The Toronto Raptors have evolved. A quarter of their way through the season they are firmly in the middle-of-the-pack by most passing measures, even better in some.
They rank fifth in the NBA in assists with 23.6. A year ago they ranked last with 18.5.
This doesn’t make them a great passing team, just a lot better than the one they’ve been in recent years which ranked last— or close to it— in number of assists and passes thrown, percentage of scores that were assisted, and number of passes that led to assisted baskets (the so-called hockey assist).
Looking through their line-up, there are some good news stories. Kyle Lowry remains their most reliable ball distributer— he’s averaging 10.6 assists per 100 possessions, just a fraction off a career-best mark— and understudy, Fred VanVleet, has been almost as more prolific, averaging 9.6. Meanwhile DeMar DeRozan is heading for a career-high in assists (4.9) and assist percentage (22.9), even as his usage rate drops. Pascal Siakam, the budding Swiss Army Knife of a power forward, is showing sides of his game that few knew he had, averaging a heathy 4.7 assists per 100 possessions, four times what he did last year.
But there are some gaps too. Big ones; about 28 feet worth.
According Basketball-Reference.com there are only 12 ‘bigs’ (players listed as forwards and centres) in the NBA who average 1.7 assists per 100 possessions or less this season, and four of them are on the Raptors— Jonas Valanciunas (1.7); Lucas Noguira (1.4); Jakob Poeltl (1.1) and Serge Ibaka (1.0).
No other team has more than two on their roster, and the Raptors are the only team in the league that starts two players who average less that two assists per 100.
Which brings into sharp focus their match-up with the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night, the first game of a four-game road trip.
In Marc Gasol the Grizzlies have one of the best passing big men in the game, and, who knows, he may even be available at some point this season.
Imagine how much better the Raptors passing game might be if they had, say, a player like Gasol— or Gasol himself— playing centre?
It will be a fun— …read more