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Analyzing the early season returns for the Raptors

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It’s only been five games, but what kind of statistics are jumping out at us with the Raptors? Let’s get into a few numbers.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been five games. The Raptors have four wins. They sit second in the East. They rank sixth in the league in defensive rating, and are a hair outside the top 10 in offensive rating. As a result, Toronto is a top five team in the league in net rating.

It’s only been five games though. It’s way too early to draw any major conclusions, or take any real lessons from any statistical evaluation of the team, players or lineups.

But, uh, let’s do that anyway.

Superstar Metrics

So, Pascal is a bona fide top 5 player in the league now, yeah?

Like, here’s three stat lines to compare.

Player A: 16.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 55% FG%, 37% 3PT%, 18.7 PER, 0.175 WS/48
Player B: 26.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 50% FG%, 37% 3PT%, 25.8 PER, 0.224 WS/48
Player C: 28.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 51% FG%, 44% 3PT%, 25.6 PER, 0.242 WS/48

Player A is Pascal Siakam last season.

Players B and C are pretty similar, no? Player C is a little better, but they are largely comparable.

Well, player B is Pascal Siakam this year. Player C is Kawhi Leonard last season. Real close, right?

Except I lied. It’s the opposite. Pascal is Player C and Kawhi is player B.

But it’s only been 5 games. So, let’s take a breath.

Defensive Superstar

So, OG Anunoby is a bonafide all-defense player now, yeah?

First, some individual defensive metrics. OG currently is posting his career high in steal rate (a steal on 2.1 percent of his defensive possessions versus his previous career average of 1.7%). He is currently showing a dramatic improvement in defensive rebounding (15% of available rebounds, up from a career average of 10%). He has suddenly become an incredible help defender at the rim, with a block rate that would have ranked 13th in the league last season and tied with Serge Ibaka (4.3%, up from a career average of 1.2%).

That’s all very good. But look deeper into some stats and you get even nicer results.

Really when we measure defense, we only care about how effective the team as a whole is in preventing points scored by the opposition, and how well a player contributes to that effort. So we look at impact statistics.

PIPM (Player Impact Plus Minus, from Basketball Index) is an impact measure. It is tracked even in small samples, with the usual warnings about using small sample results, but right now OG Anunoby is ranked third in the entire league in defensive PIPM.

Moving away from modified plus minus stats and straight to regular old plus minus (or, half of it anyway), we can also look at OG’s on-court defensive rating, along with his impact on those of his teammates.

OG ranks second on the team in DRTG (95.5) among players with at least 24 total minutes played this year. DRTG is defensive rating, team points allowed per 100 possessions while the player or players are on the court. And here is a look at how his teammates fare with and without him thus far.

Player | DRTG with OG | DRTG without OG | OG’s Impact
Lowry: 98.3, 100.8, -2.5
VanVleet: 94.2, 123.3, -29.1
Siakam: 93.5, 112.3, -18.8
Gasol: 89.0, 118.5, -29.5
Ibaka: 99.4, 104.9, -5.5
Powell: 93.0, 108.3, -15.3

On average that is a 17 point impact on his teammates’ defensive ratings. Now, it’s hard to say that’s all because of him. But it’s too early to really say anything so why not?

Now calm down. It’s just five games.

Eighth Man Situation

You’ll notice above that I compared OG’s impact on six players, and that is because there is a firmly established top seven players in the rotation. Of late, that has seemed to expand to include Patrick McCaw as the de facto eighth player.

He’s only played two games, but if we are jumping to conclusions after five games, we may as well do it for two as well.

Those who follow me know that I am no fan of McCaw’s, nor of his presumed place in the rotation. But I present these numbers without adding any personal observations of his game. Here are some metrics and McCaw’s rank on the team among the eight players who have played at least his 40 minutes.

Turnover rate: 34%, 8th
Usage rate: 9%, 8th
True shooting percentage: 68%, 1st

Mixed bag, yeah? McCaw has actually converted well on the few shooting possessions he’s managed, and given it all back with an incredibly high turnover rate.

But the offense is something that they clearly want him to work on. The presumption is that McCaw is a positive contributor on defense. Well, let’s put him to the same test as OG above.

