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.
A few other Raptor-related notes in the run-up to game time:
- Kyle Lowry: Lowry’s name has been mentioned in dozens of trade rumors, some involving the Timberwolves as a possible suitor for his services. But with Lowry playing well and the Raptors winning, it’s looking less likely that he’ll be traded, as the Raptors will need him if they are serious about making a run at a playoff spot, unless Raptors coach Dwane Casey lengthens his leash on Greivis Vasquez, who has only averaged 15 minutes per game since being acquired from the Kings in December. Vasquez was third in the NBA in assists last season as a New Orleans Hornet, trailing only Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
- Steve Novak: The 6/10” marksman hasn’t played significant minutes since the Gay trade back in December. But he’s exactly the kind of stretch four Kevin Love struggles to close out on. If I were Raptors coach Dwane Casey, I’d put Novak in for an early heat check against Love to see if he’s able to disrupt the Wolves’ defensive rotations.
- DeMar DeRozan: With Rudy Gay out of the picture, DeRozan is now the (undisputed) man in Toronto. DeRozan’s efficiency numbers are above League average for the first time in his career, and with the Raptors winning, he is a legitimate Eastern Conference All-Star candidate. DeRozan played well in Toronto’s two wins over the Wolves last season, averaging 23.5 points, while shooting .541 (20-for-37) from the floor. It will be interesting to see if Rick Adelman uses Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (LRMAM) against DeRozen tonight. LRMAM, the team’s best one-on-one defender, was a DNP-CD on Wednesday against Sacramento, and should have been given minutes against the white-hot Rudy Gay. It’ll be disappointing to say the least if DeRozan gets hot and LRMAM isn’t given a chance to defend him.
Here’s some DeRozen highlights to pregame to. (Sounds brought to you by NWA. )
That’s all for now.
Enjoy the tilt.