Fred VanVleet’s heroics are now a known quantity. The Raptors have found strength elsewhere to supplement it.
You’d have to scroll down to the Raptors 12th highest used lineup to find one that didn’t feature VanVleet. The Raptors are hard-pressed to part with their best player. He’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. Surviving minutes without VanVleet has been the Raptors version of Everest, and last night the Raptors won despite VanVleet registering the worst plus-minus on the team. This doesn’t mean the Raptors are better without VanVleet, that would be absurd. It means they did something right without him, and that’s worth paying attention to.
So what worked? Well, similar to stretches of the championship season, the Raptors found winning minutes in the comfort of jumbo lineups. Only, these lineups are jumbo in the middle and the bottom, because there isn’t a single jumbo player on the roster. Gasol and Ibaka aren’t walking through that door, but Precious Achiuwa, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and Chris Boucher can all share the floor at once.
To start the 2nd quarter, Nick Nurse went to a quartet of players whose two most used lineups have only shared the floor (without VanVleet) for 23 minutes this year. Over those 23 minutes, Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby have occupied the 5th spot for 11 and 12 minutes, respectfully. But, the fact that the Raptors still succeeded overwhelmingly with Svi Mykhailiuk in that 5th spot? That means the main four are determining the playstyle and the success of it. The ‘Funk Fest Quartet’. Please allow that to proliferate, my ego would love it.
Coming into this game, both lineups had Net ratings over +30 and defensive ratings under 88. They generated a turnover on 23-percent of defensive possessions, and they rebounded nearly 50-percent of their misses.
The ‘Funk Fest Quartet’ is an overwhelmingly positive defensive lineup that throws length at every corner of the court. They seal off the paint to drives, they gang rebound, and with Siakam’s terrific run of form as an offensive hub they’ve been able to sustain success on that end of the court.
When they were implemented at the top end of the 2nd quarter, this lineup scored 14 points, allowed only 6, and forced 4(!) turnovers in the 5 minutes they played. Their length and activity allowed them to squeeze the Pelicans everywhere on the court – even the open spaces.
Take this play for example: An empty-side DHO (a high quality play for an offense) where Siakam trails and Boucher pinches in. Herb Jones gets squeezed and has to pass out, but only one pass away because the Raptors length complicates any skip pass. Okay, now the Pelicans star has the ball. Temple cuts from the 45 and sets a screen on Scottie while dragging Svi through with him – Scottie climbs the screen and his length makes Ingram think it’s not worth it. Boucher is moving those puppies to provide some resistance, Ingram tries to spin to safety and Siakam ambushes him. Every read was harassed and complicated by these Raptors. Even the ones that typically win possessions for the offense. This is why this lineup worked last night and has done so lately.
And this one is even easier to understand. Boucher and Barnes pose a terribly long wall to pass around, and Siakam and Achiuwa are the ones in between any dump-off or skip pass that lies before Valanciunas. Did ‘JV’ miss the read to Graham? Yes, but doubling with length is supposed to force players to process the floor faster and when that happens a lot of players miss reads.
Offensively, it pays off when Mykhailiuk is able to give you 4 points off of his pin-down sets, that’s been a rarity. But, Siakam has been so damn good lately that with him at the helm of this quartet, they can score the damn thing. He’s the one who makes it look dependable and repeatable.
First we get a terrific defensive read from Boucher that springs transition, and that’s great. But, the real meat of these plays is the way that Siakam handled Valanciunas as a helper. Baiting him to open something up, then pushing him away to search for his own offense once nothing progressed. With these funky lineups, being able to throw it in to Siakam for a bucket is everything. Not to mention, Valanciunas effectively kept Barnes, Anunoby, and VanVleet well away from the bucket all night. Siakam was the only one who outfoxed ‘JV’ near the rim.
And I mean, look at what transpired after the lob:
It’s all smiles from this team pic.twitter.com/MEAatirOKe
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 9, 2022
Now, those are some smiles.
“We’ve always been a winning organization, that’s what the Raptors are all about.” – Pascal Siakam on the six-game win streak
This win streak is partially fueled by the funky lineups that have succeeded during it – the ‘Funk Fest Quartet’ has factored in, in a huge way. Because Siakam is right, the Raptors are about winning.
And they’ve found a new way to help them do it.
Have a blessed day.