Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (6-15) @ Toronto Raptors (14-7)
Where: Air Canada Centre
When: 6:00pm CST (TV coverage on TNT)
Beginning with a home loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday the Wolves (6-15) entered an eight-day, five-game death trap. The work week comes to a close with a back-to-back tonight in Toronto against the Raptors, followed by a Friday night home matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Only to be followed up with games against the Golden State Warriors and the Chicago Bulls.
Dec. 6th: Home vs. San Antonio (18-4, 5th in Net Rating) *L 91-105
Dec. 8th: Away vs. Toronto (14-7, 2nd in Net Rating)
Dec. 9th: Home vs. Detroit (12-12, 12th in Net Rating)
Dec. 11th: Home vs. Golden State (19-3, 1st in Net Rating)
Dec. 13th: Away vs. Chicago (11-10, 11th in Net Rating)
The trudge continues tonight against a Toronto Raptors team that perpetually seems to fly under the radar in the Eastern Conference. A team often pegged a tier below the Cleveland Cavaliers has used this season to make an argument that they should be in the conversation for Eastern Conference title contention.
As Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider detailed Monday, the Raptors actually have had the best offense in the NBA over the past ten games. Yes, better than the Warriors. As of Monday, the Raptors had been averaging 117.6 points per 100 possessions over that stretch. Compare that to the historic Warriors offense from last season — 112.5 points per 100 possessions.
For a much more depressing comparison, the Wolves have an offensive rating of 100.0 in their last ten games, that is good for 24th in the NBA.
In the current NBA that has become obsessed with the three-point shot, the Raptors have taken another path to having a successful offense. Since 2014-15 the Raptors are 14th in the NBA in three-point attempts. But they do excel in the offensive categories that don’t make the highlight reel.
Toronto Raptors “Four Factors” Since 2014-15 Season
Effective Field-Goal Percentage (eFG%): .509 (8th in NBA)
Offensive Rebound Percentage (ORB%): .251 (9th in NBA)
Free-Throw Rate (FTR): .243 (2nd in NBA)
Turnover Percentage (TOV%): .121 (4th in NBA)
To the naked eye, nothing about these numbers is exactly sexy. But to be top-10 in all these categories adds up. To be among the best in the league in effectively shooting (eFG%), creating additional possessions on offense (ORB%), getting to the free-throw line (FTR), and minimizing turnovers (TOV%) is a feat. Toronto is the only team to be in the top-10 in all four categories over that time span. The next closest team is the Cavaliers, who are top-19 in the four categories since 2014-15.
Success in the NBA is derived from optimizing the assets and specifically the skill sets of the players on the roster. The Raptors do this as well as any team.
If the core of the Wolves going forward is going to be Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins then an offense that mirrors the Warriors is probably irrational. It is a positive that Towns, LaVine, and Wiggins can all shoot the three, but to focus on those three skills would be marginalizing the ceiling for this team.
Of the Four Factors, the Wolves excel in Free-Throw Rate. The Raptors are second in FTR since 2014-15, the Wolves are first. Wiggins in particular has an elite ability to draw shooting fouls. Last season, 25.7 percent of his total points came from the free-throw line. Among starting wings that was good for fourth in the NBA. First on that list was DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors at 30.3 percent.
The DeRozan comparison for Wiggins has been persistent, and the similarities are real. Both rely on getting to the free throw line and taking two-point jumpers for their offense. It remains to be seen if Wiggins develops along a similar path or diverges.
DeRozan still takes difficult shots that are not from optimal spots on the floor, but he often makes those difficult shots. Of late, DeRozan has come back to earth after a scalding start to the season, but the start was fire. Over the first ten games of the season, he was averaging 33.2 points per game on 55.1 percent shooting on two-point attempts.
The more I watch of DeRozan while witnessing Wiggins’s ascension, I see more and more similarities. Foremost, is the way they both penetrate to the basket and the symmetry in their ability to attack, slow down, draw the contact, and get to the line.
Unfortunately, Wiggins and the Wolves ability to get to the line is only one of four factors towards a pursuit of mirroring the Raptors. Even on the above videos watch how the Raptors crash the offensive boards compared to the Wolves.
If the Wolves never develop into a team that can convert three-point attempts at an elite rate, a different offensive game plan will be needed. Taking a page out of the book of tonight’s opponent may not be a bad idea — shoot effectively inside the arc, create additional offensive possessions (something the Wolves are already good at,) get to the free throw line, and minimize turnovers. Not a novel concept, but a path that has allowed the Raptors to fly under the radar on their way to being one of the most effective offenses in the NBA.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG: Ricky Rubio—34.7 percent of Rubio’s points came from the free-throw line last season, highest percentage among starting point guards.
SG: Zach LaVine
LaVine designed plays seem to be something that work more often than not these days pic.twitter.com/eFFAUQfplX— StreetHistory (@streethistory) December 7, 2016
SF: Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins has to make these pic.twitter.com/BCrHEUV6HU— StreetHistory (@streethistory) December 8, 2016
PF: Gorgui Dieng—really plays center, though he’s introduced as the power forward.
C: Karl-Anthony Towns—had 11 points on 3 of 16 shooting against the Spurs on Tuesday. As Towns looks to bounce back, it will be interesting to see if Siakam or Valanciunas match on to Towns.
INJURIES- Brandon Rush (toe) Questionable, Nikola Pekovic (foot) OUT
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas
INJURIES- Delon Wright (Shoulder) OUT, Jared Sullinger (foot surgery) OUT
numberFire has Raptors at 82.6% win probability. Wolves are +8. Over/Under is 215.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) December 8, 2016
I’m still on a furious pursuit of why Wiggins does this with his arms...
Maybe he isn’t DeRozan...
What do y’all think it will take to go into Toronto and beat the Raptors? Let us basketball.