Breaking It Down

Raptors Playbook: 2/1 Pick and Roll

A crunch-time favorite.

Raptors Playbook: 2/1 Pick and Roll

Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors. This week, we’ll focus on the 2/1 Pick and Roll – a small-small variant of the common action. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.

A pick and roll is by no means an intricate action, but the tactical though behind this specific action deserves some level of attention. By primarily utilizing DeMar DeRozan as a ball handler and Kyle Lowry as a screener in a side-to-middle pick and roll, the Raptors are able to involve their two most talented offensive players.

Starting at 0:02, examples featuring Lowry slipping and fading as the screener are shown. Lowry is able to free himself for easy looks in the strong side corner because the defense is so preoccupied with how they are supposed to defend this action. The reason the Raptors use this action is to force the defense to decide whether they are comfortable with a point guard defender being switched onto DeRozan. If they are not, an awkward negotiation process occurs where two defenders are often drawn to DeRozan. In that instance of hesitation, Lowry often hunts an open look for himself by prematurely slipping the screen and fading to the corner. Still images of the awkward negotiation process the defense routinely engages in is featured in the low quality images below.

While Lowry’s heady reads are often effective to free himself for the shot, it is sometimes more effective for him to actually commit as the screener. In those instances, the defense will often have the smaller defender hegde, momentarily showing and impeding the progress of DeRozan, and attempt to recover back into the original matchup.

Since DeRozan has ample experience as a pick and roll player, he generally is prepared for this coverage. He often drives pauses his forward momentum for a split second, coaxing the hedging defender into recovering back to the original assignment, before reengaging his drive to the rim against his original matchup that has dropped several feet into the paint. DeRozan’s knack for drawing fouls is anything but absent in this action, as he often rips through the hedging defender’s outstretched arms to secure a trip to the free throw line. Examples of this can be seen starting at 0:25

Just as any defensive strategy, attempting to hedge and recover against this action is problematic. To avoid the confusion and hesitancy of this coverage, some teams opt to switch their point guard defender onto DeRozan. As one of the premier post players in the league, scoring 0.98 points per possession on nearly three post ups per game (which is a drop from his league leading 1.13 PPP a year ago), DeRozan routinely welcomes this strategy by isolating against the smaller defender on the low block. Examples of this are shown starting at 0:58.

While the Raptors never heavily rely upon this action throughout the course of a season on a nightly basis, they will use it with increased frequency down the stretch of games when matchups allow for it. Hunting down the Isaiah Thomas’ and Kemba Walker’s of the world sometimes stalls the offense, but it is hard to deny that any action makes more intuitive sense than creating an instant advantage for the offense by utilizing the team’s most talented players.

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