We've touched on the bench a few times this year, with some focus on Patterson versus Scola, and some attention paid to the early shooting struggles of Patterson and Ross, and a little bit with the rotation pieces a few weeks back. But we haven't really focused on the contributions of one of the big free agent signings this summer: Cory Joseph.
He was seen as a bit of an afterthought compared to the DeMarre Carroll signing, but Joseph may prove to be the more impactful player, whether or not Carroll can get healthy before the playoffs. His ability to play beside Kyle Lowry or as the sole point guard gives Dwane Casey lots of lineup flexibility.
Let's take a couple quick looks at just how good he's been.
First, it's not Joseph's offense that drives his value, though that has been nice. He's shooting only a 53.3 TS% (which is fine, but nothing special), well down from his last couple years near 56%. He's carrying only a 17% usage as well, so it's not like he's having to do everything himself, driving the efficiency down. Joseph is just a decent scorer, and his lack of shooting from range is going to hurt his efficiency.
But CuJo does pass -- more than anyone else on the team. Among the regulars, he has the highest assist rate with 24.5 assists per 100 individual possessions used, higher even than Lowry (23.3). And Joseph rarely turns it over -- his 10.3 turnovers per 100 possessions are lower than Lowry's 10.5 as well, leaving him with a team best 2.37 AST to TOV ratio.
So, Joseph is decent offensively, and keeps the offense moving with his steady playmaking at point guard. But the real difference is on the other end.
Joseph's defence on the perimeter and his impact on the team's defence overall have been tremendous.
The bench unit in general has been very good defensively, with Biyombo protecting the rim, Patterson providing quickness at the forward spot, and Ross finding a resurgence defensively against smaller bench players. Ross has the 4th best on-court defensive rating on the team. Patterson is 3rd, and Biyombo is 2nd. Best on-court defensive rating on the team? Cory Joseph, with a 99.1 DRTG.
Even more telling? With Joseph off the court, the team has a 106.7 DRTG. That's the biggest defensive swing on the team, and no other player sees the defence perform as poorly when they are on the bench.
Impressive. But if you really want an understanding of just how important to this team's success Joseph is, you need to take a look at the following.
Raptors' lineups with 50+ minutes played on the season, and their net rating:
KL-DD-TR-PP-JV | 68 MP | +32.7 RTG
KL-CJ-TR-PP-JV | 59 MP | +23.1 RTG
KL-CJ-TR-PP-BB | 262 MP | +21.9 RTG
KL-CJ-DD-PP-JV | 86 MP | +16.3 RTG
KL-CJ-DD-PP-BB | 114 MP | +16.2 RTG
CJ-DD-TR-PP-BB | 196 MP | +11.6 RTG
KL-DD-TR-LS-BB | 101 MP | -0.6 RTG
KL-DD-DC-LS-JV | 229 MP | -2.8 RTG
KL-DD-JJ-LS-JV | 321 MP | -5.5 RTG
KL-DD-NP-LS-JV | 74 MP | -6.7 RTG
KL-DD-DC-LS-BB | 130 MP | -7.8 RTG
KL-DD-TR-PP-BB | 93 MP | -10.8 RTG
KL-DD-JJ-LS-BB | 55 MP | -10.9 RTG
There are a few patterns here. First, yes, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are in a lot of those. One lineup without Lowry, two without DeMar. I like that there are none that have neither of them -- using star players to bolster bench lineups is a good strategy. But the coaching staff needs to find more than one lineup they can put out there to give Lowry a breather.
The real shame is looking at the bottom half of that list, at the 7 of 13 lineups that are net negatives, and realizing that those represent 1000 minutes played for each of Lowry and DeRozan where the team is getting outscored.
Second, the disturbing pattern of bad lineups playing more than good ones. Pairing up the most played bad lineup and the most played good lineup, the bad one has played 321 minutes to the good one's 262. And the second most played bad lineup plays more than the second most played good one (229 to 196). And so on. 130 to 114, 101 to 86, 93 to 68, etc.
Finally, take a look at the pair of Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson. Patterson is in every one of the positive lineups, and makes only one appearance in the negative lineups. Joseph is similar -- he is in five of the six positive lineups, and doesn't appear in the bad half of the list at all.
Much has been made about the impact Patterson is making, but we shouldn't ignore the contributions from the other key player off the bench. Joseph has been tremendous this season.
All stats per NBA.com as of the games played Sunday March 13th.