Canadian Hustle: Breaking Down Toronto's Hustle Statistics

Hustle plays win games, or so the saying goes. The Toronto Raptors are obviously winning games, but are they making those effort plays?

The little plays that often go unnoticed are crucial. A deflection here, diving for the ball there, it all adds up to winning basketball... and the Toronto Raptors are clearly playing winning basketball.

Now, about halfway through the season, the Raptors hold the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 27 wins and 10 losses. Since the beginning of December, the Raptors have won 14 of 17 games, culminating in a recent blowout victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, 129 to 110. They've won 73 percent of their games and boast top-notch offensive and defensive ratings.

Toronto's success is a product of, not just skill, but effort and tenacity. Guys playing passing lanes, laying out for loose balls, and putting their bodies on the line to draw charges.

Breaking Down the Numbers

A few years back, the only way to explore a team's effort was to watch the games. It's still helpful to a certain extent, seeing guys get deflections, draw charges, and contest shots, but its impossible to put visual observations into any sort of broader context. Kyle Lowry might look like he draws a lot of offensive fouls in any given game, but it's difficult to derive meaning from that.

Fortunately, the NBA saw fit to start tracking hustle stats in the 2016 season. They began tracking screen assists, deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drawn, and all manner of contested shots. These give a good indication of a team's overall effort.

And as a team, the Toronto Raptors are among the best in the league at making effort plays. Below are Toronto's rankings for the 2017-2018 season in key hustle stat categories.

13th 2nd 9th 2nd 11th

Second in the league in both deflections and drawn charges is quite significant.

What's also interesting is that, with exception to Kyle Lowry leading the league in drawn charges, nobody else on the squad is prominent in any one hustle stat category. The Raptors are hustling as a team, with every single player doing their part.

Hustle Plays win Games

Effort is the one thing a team can control in-game, and the Raptors have taken that to heart. Playing hard sets the tone for the game, wears opposing teams down, and generally leads to more possessions for the team that's hustling.

That's how hustle wins games.

The Raptors are active defensively and work to limit opponent possessions, in turn giving themselves more opportunity to score. Defence leading to offense, hence the nearly nine steals per game that Toronto averages. They also limit opponent field goal attempts well, allowing about 84 field goal attempts per game, good for 12th best in the league.

The concerted effort to do the little things and hustle by committee is contributing to Toronto's success this season. There's been a slight downtick in measurable hustle over the last couple of games and Toronto needs to address that should they want to see their success continue.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and, unless otherwise stated.

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