Maybe It Is Time to Stop Blaming the Coach in Toronto

Posted on December 4, 2009 by


The Toronto Raptors lost to the Atlanta Hawks by 31 points on Wednesday night.

The loss gave the Raptors 13 defeats in their first 20 games.  The team’s efficiency differential – offensive efficiency (points scored per possession) minus defensive efficiency (points surrendered per possession) – of -5.9 suggests the Raptors are only going to win about 26 games in 2009-10.  In sum, the only NBA team in Canada isn’t very good.

After the Atlanta game, there were grumbles out of Toronto that the players are blaming the coach – Jay Triano — for their troubles.  (HT to TrueHoop).  Such grumbles are reminiscent of the story told a year ago in Toronto.  Last December, the Raptors decided to fire head coach Sam Mitchell (and replace him with Triano). The thinking at the time was that an 8-9 record was simply unacceptable.  And somehow if the players had a different coach, life in Toronto would be different.

At the time I expressed a great deal of skepticism regarding this perspective.  How players perform on the court determines the outcome of each game.   And coaches don’t appear to have much impact on the player’s performances.  Essentially, if you give a coach productive players a team will tend to win; and if a coach doesn’t have many productive players he gets to lead a loser.  The Raptors of last year didn’t have many productive players.  Consequently, we shouldn’t have been surprised that the Raptors only won 25 more games after Mitchell left the scene.

This past summer the Raptors seemed to get this message.  Toronto decided to keep Triano as head coach, while a number of new players were added.  Unfortunately – as the early results indicate — most of the new players haven’t helped.  Again, a differential of -5.9 suggests this team is going to struggle to reach 30 wins this year.

If we move from efficiency differential to Wins Produced, we can see where Toronto’s team makeover went wrong. 

Let’s start with the good news.  Chris Bosh – the team’s star – is on pace to produce 13.3 wins this season.  Jose Calderon – who led the Raptors in Wins Produced in 2008-09 – has struggled.  But Calderon is still on pace to produce 5.9 wins in 2009-10.

So Bosh and Calderon are on pace to produce 19.2 wins.  And the team is on pace to win about 26 games.  A bit of simple math reveals that everyone not named Bosh and Calderon must be on pace to produce only about seven wins.

The perception in Toronto is that everyone else is led by Hedo Turkoglu.  Toronto gave Turkoglu a $53 million contract this past summer.  Although Turkoglu was a sought after free agent last summer, he really has only been an average player across his career.  And he’s now 30 years of age (young for an economist, old for a basketball player).  Hence, we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s only on a pace to produce 2.9 wins this season.  His Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] is 0.052, a mark that’s well below the average mark of 0.100 (and even if he was average, he wouldn’t be helping that much).  So the Raptors – as one could have expected — aren’t getting much return on this investment.

In addition to Turkoglu, the Raptors also held the 8th pick in the 2009 NBA draft (a reward for being so bad last season).  With this pick the Raptors selected DeMar DeRozan.  His draft position suggests DeRozan could be above-average.  His college numbers tell a very different story.  Of the 47 players taken out of college last year, DeRozan ranked 39th in PAWS40 [Position Adjusted Win Score per 40 minutes].  The early returns on DeRozan are consistent with this college numbers.  After 20 games, his WP48 stands at 0.013.  Again, that’s below average. 

Although DeRozan’s production is quite low, it’s well beyond what the Raptors are getting from Antoine Wright.  Last season Wright produced -2.4 wins.  This season he’s on pace to produced -5.0 wins.

Turkoglu, DeRozan, and Wright are not the only players the Raptors added.  Toronto also added Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli, and Jarret Jack.  Of this trio, only Johnson was above average last season (WP48 of 0.145).  And of this trio, only Johnson is above average this season (WP48 of 0.169).

Of the players who have played 200 minutes this season, only Bosh, Calderon, and Johnson are above average.  Everyone else – and that includes Andrea Bargnani [WP48 of 0.043], Belinelli, DeRozan, Jack, Turkoglu, and Wright – are below average. 

Again, none of this should be surprising. The Raptors struggles are simply not about their coach.  This really is all about the players.  Toronto has assembled a roster of players with very few productive performers.  And these players can grumble about their coach all they want.   But until the Raptors employ better players, a better outcome is not likely to be seen.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.