The Raptors' paths to improvement without roster changes
On this edition of Spotlight, Samson Folk outlines how Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and leveraging Jakob Poeltl more can help the Toronto Raptors get more from their offence.
SAMSON FOLK: If everybody on the Raptors returns and they re-sign everybody, they will be a luxury tax team, laden with expectations but very few means to add to the roster. How will they get better if this is the case? Well, internal development.
Any time internal development is brought up, Scottie Barnes is going to be front and center. Why? Because he was the fourth overall pick in a star-studded draft class, because he was the Rookie of the Year of that same draft class, and because he was a demonstratively positive player in year two. Not only is his improvement expected, it is necessary.
On offense, he's an elite passer. He's an elite rebounder and a very good cutter. However, when it comes to reliably creating advantages against defenses, he struggles. This is largely because he doesn't have a quick first step to beat guys off the dribble. And he doesn't have a jumper to make them pay for the space they afford him.
When he gets to the rim, what he typically utilizes is his physicality and touch once he's there. We won't talk about the shooting because incorporating a meaningful pullup jumper is years and years long process. When you create with strength though, the two things you have to reliably be able to do is pass out of double teams, which Scottie is extremely good at, and navigate tight spaces with a tight handle.
The longer Barnes can keep the ball alive on the bounce, the more passing lanes he'll be able to manipulate with as he bodies his way down into the paint. The defense can continuously force a pickup and recover. Most of the shots you create are going to be semi-guarded, above-the-break 3-pointers. If Barnes can keep his dribble alive, he's going to create more looks at the rim for himself and others while he forces uncomfortable rotations for the defense.
This brings us to Pascal Siakam. And among the Raptors' front court with little to no shooting, he is the only one with a season of success in shooting above-the-break 3's, really any success shooting whatsoever. His 36% season might be sandwiched between a 26% season and a 30% season. It seems like an aberration. But the thing is, he's slowly gotten better and better at above-the-break 3's since he's gotten into the league, culminating in 33% last season.
NBA defenses have gotten really good at running corner 3-point shooters off the line. When it comes to above-the-break looks though, they're far more likely to give space to shoot. And this creates awkward moments in the offense where the ball flows to someone for a look, only they're not a very good shooter.
Since Siakam is often positioned above the break as a fallback ball handler and shot creator, particularly at the end of the shot clock, there are a lot of times where the ball reaches his hands. And the defense gets to catch up because they allow him the space. And he's hesitant to shoot it.
Scottie Barnes likely isn't going to make that leap this season, Jakob Poeltl definitely isn't. If Siakam can finally become slightly above-average on those looks, he'll punish the space, benefiting the flow of the offense, and will eventually draw a little more attention from defenders, giving more space to his teammates and creating more pump-and-go situations for himself, which is the real meat of his game.
When it comes to Jakob Poeltl, it's not so much about improvement on his end. It's about utilization within the offense by the Raptors. The bulk of Poetl's assists this season came out of Chicago actions, horns flex, and the flex screen out of the elbow alignment. The Raptors ran these actions a lot to start off the game. It's scripted action specifically to utilize his passing talent.
Basically all of these find success because of Poetl's ability to reliably deliver the ball from the center position. Tight window looks or simple ones, he can put the ball where it needs to be. This skill of his can be scaled up.
The Raptors just have to try and work more big to big stuff into their offense. All three of Poeltl, Barnes, and Siakam are great passers at their positions. And all three are talented finishers. Hopefully this is something that can be worked on during training camp. Anyway, those are some improvements we can hope for from the frontcourt. Let's hope they make it happen.
I've been Samson Folk. This is "Spotlight." And thanks for tuning in.