In this week's Tweet Bag we take a look at Terrence Ross' ceiling, the playoff picture, what's next for the club's power forward spot and a thorough examination of Kyle Lowry. As always, tweet me @timpchisholm if you want to see your questions answered here in the future.
I think T-Ross's ceiling is much higher than anyone else on the roster. Am I dreamin or can this kid be a legit threat. Thoughts?
I think that Ross has done a lot to silence the critics who thought that he was a reach at eight in last year's draft, but the spectre of Andre Drummond is beginning to loom large down in Detroit.
Either way, Ross has given the Raptors exactly what they wanted out of him when they drafted him: shooting, defence and athleticism. While his shooting numbers are still subpar (he's shooting a laughably low .489 True Shooting Percentage this season) and his on-court/off-court defensive metrics are about even, he's shown enough in spurts in both areas to excite those within the organization about his potential.
His biggest asset, though, may be the fact that he plays shooting guard, a position that has become increasingly difficult to fill with a solid two-way player. If he works at developing his game at both ends he could be a tremendous asset for the club, especially alongside Rudy Gay where his outside shot could help space the floor for Gay's midrange game.
Do you think the Raps, in retrospect, would still be a PO [playoff] team if they weren't frequented by injuries all season?
No, I don't. Remember that the club started the season at near full-strength and looked horrible. In fact, it wasn't until injuries knocked Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani out of the lineup that the team began to reel off wins.
The problem with the team at the start of the season is that they were running the entire offence through Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, two low-efficiency options, while Jose Calderon floundered in a reserve role and Ed Davis barely saw the court. Dwane Casey took a lot of lumps for his rotation decisions early in the season, especially when it came to Davis, so in a way a fully healthy team may have prompted him to just keep running into the same wall while riding the same ineffectual players game after game.
so who will become the starting PF if Bargnani moves on?
Assuming that Bargnani is not moved for another power forward, I think that the Raptors are content to ride Amir Johnson as the starter for the rest of the season. In eleven starts this season, Johnson has averaged 14.8 ppg and 10.3 rpg and his vastly-improved passing game has helped the club get out to fast starts in a ton of recent outings.
There is also the fact that the team has been over ten points per 100 possessions stronger on offence when he's been on the court this season and 5.9 points per 100 possessions stronger on defense according to 82games.com. He's not the club's most skilled guy, but Casey calls him the heart of the team for a reason. You could argue that if the Raptors could get a solid backup power forward and a solid backup point guard in a trade for Bargnani that would not only seem like a reasonable return for a diminished asset but it would also be addressing the biggest needs of the club, especially if Johnson can continue to perform at such a high level as a starter.
Kyle Lowry is just not the player I thought he'd be...
There is no doubt that this has been a very familiar refrain all season, and after Lowry's thoroughly unimpressive outing against Miami it doesn't look like he's much closer to figuring out how to get his season back on track.
It's funny because most stats don't really help address the root of the problems plaguing Lowry this year. He's posting a career-high 20.4 PER, his turnover percentage is below his career average and his assist percentage ranks as a career-high. His per game numbers are skewed because his minute distribution has been wonky due to injuries and a temporary reserve role, but per 36 minutes he's averaging 17.0 points, 7.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds, all improvements over last year's output, plus he's shooting a career-high .393 from three-point range. If you didn't watch the games you'd assume that Lowry has been fantastic and that the team has been wretched around him.
However, there are little statistical areas that help point to where Lowry has gone wrong this season. He's averaging a four-year low at shots attempted at the rim and a three-year low in free throws attempted per game according to hoopdata.com. That backs up the growing assumption that he simply hasn't been as aggressive at getting by his man on the perimeter and attacking the paint this season. One of the big selling points on Lowry this summer was that he was going to create havoc for defenses by penetrating, collapsing the defense and kicking the ball out shooters. In truth his assists have come more from him dumping the ball down to players who take shots within ten feet of the basket rather than kicking out to shooters.
Although, that's when he's facilitating assists at all. Right now Lowry is averaging a career-low in Assist Rate, and it's by a wide margin. Assist Rate measures the rate of assists against possessions used, according to hoopdata, and while Lowry's previous career-low was 34.09 in his second year, this year he's running at 29.52 (last year he averaged 42.46 and the year prior 46.41). For a team with so few options who can create their own shots, the Raptors need Lowry to be better and facilitating offence for his teammates.
That said, when he was acquired the attribute that he was most associated with was defence, a desperately-needed asset at Toronto's point of attack. This season the team is actually WORSE per 100 possessions when Lowry is on the court than when he is off of it. Worse by a not-insignificant 3.1 points. His gambling for steals and lack of urgency to recover through screens has become a weak-spot in Toronto's defence and has played a part (how big a part is up for debate) in Toronto returning to the league's basement in terms of defensive efficiency.
Financially the Raptors don't have a lot tied up in Lowry, but organizationally they do. They gave up a lottery pick to acquire him, brought in one of his best friends in Rudy Gay to flank him and traded away one of the most efficient point guards in the NBA to cement his place at the helm of the team. While Gay is now the focal point of Toronto's attack, Lowry has to be much better in support if this team wants to do anything as constructed. So far this season he's only shown an ability to do so in fits and spurts, and that isn't going to be enough for this club to be successful.