A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Interesting statistical results coming out of the Toronto Raptors coaching change

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Dwane Casey image cropped from Nuggets/Maveric...

Image via Wikipedia

Among NBA fans, we still don’t know the ins and outs of coaches’ impact. For example, just how much should we credit the Bulls success the last 2 years to Tom Thibodeau’s hiring and the dominant defense as soon as he arrived? Is George Karl really making this Denver Nuggets team better? Truthfully, talent appears to be the best indicator. But what does seem apparant is that there’s defense and offensive specialists in coaching. Focusing specifically on defense, some coaches like Larry Brown and Scott Skiles can arrive on a team, slow the pace to a halt and always bring up the team’s DRTG to top 5-10 – But usually with a poor offense.

The Toronto Raptors are an interesting case study because by switching Jay Triano for Dwane Casey, they arguably went from one of the most offense only coaches in the league, to a defense first one. In Triano’s 2 full seasons with the team, they ranked 5th in ORTG in 2009-2010 and 21st in 2010-2011 (ranking top 20 most of the year before Andrea Bargnani sitting out the closing stretch of the season), but 30th in DRTG both seasons. One could argue that due to having as little halfcourt offensive talent as anyone, their ORTG had been too high, to make up for the brutal DRTG. By winning 40 and 22 Gs those seasons they played exactly to their talent level and what one would expect.

Now this direct comparison with the Dwane Casey era is less possible now because of Andrea Bargnani’s injury for much of this season making up a lot of noise in the comparison. They have dropped to 28th in ORTG and rose to 18th in DRTG, but Bargnani’s absence could be effecting both numbers. Here’s something that shouldn’t be effected by his absence though:

10-11: 8th ORB%, 25th DRB%

11-12: 21st ORB%, 2nd DRB%

Whoa! That’s a massive swing! In most cases, a big gap between DRB and ORB should indicate specializing on either end. In this case they may have been specializing on the offensive glass last year and specializing on the defense on this year. Hitting the offensive glass of course gets you free possessions and points, but also leaves transition D as vulnerable – The Raptors arguably had the worst transition defense in the league last year. If everyone goes to the defensive glass transition points become much less available. This fall off in transition play for the Raptors is backed up by their pace falling from 10th to 24th this season. Most teams coached by defensive specialists like Brown and Skiles have a snail’s pace for this risen. The team’s ORB% and pace was bottom 5 to start this season, but with poor early results Casey allowed the team to run a bit more.

This certainly appears a strong example of how coaching strategy can effect whether DRB or ORB is jacked up at the cost of other parts of the game – And may be one reason to not isolate either of those team stats as an indicator on its own. There should be little reason for the Raptors to be the second best defensive rebounding team in the league with a relatively small frontline and no dominant defensive rebounding talent. It appears simply sending everyone to the glass led to that massive jump up in that statistic.

Interestingly, the Chicago Bulls have a gap between ORB and DRB this season – But it’s in favor of the former, with a 1st ORB and 17th DRB rank. Their DRTG has dropped from 7 points above league average to 5.5, but their ORTG is now 5.3 points above league average instead of 1.0. I’d argue that ORTG seems high for their offensive talent level, especially with the games Rose has missed this year. Perhaps the Bulls are playing more of an offensive style this year than their reputation suggests. Just as a team like the Heat may realize “We have the offensive talent, so let’s concentrate on defense coaching wise”, the Bulls realize they are so stacked in defensive talent that playing an offensive style may give them more marginal benefit.

The injury to Bargnani has left it unclear whether Triano or Casey’s style was made to lead to better results. The team’s overall results are worse with the latter, though the injury to their lead player may be what makes up that difference. Nevertheless, the results on the rebounding end are hard to get past as a good case study for how much coaching can effect individual statistics like DRB and ORB.

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Written by jr.

February 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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