So, that was quite a win. It seems both the Raptors and Magic knew what I posited in the last post — the series was already over. Just a matter of playing out the string. The Raptors came out and dominated as expected, the Magic couldn’t do anything about it, as expected. And that was that.
In that spirit, let’s see if we can take anything from the series as a whole real quick and then take a look ahead to the next round against the Philadelphia 76ers, who should prove to be a much stiffer test for Toronto.
Key Lineups from the First Round
The Raptors starting lineup that has promised to be dominant since the time of all the trades — and has only sporadically shown that potential — came to play.
Toronto’s core group of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol played a total of 96 minutes across five games, putting up an ORTG of 127 points per 100 possessions and a DRTG of 81.0 points per 100 possessions. That’s... good.
Two other lineups that are very promising for the Raptors moving forward are two bench units helmed by two stars. The bench players with Lowry and Siakam played 26 minutes to a +13 net rating. And the bench players with Lowry and Leonard played 24 minutes to a +53 net rating, a pretty incredible number even in a small sample.
The only real concern after that series is the team’s apparent dependency on Lowry, still. The team tried four lineups for more than three minutes over the series where Lowry was sitting. Every single one was a disaster, with net ratings that ranged from -18 to -100 points per 100 possessions. The upside is that one of those units was the starters with Fred VanVleet in Lowry’s place, which was far better in a much larger sample in-season, and shouldn’t be expected to continue to struggle. We also didn’t see the bench players playing beside Leonard and Siakam, the logical third bench lineup to use, and we’ll have to wait and see if the Raptors go to a tighter bench rotation against better opposition in the second round.
And that’s about enough thinking about that first round series. Sorry, Orlando, we’re onto bigger and better things. Let’s take a look at two key match-ups in Toronto’s upcoming series against Philly. It’s worth noting that the 76ers’ starting lineup was about as dominant in their first round series as the Raptors’ starting lineup was in theirs.
Gasol vs. Embiid
This year, in 62 minutes matched up with Gasol, Embiid was held to 10 points on 16.5 used possessions per 36 minutes played, drawing four personal fouls per-36. In 15 minutes playing against the Grizzlies away from Gasol, he spiked to 28 points on 31 possessions per 36, drawing 14 fouls per-36. Raw production like that, even with the sub-par efficiency, especially with the fouls generated, can bolster a team, and it shows in the margins. The Grizzlies were a bad team, but only lost the Gasol minutes by three points per 36 minutes. When he sat, that leapt to a 28 points per 36 minutes point differential with the 76ers. This is in large part driven by the 76ers’ offense jumping from a 96.9 ORTG with Gasol guarding Embiid to a 111.4 ORTG when Embiid played while Gasol sat.
In 2017-18, in 38 minutes matched up with Gasol, Embiid was held to 14 points on 14 used possessions per 36 minutes played, drawing seven personal fouls per 36. In 14 minutes playing against the Grizzlies away from Gasol, he spiked to 37 points on 39 possessions per 36, drawing 13 fouls per 36. The 76ers’ offence leapt from a 102.6 ORTG in the Gasol minutes to a 117.2 ORTG with Embiid playing away from Gasol.
Gasol’s ability within the Grizzlies defense to suppress Embiid to a point per possession offensive player (or worse) was valuable, but just as valuable is his apparent ability to defend without fouling and deter Embiid from using as much offense as he usually does in the first place.
And judging by Gasol’s incredible success guarding Nikola Vucevic (not the same player as Embiid, but still quite good) in the first round, we may be in for a similar treat in Round 2.
Kawhi vs. Simmons
Ben Simmons on the year averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 5 turnovers per 100 team possessions.
In the one game against the Raptors that Kawhi didn’t play in, Ben Simmons’ performance pro-rated out to 34 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists and 1 turnover per 100 team possessions.
In the other three Toronto-Philadelphia games, when sharing the court with Kawhi Leonard, who guarded Simmons on most possessions, the Sixers’ point guard’s performance pro-rated to 16 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, and most notably, 10 turnovers per 100 team possessions.
On the season, the 76ers had a 110.5 ORTG with Simmons on the court. Against the Raptors when Kawhi sat, Simmons had a 110.6 on-court ORTG. While Kawhi guarded Simmons, the 76ers had only a 103.4 ORTG in 95 total minutes.
Between those two particular match-ups, the Raptors look to be in real good shape for the next round.