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Toronto Raptors

Three trends in the Toronto Raptors' losses so far this season

#Kyle Lowry

The Toronto Raptors have the best record league in the NBA at 23-9, but they've cooled down a little since their hot start.

There have been a number of reasons for that - injuries to the likes of Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Jonas Valanciunas and Fred VanVleet being a key one - but three particular on-court trends have begun to emerge in their losses that are worth monitoring moving forward, as the Raptors look to establish themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the season.

From poor 3-point shooting to the second unit's production, let's take a look at each one in detail.

The 3-ball

The Raptors are currently taking 33.6 3-pointers per game, putting them behind eight teams for most in the league.

In their wins, the Raptors have made 37.1 percent of their 3-point attempts. In their losses, that number has fallen to 29.5 percent.

According to NBA.com, the only teams to have shot worse from the 3-point line in their losses are the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors. The Raptors would be below both of those teams had they not caught fire (18-for-31) from distance in their recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, too.

Take that game out of the equation and the Raptors are shooting 26.5 percent from 3-point range in losses this season.

Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have struggled the most from the perimeter in Toronto's losses, with the two All-Stars combining to shooting 20.2 percent on 11.3 attempts per game. (That number is dragged down by Lowry shooting a shockingly low percentage - as we'll get to in a second - but Leonard is also shooting considerably worse in losses than he is in wins).

While that hasn't prevented Leonard from putting up big numbers in the scoring column, Lowry hasn't been able to figure out other ways to get himself going.

The play of Kyle Lowry

Just how bad has Lowry shot from distance in losses this season?

He's connected on 4-42 from beyond the arc for a measley 9.5 percent. That's the same as ... Dwight Howard's career 3-point FG percentage.

Lowry has still distributed the ball at a high rate in Toronto's losses - albeit not with quite the same efficiency - but the scoring just has not been there. Whereas he's averaging 16.5 points per game in the team's wins, Lowry is averaging only 7.0 points per game in their losses on awful shooting splits.

Situation FG-FGA FG% 3PM-3PA 3P%
In wins 5.8-12.0 48.7 2.6-6.6 39.7
In losses 2.1-9.3 23.1 0.6-6.0 9.5

Lowry simply hasn't been looking for his own shot as much in those games. A higher percentage of his field goal attempts have come from 3-point range and he's been far more passive when he's put the ball on the floor.

It would be one thing if those passes were leading to even more scoring opportunities for his teammates, but his assist rate on drives is actually lower in losses (18.9 percent) than it is in wins (21.5 percent).

Lowry talked about how he needed to be more aggressive during his recent shooting slump that saw him score a total of 15 points over four games. The Raptors lost three of those games, their lone win coming against the Philadelphia 76ers on a night Kawhi Leonard exploded for 36 points.

"I'm shooting all 3s and I've gotta be better getting into the paint, getting into the midrange and playing my game," Lowry told Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. "I've gotta get back to being myself."

With how much he impacts the game with his passing and defence, the Raptors don't even need Lowry to put up big scoring numbers. They're yet to lose a game this season in which he scores as little as 15 points. It was a similar case last season, as the Raptors won 33 of the 43 games Lowry reached that threshold.

The Bench

The Raptors had the most dominant bench in the NBA last season.

This season? Not so much.

The three players still a part of last season's "Bench Mob" are Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright and CJ Miles. Pascal Siakam is now in the starting lineup and Jacob Poeltl was included in the deal that brought Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.

In place of Siakam off the bench is OG Anunoby. In place of Poeltl is whichever one of Jonas Valanciunas (20 games off the bench) and Serge Ibaka (10 games) isn't starting.

Complicating matters further is that a number of players on the second unit have already dealt with injuries. VanVleet, Wright, Anunoby and Miles have each missed games due to various ailments and Valanciunas is expected to be out until sometime in January after dislocating his thumb against the Golden State Warriors.

The bench has still has its moments despite those lineup changes and injuries - take what they did against the Washington Wizards on Nov. 23 as an example - but they haven't been nearly as consistent, going from scoring 39.7 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting in their wins to 28.8 points per game on 34.5 percent shooting in their losses.

The former ranks near the middle of the league in terms of bench scoring and the latter ranks near the bottom.

The bench is unlikely to matter as much in the playoffs as the 3-point shooting and the play of Lowry, but it would help the Raptors maintain their place at the top of the Eastern Conference if they can recapture some of last season's magic when everyone returns to full strength.

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