Toronto’s Offense Is Evolving And DeMar DeRozan Is Thriving

01/11/2018 at 02:01pm

By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back

Right now, DeMar DeRozan is one of the hottest players in the NBA. Since Christmas, he’s sixth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 26.9 points per game, and, for the season, he’s posting the highest true shooting percentage of his career by a significant margin. DeRozan has always been a talented scorer but, despite strong finishing and an excellent ability to get to the line, elite efficiency had eluded him because he wasn’t much of a 3-point shooter.

Through the first eight seasons of his career, DeRozan averaged 1.4 3-point attempts per game, making just 28.1 percent. The Raptors had been able to maintain a strong team offense by leaning DeRozan’s other offensive tools, as well as the individual brilliance of Kyle Lowry. But DeRozan’s hesitancy and inaccuracy from behind the stripe often cramped the Raptors spacing and made their offense predictable to defend, particularly in the playoffs.

This season, DeRozan is averaging 3.2 3-point attempts per game and making 36.3 percent of them. The improvement in his shooting has been almost all on the catch-and-shoot side, he’s made 42.1 percent of those attempts (31.7% last season) and 27.1 percent of his pull-up attempts (15.8% last season). DeRozan as a willing and effective spot-up shooter is just one aspect of a Raptors offense that has undergone significant evolution.

The Raptors are currently fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging 110.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s only a hair up from where they finished last season -- sixth, at 109.8 points per 100 possessions. However, the way they’re getting there is dramatically different -- a increased focus on ball and player movement, moving their shot selection towards the perimeter.

Raptors' Offensive Rank


2016-17 30th 15th 22nd
2017-18 21st 8th 6th

The raw numbers don’t seem that striking -- 0.29 fewer dribbles per touch, an extra 0.40 miles traveled per game on offense -- but the shift can be seen in how the Raptors have ranked relative to the rest of the league and, especially in that last number. The Raptors are using all that extra ball movement and player movement to create 5.0 more catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game.

Last season, 17.1 percent of the Raptors shot attempts were classified as very tightly defended (with a defender within two feet of the shooter). This season, that number is down to 12.8 percent. By the same token, 48.8 percent of Toronto’s shots have been open or wide open this season (no defender closer than four feet), compared to 46.0 percent last season.

You can also see the shifting balance in the Raptors offense by where their points come from. Last season, 75.1 percent of their scoring came on 2-point baskets or from the free throw line. This season, that’s down to 70.0 percent.

Raptors' Scoring Sources

2016-17 56.7 24.8 18.4
2017-18 53.4 30.0 16.6

While the Raptors offense has been very good this season and the changes have only resulted in a slight increase in efficiency, the hope is that will have created an offense that is more versatile and adaptable, and less prone to the kind of stagnation that has plagued them in the playoffs the past few seasons.

In addition to DeRozan changing his shot selection, Kyle Lowry has ceded quite a bit of on-ball control of the offense -- he’s averaging five fewer frontcourt touches and his time of possession per game has decreased by about a minute-and-a-half. But it’s all paying dividends in other places. In addition to DeRozan, the Raptors have six other players attempting at least two 3-pointers per game and making better than 34.0 percent from behind the arc. The Raptors had five such players last year, but only four at any one time as the trade that sent out Terrence Ross brought back Serge Ibaka.

This is a team that is less reliant on taking and making tough shots and the individual scoring talents of DeRozan and Lowry. Their offense is versatile, explosive and well-spaced. When the playoffs roll around they’ll have a chance to prove that all this evolutionary work was worth it.

Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at