Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: The Toronto Raptors are talking during training camp about wanting to place an emphasis on defence during the upcoming season.
Yes, I know this is becoming an all too familiar refrain surrounding the franchise each September, but this year things might just be different. Why? Because if the team isn’t focused and effective on the defensive end then they might suffer through one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise.
With that in mind, it was far from a shock today when the big buzz coming out of the mouths of the coaching staff and players once again centred on defence.
However, unlike last season where the talk was of guarding the “house,” this year the talk is about putting pressure on the man with the ball and getting out on shooters.
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“This helps you be aggressive,” Jarrett Jack explained to the media this morning. “It doesn’t let you get lax. Having that ball pressure, just trying to be a little bit more disruptive. Last year we were last in takeaways or forcing turnovers. We definitely want to change that we don’t want to let teams get in their comfort zones and do the sets they practice every day.”
According to head coach Jay Triano, the subtle changes he has made to his defensive schemes will allow his players to be more aggressive. Instead of relaxing while playing a modified version of a zone – which got picked apart by the elite shooters like J.J. Redick last season – the players will be able to utilize their athleticism while attacking their man on or off the ball.
“Last year we had a tendency to sit on boxes and elbows, protect the paint and the house and all that stuff,” Triano told the media. “This year we’re just out guarding guys, a little more aggressive with what we’re doing, pressure on the ball and pressure off the ball as well.”
To me it sounds a lot like Remedial Basketball 101, but according to Triano training camp is all about ingraining his defensive principles and making sure everyone is on the same page. Last year with a couple rotation players missing extended periods of training camp it made this hard, however, with most of the players healthy it has been easy to lay the framework.
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This means Triano is able to learn from training camp last year and get his system in place this year well in advance of heading into the upcoming season.
“It starts with a system,” Triano explained. “You go back to the years when Kevin O’Neill was here, and we had Vince (Carter) and Jalen Rose. He taught a system and that system was seventh in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage. Guys learned how to play the system. I think when you learn how to play different systems, that’s why guys who have been around for a while have an advantage about knowing how to do it. They’ve been taught different systems, and in each of those systems is a different skill set.”
Which begs the question: What was O’Neill’s system? Turns out it was nothing more than a system the closely resembled the “house” that the team tried to implent last season without much success.
The big difference though is that the teams perimter players at the time had a little better success locking up opponents on the perimeter.
“KO’s players sat in a box, chased everything, keep guys in tight, make teams shoot outside shots,” was the explanation Triano gave the media. “The game has changed a little bit in the last few years because the three-point shot has become so valuable. The three-point shot is worth… I think it’s 1.4 points per possession. You’ve got to take teams off the three-point line, and teams have adapted. The game is changing because of that.”
It’s one thing to be on players during the first week of practices, it’s an entirely different thing to sustain that over the course of 82 games. The good news is the players are warming up to this and have embraced the coaching staff taking the time to stop practice to hammer home the small things.
Now it’s just a matter of sustaining this focus on the defensive end through the entire season.
“Those little things add up over the course of the season,” Jack admitted to the media. “Over the course of a long season it’s a lot of wear and tear in your body and if you stop doing the little things that’s what’s going to cost you some nights. Maybe not necessarily a game, but a possession here, a possession there and we missed the playoffs by one game so that one possession or three or four possessions, that little minor thing you didn’t do might have cost us a game or might have cost us an opportunity at a postseason run.”
So, will this pay off? Only time will tell but for the time being you can count DeMar DeRozan as one of the players who has bought in.
“I definitely noticed it,” DeRozan said when asked if he’s aware of the differences the new defence will make during the upcoming season. “He expressed it to me during summer league and it’s really showing now. I think it’s definitely going to work this year. Putting more pressure on the ball. Just like what they asked about USA team, how they played defence, how they got up in everybody and pressured the ball, got a lot of deflections, wanting us to get out and run, that’s what he’s trying to bring to us.”
Sorry, but this is the second consecutive training camp where the coaching staff and players of the Toronto Raptors have claimed there has been a focus placed on defence.
You’ll forgive me for not believing these claims until I see them in action