Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors, had seen enough high-powered offenses to recognize that the N.B.A. had turned into the autobahn. The problem was that his players were still chugging along in a Studebaker. But that was all about to change. The Raptors would finally embrace ball movement and the art of spacing. They would rid themselves of their propensity for one-on-one play, which had constipated their half-court sets. They would launch 3-pointers and run the floor while cleansing themselves of their fanatical devotion to midrange jumpers, the low-percentage shots that pain the sport’s growing collection of analytics acolytes as much as the bunt vexes their baseball cousins. And the Raptors would do it with essentially the same roster that had been gassing up the Studebaker. “You have to adapt,” Ujiri said in a recent interview. Toronto is the site of the N.B.A.’s boldest experiment this season. Without shuffling any of their core personnel, the Raptors have sought to reinvent themselves by adopting a free-flowing offense that emphasizes passing, cutting and 3-point shooting. It might not sound like a novel approach — by now, nearly all of the league’s top teams live by these principles — but the Raptors had been one of the few holdouts. After a string of postseason disappointments, it was time to try something new. It was time to join the modern N.B.A. “The game is changing,” Coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s a 3-point and scoring game. You have to be able to score.” The philosophical shift is a gamble for the Raptors because they have been good, but not great — and that became the problem. Last season, they were 51-31 and made their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs behind their All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who combined for nearly 40 percent of the team’s scoring. But Toronto ranked 24th in the league in pace, 22nd in 3-point attempts and dead last in assists, which was one of the clearest indications of the team’s overreliance on one-on-one play. The playoffs were another. After struggling with the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, the Raptors were swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It hardly helped that Lowry missed the final two games of that series with an ankle injury. But Ujiri had made up his mind: Being good was no longer good enough. “We have to figure out how to make that jump,” Ujiri said. In the wake of last season’s playoff exit, Ujiri staged a memorable news conference. After prefacing his remarks by saying that the whole exercise was pointless — “I can’t tell you I’ve made a decision on anything,” he said — he declared that the organization needed a “culture reset” and pointed to the team’s offense.
The Raptors Remade Their Mind-Set, Not Their Roster. It’s Working.
New York Times | Nov 24