If you’ve watched even a handful of Raptors games this season you’ve undoubtedly attempted to claw your own eyes out. The league’s 18th ranked offense is perhaps one of the most isolation-heavy offenses in the league. According to Synergy Sports the Raptors are in the top three in the NBA when it comes to “isolation plays”, with 12.1% of the plays basically being a guy going one-on-one. Here’s an example (HTML5 Video, GIF) of one such play as per Synergy.

I get it, we got guys who have never been part of winning teams, guys who have a severe case of “me ball”, and a coach that doesn’t punish the behaviour, hence the numbers. I don’t like it, but I can at least understand why we are where we are in that category. What perplexes me is this:

synergy-raptors

Notice that of every type of play the Raptors run, the pick ‘n roll with a pass to the roll guy is the second-least run play. This is despite having two great (not good, great) roll guys in Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas in the starting lineup. Let that sink in. The offensive play that suits 40% of our starting lineup is run only 4.5% of the time, and we wonder why our big men are inconsistent.

OK, once that has sunk in, focus your attention to the right of that graphic. That play, the one we only run 4.5% of the time, has a success rate of 43.6% – the highest of any set play we run! Let that sink in. The play that we run the least is the play that we have the most success with. To highlight this is essentially the point of this post.

The problem isn’t exactly hard to identify: the two highest usage guys on the team are Rudy Gay (31%) and DeMar DeRozan (27%), neither of which are great at pick ‘n roll play. The next highest usage rate for a starter is Kyle Lowry and he’s at 18%, that’s a full 13% behind Rudy Gay! Let that sink in. The guy that is best suited to kickstart our most effective play (the pick ‘n roll) has a usage rate which is 6th on the team, and the two guys that are most ill-suited to run that play are #1 and #2.

I wonder if Dwane Casey has completely lost control of the offense or if Rudy Gay and the gang have been given cart blanche on things. Casey is an NBA head coach and knows more about basketball than the entire Raptors blogosphere collectively, so why this sort of madness continues is beyond me. The only explanation I can muster is that there are non-basketball matters at play, like players not following direction or some other matter. I really have no idea as all I have to go by is what I see on the court, which makes no sense.

There’s been a general uproar about the lack of touches Jonas Valanciunas has gotten (8th on team in usage rate, 4th amongst starters). That’s primarily been because, as it stands whether you like it or not, he is considered a cornerstone of the franchise and the last thing we want to do is pull off another Tracy McGrady where we starve a young kid of the basketball. I contend that he needs touches, not just because he needs nourishment, but because it’s the right thing to do from a basketball perspective.

He is the only big man that has any sort of post-presence. He is the only big man that allows you to play an inside-out game, adding some variety to an offense that otherwise reeks of selfish play (dead last in assists, nothing speaks more than that). Does he have flaws? Many of them, sometimes even he’s hard to watch when he’s deciding between faking a shot the defense wants him to take or driving head-first into a defender perfectly placed for a charge. However, that’s a small price to pay for sprinkling a pinch of diversity into the offense and giving the defense a look that they don’t see coming for a mile.

People slag on Valanciunas for his defensive play and rightfully so, but I’ll tell you this, and this is true if you’re playing pick-up, rec league, college, or the NBA: if you know you’re not getting your due on offense, your going to have a tough time convincing yourself to bust your butt on defense. We’re not talking about Reggie Evans here, a guy who will rebound no matter what because that’s all he can do, we’re talking about a 21-year old skilled 7-footer that needs to be managed carefully because he will walk out the door at the end of his contract if things continue as-is.

This post isn’t specifically about Valanciunas, Gay or DeRozan. It’s about the team doing what makes sense and playing a brand of team basketball that’s suited to its strengths, and Gay and DeRozan hoisting up bad shots without repercussion is not a strength.

Come play some ball.

  • TheSpiceTyrant

    Thank you thank you. For this post. I’ve been screaming at the TV this season. Where is my beloved Pick-n-roll.

    Want a good reason why Amir is not doing well? What about the idea that he has no offensive sets and not contributing to the p-n-r that Calderon executed so brilliantly.

