Despite losing to the NBA’s best team, the Raptors found some things that work.
It’s okay to shun silver linings, especially if you’ve been forced to search for them for an extended period of time. But, if there were a team to find them against, it would be the buzz saw, 15-2 Warriors. A barrage of threes on one end, Draymond Green quarterbacking the defense on the other, they’re a formidable squad. Oh yeah, and Steph Curry was there to command a significant amount of defensive attention (as he does against every team), opening up his teammates for plenty of looks.
A quick look at what went wrong for the Raptors:
Death by a thousand threes
Kind of dramatic, yes, because it was 22 threes, but that’s a lot! So, why did this happen? Well, as many people know, the Raptors rotate off the corners to stifle drives, they pinch and dig when they’re one pass away, and they attempt to trap and double more than most teams. Heavy, heavy pressure on ball – ideally to force turnovers – leaves them overexposed elsewhere. If you think about the game vs. the Knicks, this strategy was wildly successful, and worked recently against the Kings (who were the 4th ranked offense coming into the game vs. the Raptors). The main problem is the feast or famine nature of a defense that is so reliant on trying to balance risk vs. reward at this level. Threes that come one pass away in the NBA typically don’t rank as great shots created, but with the Raptors rotating so hard toward the live dribble, the one pass away looks become more potent. Not to mention the corner threes.
The question is: would a more conservative defense have been more effective against the Warriors? Perhaps not. They’re the 2nd best offense in the NBA (per ORTG), and they succeed in a lot of different actions. The Raptors play a very polarizing style of defense, and the Warriors likely would have succeeded regardless. In the scheme the Raptors played last night, they successfully funneled the ball out of Curry’s hands (their M.O.) and into the likes of Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins. The Raptors were comfortable with that outcome, it was the intended function of their defense. Wiggins and Poole absolutely outperformed their shooting talent. Even with the Raptors and their aggressive scheme, the combined 14-19 mark is not easily recreated. They also decided to ignore Green’s presence on offense when he was above the free throw line towards the end, and it worked pretty well. Kinda funny. It might seem unsatisfactory, and I’m not defending the scheme overall, but last night the Raptors achieved something close to the ideal process of their defense, but not the result.
Nurse thought they executed pretty well on both ends, was happy with how they limited Curry but says they made a few mistakes on their rotations/were slow getting out to Warriors’ other shooters. Also thought they left too many points on the board around the rim.
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 22, 2021
It’s possible there could be an adjustment coming. Pascal Siakam’s return has really helped the halfcourt offense, which means the Raptors are less reliant on transition for offense. The answer isn’t easy though, and striking the correct balance with a high stakes scheme is always difficult. It should be interesting to see how this progresses throughout the season.
Pascal is not stopping Barnes’ development
Please, don’t let anyone convince you that Siakam is washed, or that he’s infringing upon Scottie Barnes’ development. Barnes’ burst to start the season as a scorer was largely on the back of offensive rebounds and transition play. Occasionally he would run a keeper play in the halfcourt and score, but most of what he was doing was seizing opportunity in broken plays – and he was phenomenal at it. Siakam doesn’t remotely take anything away from him in that regard. Teams are already guarding Barnes differently than they did at the start of the season. That is the largest reason for Barnes’ dip, not Siakam. He’s also passing much better than he did at the start of the year.
w/0 Pascal: 2.1 APG/2 TOPG/10 AST%
w/ Pascal: 4.3 APG/2.1 TOPG/ 17.9 AST%
Pascal being on the floor simplifies some of his reads, and vice versa. Flat out.
More on Barnes later.
And on the Siakam front – he was excellent. The league’s best defense was loaded up against him, and he navigated it as well as he could be expected to. Barnes, VanVleet and Trent Jr. combined to shoot 12/45, the defense sagged off, and Siakam responded with counters in the fashion of mid-range jumpers, spot up 3’s, cuts, and drives to the bucket/post ups when the opportunity was there. Of all the teams in the NBA, the Warriors allow the least in the paint. Siakam navigated this with aplomb as his teammates struggled from the field.
He’s now up to 17.9 PPG/3.6 AST/6.6 RBS on 48/42/74 splits. Not All-Star numbers, but he’s climbing. Forget the frustrated handwringing of short-sighted people, Siakam is returning perfectly fine from months off of basketball and a surgically repaired shoulder.
One half, for each rookie
As Barnes struggled to apply his scintillating talent in the first half, Dalano Banton got his chance to perform, and did so by flashing his mid range game and three fantastic passes, 2 of which came in the halfcourt.
A lot of Banton’s possessions in the halfcourt as a handler result in basic handoffs that create little-to-no advantage, but the Raptors got him downhill somewhat in this game and he made great reads when doing so. A straight pnr and a great pass to Boucher (aided by his height). A Spain pnr where VanVleet’s screen puts Bjelica in the mixer. And a nice feed in transition.
Barnes adjusted nicely in the 2nd half, flexing his 3-point shooting a little bit – something Nick Nurse has been clamoring for from him – executing on the short-roll, and wonderful, Kyle Lowry-esque manipulation of the lanes in transition before lobbing Achiuwa.
A fantastic link of Siakam’s defense and Barnes’ offense. Siakam pretends Green doesn’t exist when he’s above the foul line (as I noted above), in order to apply more pressure to Curry. Curry makes the pass, Siakam shows off his nearly unparalleled court coverage to climb back into the play for the steal, and Barnes is off to the races. Barnes takes two here. He puts a defender in jail, while also obligating the low man to step over to him – this created 2 winning outcomes for him.
The outcome we saw, the lob to Achiuwa.
If the defender leaves to guard the lob, Barnes goes straight to the rim and bursts off of Wiggins, who he put in jail, leaving no chance at a chase down block.
Adjusting to the adjustment. Barnes has less viable lanes to the rim than he did earlier on in the season, so he has to hunt more opportunities as a cutter, screener, shooter, and he has to dominate his possessions in transition. The 2nd half was an extremely tidy offensive half for Barnes. It wasn’t an explosive offensive performance by any means, but he provided value despite the defense playing him tough. Hit two threes, took 7 free throws, made great reads as a passer, grabbed 3 ORBS – stuffed the hell out of the stat sheet. It was a super nice close to the game for him.
The Warriors won the game, they’re a great team. But, some good stuff happened.
Have a blessed day.
Tip Samson Folk
Scottie and Pascal fit, and more silver linings from a loss to the leagues best originated on Raptors Republic.