Placing blame on the wrong player[s] won’t solve the Raptors’ defensive problems

Although Dave Feschuk usually does a solid job of pointing out which things are working well in Raptorville, at any given point in time, and which things are in need of improvement, on occasion, even he can “swing and miss”, when it comes to solving the riddle that has now become,

“What is really at the heart of the Raptors defensive woes, when it comes to relentlessly conceding dribble penetration to opponent ball-handlers using a Pick from a Big?”

Feschuk: Solution to Raptors’ weak defence? Start Jack
[1] So much for this corner’s pre-season thinking the Raptors are offensively gifted enough to stay in any given game so long as they’re shooting the ball well.

“(Giving up) dribble penetration was our biggest problem (on Sunday),” said Jay Triano, the Raptors coach. “We have to get better (at stopping it) as a team.”

[2]The problem is widespread, of course, and every regular could be singled out for some blame. But let’s be honest: [3] The problem of allowing opposing players into the paint starts at point guard. The past two losses have seen opposing No. 1s – Memphis’ middle-of-the-road Mike Conley and Orlando’s all-star Jameer Nelson – zip past Jose Calderon with too much ease. It’s a familiar plotline for Raptor fans, who watched Calderon cede similar ground last season, when a six-centimetre tear in his hamstring limited his mobility.

The Spaniard claims to be back to full health now, which could be worrisome, or perhaps an off-season of rest is the easy explanation for his early-going rust. Maybe he’ll be back in form in no time, as early as Wednesday’s home game against the Detroit Pistons.

[4] Don’t get it wrong: It’s not all Calderon’s fault. Defence, at the NBA level, is a team scheme. But there are degrees of getting beat.

“It’s tough for anybody to do something perfect all the time,” said Jarrett Jack, the Raptors’ backup point guard. “You might not get beat to where they lay it in the basket. You might just get beat to where the guy gets past you for a dribble until somebody can step up and we force them to swing it to the weak side.”

Calderon, to this eye, has been getting beat for lay-ins too often, although he says his defence has been “better than (his) offence” this season, which gives you an idea of what he thinks about his shooting stroke.

So what are the Raptors to do? Junking it up might be an option. Jack Armstrong, the high-energy broadcaster, was on the radio show he co-hosts with Eric Smith on The Fan 590 on Monday making an argument for Toronto’s occasional playing of multi-look zone defence. If you’ve got a glaring weakness, it makes some sense to be at least a little bit deceptive about where it is. But don’t expect changes. The Raptors coaching staff, particularly Jay Triano and lead assistant Marc Iavaroni, has invested a lot of time and effort into developing its current system.

“I don’t want to abandon what we’re doing,” said Triano. “In years past we’ve had a defensive philosophy and we’d go, `Oh, this is hurting us. Let’s abandon it and do something different.’ We’re not going to do that.”

[5] The truth is Calderon’s best defence is balancing out the ledger with his shooting stroke and minimal turnover rate. [6] But if his play doesn’t improve Triano might be forced to make a change. It’s just an idea, but Jack, as poorly as he has played adjusting to his role in Toronto, might eventually make more sense as a starting point guard. Jack is more defensively minded, physically stronger, a little bit quicker. And Hedo Turkoglu is just as capable at running the top-of-the-key pick and roll with Chris Bosh or Andrea Bargnani.


1. Teams that win big in the NBA habitually rank at the head of the class when it comes to 5 specific aspects of the game:

* Points Allowed per game

* Defensive FG%

* Points Scored Differential [For minus Against]

* Rebounding Differential

* Pick and Roll/Pop Defensive Efficiency

The truth of the matter is that the NBA game is predicated to large extent upon how well an individual team is able to stop its opponents from scoring the ball during crucial segments of a specific contest … given the fact that it is RELATIVELY EASY for each and every team in the league to score the ball with a fair degree of regularity – i.e. in general, scores range from 80-120 points per game – since the rules of play actually legislate a distinct advantage to the offensive players [e.g. an offensive player who is fouled in the act of attempting to score a field goal is awarded with the immediate opportunity to shoot two free throws; while a defensive player who is fouled in the act of attempting to stop a field goal from being scored is not duely rewarded with a similar opportunity to score immediately from the free throw line].

2. Every On-ball Defender, Picker’s Defender, Designated Help Defender, and Designated Help-the-Helper Defender must be held accountable for his performance in this specific aspect of the game … not just Jose Calderon.

3. Given the actual size of the “Bigs” who are used to set these Picks, in the NBA game, effective Pick & Roll/Pop Defense does, in fact, NOT start with the Point Guard, himself.

4. In the NBA game, effective Pick and Roll/Pop Defense proceeds in the following order:

PART I. The specific technique which a coaching staff decides to use vs a specific action by the opponent’s offense and the highly specific parameters under which it is supposed to be applied by the players, e.g. Fight [which includes different types of Hedges and Recovers], Switch or Trap.

PART II. The specific response and technique used by the Picker’s Defender to initiate the proper Team Response.

PART III. The specific response and technique used by the Picker’s Defender to maintain control of the ball-handler.

PART IV. The specific response and technique used by the On-ball Defender to maintain control of the ball-handler.

PART V. The specific response and technique of the Desiginated Help Defender, to maintain control of the ball-handler.

