Later this month, the 2019-20 NBA season is slated to resume at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
For the Toronto Raptors, they'll be looking to build on what has already been an impressive title defence. When the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic back in March, the Raptors sat behind only the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference standings with a 46-18 record. With eight seeding games before the playoffs, the Raptors will be looking to secure the second seed in the conference in the hopes of making another deep postseason run.
Before they do, we're going to take a closer look at some Raptors stats from this season to peel back the curtain on how those numbers could impact them in the playoffs. Is Pascal Siakam prepared to take over when the Raptors need him the most? Do the Raptors have an answer for the league's best players? And will OG Anunoby be able to contribute enough offensively?
Let's get to it.
33.5%: Pascal Siakam's usage rating in the clutch
If you're unfamiliar with how usage rating is calculated, it's an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player when they are on the court. So with a usage rating of 33.5 percent in the clutch - defined as the last five minutes of a five-point game on NBA.com - Siakam has basically used a third of Toronto's plays in the minutes he's been on the court with the game in the balance this season.
Not only is that the highest mark on the Raptors, it's a high mark compared to the rest of the league. Of the 147 players who have played at least 20 clutch-qualifying games this season, only 15 have a higher usage rating than Siakam. You can probably guess who many of those players are: LeBron James, James Harden, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Damian Lillard to name a few.
It's also a massive increase from last season when Siakam sported a measly usage rating of 13.7 percent in the clutch. As our Micah Adams recently explained, the Toronto Raptors became the Kawhi Leonards at the end of close games in 2018-19. (In other words, it became the Kawhi Leonard show). For Siakam specifically, he was more or less a bystander when the going got tough, relegated to setting on-ball screens for Leonard or spotting-up in the corners to maximize spacing for the two-time Finals MVP.
Fast forward to this season, and Siakam is doing things like this...
...and this with the game on the line:
I still have concerns about Siakam in the clutch, most of which stem from doubts that he can consistently create his own shot against a Giannis Antetokounmpo or Anthony Davis in the playoffs, but it's hard to poke holes in what he's done in those situations this season. The 75 points he's scored in the clutch rank him 25th in the league and he's gotten those points rather efficiently. While he's shooting only 33.3 percent from 3-point range in the clutch, he's made 51.0 percent of his field goal attempts and 81.5 percent of his free throw attempts.
I feel like it's been said at least 100 times by now, but there's nobody who could have seen this coming from Siakam this time last year.
0.84: How many points per possession the Raptors are giving up in isolation
Spoiler: It's the third-best rate in the league. The only teams stingier than the Raptors are the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat.
The one thing the Raptors do better than every other team in the league - the Bucks and Heat included - when it comes to defending players 1-on-1 is create turnovers. According to NBA.com, the Raptors have forced a turnover on 16.2 percent of the isolation possessions they've defended this season, which is the highest rate in the league ... by a mile. The Chicago Bulls and Bucks are tied for second with a turnover frequency of 11.9 percent, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder (11.5 percent), Boston Celtics (11.2 percent) and Houston Rockets (10.9 percent).
This speaks to a couple of things. One, the Raptors have some incredible isolation defenders. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol check out as four of the best isolation defenders in the league this season, whereas Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam each rank in the top half of the league in efficiency.
|Player||Isolation Possessions Defended||Points Allowed Per Isolation Possession||Percentile|
Now, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt because we're working with some small sample sizes. (Powell, for example, has defended only 19 isolation possessions this season. That's not much). Defensive statistics also happen to be far less reliable than offensive statistics for reasons we don't have to get into now. However, I buy those numbers more than I sell them, especially in the case of Hollis-Jefferson, Anunoby and Siakam because the eye test sure does back it up.
This brings us to the second thing that 0.84 number speaks to: Nick Nurse's system.
It helps that Hollis-Jefferson, Anunoby and Siakam can guard pretty much every position on the court, but what makes the Raptors special is Nurse can surround them with four scrappy defenders who know where to position themselves at all times. It's why they're able to force as many turnovers as they do. Hollis-Jefferson, Anunoby and Siakam do a great job of keeping players in front of them, but the likes of Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis know when to pounce on players to make them uncomfortable. The five Raptors who are on the court always move on a string, with each player rotating in unison.
And when they are able to force a turnover, it's off to the races.
Toronto's ability to make life difficult for players in isolation will come in handy in the playoffs when it could face the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and Jimmy Butler, perhaps even LeBron James, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard depending on how far the Raptors go. The days of being able to shut those players down entirely might be long gone, but the Raptors have proven that they can make life difficult for the best players in the league in ways few other teams can, even without Leonard and Danny Green in their rotation.
3.5: How many drives per game OG Anunoby is averaging
It's still not much in the grand scheme of things, but it's a step in the right direction.
According to NBA.com, Anunoby has gone from averaging 1.9 drives per game as a rookie to 2.3 as a sophomore to 3.5 in his third season. His shooting percentage has increased as well. Whereas he shot 44.7 percent on drives as a rookie, he's up to a robust 50.0 percent this season on even greater volume.
|Season||Drives Per Game||FG%|
It's an important step in Anunoby's long-term development. If nothing else, he has proven over the last couple of years that he has a future as a solid 3-and-D wing, someone who can knock down open 3s and match up with the opposing team's best perimeter defender. Anything he can add to that makes him a very valuable player. When it comes to those drives, it gives Anunoby an answer to teams closing out on him, which is happening more frequently now that he's established himself as a legitimate 3-point threat.
A lot of the times it's a simple straight-line drive when his defender haphazardly closes out on him...
...but Anunoby has flashed some bounce off the dribble this season, usually in the form of spin moves that would make Siakam proud.
Anunoby has even been making teams pay for collapsing on his drives with greater frequency. According to NBA.com, he's recorded an assist on 10.1 percent of his drives this season, up from 7.7 percent last season and 5.7 percent the season before.
He might not be developing as quickly as Siakam, but Anunoby has shown some encouraging signs of improvement this season. Him driving more is proof of that.
The Raptors can only hope he'll continue to do so.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.