Title: Raptors Tactical: Zone defence, scissor cuts, Kawhi Leonard’s usage and more
Date: October 3, 2018
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic, I wrote about some tactical takeaways about the Nu Raptors after two preseason games.
By Nick Nurse’s own admission, the new Toronto Raptors head coach had only installed a handful of plays by the time his team opened their preseason schedule on Saturday. With a few new faces to work in, some new defensive principles to instill, and a preference for letting offensive talent improvise, read and react out of the gate, the Raptors have played two fairly unstructured exhibitions so far. This is entirely reasonable — it remains quite early in camp, it’s sensible to work new pieces and players in slowly, and the bulk of the change to a Nurse-oriented offence already came last year, when he was given a bit more control.
The results have been decidedly mixed. Against Portland, the Raptors scored 114.8 points per-100 possessions despite not shooting particularly well, as they lived at the free-throw line and did well on the offensive glass. Tuesday’s game against Utah saw them shoot far worse and turn the ball over frequently, so while the offensive rebounding was still a strength, they managed just 81.2 points per-100 possessions.
The preseason is, of course, about process over results. Nobody should care much which shots are dropping for whom at this early a juncture so long as the team is manufacturing good looks. (This luxury does not extend to the players fighting for a roster spot, none of whom have made a major impression yet to differentiate themselves. Norman Powell would probably also be well-served to make the most of these chances. For everyone else, “it’s fine.”) For the most part, the Raptors are doing that, or at least doing that with their key pieces on the floor, despite the fact that everyone except Jonas Valanciunas still seems to be shaking off some rust. Through two games, the Raptors have taken 34.6 percent of their field-goal attempts from beyond the arc (almost exactly their mark from last year) and taken free-throws at a rate that would have lapped the league last year (thanks, NBA crack down on points of emphasis). Perhaps most importantly toward Nurse’s goals, because they’ve rebounded and forced turnovers well, the Raptors have taken 18 more shooting possessions than their opponent.