Kyle Lowry and Greivis vasquez arguably form the best 1-2 PG combo in the league, making the point the Raptors’ strongest position. Unlike other formidable (relatively speaking, here) PG combos like T.J Ford and Jose Calderon in 2007-08, this lineup’s effectiveness isn’t so much when one backs the other up, but when they play together.
Playing Vasquez at the point and Lowry either at the off-guard or as a third guard has a couple key benefits. First, it puts Lowry in better catch-and-shoot positions. Instead of shooting and driving off the bounce, he gets to read the play and position himself to receive a pass, which, being a point guard himself, gives him the best sense of where to be so that the pass for a driver like DeRozan or Vasquez is made easier. It’s no surprise that he was second in catch-and-shoot percentage on the team, only behind Steve Novak.
For a Raptors team that was 18th in three-point field goal percentage, having a switch like this on the team is a luxury for Dwane Casey, and also gives Lowry a break from ball-handling duties and the responsibility of running the offense.
The other key benefit of this is that it opens up Lowry’s drive game. He was second on the team in production from drives at 4.1 points per game (on 6.2 drives per game), both behind DeRozan. The reason for this isn’t that he’s blowing by defenders in one-on-one situations. By being played off the ball and possessing a great set-shot opens, the floor opens up for him, in particular as defenders run at him for close-outs. He’s fearless on his drives and given a step, he’s capable of taking it all the way.
From Vasquez’s point of view, he’s getting an extra shooter on the floor while being guarded by a weaker wing defender. Chances are that if DeRozan is on the floor and all things being the same, the defense is likely to put the third-strongest wing defender on Vasquez, and given the latter’s 6’6″ frame, it’s easier for him to make passes over the defense. We saw this in the Nets series when DeRozan was being guarded by Anderson, Lowry by Johnson, and Vasquez by Livingston.
Dwane Casey increasingly used the two-guard lineup as the season wore on, which meant that the lines between the bench and starters was blurred when it came to point guard play. Casey now has an option to take this a step further and give this lineup even more time. Last season a Lowry/Vasquez lineup played a total of 159 minutes (about 13 quarters). I’ve always liked this setup because it results in ball-handlers who also happen to be willing passers, meaning the ball does not get stuck. If this lineup is played with Valanciunas, it means Vasquez – a great pick ‘n roll player – can play a two-man game with Valanciunas while having the floor spaced by Lowry and perhaps Ross, with Patterson ready to step out. That is a potentially very effective ensemble.
Where Lou Williams fits into this is interesting because I wonder if Casey sees him as a primary ball-handler, because if he does, then it could mean more time for a Vasquez/Lowry setup with Williams manning the point in a more defined role as a backup PG. Williams, when healthy, is an excellent ball-handler but not a great distributor. His career AST/TO is 2.2 which is not terribly worse than Vasquez’s 2.6, it’s his shot-first style that Casey could see as being undesirable in a backup point guard. He also happens to have significantly more experience playing the off-guard than the point.
So, as we chug through summer it’s these kinds of thoughts that pop in and out my mind. I’d be very keen on seeing a Raptors lineup which has three guards, a stretch four in Patterson, and someone like Valanciunas and Bebe out-gunning their check up and down the court. We tried to play this style of ball with Andrea Bargnani at times with horrible results, I happen to think now we have the players to pull it off. I’m not suggesting we’re Phoenix East, just that there’s another dimension to our offense than the traditional 2-2-1 setup. The Raptors have enough versatility at each position that I’d even go far as suggesting that this could be their competitive edge.