  • Davywilly

    Me thinks Casey is in awe of Rudy Gay, hence his inability to demand certain things. I am not sure this is how he played when he was in Memphis. The good news in all this craziness is that we might lose enough games to end up in the lottery and be in the hunt for Wiggins et al. I am also sure that Gay and Casey will not be on this team next season

    • Statement

      Casey used to coach Kevin Garnett. No way is he in awe of Rudy Gay.

  • Ho Tep

    Some people think the pick and roll is the standard basketball play. But we the future, baby!

    (and it is bleak)

    • Plus

      You have Amir and JV who execute it well. We need Jose back!

      • TheTyrant

        Not this year. Besides Buycks I haven’t seen a point guard run it well. Sad really cuz KL could pop right outside the 3 pt line at his fave spot just outside the arc if he dishes and the double team closes the paint.

  • Reed

    Why are people not blaming everything on Casey? People questioning Amir’s fitness/health like Jack Armstrong are delusional. I would feel under the weather too if I had no one who would want to pass to me expect when there is less than 5secs on the shot clock and I am on the 3pt line. Same goes for Val’s “regression”. Look at Drummond and Enes Kanter both players having significantly larger roles this year and how they have improved. Val imo has had a reduced role esp comparing to late last season. The guy gives it all and when he raises his hands for a pass only to see the chuckers shoot a brick its gonna get to you.

    In addition, last season everyone blames Alan Anderson and JL3 for being chuckers and couldnt wait to get rid of them. Now its Gay and Derozan. Its not the players its the coach who cant run plays and keep players accountable.

    Lastly, watching Bargs with the Knicks shows how inept Casey is. Blame Bargs all you want but Casey never ran anything for him nor was he given the ball expect again when he was forced to shoot a 3 with 5secs left. I could talk about how awful Casey has used Steve Novak but im too ragey now.

    • Plus

      At least Derozan keeps us in games and it should be his team. Gay just doesn’t know when to stop shooting, and go for the pass instead. Gay has butter fingers, cannot drive, gets stripped, and can’t get a lay up in. Casey is the ultimate enabler. JV and Amir deserve better.

    • Jamshid

      In terms of PnR, Amir had a great chemistry with Jose. It is just normal to see his game now take a hit and not be on the same level. We took Jose and matching him with a PG that is allergic to PnR and also two wings players that need the ball to be effective.
      Next is his rebounding. He was playing along side AB and Gary which both are not great rebounders so naturally he was able to get more rebounds. Now, he is playing along side Val who is significantly a better rebounder than AB and Gary. This is why Amir’s numbers are down in this category as well.
      Then the move to starting line up is another reason Amir’s game has regressed. Amir is a an energy guy and is suited to come off the bench and play against the 2nd unit of the other team. I know his fans claim that he is MOST EFFECTIVE offensive weapon we have or he is the MOST PRODUCTIVE player on this team or he is the MOST … but the truth is he is NOT. He is a role player, an energy guy who was overpaid for his position and what he brings to the table. His offensive game is limited and he needs a PG to create for him.

      Now as far as Drummond goes, OH BOY, 31 points and 19 rebound and we could have had this guy 😉 . Last year people were claiming that Val is better than Drummond … Some even claimed Val is better than Anthony Davis … I guess this season proved them wrong.

      • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

        The only time I recall anyone talking about Davis and Valanciunas in the same sentence was when they said some people claimed Valanciunas was better. But I don’t ever recall seeing any of infamous claims. And keep in mind both Drummond and Valanciunas are just starting their second season. Give them both time. Drummond looks good, but that free throw shooting is historically bad. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have liked to have seen the Raptors draft him at the time (I did go on record saying Colangelo screwed up), but if your big man can’t play at the end of important games, that’s a big problem.

        • FLUXLAND

          So bad FTs shooting is “playing bad”?

          Also, in your experience important games have come down to FTs? Really?

          And what exactly is an “important” game?

          • DrFunk

            the raps making like 4 of 12 FTs in the 4th against the heat comes to mind…

          • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

            Shooting 33% from the line is a MAJOR flaw that other teams can and will exploit. Lots of games come down to one or two possessions and if you have to take your best big man out because he can’t make his free throws, then that’s a problem. Crunch time is when you need the best players you have on the court the most.