McCaw’s on-court defensive rating is 118.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. That’s worst on the team. The next highest number of any player on the team, with any playing time at all, is Serge Ibaka, with a 102.5 DRTG. It’s hard to imagine how a player could possibly rack up such a difference. Some of it is which games he played in — if you filter to just the last two games, and look at players with at least McCaw’s 40 minutes, he leaps up to... last on the team with that 118 DRTG, but the second last player is much closer, with Norm dipping to a 113 DRTG over the last two games (though Serge is still sitting pretty at 102.5).

And the individual impacts as we tried above with OG?

Player | DRTG with McCaw | DRTG without McCaw | McCaw’s Impact
Lowry: 98.3, 99.2, -0.9
VanVleet: 141.4, 95.2, +46.2
Anunoby: 115.4, 93.2, +22.2
Siakam: 131.0, 96.2, +34.8
Gasol: 118.2, 90.9, +27.3
Ibaka: 111.0, 99.0, +12.0
Powell: 120.0, 92.1, +27.9

With the exception of Lowry (who refuses to be impacted because he’s the one that does the impacting around here, dang it), those are not the numbers you want to see. Everyone on the team gets suddenly and dramatically caved in when sharing the court with McCaw. Now, a few of those are with even smaller samples than the tiny sample of games would suggest, but a surprising number of them are not.

I personally don’t see what the coaching staff seems to see in McCaw. But it’s early. It’s only five games.

TO’s Best Centre

One other thing I’ve observed is, well, some observations others have made. Specifically in reference to two things that are for good reason put into contrast with each other — Serge Ibaka’s hot start to the season, and Marc Gasol’s very-not-hot start to the season.

Serge has shot 56% from the floor and 36% from three on his way to averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes early this season. His scoring off the bench has been crucial, and his raw rebounding numbers look decent, which is key for a team that has struggled on the boards in the early going (the Raptors are below average in defensive rebounding, which combined with their bottom three offensive rebounding rate has put them in a possession hole in some games).

Meanwhile, Gasol is off to a frigid start, only hitting 31% of his field goal attempts (though a decently nice 38% from long range) and averaging 8 points per 36 minutes. He is averaging a similar 10 rebounds per 36.

Some have been looking ahead to the future and wondering: if the Raptors are going to keep just one centre, which one would they prioritize? A lot of people are landing on Serge right now, and I struggle to understand that. Which makes little sense with the above numbers — but those raw production numbers don’t really tell us all that much.

But again, if we look deeper at the stats, a different story is told. And we won’t even look that deep this time, just some simple on-court ratings and lineup data.

Player | ORTG | DRTG | Net RTG
Gasol: 111.7, 92.0, +19.6
Ibaka: 101.1, 102.5, -1.4

Pretty stark results. But that’s not fair, Gasol gets to play with Siakam a lot. And Lowry.

Lineup | ORTG | DRTG | Net RTG
Lowry and Gasol: 109.6, 92.8, +16.8
Lowry and Ibaka: 90.5, 104.7, -14.3
Siakam and Gasol: 115.5, 95.0, +20.5
Siakam and Ibaka: 103.1, 100.6, +2.5
Lowry and Siakam and Gasol: 113.5, 97.1, +16.3
Lowry and Siakam and Ibaka: 91.9, 100.0, -8.1

No two ways around it. The team has been way better with Gasol than Ibaka, basically whoever each player is given as teammates. And that’s true on offense as much as on defense.

Sometimes the obvious stuff like scoring points is not really telling the whole story.

But it’s only been five games.

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And that’s all the time we have for small sample size theatre for now. Does any of this mean anything? I have my opinions on each of these topics (heck, there’s a reason I chose these topics), but ultimately only more time and bigger samples will tell us if these storylines hold up.

For now, we can say these stats tell us what has happened. Siakam and OG really have been that good. The team really has suffered that much in McCaw’s minutes. The team really has been that much better with Gasol than with Ibaka.

What they don’t tell us is whether those trends will continue.

Yet.

All stats per NBA.com unless otherwise noted.