The Toronto Raptors have made a significant change in the composition of their roster. Although their recent success has always been determined by the performance of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the performance of their bench has always been a key factor. With so much roster turnover this summer, the team will be relying on several unproven options. This means an increased burden on the starters, especially newcomer C.J. Miles.
The small forward position has been a revolving door of sorts for the Toronto Raptors. In the past they have tried James Johnson, Terrence Ross, Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker, and even invested heavily in DeMarre Carroll to fill the position. Each of these players had some success at the position, but never were able to truly stick.
Miles should bring a lot of consistency to the position, as long as the Raptors can alter their style of play. He shot 41.7 percent from three last season, and his effective field goal percentage of 56.5 trails only Kyle Lowry among the starters. Having a small forward who’s a reliable shooter and scorer is something the team has consistently lacked throughout this era.
In addition to that, Miles is a versatile defender. Despite playing most of his career at shooting guard, he has recently moved over to the small forward position, and he’s even spent time guarding power forwards. Because of Paul George’s reluctance to play the four, Miles would be forced to take larger defensive assignments. While he doesn’t have the physical stature of Carroll, he stays in position and is able to be disruptive with his hands.
When you kick the ball to Miles, there is little indecision. He’s a born shooter and doesn’t have the same hesitation that has plagued Raptors wings in the past. But if the team wants to take advantage of his skill, they will need to adjust their offensive approach.
The Ball Needs To Move
It’s remarkable how little the Raptors pass the ball, considering the offensive success they’ve had over the past few seasons. They were 29th in assists per game last season, and 28th the year before.
A large part of this has to do with their high usage guards. Lowry has done a good job in creating opportunities in the past, generating 12.7 potential assists per game (good for 12th overall in the league).
On the other hand, DeRozan has not been a consistent play-maker for the team. He averages almost 65 touches per game, but only generates 8.1 potential assists per game. That creation rate puts him at 52nd in potential assists.
While Lowry’s potential assists numbers are respectable, the issue is he and DeRozan are the only players that initiate the offense. The majority of the possessions have little ball movement, as the two All-Stars resort to their isolation tendencies.
Both players are efficient in isolation situations, particularly DeRozan, but it comes at a cost to the rest of the team. It’s tough for shooters to get in or maintain a rhythm if they are going long stretches without touching the ball.
This issue was something DeMarre Carroll touched on after his departure with the team. Lamenting the lack of touches and ball movement:
“I wasn’t happy, my agent, we thought the style of ball was going to be different, it was going to be more team-oriented, but I guess it was still ISO (isolation), so I thought they would have moved me last year, but that didn’t happen.”
With the bench being young and unproven, it’s important that the Raptors at the very least keep their starters not named DeMar or Kyle involved. The bench that was a consistent positive in the past isn’t there, so Lowry and DeRozan can’t just stick with their two-man game when they share the floor together.
We’ve seen countless players have hot starts with the team, only to be ignored as the game went on. Miles brings the team a consistent threat from the outside and somebody the team can trust to make the right play. With his presence, hopefully the trust will return for the Raptors and they can progress to a more ball-movement orientated offense.
Miles can excel in almost any situation the team puts him in. He averaged fewer touches per game than Carroll last season, yet performed considerably better. But with the lack of a consistent outside shooting threat and help constantly being cited as the reason the Raptors guards don’t move the ball, the time for excuses is now over. CJ Miles is a perfect fit for the Raptors, and his presence may give the team the confidence they need to start moving the ball.