            Golden State had to take Andrew Bogut out in crunch time against the Spurs in the playoffs because he couldn’t hit his free throws, and hit hurt the Warriors, because they needed his interior defense and rebounding. Houston had to take Asik out a number of times, even though he’s not nearly as poor a free throw shooter, because the Spurs kept sending him to the line.

            I’m not suggesting Drummond doesn’t have a bright future, but he has a major flaw, something Valanciunas doesn’t have.

            • FLUXLAND

              Again, if a game is coming down to one guy’s shooting problems.. that team has bigger issues.
              “Lots” of games come down to a few possessions, but that doesn’t mean those possessions are decided at the FT line.

              He may not have one major flow, but being all around meh is not where it’s at, either. I still take Drummonds glass eating skills over Jonas FT shooting.

              • lewro

                fluxland: the importance of free throws is very often paramount to winning – that’s grade 6 basketball.

                • FLUXLAND

                  lewro: as a team, yes. At one postion, no. Thanks for coming out.

                • lewro

                  it’s a team sport. it’s not drummond in a turkey shoot.
                  thanks for having me, didn’t know this was your home?

                • FLUXLAND

                  We agree, it’s a team sport. You’re welcome, don’t forget to tip your waitress.

                • lewro

                  oh right, it’s the detroit drummonds, i forgot he plays one on five in the fluxland league. waitress? i thought your moms was just a dancer, she serves drinks too?

                • FLUXLAND

                  Who said anything about Drummond being a one man show? Are you crying over there with your JV jersey on?

                  Mom jokes? So, how’s grade 6 going, anyway? Learning more that just about the “paramount importance of FTs on winning, I hope.

                • fuckfluxland

                  what’s up with my comments being redacted? now i just have to talk to this moron and i can’t talk shit? boo moderator! lame. not worth my time.

                • One relaxed fella

                  It’s weird, but I have to agree with FLUXLAND. At this point, Drummond is the best young center in the league. His FT shooting is ridiculously bad, but if you’re going to be the next Howard, what’s the difference? Every team would want a starting 5 like that regardless to his FT shooting. Other young centers are not even close. I can praise him even more: I think he’s second best player in the last three drafts (2011, 2012 and 2013), right after Davis. That’s just my opinion off course. Jonas is good but far from what Drummond is showing.

                  However, Pistons have pretty much the same record as Raptors do and they have all their major signings playing (Smith and Jennings). A lot of people predicted them a bright season and a nice playoff position, but they are struggling like the rest of the conference (except two teams). Thing is, they invest in Drummond by playing him big minutes which seems to be their primary objective rather than winning now (which is an illusion for a team like Pistons anyway) and that certainly helps his development. Raptors should go the same way, Jonas’ second, third and fourth year is extremely important considering his growth and improvement.

                • 2damkule

                  i don’t think anyone’s arguing about drummond’s overall skillset, but his utter incompetence at the line is important; it goes way beyond the pts lost, and to the fact that in many cases, detroit won’t be able to have him on the court because the cost is too high. if they’re up in a close game late (with > 2mins left), having him on the floor could stagnate their offense, as teams will just foul him & put him on the line, which at his current rate of hitting FTs, is just slightly better than turning the ball over outright.

              • 2damkule

                the point is that all those skills drummond possesses are useless if he’s not on the court to use them, no? if he can’t hit his FTs (and he currently can’t), then teams will foul & send him to the line, which either forces him out of the game (at least until 2 min are left), or reduces detroit’s offensive play-calling.

                • FLUXLAND

                  In the other other thread Tim and I went over the same thing, addressing what you’re saying – you are right, but ball games typically do not end under that scenario.

                • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

                  How games “typically” end doesn’t matter. When a guy on the other team is a 32% free throw shooter, any decent team will make free throws part of the equation.

                • FLUXLAND

                  Tim, no one is arguing the strategy. And how games end does matter in this discussion. Don’t dismiss a point your brought up and now say it doesn’t matter.

