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Breakdown: Raptors d. Hawks, Nov. 21

An easy one, as the shorthanded Raptors cruise.

Raptors 124, Hawks 108

Recap

  • The Raptors were never tested by the Hawks in a relatively uneventful game in which the Raptors led comfortably for long stretches.
  • The Raptors dominated on the glass, winning the rebounding battle by 21 while also holding the Hawks to 27.8% from the 3 and 45.2% from the floor.
  • Kyle Lowry was terrific in this game, earning himself a triple double while dishing out 17 assists.

Defense

  • The Raptors have had issues defensively this year against big, dynamic guards who can create closeouts on their own as well as guards who use down screens and pin downs effectively – neither of which the Atlanta Hawks have. Trae Young may be that guard some day, but as of today he is not.
  • As a result of not having a favourable matchup, the Raptors smothered the Hawks on many possessions and never let them consistently attack weakness in the Raptors defense. Here are some examples:

In these clips you’ll notice a combination of the Hawks not having a go-to matchup that can create, and the Raptors ability to cover every player on the floor. This offensive series breaks down when Delon stops Trae Young’s reject of the ball screen. From there, the Hawks simply can’t create against the Raptors.

In this clip the Raptors handle a ball screen effectively, switch a flair screen well and force the Hawks into an empty possession. Ibaka did a great job in this clip, and in this game, covering wings and point guards on switches – which is a very good sign.

This is a fantastic defensive possession. Notice in this clip the stance of the Raptors – they are all in athletic stance and engaged the entire possession. They communicated switches very well, and they did a great job covering the ball and forcing a contested 3.

  • If there was an issue defensively this game, it was the guards inability to “weak” the ball screen (weaking the ball screen is to funnel the player to his weak hand – the Raptors try to weak all ball screens in the middle third of the court).
  • For context, this is what the Raptors are trying to do in the ball screen:

Danny Green effectively keeps Jeremy Lin to his weak hand and denies him access to the ball screen. The big, Ibaka in this case, drops and slows down the drive.

  • This is what happened too often:

VanVleet recognizes too late that the screen is coming and tries to weak it, but can’t and gets hit, allowing Lin to turn the corner going to his strong hand.

A very similar situation with Lorenzo Brown here, as he doesn’t successfully weak the ball screen and also gets hit by it. Lin can again turn the corner which causes a rotations as Delon has to drop to the big and the Hawks get off an open 3 in the corner.

For the third time (FYI, this happened more often than just 3 times) Brown ran directly into a screen that he should be forcing back to Lin’s weak hand. This is just too easy for an NBA point guard, who takes a comfortable one dribble pull up to his strong hand.

Offense

  • The Raptors had success tonight on the offensive end, and did a very good job creating separation in the ball screen. A key that I have noticed with Lowry and VanVleet in the ball screen is the success they have when they create separation from the guard defending them, which forces the big to commit to them, which subsequently gives them more passing options.
  • The issue that they both have, however, is that neither one of them can create separation in a confined area very well (in comparison to guards like Curry, Irving and Paul who are very shifty), and when that is combined with a lack of size, it makes the need for separation even more critical.
  • In these clips, watch how both of them use pace (either in transition or by sprinting into a handoff) to create the separation they need from their defender:

Lowry is a genius in terms of creating separation without the ball in his hands, and this is a great example. He sprints into the handoff which creates the separation he needs which forces the dropping big to have to play him. With the guard panicking to recover to Lowry, no one is left to cover Ibaka.

Lowry does this very well – watch how he uses his pace in transition to set up his defender. He knows that the defender has to go over the screen to respect his shot, so he attacks early and gets down hill quickly. Again, this forces the big to commit and leaves JV open.

In this clip, VanVleet uses the same concept. He follows his pass to Ibaka to create the separation from his defender that is needed to force the dropping big to commit. Once he does, he finds Ibaka and the Raptors attack closeouts.

New Wrinkles to Old Sets

  • The Raptors often run a high post entry, UCLA to flex action but never put much emphasis on the flex action (the point guard always sets a token screen and slips early) which finishes with the point guard sprinting back up the key into a DHO. However, in this game they scored twice off the flex action – I’ve combined both clips below:

  •  The other wrinkle I noticed was in the Spain (also known as Stack) ball screen action. In this clip below, you’ll notice Van Vleet creep up behind the dropping big like he’s going to set a back screen, which is the Spain action. However, he slips the screen and sprints to the 3 which causes Lin, his defender, to panic and sprint with him which effectively prevents Lin from digging or bluffing on the rolling big.

Notes

  • Delon Wright is starting to look like he is getting completely healthy -he looks fluid, and his explosiveness is returning. I also noticed an incredible pass he made in this game that I had to include in the breakdown:

Delon rejects the action and attacks downhill, when he gets tot he rim he recognizes the defense has collapsed and proceeds to leave his feet and throw a left handed, full speed, on time and on target to Ibaka behind him on the 3. Impressive vision and impressive skill.

  • With regards to the separation I discussed above with Lowry and VanVleet on ball screens, this is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. When the playoffs come around and games get very stagnant, offensive flow and freedom of movement is much harder to come by – which traditionally has not suited Lowry very well. He has made improvements in his ability to create in the half court, but how he continues to figure out ways to create separation in the half court as the season progresses is worth our attention.

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