How the Raptors adopted Moreyball

The Toronto Raptors and Nick Nurse have become one of the league's foremost adopters of the Moreyball offense
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If you watched the Toronto Raptors this season you might have noticed the continued evolution of Nick Nurse's offense away from the midrange game.

The demise of the midrange isn't a particularly new phenomenon, it's been around for a few years and often associated with Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and "Moreyball" philosophy. The offensive strategy is predicated on the idea that the best shots are either right at the rim or from 3-point range, and therefore, midrange shots should be taken sparingly.

It's an idea touched on at length in Kirk Goldsberry's book Sprawball and the graph below explains the reasoning behind the offense.

Screenshot 2020-06-16 12.24.16

Essentially, shots at the rim go in at the highest rate and shots further from the net gradually become more difficult. This, however, doesn't account for the fact that 3-point shots are worth 50% more than 2-point shots, and therefore, shooting 45% from 2-point range is less efficient than shooting 35% from 3-point range.

The graph below shows the average NBA shot's point yield between the 2013-14 season and 2017-18 season. Notice how the average points per shot are the highest right at the rim and behind the 3-point line where shots are more valuable.

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 12.16.47 PM

Last season, the Raptors took 70% of their shots either at the rim or from 3-point range, according to pbpstats.com. That ranked 12th in the NBA, 12% lower than the Rockets who took 82% of their shots in what we'll call the "Moreyball zone."

This year, however, Toronto has jumped to fourth in the NBA in the percentage of shots taken in the "Moreyball zone," with 77% of the Raptors shots coming from the most efficient areas of the court.

That change is especially noticeable when looking at Toronto's shot chart from each of the past two years.

This graph, courtesy of NBA.com/stats, shows the Raptors' 2018-19 offense. Toronto took 14.4% of its shots in the midrange, according to NBA.com, and made 43.5% of them, the third-most in the NBA.

shotchart (8)

This season, Toronto has taken just 9.8% of its shots the midrange, per NBA.com, and made just 36.5% of them, the fourth-worst in the NBA.

shotchart (9)

A big reason for that offensive change is the departure of Kawhi Leonard, one of the league's best midrange shooters. Leonard took just 54% of his shots in the Moreyball zone last season and averaged 2.5 midrange makes per game, the fifth-most in the NBA, per NBA.com/stats. 

Toronto's trend toward Moreyball isn't showing any signs of slowing down. The Raptors young core of OG Anunoby, Terence Davis, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet rank first through fourth on the team in percentage of shots coming from Moreyball zone, respectively.