Breaking It Down

Breakdown: Raptors d. Kings, Nov 7.

Raptors 114, Kings 105


  • The Raptors gutted out a win against the Kings to sweep their 4 game west-coast road trip.
  • The Kings played well and their youthful energy and athleticism gave the Raptors issues all night, but the Raptors were dominant on the O-boards, and made big shots whenever the Kings got close.
  • I’m going to approach this breakdown a little differently. I noticed something in this game that stood out, and I felt that it required a deep dive of its own, so check it out:

As I’ve been breaking down the Raptors games so far, I have noticed some of their main defensives tendencies (they are likely their principles as well, but I can’t say that for sure). I’ve thoroughly broken these down in previous posts, but here is a refresher:

  • They panic to run teams off of the 3 point line. The Raptors will constantly “fly-by” shooters with the intention of contesting their 3, or better yet, forcing them not to shoot the 3 and to put the ball down.

The “fly-by” is Danny Green’s contest in the corner. He is not concerned about getting beaten after he leaves his feet – his sole concern is to make the 3 uncomfortable. This clip is a good example of how the Raptors try to run their opponent of the 3 point line.

  • Often times these closeouts and fly-by situations are a result of the Raptors off-ball defense. They put an emphasis on sitting in the gaps between offensive players, with the intent of stunting at attacking players and recovering to their man, or switching onto the ball handler if need be. As I’ve described in past breakdowns, they are especially diligent with this at the nail.

I’ve slowed this clip down to emphasize the “nail” – the middle of the free throw line. The closest perimeter guard – in this case it’s CJ Miles – is responsible for stunting at the ball, discouraging the drive through the key, and closing back out to his man.

  • When defending the ball screen, the Raptors have forced the ball handler to his weak hand whenever possible. Once the ball handler is going to his weak hand, the guard is always going over the screen and trailing the ball handler into the lane (unless the scout dictates to go under – Ie: Rubio). The guard’s responsibility is to stay as connected as possible to the ball handler and get in front if he can. As getting in front is quite difficult, their secondary goal is to make the offensive player feel uncomfortable as they chase them towards the rim. The bigs’ responsibility is to discourage the pass to the roller (prevent dump offs and lobs), and then contest the guard at the rim if he tries to finish there.

Notice here how Danny Green keeps Joe Ingles to his weak hand. He loses connection with Inlges but continues his chase over top of the ball screen. JV waits deep, bluffing at Ingles but never enough to lose Gobert on the roll. This is not perfect, but a good example of how the Raptors want to handle the ball screen, and the shot that they want opponents to take.

Midway through the first quarter of this game I recognized that the Kings were taking a ton of mid-range shots – whether that be pull-ups or floaters – so I tracked them. In the first half alone, the Kings took 17 (!!!) pull-ups and/or floaters. Here are a handful of examples:

Based on the defensive principles that I’ve noticed from the Raptors so far, as well as their ability to impose their will on their opponents, I felt pretty confident that the 17 mid-range floaters/pull-ups in the first half were likely a result of the Raptors forcing the Kings into those shots, and less likely the Kings wanting to shoot those shots. So, I decided to take a look at the 12 games so far to see if the defensive principles from above were all actually with the purpose of forcing opposing teams off of the 3 point line, and into the paint. This is what I found:

  • Only 25.85% of all FGs taken against the Raptors this year have been 3 point field goals, which is the 3rd lowest percentage in the league throughout 12 games. Compare that to the Warriors and the Bucks, whose opponents shot 34% and 33% of their shots from the 3.
  • The Raptors’ opponents shoot more shots within 5 feet of the rim than any other team in the league with 346 shots taken so far. If you add runners and floaters into the mix, their opponents have shot 416 shots – leading the next closest team (Portland) by 26 shots.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that the Raptors are forcing teams off the 3 point line and towards the basket more than any other team in the league. How are they doing it?

  1. They panic to run shooters off the 3, and they fly-by often.
  2. Their ball screen defense is designed to funnel guards towards the rim.

Great – but does it work? It sure looks like it does. The Raptors are making a conscious effort to force teams into shooting less 3s and it’s working. They are doing this by closing out on shooters extremely hard, and solely being focused on making the shooters initial shot uncomfortable – I say initial because the Raptors seem content with opposing players taking a 3 after a shot fake and a dribble. Not only are they forcing teams to take less 3s, but they are effectively limiting their shooting percentage as well as the Raptors are currently 7thoverall in opponent 3 point percentage at 32.6% (OKC leads the league at 29.6%).

Less 3s will inevitably lead to more 2s. So as mentioned above, the Raptors force their opponents into more shots in the paint and around the rim than any other team in the NBA, while simultaneously leading the NBA in opponent’s field goal percentage on those shots at 47.12%. How are they able to do that? A couple of reasons:

  1. JV and Serge are improving their ball screen defense, and most notably their ability to bait guards into getting deep (while discouraging the pass to the roll) into the paint only to contest them at the rim. In these clips below, notice how Serge and JV discourage the pass to the roller until the guard commits to the rim, and then they use their length to adjust the shot at the rim.
  2. Serge has been fantastic protecting the rim.
  3.  Simply, the Raptors’ guards are athletic, tough, and they try hard.

This clip here is not perfect defense and that’s the point. The Raptors’ guards just try really hard when defending the ball screens. Notice here how OG gets beat, but he recovers hard and uses his length to deter the shot.

It’s quite impressive what the Raptors are doing on the defensive end right now. Let’s quickly recap:

  • 3rd lowest amount of opponent’s 3PT attempts
  • 7th lowest 3PT FG%
  • They have the lowest opponent FG% around the rim, including floaters, in the league while also leading the league in the amount of shots their opponents have taken from that distance.

What can we draw from this?

Being only 12 games into the season, the sample size we are working with here isn’t very big, and this just could be an anomaly based off of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. If that’s the case, then at least we can see if these trends continue:

  • Limiting opponent’s 3PT attempts
  • Funnelling opposing guards to get deep
  • Forcing opposing guards to finish against JV and Ibaka at the rim, or shoot floaters over top of them

However, this seems to fit. The Raptors are well organized and highly competitive, and it seems as if they like playing for each other. If this is their plan, and they can continue to execute their plan at this type of level, they are going to find a lot of success this year.

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