Raptors Offensive X-Factor will be shooting Scottie Barnes
Success in the NBA playoffs is all about finding a weakness and pressing on it as hard as you can.
By now, the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers know all the tricks from the book. As 76ers coach Doc Rivers joked before the team’s last meeting in Toronto, he’s confident he could rule the Raptors’ entire offensive playbook if he wanted to. Sure, there will definitely be minor tweaks throughout the set, but more often than not these sets come down to exploiting your opponent’s weakness.
Take the last time the Raptors were in the playoffs, for example. It was the Boston Celtics who found a way to exploit Toronto’s biggest problem. The slithery Kemba Walker repeatedly went straight for Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, pulling the Toronto greats to the perimeter, isolating them in pick-and-roll coverage, then passed them for a pull-up jumper or a bucket at the edge. The situation got so bad that the Raptors had no choice but to adapt, removing their big man from the field and opting for an all-around small-ball formation with 6-foot-3 Norman Powell stepping in. to replace the big ones.
This time around, Toronto’s biggest offensive problem will be three-point shooting, especially that of Scottie Barnes. It was the glaring hole in his game coming out of Florida State where he shot just 27.5 percent from behind the arc and averaged less than one three-pointer per game. Today he has come a long way. He’s shown a willingness to take three this season, averaging 2.6 tries per game and 30.1% one-clip connection. But in a starting lineup that includes Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. and the ever-lethal Pascal Siakam, Barnes is clearly a cut below offensively.
Earlier in the month, the Miami Heat used Barnes’ lackluster shot as a template for their defensive plan against Toronto. They sometimes left him hanging around the defenseless perimeter, using his man to clog paint and wall off Siakam’s traffic lanes. It forced Barnes to shoot again and again, finishing the night 3-9 from behind the arc with 19 points and just two assists.
“I think he’s going to get those opportunities here,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said that night, referring to the upcoming playoffs. “So the more the merrier, the merrier here last week. Get used to it.”
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The Raptors’ offense is pretty straightforward these days. They don’t execute many elaborate patterns where the ball would whiz around the pitch forcing teams to spin. Instead, they try to find lags, draw a second defender and find open scorers. Against the 76ers, the help is more likely to come from defender Barnes, leaving the 20-year-old rookie open behind the arc.
“He has to keep them honest enough to pay for it,” Nurse said. “You have to take what the defense gives you. I always say if you put two on the ball you have to get away with it or if they put two on you and you created that situation you do the good read in bringing it to the open man.
“Yeah, he probably has to.”
His ability to do so could make or break Toronto’s chances of advancing to the first round.
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