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How did the Raptors win Game 1? With their depth

Toronto saw good performances from almost the entire main roster, right down to their usual 12th man. Not a bad turn of events for Game 1

Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors - Game One Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

In my playoff preparation articles on the Raptors’ rotation, I delved into some lineups we should expect to see (and lineups Toronto should avoid). Sadly, to use samples with enough data, the Raptors’ ultimate wild card in Lucas Nogueira was left out of the article.

Let’s take a look at how much we should have expected his heroic turn in game one, as well as some other rotation decisions the Raptors made, for better or worse.

The Presence of Lucas Nogueira

So, Bebe played nine minutes, was a +8, and sparked the run to finish the game off in the 4th quarter. That’s great, on a night where most everybody played well.

Look at this list of net ratings (point differential per 100 possessions), almost all of which are good, and see if you can spot the biggest positive outlier.

Lowry: +14.3
DeRozan: +13.1
Anunoby: +28.9
Ibaka: +7.6
Valanciunas: +10.0
Wright: +2.5
Powell: +11.3
Miles: +3.0
Siakam: +25.7
Poeltl: -10.4
Nogueira: +54.7 (!)

Great nights all around, barring a rough night from Jakob Poeltl, but look at that score for Nogueira! His ideal usage is as that spark plug when the usually dominant bench looks just aren’t working, or one of Jonas Valanciunas or Poeltl are struggling defensively.

Now, this is no surprise. Nogueira has always been a plus-minus genius. The Raptors simply win his minutes. His sometimes inconsistent focus and effort can see him drop out of the rotation, but when he’s going well he can be a game changer. On the year, Nogueira had a net rating of +11.7 in his 400 minutes of court time, a mark topped only by Fred VanVleet among players who played at least as much as Bebe, powered by a team-best 96.4 DRTG, a full three points better on the defensive end than the next closest rotation player.

And his usage in this game was ideal. That is to say, he played in the one lineup he should definitely have success in, and also in a couple other lineups.

Nogueira has always had success alongside Kyle Lowry, especially in those Lowry-centric bench units. This season, roughly half his minutes came alongside Lowry, and in those minutes he posted a +15.9 net rating — leaving his non-Lowry minutes at a far less impressive +7.5 net rating.

And the sample is limited this season, but it goes back to last season as well. In the 2016-17 season, both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played more minutes with bench units, and each had success in different looks.

DeRozan had his success beside Poeltl, posting a +24 net rating in the most used bench lineup with the pair (in a small sample). He’s had success beside him again this year — the most used DeRozan bench unit has posted a +11.5 net rating. While last season the DeRozan bench unit with Nogueira was far less effective, with a +1.4 net rating.

Lowry showed the opposite trend. He’s generally great with everyone, but alongside Poeltl in the bench unit last year posted a -14.8 net rating in their most used configuration. That went to +14.3 with Nogueira’s most used bench unit. This year the Poeltl combination has been better (+6.2 net rating) but still not that impressive compared to Nogueira.

In any case, we can be pretty confident that Nogueira, if used specifically in Lowry+bench units, will have great success. Otherwise, it’s more of a coin toss. So, how did game one go?

Well, Nogueira played just under four minutes in his ideal Lowry+bench lineup. And he played just over 5.5 minutes in other lineups. The Lowry+bench lineup was +8 in those 4 minutes. The other lineups broke even. So, yeah, Nogueira is a great spark plug, especially when used correctly. He was in this one, and it paid off for the Raptors. But they should be careful not to think he’s a bandaid that fits any situation.

Odds and Ends

  • The starters were solid, as ever, posting a 128 ORTG and 97 DRTG in 20 minutes. Can’t ask for more than that.
  • The bench struggled a bit, but managed to outscore its problems thanks to some C.J. Miles threes, and posted a +11 net rating in five minutes played (as Lowry came in to bolster the unit in the second half).
  • DeRozan with the bench was very good as usual, as well, with a +15 net rating in their 5 minutes.
  • Most of the issues in the first three quarters stemmed from some odd lineups we either hadn’t seen much of, or knew wouldn’t work (some of which I highlighted in my prep articles).
  • Some examples of this are the starters with some combination of bench players thrown in. It has not worked this year and didn’t work last night. The starters played two minutes with Delon Wright in OG Anunoby’s place for some reason and were a -2 in those two minutes. There was a one minute stretch with Lowry, Wright, Miles, Serge Ibaka and Valanciunas sharing the court for some reason and they went -7 (!!!) in that one minute. Seriously.
  • Throw in the usual losing minutes from the Ibaka-Poeltl transitional lineups, which the Raptors still insist on using (-2 in 3 minutes) and the Raptors made this game harder than it had to be.
  • Ultimately, coach Dwane Casey made the right big call, going to Nogueira late, which overcame the various bad small calls made with those short minutes “bad idea” lineups. But it would sure be nice not to throw away those points and have to make them up elsewhere.