Fugly Home Loss Against Wizards Leads to Look at Deeper Issues

Here’s a recap of the Washington game:

  • Pick ‘n roll where the roller didn’t roll when the ball-handler thought he would roll – turnover.
  • Pick ‘n roll where the ball-handler decided that pick ‘n rolls are dumb and took a 22-foot jumper – missed shot.
  • Screen set by big man, ball-handler decides to drive on the wrong side of the screen – confuses everyone, forced shot is missed.
  • Five guys standing around, one of them has the ball and the other four expect him to do something good. He throws up a brick.
  • Turnover – ball hits the back of Valanciunas’ head
  • Made shot.
  • Made shot. (ooh, it’s a run!)
  • Washington goes on 6-0 run, damn Bradley Beal
  • Isolation play where either Gay or Anderson decide to shoot a leaner from 19-feet. Missed.

That’s just the offense, but you get the idea. This was an ugly basketball game where the details are not worth repeating. Take the broader view here and you can slot this game as a typical one the Raptors have dropped over the years at home which serves to suck out any momentum that might’ve accumulated from previous good play. How a team can beat the Knicks, rest for two days and come up with a stinker at home against Washington speaks to the preparation levels and focus of the team. Maybe they started celebrating their recent form a bit too early. I don’t know, but what I do know is that this team, somehow, had the balls to play down to the level of their competition. I chalk it up to a bit of hubris which is silly for a 23-34 Eastern conference team to have.

[Related: Quick Reaction: Raptors 84 vs Wizards 90]

If you subscribe to the theory that we’re in a playoff race, then this was a “must win” in the sense that it’s a game that you’re favored to take by Vegas, expected to win by the fans, and is supposed to be a routine tick in the NBA schedule (I think that sound I heard were the Hollinger playoff odds crashing down). So what went wrong? Many things:

Offensive play-calling: You wouldn’t be holding Dwane Casey to Jerry Sloan standards if you expected the Raptors to have a singe play which doesn’t originate with a wing player poorly using a poorly set screen, getting into the 18-22 feet area, and then choking on what to do next. If it’s Gay in this situation, he usually hits the back-rim or throws a pass out to the wing which is either deflected or intercepted. If you’re Lowry, you either drive blindly/heroically to the rim or just pick up your dribble and look for rescue. If you’re DeRozan, you look behind you to see whether there’s a deer following you, and if you’re Bargnani, you fake like you’re going to drive, pull-up and pass. Or something like that.

What I’m getting at is that despite having decent offensive players in Lowry, DeRozan, Bargnani, and Gay (leave aside his horrid shot-selection for a bit), we’ve been unable to muster up any sort of consistent offense. Since Gay’s arrival, the team is shooting 43%, whereas before he got here they were at 44%. So basically there’s been little improvement. Now I realize FG% isn’t everything and that some of you are of the advanced stats frame of mind. So let’s look at the hallowed TS%. Since the Rudy Gay trade the Raptors TS% stands at 52.6%, prior to that it was 53.1%. Further confirmation that despite some late-game heroics, the offense has really remained the same, if not slightly stagnated. This is consistent with the eye-test of watching the team play. Rudy Gay’s heroics in stretches (late against Indiana, third quarter against New York) are well and good, but it tends to deflect attention away from the larger problem that the Raptors run an isolation-heavy offense with not nearly enough three-point shooting to space the floor.

Laziness on defense: Lately I can’t point to a tremendous amount of lazy play on defense as the team seems to have gotten a psychological lift from the Gay trade combined with the winning that ensued. Last night, though, it was plain to see that the Raptors felt they had this game owed to them and put in a disproportional amount of focus and effort on defense as warrants a team of their standing. Bradley Beal being a great rookie doesn’t excuse the ease at which he got around his cover to an open mid-range area to shoot 8-13 FG, or why a scrub like A.J Price is lighting us up from the wing. Kyle Lowry is the only wing defender that took his matchup personally and made a keyed in effort to contain his man, other than that it was back-tracking, hand-waving and a token presence that only meant to pretend that the defense was being played.

Lack of communication isn’t to be confused with laziness, except in cases where you’re lazy enough not to communicate. Maybe it was the tired legs (huh, they had two days off) or Washington’s sheer agility on the wings (c’mon now), whatever the case, it took no more than a move and a half for the Raptors to either concede a horrible mismatch (either in isolation or on the boards) or have the rug pulled from underneath them halfway through a play. You might be thinking why the defense is being put into question when Washington only shot 42%. That’s because Washington also played terrible basketball last night, highlighted by a ridiculous 19 turnovers.

Rebounding responsibilities: The four smalls and one big lineups that Casey has been trotting out haven’t been without their downside, and rebounding has been affected. Whenever you play one less big, the mentality on defense has to shift to really cleaning up the glass. This hasn’t quite happened. The Raptors are an average of -9 on the glass in their last six games, which in itself might be countered by a high shooting percentage or greater pace. However, it’s the offensive glass that’s worrying and is where the Raptors are a -5.5 in the same stretch. Nothing hurts like free possessions and when you’re giving up 5.5 a game, it’s a small miracle that you’re even in it.

Last night they were -10 overall, and a -4 for offensive rebounding in that key second quarter which slowly but surely shifted the tide in Washington’s favor. This is a broader issue of team rebounding and a single player need not be singled out because when you decide to play small-ball, it can’t just be about the offense. The problem here isn’t even that the Raptors aren’t bothering to box-out their checks or anything like that, it’s that the defense is either too stretched or incorrectly positioned to be in rebounding positions. Perhaps its because of lack of familiarity with each other, more likely, though, it’s that there isn’t a sustainable plan just yet on how to play the offensive brand of basketball Casey is intent on playing.

Lack of post-presence: Not that the Raptors were ever strong here to begin with, it’s that they now have zero presence in the post, especially since the number of DeRozan post-ups have gone down to zero, and Gay insists on playing the pick ‘n roll (and that too, horribly!). Pound-for-pound, our best post-up player is DeRozan and his go-to move is a fadeaway. Valanciunas is a long ways away in that department and it’s never been Johnson’s specialty either. Bargnani, believe it or not, is likely our best big man in the post and I don’t think there’s been a single play called over the last week and a half where the focus is to get him the rock in the block. We talk about “getting Andrea going”, I’d probably look here first.

So, not to sound all doom-and-gloom here, but when you lose to the Wizards at home it leaves you, sort of, scratching your head as to whether these guys even understand that they’re somewhat in a playoff race. The Raptors are now 6 back of Milwaukee in the loss column.

Steve’s podcast airs at 6am.

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