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The Raptors: The Not so Blind Man

The Numbers

  • Average Seed
    8
  • 📉 Pessimist
    29.5 wins
  • Realist
    37.8 wins
  • 📈 Optimist
    46.1 wins
First Seed
 
0.2%
Division
 
14.5%
Top 4
 
11.1%
👍 Over (36.5)
👎 Under (36.5)
🎀 Playoffs

I once was lost, but now I'm found

Was blind, but now I see.

Amazing Grace

The Brief

The Raptors were in a tailspin. Despite having some good talent and an excellent analytics squad, bad trades and refusing to part with bad players were keeping them down. But the offseason brought hope. Toronto hired the Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri away from Denver, and he immediately started turning things around. The Raptors are actually improving and could be on the bubble for a playoff spot (and maybe even a division crown) this season and are in a great spot moving forward.

The Story

It's been six years since the Raptors have made the playoffs. Their image has always seemed split. On the one hand, they've been good at finding underrated talents, and ahead of the curve on analytics. On the other hand, they've seemed tied to some bad players. The epitome of this was Andrea Bargnani -- the poster boy for the sunk cost fallacy. And last season showed off the struggle between good basketball and the "Yay Points!" strategy.

Last Year

  • Actual Wins: 34
  • Expected Wins: 37.9
  • Lucky Wins: -2.2
Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
DeMar DeRozan 3013 24 .049 3.1
Amir Johnson 2325 26 .199 9.6
Kyle Lowry 2020 27 .201 8.5
Alan Anderson 1495 31 -.058 -1.8
Jonas Valanciunas 1482 21 .112 3.4
Jose Calderon 1273 32 .254 6.6
Terrence Ross 1239 23 .030 .8
Rudy Gay 1146 27 .047 1.1
Ed Davis 1087 24 .189 4.2
Landry Fields 1037 25 .142 3.1
Andrea Bargnani 1003 28 -.111 -2.3
John Lucas 827 31 .026 .5
Aaron Gray 513 29 .018 .2
Mickael Pietrus 386 31 -.027 -.2
Linas Kleiza 376 28 -.090 -.7
Quincy Acy 342 23 .160 1.1
Dominic McGuire 230 27 .109 .5
Sebastian Telfair 185 28 -.020 -.1

Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 37.9 total Wins Produced
  • 6 players leaving
    (5915 minutes, 14.7 wins)

On the one hand Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon, Landry Fields, Ed Davis, and Amir Johnson all played really well. Heck, on their own they were a playoff team. All they needed was a decent team around them. Enter DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. DeMar is your typical run of the mill scoring shooting guard who gets overrated and overpaid because he shoots a lot. DeMar was 25th in wins produced by a shooting guard last year and yet somehow is 62nd in Salary for the whole league.

Bargnani was injured for a lot of the season, but oh man did he make his limited minutes count. Our all time leader in losses produced managed, on his own, to almost negate Landry Fields. We need to call him "the bad touch", because his mere presence can sink a team.

Nevertheless, the team as constructed was almost playoff worthy (cue the ominous music). That was until the Raptors front office decided to drop Jose Calderon and Ed Davis to pick up yet another overrated scorer in Rudy Gay. The traditionalists in the Raptors front office won the battle with the smart analytics side (come to the "chucker side"! You'll get to take ill advised jumpers that look pretty when you make them!). The Raptors, of course, missed the playoffs yet again. Thankfully, this might have been just what Toronto needed. Brian Colangelo (aka ColangeLOL*) was kicked out, and replaced by Masai Ujiri (and maybe, just maybe, cue the dancing Ewoks).

This Year

  • Projected Wins: 37.8
  • Conference Rank: 10
  • % Playoffs: 42.6
Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
DeMar DeRozan 2.4 2947 24 .030 1.9
Rudy Gay 3.1 2945 27 .090 5.5
Amir Johnson 4.3 2277 26 .187 8.9
Jonas Valanciunas 5.0 1980 21 .133 5.5
Kyle Lowry 1.0 1909 27 .189 7.5
Tyler Hansbrough 4.3 1534 28 .058 1.8
D.J. Augustin 1.0 1344 26 .093 2.6
Steve Novak 3.4 1172 30 .115 2.8
Terrence Ross 2.0 959 23 .047 .9
Austin Daye 3.2 777 25 .039 .6
Landry Fields 2.4 656 25 .196 2.7
Aaron Gray 5.0 512 29 .078 .8
Quincy Acy 4.7 386 23 .178 1.4
Dwight Buycks 1.0 273 24 .055 .3
Julyan Stone 1.0 28 24 .199 .1
Chris Wright 1.0 4 24 -.564 0

Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • 📅 37.7 WP last year
    by these players
  • 🔀 3.5 WP (roster changes)
  • 3.6 WP (age/experience)

 

