Wondering what is going on with the Raptors' defense lately? Let's take a look.
First, how bad is it?
Since the All-Star break, the Raptors rank 27th in the league in defensive rating (DRTG). This is a sample of only nine games, but still, that's bad. Thankfully the team has posted the best offense in the league over the same stretch, so they've kept winning, for the most part.
Even before the All-Star break, since Jan 25th (the nine games leading into the break, to mirror the nine games since), the team slipped to 14th in DRTG from 10th prior to that. The team had maintained roughly a 10th place defense throughout the first three months of the season, but started slipping heading into the break and has been a disaster since.
The conclusion: It's bad. But what's the problem?
This is the part where I would usually write a 1000 word essay on how terrible Luis Scola has been with the starters. And yes, he has the worst on-court defensive rating of the regulars since the break (115 DRTG). But it's not as wide a gap as you'd think. Terrence Ross, 114. Cory Joseph, James Johnson, Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas, 113. DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson, 110. And Kyle Lowry at 109. All of those numbers are bad and there's not much spread. Lowry being at the top points to the one game he rested as being an issue, and indeed the Detroit game was one of the worst defensive performances of the season (that game and the Cleveland loss are neck and neck) with a team DRTG of 129.7.
Let's take a look at some oft-used lineups and see if the age old pattern holds up, wherein the starters are very bad and the magical "Lowry plus bench" lineup saves the team. Since the break:
Lineup | Defensive Rating | Net Rating
KL-DD-JJ-LS-JV: 114 DRTG, -9.3 RTG --- Yep, it's the same old story.
KL-CJ-TR-PP-BB: 128.6 DRTG, -17.7 RTG --- Or, you know, not.
That's bad. Really bad. Something has gone awry with that bench unit. And with it being the catch-all solution of late to all of the team's struggles, when they struggle something bad is happening.
On the upside, the DeMar plus bench lineup has been solid defensively and in general.
No other lineup has played over 30 minutes over the past nine games, and the small-minutes lineups are a muddle of moderately good to moderately bad defensive lineups. Seems we should focus on the main two lineups.
The starters struggling is nothing new, and nothing surprising. Johnson's fall from grace defensively has not helped, and the issues with Valanciunas starting beside Scola are the same as they've ever been. Opposing teams are shooting well (53% eFG%) against this unit and not turning the ball over much (11% TOV%), while being pretty average on the offensive glass and getting to the line.
The bench, though. This is new, and it could be scouting or it could be effort, but it's bad. The bench is allowing opponents to shoot an astounding 61% eFG%, are fouling at a rate much worse than the starters are, though they are forcing some turnovers (13% -- not great but pretty average). But besides the high shooting percentage, the big issue is that the bench has completely fallen apart on the defensive boards. They are giving up an offensive rebound on over a third of their opponents' misses. So even in the rare event they get a stop of late, they are giving the ball right back by not boxing out.
How do we fix it, though?
Not sure. There's the standard response -- Patterson starting and Scola coming off the bench. And it probably addresses a couple problems, giving the bench unit a better rebounder, and the starters a more mobile defender. But it might not really fix the big problem we are seeing. Carroll coming back could help reduce JJ's minutes and see an uptick in wing defense.
But any one thing will probably not be enough to get the team back on track.
What have you seen in the Raptors' defensive slippage? Anything I missed here? Any obvious solutions? Or is it simply a matter of effort?