There are certain beats and rhythms you’ve come to expect any time you watch the Raptors. With such continuity in its core players and principles, some of the team’s signature plays — and the fans’ reaction to them — are spawned purely out of muscle memory. Kyle Lowry’s pull-up cannons, DeMar DeRozan’s delicate floaters, even Jonas Valanciunas’ pump fakes, are all ticks in the internal clock of each Raptors game. (In the past, DeMarre Carroll’s short-rimmed threes and Patrick Patterson’s doomed drives against closeouts would also fall under this distinction).
With a new set of secondary options hitting the floor this season, Raptors fans are about to be introduced to a whole set of new plays that will soon be embedded in the fabric of the team. The season-opener against the Bulls offered a glimpse — albeit, against minimal resistance — of some sequences that are sure to repeat themselves a million times over in the coming months.
CJ Pin-Down Explosions
Not only does CJ Miles have two working legs and tensile knee ligaments — he can also do this:
Toronto’s offense has been short on threes the last couple years, and the triples they’ve generated have largely been predictable in nature. Lowry would hoist coming around a high screen, Serge Ibaka would pop, and Lowry and DeRozan’s underlings would stand in wait for simple catch-and-shoot chances following a drive-and-kick. Running opponents through off-ball obstacle courses wasn’t exactly Dwane Casey’s go-to approach.
Per NBA.com, Toronto ranked 20th in off-screen actions run last season, finishing 22nd in effective field-goal percentage and third in free-throw frequency in those scenarios. Those numbers all points to what we already know about past editions of the Raptors’ offense: when screens were set, it was in the interest of getting Lowry and DeRozan moving to the rim with a head of steam, leading to plenty of twos and a bunch of efficiency-goosing free-throws.
Two Legs Miles gives the Raptors a weapon to use more creatively than Patterson, Carroll and PJ Tucker could be. His 42.6 percent catch-and-shoot three mark on nearly five attempts a game last year had him bumping shoulders with the highest echelon of shooters. It would be dumb for the Raptors to not launch Miles around pin-downs, like in the clip above, multiple times a game this season.
There isn’t much analysis that can be added here. Delon Wright is incredibly long for his position, and opposing ones and twos are going to learn that this season. Denzel Valentine just so happened to be first in line.
While he played less than 500 total minutes last year, Wright’s per-36 defensive stats (2.2 steals, 0.9 blocks) were enough to give Raptors fans a high; this is a team that has employed human colanders Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams and José Calderón in the back court this decade, after all. As the full-time backup to Lowry, it won’t just be Wright’s funky passes that leave opponents frustrated this season.
Norman Powell off a Swing
Toronto’s new starting five looked mostly like a squad of awkward preteens at a school dance against the Bulls. That’s understandable considering all the time it had spent together coming into the night: a robust zero minutes as a five-man unit. If there was comfortable, though, it was Norman Powell.
It shouldn’t be a shocker that Powell looks at home next to Lowry and DeRozan. His injection into the starting five saved last April’s first-round series from careening off the rails. In his sophomore season, the difference between Powell being effective or not was often his position on the lineup card:
|Starter (18 games)||Reserve (58 games)|
Powell has filled many roles as Casey’s in-case-of-emergency option, but he’s always seemed a tad unfit as a primary offensive creator. His first step breaks necks, but his play making needs a lot of refinement before an offense can effectively run through his hands.
Alongside a pair of All-Star catalysts as a starter, Powell will assume the role of “guy the defense doesn’t want the ball to swing to.” With Lowry and DeRozan both embracing more pass-happy approaches, Powell is going to have plenty of off-balance defenses to slice into this year.
This may end up being the most commonly seen Raptors’ sequence this year, right down to Powell’s trusty lefty finishes.
OG Bruising Drives into Smooth Dishes
If Powell’s drives are a Clayton Kershaw fastball, OG Anunoby’s are a nasty 12-6 curve; slow, barreling, and with the potential to put you on your ass. The Raptors’ rookie has strength beyond his 20 years, and through his early NBA appearances, he’s used it to overpower his checks with punishing moves to the rim. OG’s first NBA bucket was a jam than sent Quincy Pondexter spilling to the floor. Later on in Thursday’s blowout, he combined physical might with a deft passing touch to hook Jakob Poeltl up with a bucket — a move we saw in his first preseason game as well.
— Sam Holako (@rapsfan) October 20, 2017
Anunoby wasn’t even supposed to be playing in mid-October, let alone flashing skills that few people knew he even had. Casey still seems pleasantly stunned every time he’s asked about OG’s on-court intuition.
If these types of sweet and salty flourishes continue to be a staple of his game, that surprise will soon be replaced by anticipation for the next time he trucks a dude en route to a dime.
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