Had Masai arrived just a little earlier, the Raptors might have been a slam dunk playoff team. Unfortunately, he arrived a bit too late. Still, he was able to quickly dump Bargnani. The genius of Masai is such that he managed to not just dump him but get the Knicks to send him back a better version (Steve Novak is a power forward who doesn't just take threes, but makes them!) and draft picks (seriously, picks for Bargnani? Knicks fan should sue for malpractice). Of course, Masai is no stranger to fleecing New York in trades (Here's a hint, Mr. Dolan: Stop picking up the phone when he calls). The Raptors had no draft picks (in part thanks to the Rudy Gay trade). They also had no cap space, thanks again to the Rudy Gay trade. With limited ability to move, Masai has still improved the Raptors. If they can free themselves of Gay and DeRozan, they are a playoff team. We'll see if the Raptors can make this happen earlier rather than later.

The Wrap

The Raptors are a model team with two lessons. The first is how easy it is to undo years of hard work by making one bad trade, or hanging on to one bad prospect. The second is that almost no NBA team is completely out of it. A few underrated players and a smart trade or two can put a team in playoff contention (Editor's Note: I once wrote just that about the Bobcats!) The Raptors could make the playoffs this season with one or two more trades or even just by making the decision to bench DeRozan. At the very least, I have optimism for their future. And that's the first time in a long time I can say that.

Rudy Gay did not realize how blind he was until he almost lost his driver's license. This is a real problem for a player taking 4 Three pointers a game. This is interesting to consider when you realize it's Rudy's plummeting shooting percentages that made him a liability.

Rudy had eye surgery in the offseason and isn't blind anymore. He's shot 40% from three and 48% overall in the preseason. A preseason in which Toronto is 7-1. If Rudy is back to his 2011 form and Jonas makes the leap I expect him too? Toronto is challenging for the Atlantic crown.

It's entirely possible a member of the Boxscore geeks team laid that bet in Vegas a few weeks back.

*h/t Stephen Gable for ColangeLOL

Generally great writing.

I wonder, though, if you may have overlooked something with DeMar DeRozan. If you look at his stats so far in the pre-season (please do, and tell us), I think you will see that he has improved dramatically. It seems to have happened thanks to him seeing the light, i.e., taking a lot more higher percentage shots, and driving to the net, rather than settling for the long, fadeaway, Rudy Gay-like jumpers.

Generally speaking, players don't improve their WP dramatically after 4 years ... but I wonder if a player can do so, and become a poster child for the difference that smart shot selection makes. Up until a week ago I was in the 'trade or bench DeMar' camp along with you. Now I'm not so sure ...
KuH,

If what you say is true, we'll have to wait for a larger sample. But if DeMar morphs into a competent two guard then...OY.
KuH,
Yes. DeMar and Rudy are both playing lights out in the preseason. The light is glinting evilly of my glasses as I ponder the Raptors winning the Atlantic.
Actual shooting stats for preseason are 35 for 56 from 2 (62.5%), 3 for 14 from 3 (he still can't shoot 3s), and 28 for 34 free throws. Let's see what the larger sample says!

P.S. I see Zach Salzmann at raptorshq.com just had almost the same thing to say.

"Wow, DeMar's looked great through 7 pre-season games. He's shooting over 50% from the field -- he's been really efficient.

Yeah, but it's pre-season. We've been seduced before. Lets see what happens when the games ACTUALLY count.

Okay, fine, but I'm actually seeing some tangible improvements in his game. His post game has looked awesome. His decision-making looks really sharp--he's passing well out of double-teams--, he's hit some corner 3s, and overall the game looks like it's slowing down for him ... "
Arturo - I'm less hopeful about Rudy. He has shot 8 for 20 from 3, which is great, but he's only 20 for 38 from 2 ... and still addicted to bad shots.
Pretty sure it was Bryan Colangelo that just got fired from the Raptors after running them into the ground...
Brian CollangeLOL, not Jerry
@ KuH, "Only 20/38" by my calculations, that's 52.6%. How does that equate to being addicted to bad shots? Coupled with 40% from three, that equates to a pretty solid TS%. Who knows, maybe this is the year that these players "Get it". Derozan's young and Rudy Gay has a new set of eyes.
GnoiXiaK - you're right, Rudy's stats are also good: I forgot how much impact the 3 PT% has on TS%. The cringing on some shots was the 'eye test': DD looks like he is taking smarter shots; Rudy looks unchanged. And both look good so far; let's see what the real data shows.
WTF is WRONG with NBA teams that Gay's eyesight can get that bad and no one does anything? Seems insane that, with all the effort they put into everything else, that LASIK isn't an early port of call.
... or Demar could just revert to form. He shot 6/19. Rudy went 8/18. There is the Raps in a nutshell.
More minutes have been played. Demar has reverted. Only assists up. His wp48 is identical to last year. You were right. At least Rudy is gone (along with other good news).

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