Toronto Raptors: Can this group play well together?

Our previous two columns have been dedicated to the reports that Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has made all players except Jonas Valanciunas available.  We were not sure that such conclusions could be accurately drawn through two games and that Ujiri needed more time to see what he had before blowing up the roster.  We addressed motivations and potential returns but did not really feel there was any weight to the claims.  However, from watching the past few games, there appears to be a lack of cohesiveness and flow in the offense.  Perhaps Uriji was ahead of the curve in knowing what he really had: A talented group of individuals who are not going to work as a collective unit.  They do not look like a playoff team.  That is disappointing because we have been touting them as a real surprise in the East.  Let’s attempt to analyze some reasons why this group may not be an ideal unit.

Passing problems: When we hear about what makes a team successful on offense, there is generally a common thread among them like movement without the ball, passing, not letting the ball hit the ground, not taking contested shots, etc.  So far the Raptors are not doing a good job of being a prototype of this ideal.  They are tied for a league-low at 16.3 assists per game, which is 12 per game behind league leader Miami.  Rudy Gay is averaging almost 19 shots per game; he is a dribbler who will look to create his own shot at all costs, even if it leads to bad ones.  He scored 30 points on Friday, but did so on 26 shots and is averaging one assist a game this season.  No one on the Raptors is an overly adept passer; only Landry Fields seems to be a willing participant at a 5/1 assist to turnover ratio, and he is only playing 21 minutes a game.  While Kyle Lowry is no true pass-first guard, we feel the only way to slow down the Gay train is to let Lowry be the point guard and make Gay move without the ball a bit.

Dwane Casey’s plan?: Is it fair to ask what happened to the plan?  We loved the plan.  The pundits seemed to like the plan.  Through five games we are not going to get on our soapbox and start saying, “I told you so,” but we told you so.  From everything we read and everything Toronto Raptors sources said, this was going to be an inside-out offense, making sure that it revolved around the player they said was their  franchise player, Valanciunas.  We asked whether this was possible, given the volume shooters that made up their offensive core.  But we figured it could be and they would make in-season adjustments as they saw fit.  If that meant trading Rudy Gay, then it was in best interest of the franchise, because there was no reason to doubt “genius” Ujiri.  That was our reason for optimism.  The problem is that the Raptors are not adhering to that plan.  They are not establishing Valanciunas early or letting him make things happen on the double team.  It appears to be Gay’s show and that is not a recipe for success.  The Memphis Grizzlies were once this and became a better team when it morphed into Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph‘s show.  To be fair, Valanciunas has not been amazing this year at nine points and eight rebounds a game, but he is shooting 47 percent on only eight shots a game.  Gay’s 37 percent would be more palatable if he brought a lot more than scoring to the table; he doesn’t.

Again, this is through five games.  This is a talented team.  Perhaps the flow of the games has dictated going away from Valanciunas and a general stalling of offense leads to too much isolation from players who have a history of doing it.  But the trend cannot continue, because if it does, it will become obvious that a new model will have to be fast tracked, and that will only leave fans feeling like they are in for another long rebuilding effort.

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