The Isolation Moves of an Isolation Team

11 mins read

Raptors fans – and occasionally players – are known to moan about the team’s offense that incentivizes passing less than most other top NBA teams. In the past few years, this offense has set fantastic regular season numbers and middling post-season numbers. We all think we know why this happens: defenses plan for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan better, fouls are called less often, blah blah blah. I’m not here to talk about that. More important than why the Raptors’ offense has stalled out (at times) in past playoff series is what each player offers the team when it comes down to crunch time. When the clock runs low, when passing is no longer an option (assuming it was an option before), how can each Raptor best get buckets?

With no further ado, I present this list of each Raptor’s go-to scoring move, in order of most to least efficient (I know there’s arguments to be made to change the order, feel free to shout them at me in the comments). One thing to note, I’m only offering the isolation moves of the top isolation players on the Raps. All statistics are taken from NBA.com and correct as of March 30th, 2017.

DeMar DeRozan: Mid-Range Wizard

The natural heir to Kobe Bryant’s isolation game, DeRozan can hit from seemingly anywhere in mid-range with any defender guarding him. Just look at the footwork in his pump-fakes and spins in the video above! The man is an iso king, and the numbers back it up. DeRozan shoots 44.7% on pull-up 2s, which is reasonable efficiency for a shot that he can get off at any time in the game. Somehow, he is most accurate when shooting midrange 2s with a defender in his jersey!

Defender Proximity (ft) Shooting Percentage (%)
0-2 48.7
2-4 42.6
4-6 45.6
6+ 40.6

Furthermore, the longer he holds the ball, the more accurate his 2-pointers become:

Touch Time (sec) Shooting Percentage (%)
<2 46.7
2-6 48.3
6+ 51.3

When an offense grinds to a halt, DeRozan is a good guy to have on the team. He is in the 83.8th percentile of isolation scorers and gets an efficient 1.03 points per isolation possession. DeRozan gets buckets.

Kyle Lowry: 3-Point Bomber

Lest we forget due to his recent injury, Lowry can manufacture points for the Raptors seemingly out of thin air. He is in the 82.3rd percentile of isolation scorers and creates 1.01 points per isolation possession. He can equally spot up for a 3 off of DeRozan or create his own with a flurry of pump fakes, jab steps, or tight handles. He connects on 42.2% of 3s from catch and shoot jumpers and pull ups, which is the basketball equivalent of Deadpool being able to write his opponents out of existence, due to his greatest (and most unknown) ability: knowing he’s in a comic book. Unlike DeRozan (and like almost every other basketball player on the planet), Lowry shoots worse percentages when guarded tightly, and he is also best operating immediately after his touch. Thinking about Lowry and DeRozan’s compatibility still makes me sigh contentedly, thinking about the TJ Ford-Anthony Parker days.

Jonas Valanciunas: Post-Up Bully


Valanciunas is a controversial player for Raptors’ fans, and his isolation numbers show a few different things. On one hand, he is insanely good at isolation scoring. Valanciunas is in the 94.6th percentile of isolation scorers, offering an elite 1.13 points per isolation possession. At the same time, his isolation frequency is 2.9% – equal to Pascal Siakam and lower than Jared Sullinger during his ground-bound days in Toronto. Take from those numbers what you will.

Valanciunas prefers the left block, where he can drive towards the middle and get a shot up with his right. He can drive or pull up, and while he shoots an impressive 55.8% without any dribbles, he is even better after a decisive, 1-dribble move, shooting 64.7%. He is best making a fast, decisive move, shooting within just a few seconds after receiving his touch. There are reasons why Valanciunas doesn’t play more minutes, but with the game winding down, and the Raps needing an isolation bucket, Valanciunas can get his.

Serge Ibaka: Practitioner of the Elbow Jumper


Since heading north of the border, Ibaka has shown an impressive isolation game himself. Ibaka game is much simpler than DeRozan’s or even Lowry’s, but he still shows an ability to score one-on-one. While his isolation numbers on the season are weak (.71 points per isolation possession), those are dragged down by his days of having defenses key in on him in Orlando.

Ibaka likes receiving the ball after posting up on the block, the elbow, or from midrange. After facing up, he is content either pulling up for a simple, in-your-face jumper, or driving for a swooping hook layup. The only thing is, he’s much happier playing off of the Raptors’ star(s – we haven’t seen him with Lowry yet) than creating for himself. While he has shot 43.3% (!) from 3 since joining the Raps, he also has only hit catch and shoot 3s, missing every other type of 3 attempted. His pull-ups from 2 connect on a paltry 39.3% accuracy. Similarly, his field goal percentage plummets from 50% after 0 dribbles to 40% on 3-6 dribbles. Basically, he can build his own house, but he’d rather crash on DeRozan’s couch.

Cory Joseph: Dribbling Slasher


Joseph is at his best hesitating, twisting back into an unexpected direction with a crossover, and knifing towards the rim where he can finish with a floater, layup, or short jumper. While he scores 1.06 points per isolation percentage – good for 88.1th percentile – that number has lots of noise, due to him spending most of the season playing third or fourth fiddle against opposing benches. Like most players, Joseph is statistically most efficient when wide open, hitting catch-and-shoot jumpers. But he is also efficient when hi-jacking an offense: he shoots 48.2% on 2s after 7+ dribbes and 49.5% on 2s when very tightly guarded by a defender (0-2 ft). Joseph has the handles to get into the paint, and he can finish well once he gets there.

Norman Powell: Finishing Slasher


The above clips are in transition instead of isolation, but you get the point: Powell is best with a full head of steam, driving headfirst into the teeth of the defense. However, this season Powell has been a finisher who just isn’t finishing. He has shown an infuriating tendency to leave the ball just short on the rim after an electrifying move, the basketball equivalent of choking on the last bite of your home-made bruschetta. As a result, he’s created a middling .91 points per isolation possession, good for 65.0th percentile. He’s one of the best on the team at getting a good shot off despite a defense sitting inside his jersey, but he’s been one of the worst on the team at finishing those bunnies. He’s shot an ugly 36.6% on pull ups, 42.9% with defenders in his grill (0-2ft), and 38.3% after touches of less than 2 seconds. Regardless, every time he gets to the rim, I expect him to finish as a result of his incredible athleticism. Despite a long stretch of relative disappointment, I would still bet on Powell to dominate in isolation – I may also be a degenerate gambler.


The Raptors are an isolation team, which makes for few passes and lots of contested DeRozan jumpers. They are an efficient offensive team in part as a result of limiting turnovers, as covered comprehensively by Blake, among others. It makes sense for an isolation team to have good isolation scorers, but I was surprised by how many scorers are in the 80th percentile and above. Any possession concluded with an isolation by almost anyone on this list is a relatively efficient scoring chance. So now that you have some background info: Game 7 with the Cavs is winding down, Raps are down by 1 point. 0:07! Drake is going crazy! 0:06! 0:05! Who ya got?


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