The Toronto Raptors are sitting atop the Atlantic Division, and 4th in the Eastern Conference. Despite the Raptors’ early success, there are still many issues to address. One of them is the wing play.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to trash Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan, but more to elaborate on their strengths and weaknesses, to re-evaluate on an article topic I wrote a year ago, and to explain why DeMar and Rudy haven’t been able to co-exist.
In the last article, I had made a case as to why DeMar and Rudy CAN co-exist for the up-coming season, but things are changing, along with my opinion. The two wing players – no matter how great friends they are, no matter how good they think they are, no matter how much they want to see each other succeed – haven’t been able to co-exist thus far. I’m not here to drown you with statistics, analytics, or numbers. I’ll be addressing the problems on why DeMar and Rudy have not been able to work together.
DeMar and Rudy are two volume shooters; both players take a high number of shots every game. Their strength is evidently scoring. But, in this day in age of basketball, efficiency is such an important facet of the game. This is a factor the Raptors struggle with in general, mainly because their main offensive options are inefficient. Constantly taking a high number of shots along with isolations negates team offense, forces stagnancy, less defensive movement (meaning less breakdowns and less opportunities for better looks), and predictability.
Rudy Gay is averaging 19.2 points on a poor 38% from the field. He’s currently ranked 118th in the entire league in field goal percentage, and to add onto that, he’s 3rd in the league in field goal attempts at 19.4, just behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Carmelo Anthony. Mr. Rudy Gay is missing almost two out of three of his shots; abysmal shooting if you ask me. 20 points looks nice, but it’s from being a great NBA scorer. An example of this was scoring 29 points on the road against the Houston Rockets. Despite scoring a high number, he took 37 shots. Now, let’s do the math. 50% is arguably the “efficient” label, so, half of 37 is 18.5. So let’s say, he takes 19 shots that day. Multiply 19 by a regular 2 point field goal, and that’s 38 points, and we’re not even accounting the fact he went to the free throw line 4 times, and shot 8 three-pointers. I’ve been assuming Gay will start to improve, but it simply hasn’t happened.
DeMar on the other hand is averaging 21.2 points per game, but is also averaging a high number of field goal attempts at 18.2 per game (tied for 7th in the league), while shooting only 42% from the field; ranked at 97th in the league. While DeMar is still an inefficient scorer, he does things differently to earn his points, and has been much better in comparison to his partner on the wing. DD has scored +30 points on three different occasions. Against the Philadelphia 76ers, he shot nearly 52% from the field, scoring 33 points. At home against the Chicago Bulls, DeMar nearly willed the team back into a game, matching his career high at 37 points, shooting 59% from the field. Finally, he scored 31 points against Atlanta, shooting with pure efficiency from the field at 61%. DeRozan is also one of the best at getting to the free throw line, ranked 20th in the league overall, and 3rd among all shooting guards in the league, only behind Monta Ellis and James Harden. Additionally, DeMar shoots a solid percentage at the free throw stripe at nearly 82%.
Generally what happens between Rudy and DeMar, is when one of them have it going, the other is invisible. A great example, was the game against the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday night, where DeMar DeRozan single-handedly kept his team in the game initially, and if you watched that game, it’s obvious they weren’t playing their best basketball. We’ve prepared charts and a table comparison showing the co-relation between how when one of them play well, the other… Not so much. As you can tell from the points chart, with one player high up the graph in terms of point production, the other is down more often than not.
You can tell from this field goal percentage chart as well. Just like the points, generally whoever is shooting a good percentage that night, the other is not. The highest percentage on the chart belongs to DeRozan, who shot a little above 60% from the field on his 2nd game (#13 on chart), but, Rudy shot an awful 30%. Vice versa, Rudy’s best shooting from the field was about 45%, but DeRozan’s percentage that night was hovering around 15% from the field.
The conclusion we’re coming to when showing the graphs, is when either DeMar or Rudy is having a good game, the other tends to struggle. If this is the trend that will follow throughout the season, it’s going to be a major problem for the offense. It becomes a, “whoever gets hot first, is the main guy that night” between Rudy and DeMar. No consistency whatsoever, and despite Rudy and DeMar saying that they don’t “take turns,” it will eventually become that. This type of mentality takes away from guys like Amir, JV, Kyle Lowry, and Terrence Ross. Now, if a guy like Landry Fields were to be the partner for DeMar or Rudy, I’m sure there wouldn’t be such a major gap between production. A guy like Landry Fields shoots within the offense, and cuts without the ball. This allows more ball movement, efficient shooting, consistent production, and more touches for guys on the team.
Shooting percentages and attempts are marginally better in wins in comparison to losses, which is proof that efficiency wins games. This isn’t anything new; the Miami Heat are reigning back-to-back champions because of sharing the basketball, efficiency, and spacing.
