The Toronto Raptors have enjoyed some of their best seasons in franchise history in recent years but are constantly overlooked as serious contenders because of their failures in the playoffs.
In the last two campaigns, they have come up short against the Cleveland Cavaliers and put up very little resistance en route to being swept by LeBron James and co. last year.
With their usual philosophy not working when it matters most, head coach Dwayne Casey decided to take another approach coming into this season.
The Raptors have made a strong start to the campaign with an 8-5 record and in the opening 13 games, it's clear to see that they are adopting a different style with their offence.
The success of the team over the last five years has been built on a simple formula; get the ball in the hands of one of their All-Star guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and get out of their way.
Behind a steady dose of isolation plays for each, Toronto has consistently been a top 10 offence in the league.
But the problem is that style very rarely works in the postseason as opponents put more emphasis on defence and have found it easy to focus all their efforts on DeRozan and Lowry.
That crushing loss to the Cavs made Casey go back to the drawing board and look to implement something different with an eye on playoff success.
“Right now we are doing something that, if you’re a betting man, you’re betting it’ll translate in the playoffs,” Casey said, per The Washington Post. “That’s what we’re betting.”
Casey's bet is that an offence that revolves around more ball movement and more three-point shots will allow them to compete with the best teams.
Instead of leaning heavily on their star duo, the Raptors want to develop a certain level of trust across the team, meaning other players can step up and contribute alongside DeRozan and Lowry in the playoffs.
Creating those habits now will stand the team in good stead when the tougher tests come their way.
“We need two or three other guys to step up and make plays and be confident by playoff time to make plays,” Casey said. “That’s the main thing.
“It’s nothing Kyle and DeMar are doing wrong. It’s going to free them up. In a crazy way, it’s going to make their life easier once guys are making plays off the ball and guys are making shots.”
Ther numbers are already showing how much the Raps have bought into this new style. Two seasons ago they were 19th in three-pointers attempted and 29th in assists per game. Last year, they ranked 22nd and 30th, respectively.
In those same categories, they are eighth and 11th, respectively, in the early part of this campaign and it worked to perfection in a huge 129-113 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night - where they attempted 30 three-pointers and had 28 assists on 41 made baskets.
“Anything that [can be] beneficial is always worth trying,” DeRozan said. “If it’s something that’s better in the long run, without a doubt. And then still, within that, [we’re] using the same things that have made us successful over the years, as well.”
The very early signs are encouraging for the Canadian-based outfit as they're third in offensive efficiency, averaging 109 points per 100 possessions.
In today's NBA, it's important to have three-point shooting and adopt a pace and space style in order to compete with the top teams.
The likes of the Golden State Warriors and the Rockets use this to devastating effect and it shows why they're the best offensive teams in the league.
But Toronto knows they'll be judged in April and May and even though things are working now, their eyes are firmly focused on the long run.
“It’s for the playoffs,” Lowry said. “So we have to get to the playoffs and then we’ll see in the playoffs if it’s working. That’s what we changed it for, so that’s when we’ll really figure out if it is.”