PART VI. The specific response and technique of the Designated Help-the-Helper Defender, to maintain control of the other 3 offensive players not directly involved in the Pick and Roll/Pop action.

5. This is an absolutely correct observation about Jose Calderon’s individual game, as a very good PG, in the NBA, whose strength exists on Offense.

6. A starting 5-man unit which looks like this:

Jack + DeRozan + Turkoglu + Bosh + Bargnani

will NOT be substantially better at preventing dribble penetration when a Pick is set by an opponent’s Big on a perimeter ball-handler … since it does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to effectively address PART I, PART II, PART III, PART V and PART VI of a team’s Pick and Roll/Pop Defense, as outlined above.

In general, opposition ball-handlers have not been able to dribble penetrate relentlessly against the Raptors so far this season with the benefit of a Pick from a Big because …

* Jose Calderon is not “defensive minded” enough; or,

* Jose Calderon is not “physically strong” enough; or,

* Jose Calderon is not “physically quick” enough …

to get the job done, in comparison with Jarret Jack.

They’ve been able to do just that because the various Raptors assigned with the individual responsibility of executing PART I, PART II, PART III, PART V and PART VI, respectively, versus any specific “Big Pick-on-Little” action, have been unable to do their jobs properly on a consistent basis.


Those who actually understand how the “Big Pick-on-Little” action really works, in the NBA game, from a defensive perspective, can ascertain fairly quickly which specific player[s] on the Raptors’ squad this season have been consistently deficient in terms of executing their individual responsibilities within the team’s various defensive schemes.

The cold, harsh reality is that … the biggest culprets overall happen NOT to be named Jose Calderon.

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4 Responses to “Placing blame on the wrong player[s] won’t solve the Raptors’ defensive problems”

  1. Young Money Says:

    Khandor, I have to say that I pretty much hate you and everything that you write. However, I am find myself in complete agreement with you that the failure of the Raptors to prevent dribble penetration is not solely the fault of Jose Calderon.

    In fact, watching the Raptors, it is very clear that it is overly simplistic to blame penetration into the lane as the reason for the Raptors defensive deficiency. As you pointed out above, there are fundamental aspects of the NBA’s rules that will allow dribble penetration.

    What I find is the main fault of the Raptors is their slow close out on open shooters. When watching a team like the Celtics, who are currently leading the league in opponent FG %, its jarring to see just how committed they are to closing out the three point line. The speed with which they get into an open shooter is the biggest difference between them and the rest of the league (ie the Raptors). Now, I am not sure if its a lack of intensity or just overall poor coaching, but the Raptors have to start to close out the 3 point shooters. If they don’t I think this season is doomed.

    However, I’d rather watch them lose 110-108 than 80-78, but I like offensive basketball (which you clearly do not).

  2. brothersteve Says:

    Raps defense is a work in progress but like Calderon, the team’s strength is on the offensive end of the floor.

    Changing line-ups to get get better defensively risks getting worse at what they do well without enough of a change at the other end to compensate.

    Triano is right to keep going with what he has started. Constant changes usually means you never get good enough at anything to be successful.

    The Raps don’t have to be be great defensive team to win this year. They just have to get into the teens.

  3. khandor Says:

    Young Money,

    1. Your web site is first rate. Keep it up.

    2. The basketball I like best is of the “elite level” category … which, by definition, must include solid execution of the Offensive, Defensive and Rebounding phases of the game. One-dimensional teams have little chance to succeed over the long haul, especially those that focus mainly on the offensive side of the ball.

    Professional Sport is very DIFFERENT than other forms of mere “entertainment” that DO NOT feature a “competitive battle” as an intrinsic aspect of the “performance.

    You … and others, as well … are certainly free to enjoy whatever type of basketball you wish, as a form of mere entertainment.

    3. re: Hate

    Unfortunately, some things just seem to come with the territory when the actual goal is being accurate and not pandering to the biases of others.

    4. Well-articulated views about the game are always welcome here … whether they agree or disagree with mine.

    5. Welcome aboard! :-)

  4. khandor Says:


    1. As is, this team has the capacity to be better balanced … provided that Bryan Colangelo has the integrity it takes to allow Jay Triano to use the former 2006 No. 1 [overall] Draft Pick as a scorer off the bench with the Raptors’ 2nd unit.

    There is nothing wrong with a Starting 5-man unit that looks like this:

    Calderon/PG + DeRozan/OG + Turkoglu/SF + Johnson/PF + Bosh/C

    Nor, is there anything wrong with a 9-man rotation which looks like this:

    Calderon, DeRozan, Turkoglu, Johnson and Bosh

    Jack or Belinelli [PG], Wright [OG-SF], Evans [PF] and Bargnani [C]

    There would be little to no drop-off in the team’s actual offensive performance … in fact, it would be improved … and a substantial improvement in their defensive and rebounding performance would be realized.

    2. The correct coaching move for Jay Triano to make at this time is NOT to simply maintain the status quo.

    3. “Good” offensive teams that are also “average” defensive/rebounding teams do not create a culture/foundation which can eventually grow into a championship-winning organization.

    In contrast, “good” defensive and rebounding teams that are also “average” offensive teams CAN create a culture/foundation which might eventually grow into a championship-winning organization.

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