Raptors defensive issues

All hands on deck!

One of the most annoying and frustrating aspects of this season for me has to be the defense – or lack thereof – we’ve played. Our inability to defend key sets and correct our defensive mistakes has resulted in us becoming a habitually bad defensive team which often makes us painful to watch. The lack of athleticism was a problem from day one which according to Mitchell would be overcome by playing smart and sound team basketball. However, things didn’t work out as individual players kept getting exposed and the team wasn’t the well-oiled machine that it needed to be to mitigate constant individual defeat.

Some of the defensive problems have resulted from pure lack of ability while others are a result of the defensive system and principles carved into our playbook. Things that we need to work on for next year:

Have you heard of this crazy play called the pick ‘n roll? We’re possibly the worst team when it comes to playing “hedge and recover” when defending the PNR. Usually the pick results in two defenders dealing with the ball handler leaving the pick-setter open to roll or pop-out at his discretion. If not that, then the Raptor guard will not fight through the pick and expect a stronger hedge from the pick-setter’s man only to be let down, resulting in a clear path to the rim for the ball-handler. The third way to mess this is up is by going under the screen on a shooter conceding the ball-handler an open shot while also giving him the option to drive since the would-be hedger is in no-man’s land. Under Mitchell it was bad, under Triano it’s worse.

You don’t need me to help but I’ll do it anyway: I’m looking at Anthony Parker on this one. He’s by far the worst when it comes to sagging off his man on the weak side to help on nobody in particular. His doubles are unnecessary, weak and to this day I haven’t figured out whether it’s a particular strategy deployed by the coaching staff or just Parker freestyling. This was a problem under Mitchell and Triano so I’m thinking Parker’s got more to do with it than the coaching. The Orlando series was a prime example of how susceptible we are when we’re doubling without reason and this season has been a less severe extension of that series. It’s like there’s a steady magnetic force in the paint which Parker is drawn towards.

Where did my man go? This one’s just sheer stupidity. If your man is moving away from you around the semi-circle of the three-point line or away from the baseline toward the arc, you have to follow him. We just saw this phenomenon against Houston on Tuesday as Carl Landry and Von Wafer didn’t need to do anything special to get open. Their defenders were busy ball-watching and just lost track of their individual assignments. Inexcusable and unexplainable.

Dribble Penetration: Problem #1 with the Raptors. With Jose Calderon always ranging somewhere in the 70-90% health range this has often been excused by the Toronto media but this corner says even when he’s at 110% it’s a problem. How do we fix this? There’s no fix because it comes down to quickness, athletic ability and lateral movement, all things that start declining at Jose’s age. The best the Raptors can hope to do is to make quick interior rotations and try to mitigate the penetration. It didn’t happen this year because O’Neal, Bosh, Bargnani and Parker/Kapono were out-of-sync with each other and never figured out who’s to help in which scenario. Chalk this one down to bad coaching. People like to crap on Roko a lot but his defensive ability exceeds Calderon by a mile. If Bargnani, Bosh and Marion would becomes consistent scoring threats Triano would be more comfortable in giving up offense for defense and playing Roko meaningful minutes. Jose’s hardly the only person to blame, though, Parker and Kapono (also Moon) were equally guilty and that’s also reason #1 why neither of those two should play a major (any?) role next season.

Oh wait, you mean I have to worry about someone other than my man? The rotations needed once we allow dribble-penetration or are forced to double have usually been crisp early and decline considerably as the game goes on. This to me speaks about our conditioning and mental state. The most hated sight for me is when a player realizes two seconds too late that he’s supposed to rotate out to a wing and will dejectedly walk over with his arms lifted halfway. It’s not a shot-contest, it’s not a close-out, it’s trash. In his short time here, Marion has shown that he can “be two places at once” with his defense – challenge the paint while still be in good position to cover his man on the wing. Asking Kapono and Parker to do the same is probably unfair but seeing how often we need to provide help it almost becomes mandatory for our wings to be able to have the court awareness of Marion.

Man-Defense: I’d rank the top three man-defenders on the Raptors like so: #1) Shawn Marion #2) Andrea Bargnani #3) Joey Graham. Jermaine O’Neal gets an honorable mention. Remember, we’re talking about individual man-up defense here, if we were talking about help I’d kick Bargnani down to the bottom of the pile. Bargnani’s learned that a 7-footer doesn’t have to leave his feet and can play on his toes against most big men and still do a good enough job of contesting. I think he’s shown a marked improvement this year and has had good defensive stretches against Yao, Nowtizki and even Howard. Just like the rest of the Raptors, his defense gets a lot worse later in the game but as I already said, that comes down to conditioning. Chris Bosh’s defense has been disappointing, I expected him to be more forceful with his ball-denials, fronting and general block-space battles but he’s constantly conceding position on the defensive end while being unable to get that position on the offensive side.

We forced a miss, possession over! No wait… We’re third worst in the league and a lot has to do with Andrea Bargnani playing 31+ minutes at the center position and averaging only 5.4 rebounds. Of the 27 center ranked by ESPN he is second-worst in PER48 rebounding. I wish it were as simple as that, you have to factor in the chaos that is caused by dribble-penetration which results in us trying to provide frenzied help while conceding rebounding position.

Here are some stats:

  • Rebounding: 3rd worst at 39.35 RPG.
  • Rebounding differential: 5th worst at -3.03.
  • Steals: 2nd worst at 6.16 SPG.
  • Opponents PPG: 11th worst at 101.04 PPG.
  • Opponents 3PT %age: 10th worst at 37.4%.
  • Opponents FG %age: 10th worst at 46.1%.
  • Record when opponent scores 100+: 7-27, 20.6%. 6th worst.

Any other possible areas of improvement? Your thoughts on the issue are welcome.

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