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Offensive Wrinkle: Gary Trent Jr.

Samson Folk details a set play that Gary Trent Jr. will thrive in this season.

One thing that football is much better at than basketball in its coverage? Detailing the plays and advantages on the fly for their viewers. They, of course, have ample time to do so, and that’s a big advantage on the telecast, but we have ample time here in this column. I use a lot of coach terminology in my coverage (columns, podcasts, videos) and people always ask for explanations, so we’re getting ahead of that here. I’ll be doing one of these for every single player who appears to be entrenched in the Raptors rotation. Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam etc. will all be covered, but we’re starting with Gary Trent Jr.

The Raptors have been ahead of the curve to some degree in using guard screeners. Some of that is because they employed Kyle Lowry and then Fred VanVleet, two incredible guard screeners, but it’s also a willingness to look elsewhere for advantage. That brings us to Trent Jr.’s fun little offensive wrinkle: Spain Leak. It’s not his alone, nor is it something only the Raptors do relative to the NBA, but it is a lovely little play:

The history of it is tied closely to Željko Obradović, and former Raptors assistant, Sergio Scariolo, with Team Spain (hence the Spain.)

The Raptors forced a turnover in the backcourt, so they have ample time to set everything up. Assistant coaches wave their arms trying to direct traffic for the first few seconds, then Nick Nurse enters the fray as King Crossing Guard to put everyone in their winning position. Assistant Coach, OG Anunoby alerts Chris Boucher to the fact that he’ll be the screener in this action, and Head Coach Nurse directs Anunoby to the strong-side corner, and pushes Trent Jr. up towards the action, and the conceit.

When the Spain pick and roll came along, the backscreen from a guard was a wrench in the defense and a wide open rim run for the big. It’s a fun action that the Raptors have run for a long time (as is Spain Leak, hello Kyle), but if your guard can also shoot? Well, you can complicate the action further by having them leak out past the 3-point line to spread the defense out further. There’s typically 3 ways to guard Spain actions:

  1. The drop & switch, where the big man drops, and the guards/wings (whoever is involved) switch. This isn’t what Dosunmu and Lavine did.
  2. Switch everything (which we’ll more than likely see from the Raptors this year).
  3. No switching! This is typically dependent on the player at the POA being able to climb the initial screen, and the communication of the other two players to navigate the back screen in unison. If you get caught behind the action on Spain Leak? You can X-out from the corner to keep the play in front of the defense.

So, the Bulls miscommunicated on their base package of drop & switch, and basically ended up doubling the ball. Trent Jr. leaked out for a wide open shot, and closed out the Bulls.

You should expect to see a fair amount of Spain and Spain variations this year from the Raptors.

For fun, here’s another botched coverage:

Hope you enjoyed the piece, and if you want a much more thorough explanation of how Spain actions play out in the NBA, watch this video where my dear friend Evin Gualberto graciously teaches us all:

Have a blessed day.

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