Rudy Gay Addition Yields Defensive Improvement in Toronto
By Jay Cipoletti
Since acquiring Rudy Gay at the end of January, Toronto forged a 7-5 record in February. The winning monthly mark has sparked faint hopes of making a playoff run over the last 24 games. Sitting at 16-30 just four weeks ago, any talk of playoffs in Toronto would have been unthinkable.
Did They Get Better?
In Toronto's case the answer is yes ... but not yet on the offensive end. Since the trade the Raptors have actually seen their Offensive Rating decrease from 103.8 to 101.8 while their NetRtg (net margin per 100 possessions) has increased from a deficit of -1.6 to an edge of 1.0. The difference is obviously on the defensive end, where Toronto has improved from a fairly hospitable 105.4 DefRtg to a fairly stingy 100.8. That mark ranked 8th in the NBA for the month of February.
Before acquiring Gay, Toronto's defense was 26th in the league. The better the Offensive Rating of their opponent, the less likely they were to turn in an even average defensive performance. Through their first 46 games the Raptors held only one Top 10 offense (Spurs) below their season average and only two others (Lakers and Thunder) to their average. That is not a winning formula.
In the 12 games since the Gay trade the Raptors have played consistently reliable defense, a marked improvement over the first 46 games. The most promising factor for the Raptors playoff hopes has been their ability to sustain their level of defensive play against better offensive teams. Toronto has held four of the top six offenses they have faced since the trade at or below their season average.
While the Raptors won't be mistaken for the grind you down Pacers, their defensive improvement has them moving ever so slightly in that direction.
How Did They Get Better?
Simple. They added an elite wing defender. Gay's DefRtg of 97.3 makes him one of the best at guarding his position in the league. He is also a high usage player on the offensive end (29% Usg since trade) though not an especially efficient one (102.2 OffRtg with Toronto). His 41.1% eFG in February was his lowest monthly mark of the season. That he misfired that often on nearly 20 shots per game yet still had a NetRtg of +4.8 reinforces how valuable he is on the defensive end.
|Toronto's OffRtg, DefRtg and NetRtg Before and After Trade|
|Category||Before Trade||After Trade|
The net result is that points are harder to come by in Raptors games now.
|Toronto's Points Scored/Allowed Before and After Trade|
|Team||Before Trade||After Trade|
A look at Toronto's defensive Four Factors before and after the trade illustrates exactly where Gay is having an impact. Through 46 games the Raptors had allowed opponents to shoot a comfortable 50.3% eFG while forcing turnovers on 15.1% of their defensive possessions. In the 12 games with Gay their defensive eFG has dropped to 47.4% while they are forcing turnovers 16.6% of the time. Those two measures comprise 65% of the Four Factors. So while opponents are grabbing more offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line more frequently, their net scoring efficiency has taken a hit.
|Toronto's Defensive Four Factors|
|Time||Opp eFG%||Opp FTA Rate||Opp TO Ratio||Opp OREB%|
Do They Really Have a Chance of Making the Playoffs?
With 24 games remaining the Raptors will need to make up six games in the standings to earn the eighth and final spot and the right to take the first shot at dethroning the Heat. Their schedule shapes up favorably for a team with a newfound defensive identity. Half of their remaining games are against teams with offenses among the bottom 10 in the league; only five of their 24 games are against top 10 offenses.
Friday's home contest against the Central Division leading Pacers tips off a crucial stretch for the Raptors. Saturday brings an opportunity to pick up a full game when they visit Milwaukee, then they make a West Coast trip for games at Golden State, Phoenix and the Lakers. They say that the road is no place to start a family ... or a playoff run ... but a 3-1 road trip could have the newly defensive Raptors returning home next Sunday with a realistic chance of nabbing that final spot.