Raptors shooters crank up the volume for fifth straight win
It was in one of the many lengthy and entertaining post-practice conversations with Sam Mitchell, up in the old practice facility in what was then known as the Air Canada Centre, that the verbose former coach of the Raptors made a gaggle of reporters’ eyes grow wide.
A hundred shots, he said. He wanted to see his team get up 100 shots a game. And no one listening laughed, but everyone wondered if he could possibly be serious.
He was, and even though his teams never reached that seemingly unreachable goal, here we are a handful of years later and the Raptors have fulfilled Mitchell’s bold proclamation twice in their first nine games.
Unlike his predecessor, coach Nick Nurse won’t go out on a limb with a specific number — although 100 is a nice, even, relatable figure — but the total field-goal attempts are always on his mind.
“I think the pace of the game changes with every opponent, so it’s not like there’s a number that we can put up there because the game fluctuates so much,” he said last week.
There was a fair amount of in-game fluctuation for the Raptors in Washington on Wednesday night, when they ran their win streak to five games with a 109-100 victory over the Wizards.
A slow start followed by a wonderful second quarter and a lull for a few minutes in the third quarter set up a tight finish that Fred VanVleet took over. The veteran guard had a season-high 33 points along with six assists and just two turnovers while logging 43 minutes.
The Raptors were once again without rookie Scottie Barnes, who missed his second game with a thumb injury that will be re-examined Thursday in Toronto. Pascal Siakam needs clearance from the doctor who operated on his shoulder before he can return, while Yuta Watanabe remains out.
“He’s making progress,” Nurse said of Siakam. “He continues to practise at full contact. We’re going to get one more check with the doctor, and we should be not that far away.”
Even without an all-star forward, the Raptors are rolling. OG Anunoby had 21 points (his sixth straight games over 20) while Svi Mykhailiuk and Gary Trent Jr. each had 15.
For historical context, only once all last season did the Raptors get up 100 shots in a game, and that went into overtime. They only did it once in the entire 2019-20 season, and just five times in the 2018-19 championship season.
In the early stages of this season, they took 100 shots in Boston in the second game, and again against Indiana in Toronto. They had 99 field-goal attempts against the Knicks on Monday, and 97 on opening night against the Wizards.
For Nurse, 100’s mythical. The math sends him looking elsewhere. He needs the Raptors to simply get up more shots than their opponent, and there is a magic number.
“We want to try to get at least plus-five” in shot attempts, he said. “Most of the analytics say that once we get to that number the chances of winning improve greatly.”
Why the Raptors get up so many more shots than their opponents in easily understood. They are the best offensive rebounding team in the league — more than 14 per game before Wednesday — and that leads to second-chance shots. They also force more than 16 turnovers a game, which keeps opponent shot totals down.
The Raptors are averaging about 12 more shots per game than their opponents, and that swells to about 15 in their wins.
They had 88 field-goal attempts against Washington to 78 for the Wizards, and also forced 13 turnovers that turned into 12 points.
The incongruity of it all is that the Raptors rank among the slowest teams in NBA stats that track “pace” and possessions per game. It’s not that they’re plodding, of course. It’s early in the season. They are fewer than three possession per game away from the league’s top 10.