                  You are simply inferring his one (current) flaw makes him a liability that cannot be compensated for. AGAIN, this is true in the scenario you and 2dam describe, but if a game comes down to that, that team clearly has bigger issues (or had them during the game.)

                  How many C have suffered from the same “flaw” and won rings? If a team “would make that part of the equation”, and it was some sort of winning strategy, how come Ben made all those Conference Finals and wears a ring, while Shaq has collected more than a handful? Wasn’t Brian Shaw just saying how it’s a flowed strategy?

                  You wanna render his other skills “useless” in one scenario and make it seem like no team would want him over 82 games or playoff series, as if every game ends under those circumstances.

                • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

                  So because I’m criticizing his free throw shooting and suggesting that it will cause problems, I’m suddenly rendering his other skills useless? Let’s not start making things up for the sake of argument, please.

                  Detroit also had Rasheed Wallace and Mehmet Okur/Antonio McDyess, which meant the Pistons could take Wallace out if his free throw shooting became a problem. And Ben Wallace was actually a much better free throw shooter than Drummond, however scary that is.

                  Shaq often WAS taken out of close games because of his free throw shooting, but because the Lakers also had Kobe, his absence wasn’t a big problem. Plus, Shaq had a habit of hitting his free throws when it counted.

                  I’m not suggesting it’s impossible to win with a horrendous free throw shooter, and you ignore the fact that I have said on numerous occasions the Raptors should have taken him, but the fact is that Drummond’s free throw shooting is a problem.

                  Winning a Championship is incredibly difficult and the margin of error is so small, that having a guy who shoots 32% from the line might be the margin of error. And if you have to take him out when the game is close for fear of him hurting the team, his rebounding and defense do no good on the bench.

      • TheSpiceTyrant

        There were a few games when there was some nice PnR with Amir and Buycks. It is a simple play to execute once everyone figures out what and when they’re supposed to do it. So I don’t think it is beyond reason to think that we could have a 2nd line that could execute this well. KL does not run the PnR well… I’m guessing partly because the ‘picker’ doesn’t know what is going to through KLs head: he sometimes bulldogs through or is clearly looking to either dish or pass right away.

        This team has lost touch with the bigs in a serious way and, I believe, it is affecting the team’s chemistry and trust: the bigs are not feeling like a part of the offense. I mean really! What harm is there in running the PnR say every 4th possessions and if it works, it works, otherwise, who cares? Move the ball and see what else develops. It takes about 3 seconds to run it and you can always reset if the play isn’t there. THEN run the Rudy Gay Hero Ball with 7 s left on the shot clock. It’s such a small level of commitment in terms of spacing of players and time off the clock. Assuming you have a player who can pass the ball (missing JC here now). The risk might be a trap from a hedge, or a inconvenient switch.

        But what the hell do I know.

  • Louvens Remy

    Pick n Roll is overrated. Why would we want easy scores. No easy baskets baby!!!

  • AxlT

    I take umbrage to calling Rudy’s play 1on1, because it’s 1 on 5 most of the time and why his teammates even clear out for him is just as baffling. They are basically giving him the go-ahead and then are not in rebounding position when he inevitably misses.

    Just look at the energy he wastes trying to get what ends up being a tough shot in that GIF.
    It’s crazy http://giant.gfycat.com/HighFalseFlicker.gif

    • ppellico

      because it’s 1 on 5 most of the time

      this is relly a funny line! his teammates give him the ball and start/swinging dancing around arm n arm signing “Here We Round The Mulberry Bush, The Mulberry Bush..”.and continue until he or DD shoot.
      The only guy feeling free is Gray. I see he is staying waaaaay far off at the end of the bench trying not to be noticed.

  • Mexiballer

    It really bothers me that Amir was singled out as the person who took the hit for the way this team has been playing. For sure he has not been playing up to par lately. But he has heart and soul played his ass off for this team the last few years and deserves a little support when hes having a tough time, not a benching. In contrast Rudy Gay has given very little to this team. played selfishly, shot atrociously, wont pass, makes his team worse, and may be at the core of why the team and Amir are under performing in the first place. And he gets full support of the coach and the playing time? I dont blame Amir at all for not being happy. After putting it out on the floor night after night, playing with unbelievable consistent energy for years, sometimes playing injured and beat up, this is what he gets in return from the team and the organization. It seems like a slap across the face. This is not a very good message to send to him or the few players that have embraced being a Raptor and have given something back to the team and the city. If we expect players that want to be here and play hard to stick around, we need to get behind them. Not smack them down with a benching when their going through a rough spot. Amir deserves better than that.

