Better living through chemistry + NFL Picks
Lately I’ve had chemistry on the mind. Not in a lab, but on the court. Toronto’s to be specific.
When the Raptors blew up their roster for the umpteenth time this decade over the summer, it was expected that it would take some time for all the new names to gel. After all, it would make sense for the Raptors to not really click until a few games in, when everybody starts to get a feeling of how everybody else works.
But I don’t think anybody could have predicted how the team is starting to settle.
The Raptors have kicked off the season by scoring in bunches. Almost all of their starters have shown ample ability to score and average at least 12 points-per-game (DeMar DeRozan is the exception, averaging just over six ppg). In fact, as a team, the Raptors are averaging 105 points a game, their highest-ever average. According to Basketball-Reference, they have an offensive rating of 113, which roughly means they score 113 points per 100 possessions. That’s a pretty good clip.
Equally impressive – in an altogether different way – is their defence, which may be the worst in the league. They’re allowing 109 points a game and posting a defensive rating of 116. It’s complete ineptitude while defending – they allow more points then 3-13 New York, 1-15 Minnesota and 0-16 New Jersey – is nothing short of stunning. Even Charlotte had a field day playing the Raptors, lighting up for 116 points – and setting a largest margin of victory record in the process.
Their defensive struggles go beyond allowing a ton of points. The Raptors have only 89 steals (28th in the Association). Their opponents have had only turned the ball over 206 times (27th), have attempted 1403 shots (4th), made .477 per cent of them (7th) and grabbed 698 rebounds (6th)*. In other words – the Raptors are having a hard time getting stops and getting the ball back.
What exactly is causing this staggering difference in numbers? Is it the absence of Reggie Evans, who can’t score but can defend as well as anybody? Is it the result of their coaching (it’s worth noting that assistant coach Alex English was the leading scorer of the 1982 Nuggets, one of the highest scoring and scored-against NBA teams ever)? Or is it something else?
One stat that really stands out to me in the number of assists on the Raptors. For a team that’s scoring so much, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that they’d lead the league in assists – or at least be close?
But they’re ranked 7th with 352 assists. Other, lower-scoring teams (like the LA Clippers, who average 10 fewer points a game) are out-assisting them. Maybe it’s me, but that number seems low. Why would a team that scores so often not rack up assists? Phoenix, which scores more points a game then anybody, is right near the top of the league in helpers with nearly 400 dimes.
Look at how many assists a game Toronto has. Denver, which is just behind Toronto in scoring, has 368 assists, or 23 per game. Phoenix and Boston have nearly 25 per game. The Raptors are averaging just under 21 per game.
But it’s not just assists or points allowed. Against Boston on the 27th, Chris Bosh took a hard blow from Paul Pierce, a knee right in his cookie jar. What happened? Bosh crumples under the basket. Pierce walks away. Nobody immediately goes to Bosh’s side. Nobody gets right in Pierce’s face.
Now ask yourself: does that happen anywhere else? If Pierce knees Kobe, does Ron Artest stand by? If Steve Nash takes a blow, does Amare Stoudemire hang around waiting for him to get up?
If the roles were reversed – if Bosh knees Pierce – does anybody believe the Celtics stand there like the Raptors do? That Kevin Garnett doesn’t immediately get in Bosh’s face and scream at him and get held back by refs and teammates, lest he start a brawl?
Fights on the court have been started by much less. But nobody, except Jay Triano, appeared willing to go to the line and start something. Calderon barely appeared to care, it seemed, preferring to stand around and look defeated.
It’s disheartening. And it eximplifies exactly what’s wrong with this Raptors team – why they can’t defend, why the assists are so low and why nobody appeared willing to defend their teammate.
The chemistry in Toronto is bad. They haven’t began to mesh yet – and they’re already 17 games into the season. If the Raptors want to hang in the Eastern Conference, they’re going to have to start working together. I don’t care Triano gets them to do this – he can make them watch tapes of Valvano’s NC State teams or do those falling into somebody behind you exercise for all I care – but it’s a glaring problem for the Raptors right now.
Sure, they can outscore teams when the setting is right. But as the game against Boston proved, when their shots don’t drop, they have to work together. So they can get stops. So they can pass the ball around for the best look.
So they’re willing to show they aren’t going to be intimidated.
* – All of this paragraph’s stats from Basketball Reference, accurate to November 28.
NFL Picks for week 12 (Home team in CAPS):
- Miami over BUFFALO – Ricky’s back folks. Did you see him tear Carolina apart last week?
- Seattle over ST. LOUIS – Did you know the Hawks are 0-5 on the road? And the Rams are 0-5 at home? This should be a fun game.
- PHILADELPHIA over Washington – I wonder what’s going to happen to Vick. Kolb is a better backup and McNabb is a better starter. You can’t use him in the wildcat for two reasons: The Eagles O-line isn’t mobile enough and once he goes in, the defence knows what’s going to happen. Can you bench him? You just signed the guy to a big contract.
- ATLANTA over Tampa Bay – The Bucs led at one point last week. I remember wondering what was going on, but by time I found it online, they were behind again.
- Indianapolis over HOUSTON – I want to say the Texans have an upset in them, since they can score in bunches… but I’m not betting against a QB who’s getting the breaks to roll his way.
- CINCINNATI over Cleveland – Another could-be trap game. The Bengals have gotten some breaks and I don’t think they’re as good as their record shows. But then again, the Browns suck.
- Carolina over NY Jets – I think Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez has really regressed since eating that hot dog. My mom always told me to cut them down the middle, otherwise you could choke. COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT.
- SAN DIEGO over Kansas City – Ugh, I’m still mad about last week. WWE tactics to knock out Big Ben. A dropped interception, followed by a huge pass that Troy would have broken up. I don’t want to deal with them again.
- SAN FRANCISCO over Jacksonville – Okay sure the Niners are 4 and 6. Whatever. I can feel this one. My Pick-I-Can’t-Explain of the week.
- Arizona over TENNESSEE – Did you realize the Cards are unbeaten on the road? I didn’t, though I didn’t realize that they were 7-3 either. Didn’t Warner get hurt, too? I feel iffy taking them over a team that’s made a fast turnaround, but whatever.
- MINNESOTA over Chicago – The Bears are finished. They’re washed up. Their defence – what got them to that super bowl against Indy – is a wreck.
- BALTIMORE over Pittsburgh – I’m feeling really iffy about the Steelers. Their secondary is banged up and full of holes. Big Ben has a concussion. Their running game feels spotty. On the other hand, I dislike Baltimore a lot. Reminds me, I just watched that doc on the Baltimore Colts marching band. It was just kind of okay, especially when they mocked the CFL and ignored the USFL completely. And um didn’t Baltimore kind of steal a team from Cleveland? I feel like that should have been addressed more.
- Oh man, I don’t know. New England is good, but had a few unlucky breaks (that 4th and 2 against Indy). I don’t know if the dice are rolling in their direction. But the Saints are good. Too good, man. They’re going to fall soon and it won’t be against some cupcake team. Could it be New England? Yeah, I’m going to go with the Popular Pick. New England in a thriller.