Offenses in the NBA always trend towards stars, because they’re seen as dependable. The advantages they consistently gain become the bedrock of all the looks the offense gets. Hierarchy creates roles, roles create stability, and there you have it, an offense. Some plays have more structure than others, but everyone is supposed to understand their skills, what those skills allow them to do on a basketball court, and understand them in the context of what the defense is doing and the aforementioned hierarchy.
Some teams juggle between letting players or principles sit atop their hierarchy. Some teams don’t entertain it whatsoever. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, Trae Young and the Hawks, LeBron James and the Lakers – heliocentric forces that create the terms and conditions for virtually every offensive possession that they’re on the floor for. Sometimes the Raptors huddle around the mega creation of Pascal Siakam. He creates, by far, the best looks and the most consistent looks. He pressures defenses in a unique way, and teams have trouble with it. Fred VanVleet’s pick n’ roll and ‘DHO’ possessions are a staple as well. He leads the team in touches, and he reserves the right to hijack the offense as he sees fit – we’ve seen it a lot late in games, and it’s worked a fair bit.
Since the All-Star break resumed the Magic (#4) and the Raptors (#2) have both been top 5 defenses. Fielding a less than healthy lineup, the Magic didn’t have a counter for the Raptors. Fultz came as close as anyone could, but it still left them well short. The Raptors moved firmly away from the ‘lean on Siakam’ offense in this one, and cycled through everyone in a fairly egalitarian way. The Raptors skirted their most dependable form of offense and turned out a really unique offensive performance.
A different leading scorer in every quarter. Gary Trent Jr. punched in 8 in the first quarter, as did OG Anunoby. Anunoby and VanVleet had 0 in the second quarter, Siakam and Barnes combined for 19 in the second quarter and all of Siakam’s assists came in that frame as well. In the third Barnes had 0, as did Trent Jr., and VanVleet punched in 13 (half of the teams points). The fourth quarter rolled around and no one scored more than 5. Some of this is caused by the volatility of a young teams defense. The Magic lost the plot and rediscovered it a few times over the course of the game. The Raptors went from walking into the middle of the floor to getting jumped above the break repeatedly.
We saw Barnes in empty-side post-ups trying to grift his way to the free throw line. A botched sweep through and a ball that clanged off the backboard might engender clenched fists in a competitive game, but last night it was Barnes dipping his toes into the free throw pool that he’ll likely swim in his whole career. Precious Achiuwa gave us a jab step, 2-dribble pull-up combo that looked way too fluid for a big man. He botched a roll to the rim, filtered to the weak-side, then grabbed an ORB and threw an audacious lob that led to no points. He made a proper roll later in the game that led to a dunk. The Raptors tried Achiuwa’s hand at decision making in one of their favorite sets: Horns Chin (Punch) – it’s only Punch if the Raptors get the isolated post-up that they typically target (shoutout Evin).
A high-low read. Nice motion as the ‘DHO’ operator, and a dunk. The Raptors typically like using Siakam or Barnes as the horn in this play. Without either of Anunoby or Barnes on the floor, the Raptors might not run this action. However, they took the chance on Achiuwa making the reads and he did a tremendous job. These are the seeds that grow into dependable solutions for transitional lineups down the road. Is there a version of Achiuwa down the road that reverse pivots into 3-point attempts out of Horns like Karl-Anthony Towns does? Why Not? Achiuwa is crashing through perceived ceilings in a number of areas already.
Different players make different reads, and defenses react differently. Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz didn’t dream of tagging off of Trent JR., but Wagner did off of Anunoby and he punched the gap left in the closeout. More combinations reveal more possibilities, and that’s one of the central motivators for the Raptors “everyone is 6’9″ and long” ethos. You start plugging and un-plugging guys everywhere and the same action is worlds apart to the defense.
The Raptors are still chasing 50 wins and a top-4 seed. But, when afforded the opportunity they should absolutely try and figure out as much stuff as possible in between the lines. Break from the hierarchy to inform the new one. Always improving.
Have a blessed day.