When you look at the Raptors, defensively they are an impressive group. For the 2018/19 season Toronto ranked 5th in Defensive Rating, 5th in Offensive Rating, and 3rd in Net Rating. The Raptors are an elite team in terms of efficiency and true shooting as well, slightly better than the 76ers at 57.9% versus 57.4%
The Raptors take good shots in general. What does a good shot look like? Well as you’ve probably heard this means attempts at the rim, shots from behind the arc, and free throws. But does this tell the complete story? Well as it turns out, the Raptors do most of their damage in the middle of the floor. Below is the Raptors’ shot chart for the regular season via Austinclemens.com.
For quick reference, the larger the square, the more frequent the shot was taken from that location. The color of the squares indicate how effective the attempts were, relative to average.
At first blush, this looks like your ideal analytical distribution. But the fact that it was so perfectly predictable may hold the key for the Sixers.
The Raptors scored 1756 times from the paint around the rim in the regular season. They were very effective on these already highly efficient shots. They also shot nearly 40% on 378 corner threes. But from the top of the arc and left wing, they were much less effective at just over 30% on 746 makes. These shots, with high volume, were the least efficient shots the took. From the right wing, the Raptors made 262 shots at 38%.
Brett Brown proved one thing in the Nets series. He was able to construct a defensive game plan that baited the Nets into mostly taking the shots he wanted them to take. Early and often, he essentially invited De’Angelo Russell to enter the lane and pull up for jumpers and runners. This was the least efficient shot the Nets took all year, but they were unable or unwilling to adapt. The Sixers, meanwhile, were fairly disciplined defensively and did not chase blocks (except for those painful three minutes of Jonah Bolden in Game 4) The Sixers’ centers played mostly drop coverage to eliminate the roll lob and protect the rim. This invited Russell to pull up into the soft area from 12-15 feet.
So when guarding the Raptors, does it make sense to continue to drop? When you look at the Raptors’ centers of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the inclination would be to cover them on the perimeter, but that may be exactly what the Raptors are hoping for. Their bigs’ abilities to stretch opposing defenses away from the basket opens up the lane for the best shots in the game, right at the rim.
Let’s look at Gasol’s and Ibaka’s individual shot charts for some guidance.
So Gasol, from this chart looks like he is doing his damage in the middle of the court. This makes perfect sense as he acts as a high post facilitator and stretch 5 at times. The dilemma he presents is fairly obvious in a pick-and-roll/pop scenario. He is effective in both contexts. This is a major reason the Raptors were so good since acquiring him.
But Gasol only played 25 minutes per game for the Raptors after the trade. He managed 4 assists and shot 44% from three in that time, however. In short, Gasol is a major problem when he is on the court.
Serge Ibaka, on the other hand, tells a different tale. Ibaka had his worst year as a three point shooter in many respects. He is still a very dangerous screener and midrange shooter, but at 29%, you will live with Ibaka taking threes. Playing Boban seemed like a complete nonstarter, but perhaps Brown is willing to live with Ibaka taking threes. Perhaps that will be the hill he is willing to die on.