Are the Raptors' offensive woes scheme or personnel related?

Amit Mann and Katie Heindl look at the current scope of the Raptors' play-calling, personnel and more to figure out why the team is struggling with their offence. Full episode discussing the major storylines around the team is on the ‘Raptors Over Everything’ podcast feed.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: Last night after the game, Fred-- he was asked about-- indirectly, but kind of directly about his role in the offense. And he was open. Like, he's always very open with his approach and how he's looking at and internalizing everything that's been going on this season. That's why he probably talks so much, is that he's good at it.

And he said, yes, it's been a little bit difficult to be the second and third option when last season, I was a lot more than that, and being more of a facilitator. And that potentially could be impacting my 3-point shooting.

And one thing he said that I thought was interesting is he said that we're running more pick and roll now. And that's been an adjustment for all of us that-- I'm happy about it, but we're all trying to get acclimated and understanding how can we capitalize on using that.

And I was like, huh, like, all season, we've been saying as a fan base that you should be running more pick and roll. And now, they're doing it. And it's had some degree of success, obviously last night being the exception. But we wanted to see it.

And so this is probably a way that the NBA as a whole is transitioning towards, like, this is how you're able to manufacture good offensive possessions in this day and age. But through that also, you need the 3-point shooting to be in those corners. And that hasn't really gone [? its ?] way.

But I thought it was interesting that Fred actually said that that aspect has been a bit of a transition. And it seems like there's been a lot of transitioning happening within the Toronto Raptors throughout the season. And that could be where the disconnect is, that usually, you want to find yourself on both ends of the court. And it just hasn't really happened that way because of the changes.

KATIE HEINDL: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, like, there is certainly an offensive-- like, a glaring offensive-shaped hole in the team's dynamic. They're just really not on par-- like, it is one great thing to hang your hat on defense, as we say. But it's--

I almost hesitate to be like, yeah, run more pick and roll offenses. Like, obviously that seems to work in the short-term-- because that's not really going to solve things in the long term. Teams are just going to game plan you and figure it out. And now, that seems to be the thing that the Raptors cannot respond to, is being responded to, and being scouted, and having those adjustments made against them in game.

There's no answer to them. That's why you see them kind of flat-lining. I mean, last night, they flat-lined for pretty much the whole game. But that's where you see them flat-lining, certainly these kind of peaks and maybe glimpses of a comeback late in the third. But otherwise, second through fourth, not a lot of energy.

So again, I'm just like, what is the disconnect? Is this because you've lost-- have you lost so much offensive knowledge, not just in your players, but in some of your coaching staff leaving the franchise? And like, how have you tried to refresh that? And how have you tried to revitalize that? I don't-- that, to me, is what seems is missing.

AMIT MANN: Hmm. I mean, I think it's fair to question that kind of stuff just based on one performance, obviously. But even a case like last night, where the last possession, the Raps were down by 3, and you just felt like they weren't going to get a good shot off when Fred took that-- he got a switch with Bobby Portis. And he takes a sidestep left and is taking a shot. I'm like, that's not a good 3-point shot.

And I understand, like, those are circumstances that aren't going to be exactly advantageous, right? The team knows you got to hit a 3. And they could have taken tried a two-for-one kind of thing. But I mean, that's the decision that they made. And so you're not in a good spot.

At the same time, though, isolation-- like, one high pick and roll, Bobby Portis, Fred VanVleet go one-on-one and just try and hit a 3 isn't good offense. It's not going to create a high percentage look.

KATIE HEINDL: Mm-hmm.

AMIT MANN: Meanwhile, if you had something going off ball-- maybe you have Fred curling around some screens. Maybe you have Gary doing it. Like, Gary just hit a step-back 3 on Brook Lopez that was pretty awesome. Maybe you try something with him.

Like, I just wanted to see a bit more creativity from that standpoint. And that's not the first time we've seen that, right, where it's just like, all right, we got 10 seconds left. What are we going to do? And it's a pretty basic possession. So I think it is fair to call out stuff like that.

And I also think it's fair to question when you look at offenses as a whole, and you-- it always comes down to roles within the offense. And last season, maybe you kind of just caught lightning [? in ?] a fire where you have-- like, everyone had 15 points plus. They average that per game.

