Nurse's star continues to shine but Toronto lack dominant figures – Raptors season review in Stats Perform data

By Sacha Pisani 8 October 2020 27
Nurse's star continues to shine but Toronto lack dominant figures – Raptors season review in Stats Perform data

All eyes were on the Toronto Raptors after winning their first NBA championship in 2018-19.

Could the defending champions do it again, even without superstar Kawhi Leonard following his switch to the Los Angeles Clippers?

The Raptors were tipped to slide in 2019-20, but with Nick Nurse leading the way, Toronto (53-19) defied the odds as they finished second behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference.

Still boasting championship winners Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka and benefiting from the emergence of Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher, the Raptors reached the Conference semi-finals before losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games inside the Orlando bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With the season done and dusted, there are now doubts over whether VanVleet, Gasol and Ibaka will return as they enter free agency.

Nurse experienced similar at the end of 2018-19 after Leonard and Danny Green departed for the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers respectively via free agency.

As the Raptors look ahead to 2020-21, we review the team's 2019-20 season using Stats Perform data.

 

Nurse no one-season wonder

The 53-year-old has not missed a beat since his appointment ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, delivering a maiden NBA title in his first season in Toronto.

Nurse has overseen 134 victories, including playoff wins, for an overall 134-55 record in two seasons as Raptors head coach.

Only Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr (171 from 2014 to 2016), former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson (141 between 1989 and 1991) and ex-Phoenix Suns coach Paul Westphal (137 in 1992 to 1994) managed more victories from their opening two campaigns in the league.

Nurse's work has not gone unnoticed. The Canada head coach was named the 2020 NBA Coach of the Year, while he signed a "multi-year" contract extension with the Raptors last month.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Here's where I want to be"

A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

 

Siakam and VanVleet emerge

Two of Toronto's biggest stars have experienced significant improvements.

Both forward Siakam and guard VanVleet were both averaging under 5.0 points per game as recently as 2016-17. Now, Siakam is averaging 22.9 points per game (+18.7), while VanVleet's scoring average is up to 17.6 (+14.7).

No players in the NBA have had a bigger scoring increase since then, with New Orleans Pelicans star Brandon Ingram (23.8ppg from 9.4ppg – +14.5), Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics (20.3ppg from 6.6ppg – +13.7) and Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie (20.6ppg from 7.3ppg – +13.3) coming closest.

 

Raptors lack bite and roar

For all of their success, the Raptors still do not really have a dominant scorer or rebounder, especially since Leonard's exit.

In this season's playoffs, Toronto's leading scorer was VanVleet at 19.6 points per game, and their leading rebounder was veteran Ibaka at 7.7 rebounds per game.

Since rebounds were first tracked in 1950-51, there has never been a team to win the NBA championship while having no players average 20.0-plus points per game and no players average 8.0-plus rebounds per game in the postseason.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

First half playoff viws (3/3)

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When it comes to Siakam, while he has grown, there are still teething issues, especially with his three-point shooting.

Taking more attempts from beyond the arc, Siakam was decent in the regular season but the 26-year-old did not shoot the three well in the playoffs. His three-point percentage (18.9 per cent) in the postseason was the second worst of all time (minimum 50 attempts), only behind Lindsey Hunter (15.1) in 2000-01.

If you look at the three-point percentages for Raptors players in the 2020 postseason, you can see that the guys who shot the ball the most had some of the lowest percentages, while some others shot the ball well but did not get as many shots.

Ibaka shot 51.1 per cent, better than Powell (42.3), Terence Davis (42.1), Matt Thomas (41.7), Anunoby (41.5), Boucher (40.0), Stanley Johnson (40.0), VanVleet (39.1), Lowry (31.9), Siakam (18.9) and Gasol (18.5).

The Raptors will need Siakam to improve with his three-point shot or else the team might want to attempt to re-distribute their three-point shots more toward the players who are better shooters from deep.

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Sacha Pisani

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