    • Jamshid

      Amir played hard and he got PAID for it … Trust me, no one will be playing him 7 million a year for his offensive, dribbling or play making ability … He got paid VERY HANDSOMELY for what he brings to the table which are ENERGY and HARD WORK.

      No one owes him anything … He was already rewarded with that HUGE contract 3 years ago.

      • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

        You talk as if Amir is overpaid. For what he brings to the table, he is not. He’s a very efficient offensive player who defends, rebounds and works hard. He’s also a good interior passer and good team guy. I doubt there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t jump at the chance to grab him.

      • Mexiballer

        I wasnt talking about money. There are lots of other aspects to building a team and an organizational culture than contracts. Like building trust among players and within locker rooms. Right now I dont think that the Raptors players have the trust of the coach or the decisions being made. I know the fans dont. Benching Amir doesnt help.

    • Adriiian

      I am a HUGE Amir fan.
      But would you agree with me when I said that Amir has gotten a little comfortable? Shooting way too many threes, and not as much hustle as he has given us in past years… He was close to Tyler’s level. Remembering some huge crunch time plays and boards in his tenure here. Can he still give us that?

      • Mexiballer

        I agree completely. Amir has probably gotten a little to comfortable and that may explain why some of the fire has gone out of him. I dont know. It could also be in part because he is not having fun playing this particular style of Rudy ball. That could dis-hearten a lot of players. Or it could be something completely unrelated. I like Amir and his game a lot. I dont think its right for him to take the hit, or good for the team when there are so many other issues that need to be addressed, the biggest being Gay’s style of play and how it effects the team.
        Personally I would have preferred Casey privately pulling him aside and letting him know in no uncertain terms that he has to get his shit together. Then at least Amir would be given the respect of having a couple of weeks to get his game together before any action was taken. Again…I dont think this benching sends the right message when so many other obvious problems are up front for everyone to see.

      • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

        I would say Amir is being used differently than he has in the past, and he’s not as effective. Amir is taking threes because he’s been asked to become a stretch four.

        And it’s just 16 games, here. People tend to overreact to small sample sizes.

  • AK74

    casey is good as gone, same with gay. i can just imagine masai looking at table above and shaking his head. get rid of lowry too, he’s like a sg who learned how to pass, not a true floor general or casey has his balls in his pocket

  • Roarque

    I thought Julyan Stone was supposed to be the pass first,” I can do that Pick n Roll ” point guard that Masai wanted here – big time. And he’s a tall dude too. In fact he’s kind of the opposite of Kyle. Maybe Stone should be playing when JV and Amir are on the floor. Man if I was JV, I’d be lobbying to come off the bench with Amir and Stone. Keep DDR out there and why not Fields and I think you’ve got a good second unit. Tell me I’m wrong.
    That would leave Kyle and Rudy to play together with two other rebounding dudes like Psycho T and Aaron Gray. Far as I’m concerned DDR can play all 48 minutes with those two units. He can just coast with the first unit, play a little D on the oppositions best wing while Rudy does his hero ball routine.
    That’d get us to the 15th of December when Masai can pull the plug.

  • Rich

    Pound the Rock *sarcasm*

  • ppellico

    “Casey is an NBA head coach and knows more about basketball than the entire Raptors blogosphere collectively”
    perhaps…and that is pretending thee are not any real smart people out there. I kind of think thee are.
    However…that is besides the point. It is not how much you know…it is a question of IF you know how to USE your knowledge.
    There are a whole lot of idiot savants around who can’t feed themselves. Just know a lot of shit.
    In fact Casey has lost his team. More than likely due to real players with experience seeing brats go uncontrolled and their caoch making stupid game moves as well as rotations. He cannot control a few brats and then allows otherswho work hard and tow the team line to lose their confidance. Now what kinf of caoch kills the heart of his players?
    Not a good one…I promise you that.

