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Old 01-03-2014, 12:44 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Dec 2007
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Default Hardwood Paroxysm: It's the defense

Open Shots: Weekly Attempts at NBA Clarity – Hardwood Paroxysm

Pay Attention to the Defense Behind the Purple Curtain
The success of Toronto in a post-Rudy Gay world canít be denied. The Raptors are 8-3 since trading the high-usage, low-impact wing to Sacramento on December 9th, and have officially reached this periodís zenith after Wednesdayís 95-82 win over the East-leading Pacers. While Torontoís quality of opponent throughout this stretch hasnít always been so high, the new-look Raptors havenít exactly preyed on a terribly weak schedule, either: they notched consecutive road wins against Dallas and Oklahoma City before Christmas, and are 5-1 away from home after unloading Gay. Just as impressive? Two of those three losses came at the hands of the San Antonio machine, and the other was an overtime defeat by the competent Bobcats. Even more so? Torontoís +6.2 net rating per 100 possessions over the same time frame.

Presently at least, the Raptors are indeed the type of team this recent run of success suggests. That +6.2 net mark would rank fifth in the league from a year-long perspective, aligning nicely with Torontoís .727 winning percentage since trading its nominal star. But within that context of advanced statistics comes another pertinent takeaway, and itís one the narrative has avoided so far.

For all talk of strides the Raptors have made offensively without Gay Ė the players espouse it too, as expertly documented by James Herbert Ė theyíve enjoyed an even bigger seachange on the other end. Toronto boasts an awesome 97.9 defensive rating in its last 11 games, despite facing offensive juggernauts like the Spurs (twice!), Thunder, and Mavericks. While the rest of Torontoís opponents since December 9th are almost as offensively dormant as that trio is dominant, the numbers still bear out major defensive improvement from the Raptors. Their scheduleís collective offensive rating over the last 11 games is 101.6, and thatís factoring in games against suddenly stingy Toronto. These guys can play defense!

Donít completely avoid the ďWeíre finally moving the ball! All for one!Ē talk, though. The Raptorsís 104.1 offensive rating without Gay is 2.7 points better than their mark prior to the deal, and Kyle Lowryís drastically improved play canít go unnoticed (by the trade market too, mind you). But even more progress has been made on the less flashy side of the ball, and itís what seems most sustainable for this organization moving forward. Dwayne Casey is a defensive coach first and foremost, after all, and the shelf-life of an Amir Johnson-Jonas Valanciunas frontcourt is more tenable than any combination on the perimeter.

Regardless, Torontoís been reborn post-Gay. And considering Masai Ujiriís reputation and the increasing trade value (combined with the offensive influence) of Lowry, itís the renaissance on defense thatís most likely to be a hallmark for the Raptors no matter where they go from here.
I like this a bunch. And it is in fact why this team can still succeed to some degree if Kyle is traded. Seeing this team pile up the stops in the 1st and 4th quarters against Indy was a joyous experience.
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