Theory: Raptors will have league’s longest average game time

Title: Theory: Raptors will have league’s longest average game time
Date: October 22, 2013
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This article looked at foul rates, victory margins, and game length, predicting the Toronto Raptors would play some of the longest games in the league.

I hope you like basketball.

Well, of course you like basketball. But I hope you like it enough to sit through long, sometimes slow games this season.

That’s because, while I won’t be able to back it up (there is no database of finished game times that I can find, like Retrosheet for MLB), I’m confident the Toronto Raptors are one of the slowest teams in the NBA.

This doesn’t refer to pace of play (though the Raptors were 24th at a pace of just 90.4 possessions per game), but to the pace of games. The key difference here is that, regardless of style or pace, every team’s basketball games include 48 minutes of on-court play. The seven seconds or less Phoenix Suns didn’t finish their games any quicker, their pace just led to more possessions.

Instead, I’m referring to the actual amount of time that you’ll spend watching Toronto Raptors games, including commercials and timeouts and the like. The Raptors seem poised to play the longest games in the NBA. Sorry, beat writers.

Reason No. 1: Fouls
Fouls slow the game down. There’s no way around that fact. A field goal attempt keeps the clock moving while a free throw attempt stops the clock. Additionally, every foul, even the non-shooting variety, comes with a whistle, which causes a break in play.

Last year, the Raptors committed more fouls than any other team in the league with 1,836. That was good for 12.9 percent above the league average and was somehow 83 more fouls (or a foul a game) more than the next closest team, Golden State.

Additionally, the Raptors got fouled at a slightly above-average rate, drawing 1,650 whistles. Overall, Raptors games had more total fouls than any other team’s games by a margin of about 7.2 percent.

Of course, a 2012-13 performance does not mean a similar 2013-14 performance will follow. However, let’s look at what may change:

Quincy Acy – had the team’s second highest foul rate next to Aaron Gray and appears to be the fourth big in the rotation. He’ll likely play more than his 342 minutes from last year.

Amir Johnson – while he’s improved in this regard, he still averages 4.7 fouls per 36 minutes. With his minutes likely to climb from last year’s 28.7, he’ll need to make further improvements in this area.

Jonas Valanciunas – fouled at a nearly identical rate to Johnson and should likewise be in for a minutes increase. Even if his foul rate trims, that’s more minutes to a high-foul player who also happens to get fouled a lot.

Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan – both get fouled a fair amount and this should actually be a point of strategy for Dwane Casey, so don’t expect this to change.

Kyle Lowry – one of the league’s most foul-prone and foul-drawing guards should see even more minutes this year.

Tyler Hansbrough – on top of everything else, the team brought in a guy who is top-40 in foul rate and goes to the line more than anyone else in basketball except Dwight Howard on a per-36 minute basis. Hansbrough is the king of slowing games down.

So yeah, there are going to be a lot of fouls in Raptor games.

Reason No. 2: Turnovers
While not all turnovers stop play, deadball turnovers do. I’m not aware of a site that separates turnovers into live and dead ones, so to estimate deadball turnovers I’ve simply taken each teams turnover totals and subtracted opponent steals.

While the Raptors made a below-average amount of deadball turnovers, they forced the seventh most in the league. In total, Raptor games had the 11th most deadball turnovers, or about 1.2 percent above average.

This obviously isn’t a convincing argument alone, but when considered with fouls (let’s call deadball turnovers plus fouls “total stoppages”), the Raptors had the most stoppages in all of basketball.

I pointed out how the fouls are likely to increase, and the same can be said for turnovers. Kyle Lowry was 26th in turnover rate last season (minimum 1000 minutes played), which itself can be forgiven except that he’s taking over a larger role from Jose Calderon, who turned the ball over less. In addition, Valanciunas, Johnson and Landry Fields are all high-turnover players with their roles expected to expand.

Reason No. 3: Closeness of games
This one requires a bit more of a leap in faith in a normal distribution of points in games based on talent. However, the logic is this: great teams should blowout bad teams, beat mediocre teams by less and show parity with other great teams. Bad teams should be blown out by great teams, lose by less to mediocre teams and show parity with other bad teams.

Mediocre teams, then, should play closer games with both great and bad teams and show parity against other mediocre teams.

This is basically the crux of Pythagorean Win Theory, whereby point differential is the best predictor of future performance. Consider the point differentials for different groups of teams based on win totals:











It turns out that the more mediocre the teams, the closer the point differential, which is what we would expect.

The leap of faith here is that a close total point differential also means close games. The results from 2012-13 aren’t dramatic, but let’s look at that table again and include the number of games each team had that finished within a five-point margin of victory or defeat:

Wins Point Diff Gms +/- 5















Again, it’s not extreme, but the best and worst teams seem to play about two fewer ‘close games’ than mid-level teams.

Why does this extend a game? Well, consider the end of a blowout game compared to the end of a close game. One has fouling, timeouts for plays to be drawn up and frequent substitutions. The other has Aaron Gray on the floor.

Admittedly, there may be some multicolinearity here with close games and foul totals, but there was almost no correlation between total fouls and the number of close games played (fouling seems to be far more style-dependent than situation-dependent).

Put it all together
So, the Raptors have more stoppages due to fouls and deadball turnovers than any other team, and their personnel changes make it likely that will remain the case, if not make it worse. They’re also expected to win around 35 games, give or take, which theoretically means more close games.

Add it up and it could make for a lot of non-basketball basketball watching.

With that said, no complaints here. I’m just happy to have it back.


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