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The Raptors’ Home Dominance Against the Timberwolves: A Trend That Needs to End

The Wolves have lost six straight games to Toronto and its star forward, DeMar DeRozan.

The Wolves have lost six straight games to Toronto and its star forward, DeMar DeRozan.

The Timberwolves (18-20) are in Toronto to play the Raptors (19-18) tonight at 6 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on FSN or NBA League Pass or heard on WCCO 830 AM.  The Air Canada Centre (ANGLO SPELLING ALERT!) has been a house of doom for the Wolves: Minnesota has lost its last nine games in Toronto.

Being unable to beat Toronto on its home floor is a trend that needs to end. Coming off of a bad loss against Sacramento on Wednesday at home, the Wolves need a win in a bad way. Defeating the Raptors on their home floor would help Minnesota claw back toward .500 and could help the Wolves exorcise their Air Canada Centre demons.

But getting that win will not be easy. Toronto has a better record than the Wolves do. (Eds. Note:Caveat emptor: They play in the Eastern Conference.)  They’re tough at home, having won a season-high five straight home games (Dec. 28 – Jan. 13), something they haven’t done since 2010. All around the League, the question is, “Are the Raptors for real?”

In short, there’s a lot to like about what’s happening in Toronto.

Trading Rudy Gay: Addition by Subtraction?

The Raptors have hit their stride since trading Rudy Gay, who tortured the Timberwolves en route to 33 points in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento. Toronto was 7-12 before the trade. Since the trade, the Raps have gone 12-5.

Rudy Gay and his offensive inefficiency have been the punchline of so many (advanced!) analytics jokes over the last several years, that the facts only crowd could only smugly sneer and say “I told you so” when the Raptors improved after trading Gay on December 9th. And unsurprisingly, Toronto’s efficiency stats have improved since Gay’s departure. Sean Highkin notes:

With Gay, Toronto had a net efficiency of -0.3, scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions while giving up 101.7. Since the Gay deal, that mark has jumped into the black, sitting at 6.3. The team is scoring 103.9 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to just 97.6.

With Gay on the roster, the Raptors had the bulk of their possessions used by two players, Gay and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has still put up a team-high 28.7% usage rate since the Gay trade, but the rest of the team’s possessions are being distributed more evenly. Center Jonas Valanciunas has taken on a bigger role in Toronto’s offense, and his play contributions to the team during their recent hot streak have been vital.

Highkin notes that Valanciunas has not been the most significant beneficiary of the Gay trade. High-flying guard Terrence Ross has:

The main beneficiary of Gay’s absence on the Raptors has been second-year guard Terrence Ross, who has seen his playing time skyrocket. He was playing 18.9 minutes in the first 19 games of the season, and that number has jumped to 30.2 minutes a game since the Gay trade. His production has spiked as well since being given the opportunity to play, especially from beyond the arc. Before the trade, he was shooting 34.5% on 2.9 three-point attempts a game; since the trade, he’s shot three more times from long range a game (5.9 attempts) and his efficiency has ballooned to 46.1%.

This is a very important trend for the Raptors. Ross has a high ceiling, but he showed few signs that he would reach it last season. Now, with minutes freed up, Ross is again a player to watch–and not only for his *ridiculous* dunks, which are worth marveling at:

There’s much more on the Raptors’ trajectory since the Rudy Gay trade here.

Other Jottings

A few other Raptor-related notes in the run-up to game time:

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INBOX: The Wolves Preseason Offense Edition

Here's a snapshot of what the Wolves' offensive sets have often looked like

Here’s a snapshot of what the Wolves’ offensive sets have often looked like. Hi-Tech stuff here (don’t mind the DVR pause bar).

THE WOLVES SO FAR

So, there’s been a lot written already about the Wolves and the players’ individual performances so far during the preseason.

The Offense

Patrick J:  One angle that has gotten less attention is some of the sets that the Wolves have tried to run – with, shall we say, “mixed” results.

The set basically looks like this: Ricky takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past half court, quickly passes to a wing and cuts through to the strongside corner. The idea is that a post–often Kevin Love–will make himself available for a high-post entry. Then, the ball is in Love’s hands and the offense flows from there. The idea, I think is that Love will either be able to score the ball from the elbow, take a dribble and pass or score, or drive the ball off of a jab fake and get to the rim.

This offensive set seems to meet with limited success. The fly in the ointment is Ricky. Two reasons: (1) he isn’t great without the ball in his hands, and (2) he isn’t a credible threat to make a kickout catch-and-shoot opportunity from the corner. So, his defender can basically fade to crowd the high post and make the options for the high-post man that much more difficult to execute.

So, if this is to be one of the Wolves’ go-to sets, can it work? Should Kevin Martin basically have the Rubio responsibility–if and when he’s healthy again–to put a real threat in the strong-side corner? What gives?

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INBOX: A Quick Look at the Top 10 Picks in Last Year’s Draft

Yesterday Andy G and I ended up with a LONG email thread on this year’s rookies. We decided to post an ABRIDGED version of our tongue-in-cheek assessments of the top 10 picks in last year’s draft. Because, you know, it’s never too early to publish knee-jerk reactions on the Internet about players you’ve barely seen.

