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Breaking it Down: Raptors’ staggered pin downs, double high screens and Wizards’ transition offense

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Let’s get technical. Here’s three plays that could swing the outcome of the Raptors-Wizards’ playoff series.

Over the next few days, we will have plenty of preview-type content in anticipation for the playoffs. We’ll talk to Wizards bloggers, break down the numbers and deliver individual game previews. Fearless leader Zarar already wrote a breakdown of some of the Wizards’ vulnerabilities, so I’ll focus on three specific plays that could swing the series.

Staggered pin downs

The Raptors love to run double stack screen plays. One of them is a staggered pin-down play that they run for DeMar DeRozan.

The set opens with the bigs setting a set of staggered pin-downs as DeRozan comes up top. The aim of the screens is to rub off DeRozan’s defender, before delivering a pass to DeRozan with momentum towards the basket. Usually, a 3-point shooter is lined up on the weakside corner so as to dissuade weakside help. Here’s one example from the Raptors’ win over the Hornets on Wednesday.

The strength of the play is rooted in the options available to the ball handler after he receives the pass. There are different ways to attack, depending on how the defense reacts. For example. on the play below, the Hornets make an adjustment by (rightfully) having Bismack Biyombo help off Amir Johnson to cut off DeRozan’s path to the basket while Kemba Walker helps from the perimeter. But DeRozan manages to beat the weak double and finds Greivis Vasquez wide open for a clean look from deep.

It’s an action the Raptors ran occasionally, with some success, against the Wizards. On the play below, Lowry is the one who runs around the pin downs to receive the pass. However, Nene snuffs it out immediately and cuts off the middle of the lane, which is where the play is designed to go. However, Jonas Valanciunas quickly moves from one pin-down into another, as he frees up DeRozan’s cut along the baseline. The end result is still a positive outcome, with DeRozan open at the elbow area.

Double high screens

Here’s another double screen play, which involves two high screens. Again, it’s pretty straight-forward. It calls for a double high screen involving a 3-point shooter and a roll-man. After the ball handler runs across the screens, the screeners split, with the roller heading toward the basket and the shooter popping out to the perimeter.

Here’s an example from the Raptors’ win over the Timberwolves. Vasquez runs across the double high screens, before Valanciunas rolls.  The screens sheds Zach LaVine, who is trailing the ball, so the Timberwolves send help by assigning Justin Hamilton to shade Vasquez by staying high. That forces a rotation on the inside, which sees Adreian Payne cover Valanciunas’s roll. However, that leaves Johnson wide open, which affords him the five hours Johnson needs to launch his surprisingly accurate summer 3.

Like the staggered pin-down, there are options built-in. On the possession below, the Timberwolves do something similar with LaVine and Hamilton covering the ball. But once the pass gets to Johnson, Payne steps up toward Johnson. That separation off Valanciunas allows Johnson to fire a high-low strike to Valanciunas under the basket.

The Raptors also ran this action against the Wizards, albeit a variation of it. This time, Lowry serves as the shooter screener while Patterson rolls to the basket. However, the Wizards choose to cover this by sagging off Lou Williams, so he decides to pull-up for a clean look from deep.

The success of the play is rooted in the 3-on-3 action. With shooters planted in the corners, it effectively handcuffs the defense’s ability to send help. Instead, it’s a 3-on-3 which stretches defenders three ways. Someone has to check the roller, someone has to cover the popper and the two screens create separation for a pull-up by the ball-handler. There’s not an ideal way to cover the play, when run correctly, save for an extremely diligent on-ball defender fighting through two screens, or by switching.

Patterson’s importance

Mark my words: the performance of Patrick Patterson will swing the series. The Wizards struggle to guard stretch-fours and Patterson has burned Washington in the past. However, Patterson’s 3-point shooting has nosedived since March. Patterson is shooting just 30.3 percent from deep since the start of March and his 3-point shot will need to be sharp.

Take the two plays above. Imagine Patterson instead of Hansbrough in the first GIF. DeRozan ends up getting to the basket anyway, but he has to beat Biyombo to the middle of the floor. If Patterson were the screener in that action, he could pop out like Hansbrough, who ends up wide open as a result of the action. For the double high screen play, Patterson is a natural fit for the popper role. And given that Patterson has improved his playmaking of late, trusting Patterson to create something against a closeout by one of Washington’s slow bigs is a safe bet.

Patterson was a +26 against the Wizards in three games this season. During that time, he hit on 4-of-10 from deep. He will need to continue that clip in order to keep the Raptors’ offense sharp.

Balls to the Wall

The one area in which the Wizards’ offense succeeded this season against Toronto was on the fast break. They averaged 18.3 fast-break points per game across three contests, which accounted for 18.8 percent of Washington’s points. To put that number in perspective, Washington’s average would rank third in the league behind just the Warriors (20.9) and Rockets (18.7). On the year, the Wizards are sixth in fast-break points per game at 15.5.

The Raptors did a decent job of stopping the Wizards in the halfcourt, but thanks mostly to John Wall, the Wizards were lethal on the fast-break. It starts with the Wizards’ defensive rebounding, which is extremely strong. The Wizards snagged the third-highest share of defensive rebounds in the league this season, which triggered Wall’s superhuman speed in the full-court game.

The key to stopping Washington’s fast break is two fold. First and foremost, the Raptors need to be diligent and hustle back on defense. Nene and Marcin Gortat are both strong rebounders and good outlet passers, so crashing the boards should be risked sparingly. The second is to cover the rim and the trailer. Wall will almost always drive relentlessly down the middle of the lane, but he can stop on a dime to hit the pull-up elbow jumper (where he shoots a respectable 40 percent), explode towards the basket, or find his trailer for three. Washington’s wings are trained to spread out and find weak spots on the perimeter, as Wall spots a trailing Otto Porter below (at 00:34, in case my embed-job didn’t work).

So yeah, run pretty screen plays to open things up in the halfcourt involving Patterson and stop the Wizards in transition. This is the worst conclusion ever.

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