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.

stats

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.

  • DanH

    Lowry-Vasquez-Patterson-Valanciunas-Ross played only 9.5 minutes together last season, in spite of it making so much sense. Outscored their opponents by 19 points in those 9.5 minutes though, so seems promising.

  • OakTree

    When Lowry and Vasquez play together it’s usually Vasquez that plays SG.

    On defense Vasquez matches up with the other team’s SG, therefore it’s Vasquez that plays SG – not Lowry.

    In the modern NBA it’s defensive match ups that determine position, not offensive roles. Roles on offense are much more malleable.

    It may seem like I’m nit picking, but I think it’s important to understanding the modern game.

    Ball handling and play making can come from any position, as can spot up shooting.

    • DanH

      From a fan perspective, it is easy to look at positions this way, but from a coaching perspective, sets probably call for the “PG” to do one thing while the “SG” does another. In the sets the Raptors run with both PG’s on the floor, Vasquez is probably filling the PG role. Is T Ross playing PG when he switches to defend John Wall? No. He is defending the point, but he is still playing the wing role offensively.

      • OakTree

        Yes. T Ross is playing PG when he defends PGs. My point exactly.

        Nobody calls James Harden a PG, but he effectively runs the offense in Houston.

        Also, nobody calls LeBron a PG, but he ran the offense in Miami. This is an even more obvious example, because LeBron isn’t even a guard.

        Effective offensive sets need to be designed for players not positions.

        • sitnonDfence

          I cant begin to explain how little sense that makes and how much less it actually matters.
          Lebron goes from guarding Parker and switches off on Diaw. So now he was a PG but he’s a PF. In a help heavy NBA you cant pigeon hole a defender into a position as its all part of a scheme. Regardless of where the player is on the floor defining the primary role is defined by the mold of the player. Size, strengths, weaknesses etc.

          • OakTree

            They call it a switch for a reason. If the defense wants certain match ups it gets them during the initiation of the offense.

            After the switch the defense is in a sub optimal position.

            If the defense chooses to have Lowry guard DeAndre Jordan, then yes, Lowry is a center in that situation.

            If the defense switches and that causes Lowry to guard Jordan, then that does not make him a center. It just means they switched.

            The choice of position and match up is typically made by the defense – except in transition situations.

            • SR

              LeBron James becomes a PG if he defends Tony Parker for a full possession (even if it only lasts 10 seconds) but he is not a PG if he defends Tony Parker off a switch (even if it lasts 20 seconds) is the weirdest semantic argument I’ve ever seen on this website. What’s the point? (Honest question, no pun intended.)

              • OakTree

                It makes the language behind basketball discussion clearer and more consistent.

                In the body of the article Zarar implicitly defines the PG as the player that runs the offense. Well, the best 1-2 PG combo in the league by that definition is LeBron + Kyrie, and really Lowry + Vasquez isn’t even close.

                I don’t object to the substance of the article overall, but the claim
                that Lowry + Vasquez is the best 1-2 PG combo in the league requires an
                unusual and inconsistent definition of what a PG does.

                It isn’t hard to clean up the language in the article, even if it is hard to come up with a definition of PG that makes Lowry + Vasquez the best pair in the league. (Bledsoe + Dragic is a more conventional example that’s pretty damn good, in my opinion.)

                For example, the second paragraph:
                “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.”

                Should probably read:
                “Having Vasquez run the offense and Lowry work off the ball has a couple of 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 able to run the offense 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.”

                Also, for the record, I was one of the early supporters of the Lowry + Vasquez back court, and it was because I liked how Vasquez matched up against SGs.

                • Paul

                  Your definition of a player’s position is at odds with the commonly understood definition used by professional writers, bloggers, fans and likely the players themselves. Which sounds to me like the complete opposite of clarity and consistency.

                • OakTree

                  Are you seriously claiming to know what all professional writers, bloggers, fans and players think about the issue?

                  Basketball reference lists Greivis as a SG with Toronto.

                  There’s a reason why.

