding a way to leverage both lineups more often without overloading Lowry or Patterson is tricky, but worth a shot with those results.

On that note (and, as always, the previous one as well), Siakam has not been tried much with the bench (so small sample warning applies), but it is worth noting that his two best player pairings this year have been with Lucas Nogueira (+12 net rating, 27 minutes) and Terrence Ross (+7 net rating, 45 minutes). Perhaps it is not so much that Siakam is hurting the starting lineup but that they are hurting each other.

In any case, no matter what combination of players are out there, the recent hot shooting can only help the team, and although the recent hot streak may not continue, judging by last season, the aggregate so far is about what we can expect. And so far that means, by the numbers, the Raptors have the best offense in basketball this side of the Golden State Warriors.

All stats from NBA.com.