The Toronto Raptors are always such a pleasant surprise. They may not be as talked about as the glamour names of the NBA, but Toronto certainly gets the job done.
Prior to the season, everyone expected that the Raptors would feel the absence of Kawhi Leonard, especially on the defensive end. However, that has not been the case so far: They went from ranking fifth in defense last season to second this year.
Nick Nurse has been highly regarded for his basketball brilliance. He has been efficiently utilizing his players despite the departure of a superstar. As a matter of fact, the Raptors have quietly been second in defensive rating with 104.9, second in deflections, fourth in loose balls recovered, second in steals, and first in points per game allowed at only 106.5. Pretty impressive.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 10, 2020
So how does their defense exactly work? Should we be taking them more seriously? Let’s see.
1. Full-court press
If you have been tracking the Raptors, you can tell that they often resort to a full-court press when they want to kick things up a notch. The game against the Indiana Pacers was a great example of how they can execute it to such a high degree. They also utilized the same full-court press to perfection when they sported a 30-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks. This strategy dials up the pressure and takes the opposition completely out of their comfort zone.
2. Unconventional methods
Not every team in the NBA can say that they use a box-and-one defense in the NBA Finals. Nevertheless, Nick Nurse isn’t afraid to resort to unconventional methods to get the job done. They’ve seen great success with it too. For instance, they have held LeBron James to 13 points on 5-15 shooting, flustered Damian Lillard into a 2-12 night, and completely shut down Joel Embiid which left him scoreless. All of those are no easy tasks. They deploy different kinds of defenses such as a box-and-one, triangle-and-two zone, aggressive double-teaming, and many more. They try their best to suffocate the opposing team and they are more than willing to experiment on which approach fits best for certain situations.
3. The Pascal Siakam effect
Pascal Siakam was the NBA’s Most Improved Player last year and he recently just made his all-star debut last February. While he has had quite the success story, his defense doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The Raptors do an amazing job of closing out and he is at the forefront of the team’s success. His size and speed helps him contest six three-point attempts per game all by himself, which is the most among players with at least 25 games played by a wide margin. In addition, he can guard all five positions effectively too. Put it altogether and he has done more than just filling the void that Kawhi Leonard has left.
Overall, the Raptors’ defensive prowess is definitely underrated. Nick Nurse’s knack for innovation paired with smart and athletic veterans create the perfect recipe for success on the defensive end. Zone or man, full-court or half-court, 2-3 or box-and-one, trapping or switching, hard double-teaming or softer digs down, Toronto is an absolute nightmare to up against on any given night.