                • Paul

                  Not sure what that proves. ESPN lists him as a PG and SI has him as G. My point is that your interpretation isn’t promoting clarity and consistency; it’s just another view. It’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it but it’s not doing anything to clear the waters.

                • Heyjoe

                  The reason is because Greivis is a combo guard (he can play both) thus certain websites will list PG and certain websites will list SG. Neither website is really wrong and most of the time with combo guards media will list them on the position that they logged the most minutes.

                  If they wanted to be 100% accurate they would probably have to list him as SG/PG (combo guard) since he can and does log minutes on both positions. But I think they avoid doing such in an attempt to keep things simple for the more casual bball fans.

        • afrocarter

          What. You’re all over the place here.

        • afrocarter

          Ah, I see your point: Patrick Beverley plays the PG, despite hardly ever running the offense, because his job is to guard the opposing PG. I do also agree with you that this is decent example of nit-picking lol

        • DanH

          I am certain the Raptors run some of the same plays with Vasquez having substituted for Lowry. Because they perform the same role in the offense. PG.

          I am even more certain that an NBA coach would tell you that you are incorrect in your definition of what a player’s position is. Ask Casey straight up if he ever played Ross at PG last year, what answer do you think he gives?

        • Heyjoe

          Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson used to guard all 5 positions, what would that make them?

          Last I checked Magic was a PG because of the role he played on offense with the same applied to sir charles as a PF.

          Your position in competitive bball is nearly entirely determined by your positioning on offense which often involves where you are supposed to be during plays. Players like Lebron and Harden are still positioning themselves as SF and SG, they are just handling the ball a lot more than a traditional SF and SG would largely due to a lack of having a PG that can do it better than them.

          That being said, Harden doesn’t guard anyone on defense so I guess he’s not even on the floor in terms of what position he’s playing? (joking :))

          • OakTree

            No player plays 5 positions simultaneously. Also, it is entirely possible for a player to be a PG in the first half, and a SG in the second half. Position isn’t immutable.

            If you wanted to be really descriptive I guess you could say that for his career Magic was a PG 30% of the time, SG 5% of the time, SF 20% of the time, PF 35% of the time and C 10% of the time. Or, you could just say he was a really versatile basketball player, and not worry too much about his position until it comes time for him to pick up someone on D.

            Also, take a look at how a zone defense is drawn up. Position does matter on D. A lot more than on offense. On offense plays are drawn up for ball handlers, shooters, post scorers, pick setters, screeners, rollers, slashers, etc. You can have a good offense with a SG that isn’t a great 3 point shooter (e.g. Wade, Jordan, etc.). The offense that those SGs play in is totally different than it is for Ray Allen, for example. It doesn’t matter that they all play SG. It matters how good they are at shooting 3s.

            • Heyjoe

              See there’s another huge argument with the notion that your presenting where your position is determined by who you are guarding on D.

              Let’s take this scenario for example:

              Demar Derozan is being guarded by Shawn Livinstone (dont think I spelled that one right).
              Shawn Livinstone is being guarded by Kyle Lowry.
              Kyle Lowry is being guarded by Deron Williams.
              Deron Williams is being guarded by Greivis Vasquez.
              Greivis Vasquez is being guarded by Alan Anderson.
              Alan Anderson is being guarded by Demar Derozan.

              Now tell me, which position do all these players play?

              Alan Anderson would be playing PG? (not sure, how do we decide what GV is playing?)
              GV would be playing PG?
              Deron Williams would be playing PG?
              Kyle Lowry would be playing PG?
              Shawn Livingstone would be playing PG? (Demar is guarding A. Anderson who is supposed to be PG right?)
              Demar would be playing PG?

              So by that logic, both teams have 3 people playing the PG position on the floor (totalling 6 players playing PG on the floor)? That doesnt’ make sense to me anyways, I’ll stick to using offensive assignments as a guideline.

              • OakTree

                But why not say you’ve got 3 SGs on the floor? Or 3 SFs? Or, if you’re really thinking outside the box, 3 Cs?