    • AxlT

      I blame Colangelo for seemingly yanking Casey in different directions, but I agree, Casey has lost this team.

      • ppellico

        You have a point about Colangelo IF he really did ths. I mean…it seemed so as folks were posting, but seems weird that an NBA coach gets pushed around. Do big time coaches allow this? You think Phil did with the Bulls n Lakers? Pat Reiley in LA or Miami. Any big time coach?
        I don’t really get the feeling any of the good coaches do or allow this as it seems to be counter to their own futures.
        Casey simply doesn’t seem to have his own coaching soul. If yu don’t have your grasp of your own philosophy or goals, then you deserve what you get. Casey should have been skilled enough in the NBA since he did so much assisting. He must ave seen what happens when you cave.
        If not…then is he REALLY as smart as Zarar states he is.
        I guess…how is Casey being given both smart and dumb as traits? I think he simply does not have the skill to take main coaching responsibilities.

        • AxlT

          Well, at it first was pound the rock defense, then the second year, it was run and gun. Quite the flip-flop. And at first it was all accountability, then it became “We’re going to ride Bargnani come hell or high water.” At the end of the day, BC was Casey’s boss and I just read into it that BC was calling some of those shots.

          Now he’s flip-flopped too much and lost this team.

    • FLUXLAND

      The NBA (coaching) is not so much about understanding basic basketball, as much as it about getting players to buy into sacrifice and managing personalities. But rest assured people will claim it’s rocket science and only ones employed by the NBA understand the game.

      • lewro

        another gem from fluxland!

  • Thimble

    Not just PNR – I feel like the Raps don’t have that many fast break points, either.

  • some random guy

    Originally I was against tanking, but if Gay continuous to hold the ball for more then 5 seconds, and continuously goes 4-20 I am all for trading and tanking. Its getting hard to watch the games, and watch Gay play a point guard on constantly isolation plays with 3 other guys wide open. And if we admit we are going to tank, please fire Casey and install a new coach who isn’t inept on designing offensive plays.

  • Amigo

    …..we’re talking about a 21-year old skilled 7-footer that needs to be managed carefully because he will walk out the door at the end of his contract if things continue as-is.” by Arsenalist

    So BC was right with protecting Bargnani. Wasn’t he ?. Sorry my bad, you are talking about JV, isn’t it ?

    • Nilanka15

      In Jonas’ case, “managed carefully” = Included in the offense, with an emphasis on skill development.

      In Bargnani’s case, “managed carefully” = Don’t say anything bad about him, cuz he might cry.

  • Litvak

    Hello guys. I want to show how Valanciunas can play pick’n roll – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5tZEO72fMw
    Here is two plays, two dunks over Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Sorry, but this team playmaker Lowry haven’t pick’n roll element on his pocket.

    • anon_e_moose

      Watch that clip again. Notice the weakside defender in the first play letting Jonas roll to the hoop untouched. Jonas is great against soft PnR defense.

  • anon_e_moose

    Spacing is a problem on PnR. Everytime Jonas or Amir roll to the basket the defense is collapsing on them because they dont respect the raptors shooting. Thats why Casey has Amir hanging around the 3pt line. To help space the floor for Lowry/Jonas PnR. When Jonas rolls hard to the rim he is sucking in defenders and opening up 3pt shots. The problem is that when the wings get the kick out pass the offense goes in to iso mode.

    Also, Jonas needs to do a better job of reading PnR coverage. He is predictable. Does the same thing on every PnR regardless of how its defended. Jonas needs to learn when to delay his roll, stop at the ft line or pop out to the elbow.

    Amir has more variety and awareness on PnR. Great roll man that knows how to read the defense and get into space to receive a pass. Thats why he and Jose where so good on PnR, because Amir makes smart reads. Also, because Jose was efficient at making an inefficient shot. His elite midrange shooting created space for him to use his elite passing to pick apart opposing defenses.

    The way the PnR is being defended and how the Raptors react will dictate its success. Spacing and Awareness.