Woz Blog: Encouraging signs for Raptors against Nuggets including Ibaka, Siakam
Man, are the Denver Nuggets something offensively. They have a genius at centre in Nikola Jokic, some big-time shot-makers and scorers and are generally quick and athletic. And that’s without two-way stud Gary Harris, who missed Tuesday’s game against the Raptors. Luckily for a home side in dire need of a win to get back on track heading into some rare extended practice time, Denver is stunningly horrible defensively. As good as Jokic is on the attack, he is equally poor at the other end. A human turnstyle. The great Paul Millsap has lost a step and can’t do it all on his own. Harris is very good, Jamal Murray is still learning how to contain NBA talent and Wilson Chandler is aging.
But this space is about the Raptors, who had been awful defensively themselves in recent weeks. Holding Denver to 110 points is an accomplishment, especially since the visitors made a ton of tough shots/buckets after initially rock-solid Toronto defence.
Getting three-point makes from eight different players (including three more from Kyle Lowry, who trails only Kemba Walker in three-pointers made since the all-star break) was a good sign.
We’ve mentioned Jokic’s brilliance at seeing over the defence and being able to make beautiful plays offensively, but how about point forward Pascal Siakam, who handed out six assists? Siakam had 17 assists in his rookie season. Total. He has 143 and counting. That’s a wild stat, even crazier than his making one three all last season and hitting 27 this year.
Siakam has now handed out six assists four times this season, all since Feb. 8th. The Nuggets didn’t know what to do with him and he helped the bench close things out in the fourth.
Credit to the coaching staff for riding with the guys who were getting it done instead of force-feeding the starters the crunch time minutes. Siakam, Jakob Poeltl (who had a great game), Fred VanVleet and Miles were giving the Nuggets problems.
This was a return to form for Serge Ibaka, who had been struggling. He has been putting in extra work with his jumper, but he most impressed on the boards in this one, fighting harder than usual (after being encouraged to do so previously by Dwane Casey) and really mixing it up.
Plus/minus can be a bizarre stat. C.J. Miles shot 2-for-11, hitting only one of his six three-point attempts, missing 6-of-7 uncontested shots, yet was a game-best +13.
Fun to point out when they face each other, Millsap (47th pick) and Lowry (24th pick) trail only LaMarcus Aldridge from the 2006 draft class in career win shares (Lowry leads in win shares per 48 minutes). Lowry and Millsap are 1-2 in box plus/minus (Brandon Roy is third, despite having to retire way too early due to injuries). Lowry and Millsap are also 1-2 in value over replacement player from that class. Top pick Andrea Bargnani ranks 43rd and 12th in win shares. It wasn’t a very good crop of players, but Lowry and Millsap (and Rajon Rondo, the 21st pick, and JJ Redick, selected 11th) have really exceeded expectations to a massive degree.
Throughout the season we dig into various stats and with the regular campaign winding down, here are a few things that caught our eye:
Toronto only surrenders 9.0 three-point makes a game, which leads the three-pointer obsessed NBA. That’s a good stat, as is only surrendering 25 attempts a game, which ranks second. Opponents only hit 35.9% of their threes against the Raptors, which ranks 11th. Containing three-point threats is a major key in today’s NBA and it’s a good strength for a team to have.
Conversely, the Raptors surrender 23.7 trips to the free throw line a game, which ranks fourth from the bottom and has been a season-long issue. Toronto also sits only 18th in points allowed in the paint and only four teams surrender more second-chance points.
So, once again, the team’s major weaknesses are defensive rebounding and free throws allowed. Its major strengths are too many to list here, but another interesting one is they take great care of the ball (only three teams allow fewer points off of turnovers.
1 – Serge Ibaka
2 – Jakob Poeltl
3 – Nikola Jokic