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Playmaking from the Wings

Who can facilitate the offence with Lorenzo Brown on the shelf?

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

Lorenzo Brown defines the offence for the Raptors 905. He is a terrific scorer and passer in the pick and roll, isolation, and transition. He leads the team in scoring and assists. But what happens when he sits? The 905’s bench offence is run by a combination of solidity and passing from Kaza Keane combined with scoring from Davion Berry. Keane has an assist percentage of 36.5 on the season, and Berry attempts more shots than any other 905er off the bench. That’s been the players who handle the ball for the 905, and they’ve been consistent as the 905 have become one of the most dangerous teams in the G-League.

That consistency has been shattered in recent games. Lorenzo Brown is out with an ankle injury that has kept him out of all but 5 minutes in the last 5 games. Kaza Keane and starting shooting guard, Aaron Best, are away with Team Canada. The 905 are left with Kethan Savage – naturally a wing, or at most a combo-guard – as the starting point guard, and the team has given Davion Berry some chances at creating for others as well.

Coach Jerry Stackhouse knows that his team is at a disadvantage, but he isn’t sweating it: “We really don’t have a true point guard right now, but I thought those guys have done a good job.”

Stack pointed out that Berry is at his best scoring off the ball, but he doesn’t think the team has enough secondary initiators to allow Berry to shift off the ball: “We don’t really have, with Malachi or Malcolm or Alfonzo, a secondary ball handler where we could let them handle or facilitate the offence. It’s just not part of their game right now.”

Unfortunately for Stack, he has had no choice but to give those guys some run at facilitating the offence. Being without a single true point guard has given the 905 a unique opportunity. They boast several high-level wings who can create for themselves almost at will in the G-League. Alfonzo McKinnie (assignment), Malachi Richardson, and Malcolm Miller (two way) are both NBA players who dominate in the G-League, and both have defaulted into increased playmaking duties with Lorenzo on the shelf and Keane and Best representing their country.

Miller is a little rosier on his playmaking ability than his coach (which is almost always true of players): “Savage is gonna take a couple pick and rolls, but you know the rest of us have to step up too. You know Alfonzo came off a couple pick and rolls [against Wisconsin], and he’s been making good plays out there. It is a part of our game that we can utilize.”

Miller’s ability to create for others has been mixed in the few games without Brown. Against the Maine Red Claws, during the game in which Brown was injured, Miller completed an incredible wraparound pass that showcased a dream scenario for his development as a playmaker. He drove immediately after receiving a pass, and he beat his defender easily due to his shooting ability and decisiveness. Drawing the helping big, Miller threw an on-target pass behind his defenders’ backs to Shevon Thompson for the easy dunk. This is high-level stuff, and it’s good to see Miller complete a play like this.

His ability to complete those passes consistently has been shaky. Against the Wisconsin Herd, Miller threw multiple passes that were tipped by opponents on their way to shooters.

Here he pump-faked (and probably traveled) before driving baseline. When a Plumlee (of course one plays for Wisconsin) met him at the rim, Miller turned and looked for an open passing lane. The jump pass almost resulted in a turnover, and Miller wasn’t ready to pass the ball until after he decided he couldn’t finish at the rim.

Here Miller ran a delayed pick and roll (more like a slip and roll? Is that a thing?) with Kennedy Meeks. Miller successfully drew both defenders, but he couldn’t slip the ball through the cracks into the defence to find the rolling Meeks. The ball was tipped multiple times on its way to its target. This play ended up counting as an assist, but it could just as easily have been a turnover.

Because of Miller’s incredible shooting ability, he can make plays for others without even touching the ball. Here, he passes the ball to Alfonzo McKinnie on the wing and immediately follows the ball to seemingly set a screen. He even signals to set a screen with his raised fist. But then he sprints behind McKinnie’s defender, slipping out to fade behind the 3-point arc. This draws his own defender as well as McKinnie’s for a fraction of a moment, which provides McKinnie with an open lane to drive middle.

This is an off-beat way to leverage someone’s playmaking; Steph Curry frequently creates open drives for his Warrior teammates with these fake ball screens (Lowry does the same for Toronto). Miller does that here, and this is an easy way to create open shots without putting a wing as the handler in the pick and roll.

Another easy way to get buckets is in transition. The 905 wings are heads up players, always aware of their surroundings. Miller, McKinnie, and Richardson combined for 9 assists in just the first quarter against the Herd, and several of those came in transition. Here McKinnie gets a defensive rebound and immediately gathers to hit ahead to Meeks, who leaked out ahead of the defenders.

McKinnie denies that with Brown out, he’s focussing more on creating for others: “I wouldn’t say [I am working more on my facilitating] just because [Lorenzo’s] out. I mean, every day we work on driving, kicking it, swinging it to the open man. That’s just something we emphasize every day in practice.”

Whether he gets more chances in games or not, Alfonzo McKinnie did have some great passes out of his drives against the Herd, though they didn’t always result in baskets. Here he rejected a Meeks screen and drove baseline, drawing the helper from the far corner. McKinnie threw an on-target weak hand spray to Malcolm Miller in the corner, although it didn’t result in a made basket. Regardless, being able to make this pass consistently is an important development for McKinnie’s game as an NBA prospect.

On this baseline drive, McKinnie receives the ball after a few swings; the defence is rotating to take away his shot. He instead puts the ball on the floor and finds Meeks for an easy (missed) layup after drawing the help.

Passing out of these drives is one skill on which McKinnie is working hardest to improve his game for the Raptors: “Slot-line drives, and being able to finish, and when I do slot-line drive and get to the basket, if there’s a guy coming at me, [I need to be] make that extra pass. That’s the most important thing on the offensive end.”

Richardson can make the same dump-off pass on his baseline drives:

Miller, McKinnie, and Richardson have playmaking chops, but their increased responsibilities are just part of a larger gameplan. They may only have an increased 2-3 possessions per game each creating out of the pick and roll, but development, as always, is part of a process.

Stackhouse was happy with how his wings executed the offensive gameplan without Lorenzo Brown: “We’re driving the ball and looking for opportunities for others. Once we spray the ball, and drive, kick it, and swing it, then it opens things up for you later on in the game, and I think that’s how we have to try to approach it, and those guys, that was an emphasis for us coming into this game. Making sure that we get into the paint, kick it, then as the game goes on, they’ll start staying at home on our shooters and then you’ll have an opportunity to finish.”

Giving their wings more reps at initiating the offence gives the 905 a more dangerous look when the team is finally back to full strength. Lorenzo Brown can run an offence by himself, but with Miller and McKinnie especially developing their secondary facilitation skills, the 905 offence can only improve.

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