Caps, Isles, Stars move on in playoffs
Raps shooting themselves in the foot
As the Toronto Raptors ponder the wreckage of their Game 4 capsizing, and the ominous performance of their two biggest offensive stars, several questions have been raised about the abysmal shooting of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
Does the coaching staff need to find ways to get them space for open shots, as Dwane Casey suggested on Saturday night?
Or is it just a case of Lowry and DeRozan needing to make shots?
Or is the rest of the team doing them no favours by failing to hit open shots when the NBA all-stars, when covered, unload the ball to someone who is unguarded? No, yes, and yes. The shooting statistics for this series paint a picture of a Toronto Raptors team that, for whatever reason, has been spectacularly unable to convert clean looks. It shouldn’t be tightness, as the Game 1 jitters would long since seemed to have passed, and it shouldn’t be just the stiff defence of the Indiana Pacers, as these Toronto players have overcome a lot of defensive challenges over the course of a 56-win regular season. They have been known to make shots. And that’s Casey’s biggest problem heading toward Game 5: when players have stopped doing something that they used to do with ease, how to get them to start doing it again?
Through four games against the Pacers, the Raptors have taken a nice round 100 shots in which the closest defender was four-to-six feet away, which NBA.com classifies as “open”. They have made 44 per cent of those, which is close to their regular-season average of 42 per cent. But on shots that are considered “wide open,” where the closest defender is more than six feet away, the Raptors are 11-for-39 in the playoffs, or 28.2 per cent. In the regular season, they were 46 per cent on wide open shots, which is what NBA players are supposed to be able to do.
Even though Game 4 was a tire fire for Toronto right off the start, the Raptors had chances to shoot their way back into it, but they kept clanking open looks, when they weren’t air balling them. And again the numbers back that up: Toronto is 7-for-28 (25 per cent) on wide-open three-point attempts in the playoffs. It felt like all those misses came from Luis Scola in Game 4 alone, but in truth he was only responsible for a handful of them. The Raptors shot 42 per cent on wide-open threes in the regular season.
As for the backcourt specifically, the numbers don’t suggest players who can’t get free of swarming defence so much as they show that they simply aren’t hitting the types of shots they normally hit. In the regular season, DeRozan took about 70 per cent of his field goals under what NBA stats considers “tight” or “very tight” defence. He converted 44 per cent and 49 per cent of those attempts. This is his game: work into traffic, draw contract, make buckets with a hand in his face. In the playoffs, he has taken 69 per cent of his shots under tight or very tight defence — and has turned 24 per cent and 18 per cent of them, respectively, into baskets.
For Lowry, the trend is even more alarming. He took 57 per cent of his shots in the regular season under tight or very tight defence, but in the playoffs he has taken only 38 per cent of his shots in those kinds of close quarters, which the NBA defines as having a defender within four feet. Fully 48 per cent of his playoff shots have been considered “open,” and he’s converted only 32 per cent of them. He’s also only hit 37 per cent of his wide open shots, after shooting 52 per cent on such attempts during the regular season. Lowry’s misses have been particularly glaring from three-point range, where he is 5-for-27, or 18 per cent, in the playoffs, after being a 39 per cent shooter from distance during the regular season. And of Lowry’s three-point attempts against Indiana, almost three-quarters of them have been either open or wide open. He’s shooting 25 per cent on those.
Casey, admirably, tried to take a bullet for his all-stars when he said on Saturday night that “it’s on me to get them better looks.” He talked about screens and movement and techniques to help Lowry and DeRozan find space. It was good coach talk.
The Pacers play good defence, and the Raptors’ supporting cast needs to bury more of the uncontested shots that would help loosen up the defence for their backcourt. But more than any of that, Lowry and DeRozan need to convert their opportunities.
The best players need to be your best players. But you certainly can’t have them being your worst.