Without further adieu:

10. Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings

JIMMER! The BYU sensation is off to a slow start. Although I expect improvement, the early signs are not good. Jimmer averaged 29 points per game, last year. That number is now down to 7.6, and only 11.9 per 36 minutes. What’s worse, he’s shooting a miserable 34 percent from the floor, and only 28 percent from downtown, where he KILLED IT in college (and well beyond the pro three-line).

In his defense: He’s ALREADY undergone a coaching change (BOOGIE!) and he’s playing with some world-class BALL STOPPERS in Tyreke, Thornton, and JOHN SALMONS! I half-predicted a King resurgence this year, and so far, they’ve made me look like a fool. Jimmer is not in anything close to an ideal scenario and the numbers are playing that out. - Andy G

9. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats are WAY lucky Kemba fell to them at #9. The only thing not to like about Walker’s season so far is that Paul Silas isn’t starting him. But that’ll come. Before the draft, I didn’t think Kemba had the scoring and passing ability necessary to star in the NBA. When his stock slid and it was Michael Jordan who finally picked him, I was sure MJ had himself the next Nate Robinson.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Walker should supplant D.J. Augustin as the Bobcats’ starting PG before season’s end and he’s sure to connect with blog favorite BYRON MULLENS for more of these.

Kemba’s numbers aren’t staggering—he’s shooting only 38% from the floor and averaging 11.3 ppg (17.5 per 36)—but you can just tell that some guys can play and Walker is one of them. (Brandon Jennings is another. Apparently they bring out the best in each other.) In hindsight, I’d take Kemba third in last year’s draft. - Patrick J

8. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

We’ll see the latest COACH CAL product on Wednesday Night at Target Center. As a young scorer, he’s off to a nice start. Knight’s set-shot is falling at a 41.4 percent clip from downtown and he’s scoring 11.9 points per game (14.1/36 minutes) as a very-young rookie. He’s got a great NBA point guard body, but doesn’t seem to have point guard instincts. Or maybe I’m just spoiled from watching Ricky Rubio. Either way, Knight is off to a decent start–more as a scorer than passer. On that terrible, aging Pistons team, he should be committed to as the number-one guard even more than his 30 minutes/game suggest. Oh, and he’d be wise to pass the ball to Greg Monroe. That’s a way to gather easy assists. - AG

7. BISMACK BIYOMBO, Charlotte Bobcats

Well, at least MJ went 1-for-2 in this draft. - PJ

6. JAN VESELY, Washington Wi-ZARDS

Jan is the worst player on the worst team in the NBA. What does he have going for him?

Her, I suppose. - AG

5. Jonas Valančiūnas, Toronto Raptors

It’s unclear what’s going to happen first, the next full lunar eclipse or Jonas suiting up for the Raps. - PJ

4. TRISTAN THOMPSON!, Cleveland Cavaliers

Twenty-year old bigs who produce 16 and 10 per 36 minutes are nice to have. It’s even nicer when they shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and have a motor like a Dodge Charger.

But Tristan needs to touch up his free throw shooting and learn to pass. His team is trying to be competitive—the Cavs are currently sporting a 6-6 record—so he’ll have to earn his minutes. 18 mins/game won’t be enough to make a splash, but Tristan’s time is coming. - AG

3. Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz

Kanter has two claims to fame:

  1. Dominating Ohio State all-American Jared Sullinger in the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit.
  2. Having a first name that’s nearly interchangeable withAnus.”

AK is in a logjam in Utah’s frontcourt, competing against Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors for tick. He’s only playing 13.5 mpg and averaging 4.4 pts, but his still-decent PER (16.6) shows why the stats kids still believe Anus will come out smelling like roses. -PJ

2. Derrick Williams, Wolves

In many respects, Derrick Williams is what we thought he was. He’s a power forward with perimeter skills and leaping ability.

What we don’t know: Does Derrick Williams have a post game? Will we ever find out? Will he be traded for a veteran wing player?

Lots of question marks. He seems like a hard worker who will have a long-and-productive career. Without a DOUBT, he’s better than the recent Syracuse picks. I’d say there’s a real question whether he stays in Minnesota, though. Unless Love makes it CLEAR to the front office that he’s headed elsewhere in the future, I think there’s a positional problem for Williams that will never be quite fixed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dealt sometime before this deadline, or around draft time 2012, perhaps to get the Wolves a lottery pick. Of course, he’ll need to snap out of this recent slump to have much value. I’ve got confidence in him, but does Rick Adelman? - AG

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Irving is what we thought he’d be. He has put up nice numbers—his 17.7 ppg rank first among rookies and his 5.3 apg rank second to Ricky Rubio’s 8.3 apg—and is as EFFICIENT as was billed: Kyrie’s shooting 42% from range, 87% from the stripe, and sporting a PER of 22.3.

Beyond the numbers, what’s really impressive is how comfortable Irving looks after playing only 11 games in his college career. As great as Ricky Rubio has been for the Timberwolves, it’s not obvious that Rubio is or will be the better player. They should have a fun rivalry, starting with competing for this year’s Rookie of the Year award. - PJ

Which dark horse rookies do you like?

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