The Toronto Raptors are the clear product of addition by subtraction. The Raptors currently sit first in the Atlantic and hold the 4th spot in the Eastern conference thanks to a renewed group playing free of the dreaded Rudy Gay Isolation. Gay was/is an inefficient player (He was shooting under 39% for Toronto at the time of the trade), who shot the ball at an alarmingly high rate (just shy of 19 times per game) and did not generate many free throws or three point field goal attempts. To make matters worse in Toronto, the team was dealing with a certain level of redundancy in that Gay and fellow wing DeMar DeRozan had a similar style of play. Basketball, on the offensive end, is all about efficiency. A team can only generate a certain number of looks per game, and they need to make the most of them.
Since the shakeup we are seeing the Raptors have much greater offensive efficiency, scoring 5 more points per 100 possessions while at the same time limiting opponents offenses to 3 less points per 100 possessions. It’s not that the Raptors are doing anything dramatically different scheme wise, but they are forced to spread the ball more and with the ball in Kyle Lowry’s hands as a creator he is excelling in finding open shooters. A Player like Terrence Ross, who came on strong last year before being somewhat lost in the shuffle after Gay was acquired, looks to be rejuvenated as he is shooting the ball extremely well in an expanded offensive role. He is shooting nearly 46% from downtown since the trade and has 3 games scoring over 20 points while he had zero with Gay as his teammate this season. A lot of that is due to the ball being in the hands of a willing passer (Lowry) rather than the black hole that is Rudy Gay. (I know i’m killing Rudy here, but I have loathed his game for so long and made it quite public, so this is just good fun for me).
The trade that sent the “star” player Gay west to Sacramento didn’t bring back any star-power, but instead role players to compliment the already talented cast. Since the trade, the Raptors are a very solid 9-5 (they were 7-12 before). They have lost two in a row, which makes this article of slightly poor timing, but let’s consider those losses were to Miami and Indiana, perhaps the two best teams in entire NBA. What I’ve seen since the trade is less reliance on post up isolation and a greater use of the pick and roll, which has allowed Kyle Lowry to thrive in finding open teammates (Terrence Ross is a recipient) as well as finding his own offense. Furthermore, the additions of the role players Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez has created valuable depth and versatility for coach Casey. Patterson in particular looks to be finding his groove in Toronto, scoring 16 a game over his last 3 as he’s settled into the offense. Vasquez and Salmons each provide quality backup minutes at their respective positions. The Raptors have truly become a team rather than a group of players fighting for the limited scrap of shots to be had after Gay and DeRozan had their fill. While they won’t challenge for the east crown this season, with the progression of Jonas Valanciunas (a future all star perhaps) and the continued good play of the rest of the young core, The Raptors, as an organization, are on the rise.