The Toronto Raptors are on an unprecedented offensive pace this season, keeping up with the run-and-gun offences like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. It is this offense that has allowed them to be second in the eastern conference only half a game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are blowing teams away, winning by an average margin of 9.3 points a game. So how does Toronto score at such an incredible rate when they defy all analytics? They don’t shoot a ridiculous amount of three pointers, they don’t run a high octane fast pace offense, they settle for those low percentage midrange jumpers so often. They have play an old-school style of basketball that has made them one of the elite teams in the NBA. The answer, while not in the conventional numbers, can still be found when analyzing the statistics.
The Toronto Raptors Offense is Historic
The Raptors are averaging an incredible 112.3 points per game and are the most efficient offence in the history of the NBA with 1.135 points per possession. This is above the offensive juggernaut Golden State who average 1.126 points per possession which would also be a league record if not for Toronto. Yet, these teams are polar opposites, Golden State is a run-and-gun team that moves the ball and gets a ridiculous amount of assists.
Toronto is 20th in offensive pace and 26th in assists per game only averaging 20.1 dimes. Although they are not a fast pace team, they are one of the most efficient teams in the open court. Thoroughbred athletes like DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell and Terrence Ross are difficult to stop in the open floor. Even though they are 20th in pace they are 6th in fast break points per game at 15.4 and first in points off of turnovers at 20 a game.
Sitting 19th in the league in three-point attempts at only 24 a game. But when they take a long distance shot, it usually goes in, as they have the third best 3-point shooting percentage in the league at 40%. Their offence is designed to get good shots for their top players, leading the league in shooting percentage at 53.3%. They also make a living at the free-throw line, there is no more efficient shot than a free-throw. The Raptors score 19% of their points from the free-throw line, sitting first in the NBA with 21.2 free-throws made per game at an 81% clip. They also have the best ratio of free throws to field goal attempts in the league. And the rare occasion Toronto misses a field-goal, it usually ends up in an offensive rebound as Toronto is a top-ten team when it comes to offensive rebounding percentage.
Having players like Kyle Lowry, Demar Derozan, Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross who simply make tough shots for a living. Ross in particular shoots a staggering 66% on three-point attempts that are highly contested (a defender is within 1-foot of Ross). While Cory Joseph, Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry can beat just about anyone off of the dribble. Jonas Valanciunas and Derozan also combine to be a deadly force in the post. But having guys who make difficult shots would not be the only cause to having such a prolific offence. As they are a team that does not get a lot of assists, how do they get so many open looks?
The key is in a new statistic, screens assists. This is when an offensive player sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field-goal. In this category Toronto are third in the NBA at 12.4 screen assists per game. Both centers for Toronto, Lucas Nogueira and Valanciunas, are in the top 15 in the NBA in screen assists. These two big-men are excellent at setting screens, getting Joseph, Lowry and Derozan into the lane all game. They also set perfect pin-down screens for guys like Powell, Ross, Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll for open jump-shots, all of whom are above average three-point shooters.
This throwback style of offence is something that defies modern NBA thought. But the Raptors willingness to stick to their game-plan is a testament to the coaching staff and general manager Masai Ujiri. They laugh in the face of modern analytics who claim the best shot is a three-point shot. And instead of pushing for the coveted “big-three” like Cleveland or Golden State, Toronto has chosen to run their team through two stars and have one of the deepest teams in the league. While still under the radar in most NBA circles, something that is still a mystery to those north of the border, the Raptors are a legitimate threat to dethrone LeBron James and take their first trip to the NBA Finals.