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Canadian Roundup: A Night in the 905

The Canadian Roundup goes live and in-person.

March 6th, 2023 marked a significant moment in my basketball writing journey thus far. The Raptors 905 vs G League Ignite was the first professional basketball game I covered as a credentialed writer (a huge shout out to Louis Zatzman who helped me with the credentials process!). Fittingly, the first game I went to cover had Canada Basketball written all over it, from Leonard Miller’s return to it being Canada Basketball Foundation Night at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre (all it was missing was Dalano Banton, who was sidelined with a thumb injury). So without further ado, here’s to the first live coverage edition of the Canadian Roundup.

Leonard Miller & Off-Ball Movement

Leonard Miller made his return to Canada for the first time as a professional basketball player on March 6th. I thought he had an alright game overall and fellow RR writer Samson Folk already did some scouting analysis on Miller’s performance in his coverage of the 905 game (highly recommend giving it a read).

With how little on ball creation opportunities he had in the game, I want to shift focus to Miller’s off-ball movement, which was stellar. Aside from 2 catch-and-shoot attempts from the beyond the arc (of which he made 1), Miller spent most of the game in 3 main areas of the court: the corners, the dunker spots and underneath the basket. Occasionally he would drift up to the wing (to set some screens for example) but he was mainly playing along the baseline. A quick look at his shot chart and it confirms the eye test.

Sidebar: I’m really interested in finding out if player movement heat maps are available for basketball as they are for soccer. If anyone knows, please point me in the right direction. I think it would be a really neat tool to have in addition to shot chart data.

This possession was the epitome of Miller’s off-ball movement against the 905. Constant movement and cutting, but never really going above the break, before trying to get in the mix for a potential offensive rebound.

I’ve clipped all of the cuts and off-ball movement that stood out to me upon re-watching the game below. Miller really has a good sense of when to cut, how hard he should cut and where to cut to on the court. And as you can see from the different sequences in the video, his off ball movement can be a real weapon in all offensive contexts, whether it’s transition or in the half-court. His overall offensive game might not have a lot of polish, but I would say Miller’s off-ball movement and instincts are pretty impressive and well-developed, and it should allow him to be an effective play finisher at the next level.

And by the way, if you’re looking for an in-depth, “crash-course” style scouting report on Leonard Miller, look no further than Wilko’s latest video over at the Floor and Ceiling.

Coaches Chatter In-Game

One of the biggest things that stood out to me sitting in media row was just how much coaches talk and communicate with players in-game. A lot of the coaches chatter gets muted out on the broadcast so it was certainly an eye-opening experience to see just how much talking (or rather yelling) they do.

For Ignite, I did pick up on a play call to run “Chicago” action (which they ran a lot of in the 1st half). If you’re unfamiliar with “Chicago”, I highly recommend taking a look at this entry in the Basketball Action Dictionary (follow the author @boswer2bowser on Twitter) and Samson’s piece on the Raptors late game sets against the Pistons from earlier this year, they are both excellent resources for X’s and O’s stuff.

When Ignite head coach Jason Hart wanted to run “Chicago”, he would call out “C” as his team brought up the ball. You can hear him faintly on the broadcast, but it was definitely much easier to pick up the play call live.

For the Raptors 905, I picked up on the set “77” (Samson also picked it up in his coverage of the game). This quick hitter from coach Eric Khoury is a slight variation of the traditional “Double Drag” action (which coincidentally is also known as 77), with an additional DHO before the two consecutive screens. The Raptors 905 were able to find some great success with “77” on back to back possessions in the first half, resulting in 5 points for Jeff Dowtin Jr.

Sidy Cissoko Interior Passing

Scoot Henderson grabs the headlines, and Leonard Miller grabs the attention of Canadians, but there is another talented young prospect on the G League Ignite team. Sidy Cissoko is an 18 year old French-born prospect who is currently projected to be a late 1st-round pick (30th pick to be exact) in Keandre’s (from Hoop Intellect) latest mock draft. Hoop Intellect is really insightful for all things NBA draft related and as someone whose not a draft analyst, I appreciate his digestible, nuanced and excellent content.

This was my first time watching Cissoko since the Ignite played Metropolitans 92 and I was impressed with his interior passing against the 905. Finishing with 8 assists in the game (tied for most on Ignite), his interior pass deliveries were on point and through traffic which is not easy to do.

G-League Wrinkles

The NBA has been using the G League as an experimental ground for years, implementing novel rules to test them out, before rolling out the successful ones in the NBA.

Since 2019, the G League has implemented an interesting rule related to the number of free throws a player attempts when they go to to the line. In the first 46 minutes of the game, every trip to the free throw line will only be 1 shot, with that single shot worth however many points the player was fouled for. For example, a regular shooting foul means 1 shot for 2 points. Foul someone from beyond the arc, and they are shooting 1 free throw for 3 points. What about and-one opportunities? Well it’s the traditional 1 shot for 1 point.

I’m pretty indifferent to this rule change (perhaps it speeds up the game a little?), but it definitely had me a little confused at the beginning of the Raptors 905 vs Ignite game. Just another reason for me to watch more G League games.

Another interesting wrinkle in the G League is the concept of the “reset timeout”. In the final 2 minutes of the fourth quarter/overtime, teams can use a “reset timeout” to advance the ball forward (like a traditional timeout). However, here’s the wrinkle — there is no huddle. Instead the ball is advanced and the ensuing inbound happens immediately. I’ve clipped the “reset timeout” Raptors 905 head coach Eric Khoury called in the 4th quarter below if you want to see it in action.

These wrinkles in the G League rules (and there’s many more) were things I was unaware of until attending the Raptors 905 vs G League Ignite game on Monday. The nuances at the different levels from a player-centered role perspective, a team-centered strategic perspective, and a league-centered rule perspective have given me a new found appreciation for the two-way players who are constantly moving up and down between the NBA and the G League.

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