We finally made it. The postseason is here, and the Nets have an interesting first round matchup against the Raptors. Toronto does have contrasting personnel to the Nets; the Raptors have youth, speed, and a lot of athleticism that could pose problems for the Nets in the series. However, we dive into how the Raptors go about their business and see how the Nets could stop it.
The Raptors run most of their offense out of a set called horns. Coach Nick over at Bballbrekadown raves about it and you can learn all the different types of sets and actions that come out of it here. Here is a generic look at how the play starts.
The Raptors seem to run horns most often to get themselves a look off of a pick-and-roll or a dribble handoff. They ran it here against the Nets in their first meeting of the season.
Here, the Raptors start out in horns and DeRozan gets a hard ball screen set for him by big man Jonas Valanciunas. After that, Kevin Garnett is out of position and needs to pick up the quick DeRozan because Joe Johnson is still recovering. Garnett can't keep up with DeRozan, and all five Nets are caught watching and helping off their men onto DeRozan. DeRozan has a bevy of options he could look to pass to, but he takes it himself. Even though it is a tough shot, DeRozan still gets close enough were it is an easy finish.
The Raptors have many different weapons on the floor and the Nets can't afford to be caught being lazy or failing to recognize what kind of set the Raptors are in.
So, how do the Nets stop the Raptors effective offense?
First, Brooklyn should deny the high post. It is definitely a risky strategy considering that Toronto is bigger in the frontcourt and if Lowry lobs it over the Nets forward's head it could be an easy shot. That being said, if the Nets apply pressure above the break, then the Raptors will have trouble running horns through the high post. If it were to get to the big man who would have great position in the paint, Brooklyn's wings would have to sag off their man and help, this could be crippling. If the big man looks out to the corner it becomes an easy shot for typically Terrence Ross or DeRozan. Ross shot about 36% from the corners this season and DeRozan shot 39% from the corners, both fairly efficient. A way to avoid this situation is having the wings defending the corner players pinch in so they could create a Nets sandwich with a Raptor in the middle. This would make an even more difficult pass for the point guard to make and if the point was to throw a skip pass to the corner, the Net win would have ample time to recover.
Another way to go about defending horns is to continue doing what they're doing on defense. The Nets length and similar size makes it easy for them to switch men. The Raptors run a lot of screens along the baseline for their wings and the Nets can jam cuts with constant switching. Even the Nets' centers can switch with their versatile wings. Here, Jason Collins switches with Shaun Livingston for a close out.
Horns is a very complicated set with a myriad of different options coming out of it. The Nets will definitely have their hands full with the amount of weapons the Raptors have and how they go about their offense, so the Nets shouldn't look to shut down one specific set, but rather contain it.
Overall, the Raptors have some conflicting stats. Synergy says Toronto has the fifth highest transition rate of any team in the league. However, they rank 23 in pace this season. The team does like to push the ball into the frontcourt and apply pressure on the defense to get set. The Nets know that they are going to have trouble rebounding against the big frontline of the Raptors, so they might as well send one or two guys back to prevent the Raptors from getting too much time in the half court.
Another common form of the Raptors offense comes from spot ups. The Raptors rank ninth in the league in the amount of offense through spot ups this season which is a testament to how much spacing they have on the floor. The Nets can stop this by closing out with a high hand and using their length to put a hand in Toronto's shooters faces. However, this season the Nets did a poor job of defending spot ups, ranking 28 in that category, per Synergy. The Nets need to break their bad habits and close out against the likes of Lowry, Ross and DeRozan.
Get inside, and get to the line
The Raptors are ranked top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of four teams in the league. The Nets can definitely score on this team, though. Brooklyn scored at least 96 points on the Raptors in three of their four matchups, the other one being the night after the Nets double overtime victory over the Heat.
The Raptors rank in the bottom half of the league in foul rate, and the Nets get to the foul line often. Foul shots are a key component to a game, especially in the playoffs. If the Nets can extend games, get free points from the charity stripe, and get Toronto's key rotation players in foul trouble, they are in business.
Toronto can match the Nets long-ball lineup on the wings. Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan are versatile wings that have the size to compete with Livingston and Joe Johnson, so the Nets will not be a matchup nightmare for a team this team like they are for the Bulls or the Heat. How the Nets can produce their offense, though is by keeping the floor spaced out and getting a lot of movement, both off the ball and on the ball. Here is a great example:
The Nets are great at finishing around the rim, shooting 61% in the area. So, if the Nets can get into the teeth of the Raptors defense and finish with Amir Johnson and Valanciunas initiating contact, they can get some easy buckets and then some more at the free throw line.
The Nets can also attack out of the pick-and-roll, but they must avoid Amir Johnson in these situations. Johnson is a fantastic defender in the pick-and-roll and hedges as well as any big in the league. He is also quite mobile so he could switch in special cases. If the Nets are going to utilize the pick-and-roll, they are better off having Valanciunas' man set the screen, putting the slower center in a more uncomfortable position.
Also, Joe Johnson can really get going in this series. If the Nets continue to space the floor, Johnson will reap the benefits. He is in the 92 percentile in spot ups this season, per Synergy, and the Raptors lack a true lockdown wing defender despite having Johnson and Lowry on the roster. If Joe could get into one of his scoring grooves, the Nets could pull away from the Raptors in games.
For more on the Raptors offense you can watch Coach Nick break it down here. It is really great. He also previews this series here, but beware Nets' fans its not that nice.