And I asked Gary about this. Like, after that Pacers game, it felt like, to me, that there were roles being kind of defined, more so with Scottie being the screener. You had Gary and OG as, like, the dueling number two options. And you have Fred as your do-it-all guy, catch-and-shoots, ball-handling, obviously, organizing the offense. And he's like, I mean, maybe.

But it's still about just finding the advantages and capitalizing on them. That's still what we want to do. And I wonder if that's not always the best way to go, especially when outside of Pascal, who still is emerging himself as [? a ?] number one-- he is [? a ?] number one, but there's-- Pascal is number one, then there's Luka Doncic.

KATIE HEINDL: Mm-hmm.

AMIT MANN: There's Giannis. Like, those are the super-duper stars. And he isn't there yet. I'm not saying he can't, but he isn't necessarily there right now.

KATIE HEINDL: Mm-hmm.

AMIT MANN: After that, it's like, are your secondary options actual three-level scorers? Because I think that is imperative to any good offense, is that when you do make that kickout pass and you are the number one option, Pascal makes it, is that person you're kicking out to, is he going to be able to score at every single level, right?

And OG has had moments, has flashes where he does it. But it's not very consistent yet. And he's going to be working on that.

Gary, 23 years old. OG is 24, so that's another stopgap here. You got Pascal and Fred, 28, 29. And then you have a big drop-off of your secondary option in terms of experience.

And they're both-- like, they're getting there, but they're not there yet. And so that's where you're thinking, OK, so are you relying too heavily-- are those two not exactly at the tier of where you need them to be as number two options to be in those roles?

And then you have Fred saying, well, I mean, last season, I was-- he hasn't said this exactly, but like, he's embracing this new role. And he was the number two option, right? That's where it got down to.

Sure, second half of the season, he struggled a lot. He was injured, yada yada yada. But that was his role. He was the number two person. And so there is a disconnect there, for sure.

And when you think back to the championship team-- last thing I'm going to say, championship team-- we love going back to that, right? You could argue that Serge, Marc, Norm, Kyle, Kawhi, Danny, all the guys in the starting lineup and the few that came off the bench-- Fred, I guess, is in there, too.

But they had a degree of three-level scoring ability. Danny could hit pull-up shots. Danny could at least finish around the rim. He could cut. He was a 3-point shooter. Kyle could hit mid-range shots coming off screens, 3-point shooting, getting to the basket.

Marc also had his turnaround jumper in the mid-range. He could finish around the rim. 3-point shot obviously [? trailed, ?] went away during the bubble year. But it is what it is. And then Norm and Serge, they all had a degree of it, right?

KATIE HEINDL: Yeah.

AMIT MANN: And there isn't really that with this team. And that's what you are shooting for, right? That's your model. You want players to get to that point where they can score from a lot of different areas on the court. And there's a massive gap here.

KATIE HEINDL: Mm-hmm. Well, what I was going to say, to your point of creativity and why that's not happening offensively, is I think to have any offensive creativity, you need your guys to have an offensive arsenal in place already.

AMIT MANN: Yes.

KATIE HEINDL: Because to be creative, like, one, you need a baseline. And two, I also think you need some space and some room. And I don't mean spacing. I mean, like, physically almost a little bit of a breather.

And right now, like, your starter-- look at the minutes last night. Like, nobody has space right now to think about anything other than how badly they're doing, how they do not really have a reliable baseline right now. Nobody does, you know? Like, it's not just shots not falling.

It's just like sometimes, it looks like a complete offensive disarray, not just of the half court, like everywhere, you know? You have hesitation, as we talked about. You have just a lot of trepidation. You have this sense of like-- you know, that last possession, like, [? in ?] the play, it was not great. But I also-- a part of me is like, I can't begrudge Fred that much for not flipping it to somebody else when the entire game, like, finishing is still a problem, you know?

Like, Pascal-- a part of me was like, this is a very bad déja vu flashback. And I'm not trying to pile on somebody that's been piled on in his career to no end. But the finishing wasn't there. And that feels like a weird regression.

So I think to be, like, an offensively creative team that you look at and are like, wow, they can really figure things out when they're not-- like, things aren't going their way, and they can create a spark and kind of make something happen. They're not even at the level where they have that base right now.

AMIT MANN: Sure.

KATIE HEINDL: So it's tough.