DeMar in winning efforts is averaging 43% compared to 41% in losses, takes 15.5 shots in comparison to 20.4, and shoots 41% from 3, compared to 33% respectively. Rudy Gay in winning efforts shoots 40% from the field compared to 37% in losses. He also takes 15.5 shots in wins (interesting) and almost 23 shots in losses. Another big number is that he shoots nearly 46% from the perimeter in wins, but 33.3% in losses.
DeMar and Rudy combine for 37.6 shots a game, which is 45% of the Toronto Raptors’ overall field goal attempts. The bigger problem is that DeMar and Rudy only combine for 4.7 assists per game, a very poor number. Thus far, DeMar has actually been one of the players who has been trying to enforce ball movement, and is actually a solid play-maker- particularly in the drive and kick. Rudy is the one with the tunnel vision, however he has shown that he can play-make when he wants to. He averages 3.2 turnovers a game, and his assist to turnover ratio is a poor 0.66.
Another issue between the wings, and for the Raptors, has been the spacing. Recently, Coach Dwane Casey has been using Steve Novak to free up the wing, and allow more space on the inside for the likes of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. We’ll all see how that pans out over the next couple weeks or so. But again, spacing is a major issue for this team, and when it comes down to it, the wings are the heart of the problem. First of all, because of Rudy and DeMar’s reputation of their inability to consistently hit the three point shot, teams will buckle down and clog the paint. With that happening, it makes it harder for both Rudy and DeRozan to slash into the paint, along with trouble finding open space for the big man Valanciunas to find room to operate. Last year, I wrote about certain spaces of the floor Rudy and DeMar like to operate in – DeMar loves the left side, and Rudy loves the right side of the basket. Let’s check out some shot charts shall we?
Lots of blood, lots and lots of blood. Out of 14 sports on the floor, he shoots below the league average in seven of them, two comparable to league average, and five above average. But, his preference for the opposite side of DeMar, contains his worst shooting percentages. On the right side, including the corner “analytical three” according to Matt Devlin, he shoots an awful, awful 17/61, accounting for 28%.
A rainbow of red, yellow, and green folks. DeMar, out of the 14 spots, is shooting above average in 5 spots, including corner threes; four comparable to league average; and 5 below league average. DeMar’s favourite side of the court is the left, and he shoots 26/68, accounting for a still inefficient 38%.
What else is interesting about their shot charts is the fact that both shoot better percentages opposite of their preference. Rudy shoots 18/40 from the left side, which is 45%; around what the league average is for shooting percentages. DeMar on the right side shoots 22/50, accounting for 40%; still below average, but better than his percentages on the left side of the court. The good thing about these two has been their three-point shooting. DeMar and Rudy are both shooting approximately 40% from the perimeter. This was an aspect of their games that needed a large step in improvement, and consistency. When they have the three going, there is certainly more space. However, if it’s an isolation-heavy night it likely doesn’t matter anyway,
We’re seeing two players struggle to find a consistent comfort zone with one another on the court. Two wing players that like to take mid-range jumpers, two players that look to take the ball too the hoop in isolations, and two players that have been iffy with the shooting in the past. What do these two do differently though? I did mention DeMar is a much better play-maker on the floor, but he is also just as good playing without the ball offensively. Rudy has been a huge positive defensively, leading the team in blocks at 1.3, rebounding the basketball at 7.1, and is jumping the passing lanes with 1.5 steals per game.
Even with DeMar being a solid player without having to dominate the ball like Rudy, or having the ability to find teammates, and Rudy being able to defend and rebound, their issues with their shooting and spacing is too big a problem to overcome. It has been the biggest issue this season on that side of the court. Jonas and Amir have been much less involved in the offense – it’s been pretty clear when looking at their body language and whenever they get the ball. The team recently has been trying to make an extra effort to move the ball around, but two players doing similar things in similar places makes it very easy for defenses to scout and plan for. With this team being closely evaluated by general manager Masai Ujiri, there are changes bound to happen whether it be the roster, or coaching staff if these problems continue to present themselves.
In conclusion, what we’re seeing so far into this season is that the two wing players cannot co-exist with one another. It’s a tough situation to come real with, because Rudy was just traded for last season in a hope to finally turn around the losing culture, and DeMar has been one of the hardest workers this franchise has had. We’re now seeing Rudy being exposed as a player – a ball dominant volume shooter, who has terrible court vision and awareness, no care for efficiency and a mind away from team offense. DeMar’s numbers, improvement in aspects of his game (passing, ball-handling, shooting, defense) and work ethic has easily made him a favourite when it comes to making a choice between the two. That choice might have to be made sometime this season, or in the near future, because unless they finally figure out how to work together as a wing duo, the box scores are going to be filled with cringe-worthy numbers, and inefficiency coming from either the two or three spots, or both.