                There are never really 2 PGs on the floor at the same time, let alone 3. “2 PG line up” is a misnomer. It means that there are two players on the floor that usually play PG. It does not mean that there are two players playing the same position. That’s not possible.

                Player history does play a part. Otherwise, what’s to stop you from labeling the Garnett/Valanciunas match up as the PGs and the Lowry/DWill match up as the Cs?

                Also, just because a player is playing a certain position, that doesn’t mean he is considered that position for match up purposes. In other words, the logical circle you’ve constructed doesn’t hold together because the implication is intransitive.

                So, here’s the derivation:

                Statistically through the season, of the entire group of players, KL has spent the most time at PG. That makes DWill the PG.

                DWill has spent the most time this season at PG, but the Raps PG position is already filled. That makes GV the SG (the next position up).

                GV has spent the most time this season at SG (since he plays so much with Lowry). That makes AA the SG.

                AA has spent the most time this season at SG, but the Raps SG position is already filled. That makes his guard DD the SF (the next position up).

                And, of course, that makes SL the SF.

                PGs: KL, DW
                SGs: GV, AA
                SFs: DD, SL

                Which makes sense.

                And, I can’t believe I answered that ridiculous question.

                • Heyjoe

                  You can call my question ridiculous but you are just showing that you have a great lack of knowledge as to what you are talking about here.

                  Here’s a basketball play:

                  http://www.coachingtoolbox.net/images/Plays/push/basketball-plays-push4.jpg

                  Notice the numbers? Those are player positions. This is why these positions exist it has nothing to do with defense.

                  By the way, if 2 players that spent most time this season playing center, what is the next position up? PG?

  • afrocarter

    (That has to be THE most adorable Lou Williams photo of all time.)

    • DL1119

      sweet lou!

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    Reading the article, I am starting to think that theLou Williams trade makes more sense. I did not like it at first, but if you factor in the fact that Greivis can play the point, then Lou’s inability to distribute the ball is negated. Lou can spell Lowry switching Vasquez at PG while he plays a small off guard. I still wish that Toronto were more active in the off season though. Theycould have done so much, but let one good opportunity after another. I wanted them to use Landry Fields’ expiring contract and that of Amir’s to get a veteran such as Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki or even Carlos Boozer.

    • afrocarter

      I can’t imagine that any GM would have been dumb enough to take Landry’s contract off our hands, especially for any of the names you mentioned (even Boozer). Wasn’t happening.

      • tonious35

        Hurts to think about it with Fields and Hayes albatross contracts, but I gotta hand it to them, those two are professionals and bring good vibes in the locker room. Landry Fields in a Blackberry Open Gym episode yelled “CROSSFIRE!! *chime from a Nerf commercial” during a plane pillow toss fight, that is something you cannot trade easily. They are expiring contracts, they will be absolute trade bait

    • webfeat

      I think Ujiri sees this year as another year of organic growth. He’s setting up the team to be “completed” next year. Neither JV nor TRoss has shown sufficient indication that they can perform consistently enough to make a deep playoff run. Pushing too hard for completeness this year would have required giving up too much future potential.

    • tonious35

      It makes sense to me that we convert the early terminating “I F#%@ing hate you since ACC disaster with OKC” Salmons contract into a one year trial of a recuperating Lou Williams and a growth chance of BeBe. A smooth transaction for the Raps to take and less work for us to search for a free agent and spending MLEs

  • otiswolf1

    after watching Lou Williams play live over the long weekend at the OVO/BOUNCE tournament. he definitely looks 100% and ready for this upcoming season. only minutes will hold back Williams from being a possible 6th man of year candidate.

    • GLF

      Really!? What was he doing that made you feel this way?

      • otiswolf1

        the way he moved on the court. the strength on his drives. he looked better then Brandon Jennings and Tyler Ennis. it looked like Lou Williams when he was balling for the 76ers.. good news for the Raps!

        • GLF

          B Jennings and Ennis were playing too? And that’s great to hear!