How Raptors intend to slow down Wizards dynamo John Wall

Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 boards as the Toronto Raptors took game one against the Washington Wizards 114-106. It was Toronto's first game one victory in ten tries.

TORONTO – Spirits are high for the Toronto Raptors, and perhaps more so their perpetually distressed fan base, following Saturday evening’s Game 1 victory over the Washington Wizards.

And they should be. The Raptors hit a boatload of threes, won the rebounding battle, and overwhelmed Washington’s defence with an 11-man rotation the Wizards simply did not have an answer for.

But Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has yet to see a perfectly played basketball game, and when he went back over the film Sunday morning, he found more than a few areas of concern.

“A lot. A lot. A lot. A lot,” Casey said, literally four times. “We had, what, 11 turnovers in the first half? And some of them were self-inflicted. We know that Washington is a very aggressive defensive, a gambling defensive team, playing the passing lanes. And we didn’t make some of the right decisions in those situations.”

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One of Toronto’s strengths this season was actually limiting just that, as they finished fourth in the NBA with a turnover percentage of 13.3, but that number could have been even better. The Raptors have been battling ball-handling woes for a few weeks now, posting a turnover percentage of 14.4 over their final 15 games of the season, the NBA’s eighth-worst rate over that span.

So, there’s one area to significantly tighten between now and Tuesday’s Game 2. Another is on the defensive end, where the Raptors played inconsistently over the final weeks of the season, posting a middle-of-the-pack 105.3 defensive rating from the beginning of March through the end of the year.

Washington shot 48 per cent Saturday, and assisted on more than 70 per cent of their field goals, which speaks to how effectively they were able to move the ball and create good looks. More than half of Washington’s attempts were uncontested.

“Defensively, there’s a lot we have to clean up,” Casey said. “They put us in certain situations where we want to handle things differently. We’ll clean those up and make some adjustments and change some things with how we guarded certain things.”

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John Wall, for instance, is going to be a very significant problem for the Raptors to solve this series.

He was Washington’s best player Saturday, pushing the offensive tempo to a ridiculous pace, seeing everything on the floor two steps before it happened and ball-handling effortlessly through a variety of defensive looks.

He dished out 15 assists and hit three of his five shots from distance while posting a massive 33.8 per cent usage rate. He had the ball in his hands almost twice as often as any other Wizard – Bradley Beal’s 66 touches were second to Wall’s 105 – and created plenty of issues for the Raptors’ offence as well, putting up a team-high eight deflections and drawing Washington’s lone charge.

Perhaps the only area the Raptors had success against Wall was forcing him into tough shots. Of his 20 field goal attempts, 13 were contested, and Wall hit only three of them. He went 3-for-7 on his open looks, which emphasizes how important it is that the Raptors hustle to pick up Wall in transition and get in front of him when he drives into the paint.

Of course, if Wall had a better night finishing at the rim and hit a few more of those contested attempts, Saturday’s game could have looked a lot different. He’s generally done much better on contested shots than he did Saturday, hitting 54.1 per cent of his field goals this season when facing coverage classified as tight by NBA.com, which is in the 2-4 foot range.

That tells you it’s unlikely Wall will have another night when his contested shots are refusing to fall. Of course, all the Raptors can do is continue to try to make his attempts difficult and uncomfortable, and keep him out of rhythm.

The way Casey tried to accomplish that Saturday was by varying his team’s looks against Wall, with Kyle Lowry starting on him, before giving way to Delon Wright and OG Anunoby. Lowry had the most success against Wall defensively, but all three players did their part:

The Raptors vs. John Wall

POSS PTS AST TO FGs FG%
Kyle Lowry 28 3 6 3 1-for-6 16.7
Delon Wright 21 7 2 1 2-for-5 40
OG Anunoby 19 7 5 0 2-for-7 28.6

 

“Wall is a great player with the basketball,” Casey said. “He’s a handful. We just have to continue to do different things. Whether we’re blitzing him, switching him, corralling him – just giving him different looks. Because if you give a great player like that the same look, they’ll figure it out.”

Another area of particular focus for the Raptors with Wall is beyond the arc. Every player shoots better when they have more time and space, but Wall can be particularly deadly from three-point range if he’s allowed to set his feet. Wall hit 44 per cent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers this season versus only 31 per cent on pull-ups. Ideally, the Raptors want his shots from distance to be on the move.

“He’s really got his three-point shooting down pat once he gets his feet set,” Casey said. “And that makes his driving even more dangerous.”

That’s why Wall’s such a tough cover. Rush out too aggressively beyond the arc to try and get him to move his feet, and he’ll blow right by you. Give him too much space, and he’ll hit a three. Even in transition, Wall moves with uncommon speed and grace, which makes it challenging to not only keep him in front of you, but read what he’s about to do.

“I just try to keep him in front. Maybe force him into jump shots. Keep him out of the lane,” Anunoby said. “It’s exciting to guard a guy like that. An all-star player, one of the best point guards in the league.”

So, there’s something to keep an eye on in Game 2. It’s unlikely the Raptors will completely stop Wall at any point in this series, but if they can merely limit him, they can be successful like they were Saturday.

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