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DeAndre’ Bembry and the Art of Providing

8 mins read

DeAndre’ Bembry is a really good basketball player. Despite being a member of the ‘Defenders Three’ his skills on ball, passing flair, and high-flying lob finishes make him far more than a defender or a specialist.

Bembry looks like a lock for the Raptors top-8 at this point. While he was kept in some sort of restrictive casing to start the year, he’s burst from the seams like a baseball hit by Martin Maldonado. His claim to more minutes has come by leaning on his strengths, of which there are many.

As the NBA continues to marginalize players who don’t shoot the three particularly well, Bembry is fighting back against an era that is trying to push him out.

Heliocentric: having or representing the sun as the center, as in the accepted astronomical model of the solar system.

Heliocentricity in basketball: you have the ball lots and the team wants you to have it even more. You’re Luka Doncic, LeBron James, or someone like that. Virtually everything the team does (offensively) revolves around you. Quite a few teams have tried to go down this path of superstars & shooting specialists.

The Raptors don’t operate anywhere near heliocentric offense. In fact, the 3-way split between Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Kyle Lowry might make them one of the teams farthest from it. Bembry, who’s ball handling was seen as redundant next to Trae Young (and lack of shooting seen as cause for less minutes) has found utility as a tertiary ball-handler, hellcat on defense, and all-around swiss-army knife for the Raptors.

As far as the frontcourt goes, the Raptors have been plagued by inconsistent minutes and imperfect solutions. The identity of the team hasn’t been this lost since the Rudy Gay days. The landscape of what they succeed at changes from game to game. This is not the framework for specialists. The defensive shell can’t save Matt Thomas’ lapses, so they forego what would potentially be very productive offense. So, Bembry emerges. One of the ‘Defenders Three’ who can transcend his grouping to stand on his own.

While he is more than his defense, that’s the stand out aspect of his game. He was the head of the snake in the Raptors excellent second half pressure defense on Ja Morant, flashing impressive foot speed and the balance to stick with one of the NBA’s most slippery operators. A major disruptive force in any of the Raptors mad dashes at the end of games – he’s never taking game winning or tying shots, but his defense continues to help the Raptors scratch and claw their way into those opportunities from behind. And as far as ball-hawks go, he’s only second to OG Anunoby in terms of “I’ll jump the lane, don’t do it” and Anunoby is one of the league’s best.

Go by basketball reference (which has always been super funky) and he’s sitting at a 127 ORTG and a 112 DRTG. Calm things down with NBA (dot) com and he’s sitting at 111.6 and 103.6, respectively. He’s a positive player, and it’s by-and-large because of his ability to work his strengths into the Raptors defense. And with Bembry’s defense, comes playmaking. In the clips below you’ll notice how often Bembry makes a play defensively that jump-starts transition.

Hanging with Morant off the dribble. Flowing from a gamble into a recovery that ends in a steal. There’s just a freedom of movement to his defense that fits really well in the Raptors scheme. Great sense of where his teammates are, and his interpretations of what he should be doing continue to shine.

Offensively, Bembry doesn’t pop as often, and that’s by design. He has the defensive chops to jump on an All-NBA talent, but offensively he’s much better blending in before bursting into space via cuts. Or, attacking off of second-side action and bending a defense to the breaking point with rim-pressure and the no-look passes he unleashes that leave viewers scouring the screen for the ball, and defenders flat-footed and hopelessly out of position. His improvisational bent paired with the high-quality offense he produces in small doses is welcome with the Raptors. All this makes for an offensive player that fills a bunch of different cracks. He is the flex tape of basketball.

I SAWED THIS BOAT IN HALF AND FIXED IT WITH BEMBRY

A perfect, low-usage complement. Among wings, Bembry is in the 7th-percentile in usage percentage, 95th in points-per-shot-attempt, 85th in assist-percentage, and 99th in assist-to-usage percentage. He may not make it into the scouting report, or at least the part of it that receives the lion’s share of attention, but if your defense is in motion and Bembry has the ball? He’ll pick you apart.

The consistent ability to burn defenders the moment after they commit is fantastic.

There’s little indication in Bembry’s skillset and the way he plays the game that scoring will ever be a big part of what he does on the basketball court. However, the efficient, bite sized scoring he’s been able to supplement the Raptors with has become as important to the Raptors as ferrous fumarate is to a person with an iron deficiency. As the Raptors continue to work early and often in transition, Bembry’s offensive numbers should see modest growth. But, the added value through cutting in the half-court will continue to keep him dangerous even with his limitations as a shooter (and he’s actually been great from 3-point land so far).

After getting 5 minutes or less spells, Bembry vaulted into 20+ minutes against the Pacers. Since then? He’s averaging 19.8 minutes a game, 6 points, 2.5 assists, 2.3 boards, and just under a steal on .625/.583/.750 splits. +12.8 net rating, and 70-percent true-shooting. A star in his role. Nearly as good at basketball as he is at dressing. Killing the game like he kills his fits.

Looking forward to more ‘Full Bembry’s’.

The Raptors have found a playoff rotation piece, and Bembry has found a team that can utilize and appreciate his myriad talents.

Have a blessed day.