clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Raptors offense is historic, and wonderfully divergent

Toronto is scoring at an all-time rate, and it’s happening at their own pace.

Golden State Warriors v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

After a 44-point win over Atlanta, it’s becoming apparent that the Toronto Raptors are pretty good at scoring the basketball. As of today, they’re the second-best offense in the NBA, behind only the Golden State Warriors.

Those Bay Area freaks, as you may have heard, are on pace to be the best scorers anyone’s ever seen. A much quieter story amongst NBA heads? The Raptors are surprisingly close to being on exactly the same pace.

While the Warriors have an offensive rating of 114.7, the Raptors are just behind at 113.8. Adjust that for the hellish schedule Toronto has gone through — playing the Cavaliers and Warriors back-to-back, a five game road trip in eight days — and you’ve got something really stunning.

Even without factoring in schedule, the Raptors are ahead of the Mike D’Antoni-coached Rockets, the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Spurs. This is impressive enough on the surface, but dive deeper and you see a team that’s bullying the league at a historic pace.

As Russell Peddle pointed out in his Friday column, the Raptors’ offense is getting to be historic — the team is on pace to be a top ten offense all-time.

Query Results Table
Rk Season Tm Lg G W L W/L% Pace ORtg DRtg
1 2016-17 GSW NBA 19 16 3 .842 100.5 116.3 104.7
2 1986-87 LAL* NBA 82 65 17 .793 101.6 115.6 106.5
3 1991-92 CHI* NBA 82 67 15 .817 94.4 115.5 104.5
4 1987-88 BOS* NBA 82 57 25 .695 97.9 115.4 109.4
5 2009-10 PHO* NBA 82 54 28 .659 95.3 115.3 110.2
6 1995-96 CHI* NBA 82 72 10 .878 91.1 115.2 101.8
7 1994-95 ORL* NBA 82 57 25 .695 95.1 115.1 107.8
8 2016-17 TOR NBA 19 13 6 .684 94.9 115.1 108.0
9 1986-87 DAL* NBA 82 55 27 .671 100.5 114.9 108.7
10 1994-95 SEA* NBA 82 57 25 .695 95.5 114.8 106.3
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/3/2016.

Right now they’re ranked eighth in offensive rating by Basketball Reference, comfortably ahead of famous offensive teams like the 69-win 1990-91 champion Chicago Bulls (#11), the 2005-06 “Six Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns (#13), and — believe it or not — the 73-win Golden State Warriors from last year (#14).

This isn’t a fluke either. We’re now 20 games into the season, and the sample size is getting bigger and bigger. How have they managed it? Well, the Raptors are certainly diverging from league trends to put the ball in the bucket. While it’s become vogue to speed up the tempo, and while the Golden State Warriors continue to be lauded as the pinnacle of offensive basketball, the Raptors are percolating low and slow.

Of those top eight offenses of all-time, only the 1991-92 and 1995-96 Chicago Bulls played at a slower pace than the Raptors are at right now. Those teams, you might remember, had the benefit of Michael Jordan.

Indeed, Toronto is part of a small set of maverick teams like the Jazz and Spurs who are managing to be top ten offenses without a humming pace. Instead, they’re scoring methodically, and by maximizing their efficiency. The Raptors are doing this by running everything through DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both of whom are playing as selflessly as they ever have. Let’s take a look at them in turn.

DeRozan is making great decisions

Lowry is still the Raptors’ most important player, but it’s DeRozan that has made the most dramatic and noticeable improvement this season. His string of 30-point games kept the offense afloat while seemingly every member of the supporting cast was throwing up bricks.

Opposing defenses have taken notice of his scoring, often running straight double teams at DeRozan or applying pressure off his dribble. In response, DeMar is making great passes.

In that Memphis game, DeRozan was guarded by Tony Allen and had one of his worst first quarters of the season with five turnovers. This poor start, though, didn’t break his patience. By making passes early, then looking for his offense late, he still managed an efficient 24 points on nine shots, with six assists. This has become the norm too — DeRozan hasn’t taken over 20 shots during the current six-game win streak, and has still averaged 20.8 points and 5.7 assists.

This decision-making shows a new level of maturity for DeRozan. Even last season, he would often force his shot when faced with added pressure. This season, his usage has increased, but it hasn’t been a detriment to the team — he’s either making tough shots or making the correct pass to keep others involved.

Lowry is an elite shooter

Unlike DeRozan, you never have to worry about Kyle Lowry bringing the intangibles. He’s a pest on defense, leading the team with steals. He’s a great passer, averaging 7.3 assists per game. He’s able to affect the game in a multitude of ways.

The development for Lowry this year has been his three-point shot. He’s shooting above 40% from distance for the first time in his career (42%), a percentage that’s skyrocketed thanks to his play in the last week. During the last five games, he’s shot 36-for-56 from deep — a fiery 64.3%.

It’s not just making the shot either. Lowry is getting comfortable shooting from extreme distance. A look at his hex map shows just how great he is at those top-of-the-arc threes.

Early in his career, even in his first couple years with the Raptors, the big knock on Lowry was his inability to shoot. That’s improved over time, yes — but it’s taken a huge leap to start this year.

When Lowry is a lethal threat to make a shot ahead of the pick and roll, his defender and the big get caught paying too much attention to him — a threat much like that of Steph Curry in Golden State. This allows room for Lowry to work, and has helped him continue to catalyze the second unit. It’s especially explosive with Lucas Nogueira, who’s become a favourite target of Lowry lob passes.

All hands on deck

Lowry and DeRozan may drive the Raptors offense, but the van doesn’t get out of the parking lot unless the others are making their shots. Right now, they’re all lighting it up. Over the current win streak, Patrick Patterson is making 57.7% of his threes. Cory Joseph, a career 30% shooter from deep, is making 45.5% of his looks. DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross are both at 44.8%.

Which brings us back to our first statement: the Raptors have everyone rolling right now, and they’re putting the ball in the basket. This is a deep team, best shown during the last couple games when the rookies Jakob Poetl and Pascal Siakam have had their opportunity to shine. While it may be hard to believe that the Raptors — you know, the Toronto basketball team — could be an all-time offense, the depth would indicate they can’t fall too far off from where they are now.

That they’re doing it their own way, without the pace of other historic offenses, speaks to the comfort of this unit with each other. They continue to grow internally, which provides a lot of hope that the Raptors are taking another step forward in 2016-17.