All coaches steal from each other but not all coaches emphasize the same details of the game. This is the first part of a pre-season series dedicated to the nuances of Dwane Casey’s coaching philosophy and technique.
Logical wisdom suggests the best way to defend the three-point shot is to not let the opponent generate the look in the first place. Dwane Casey strongly subscribes to this theory as opponents of the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors attempted a paltry 25 three-pointers per game (second lowest in the league) and connected on only 8.9 attempts per game (best in the league). As the three-pointer continues to sky rocket in importance, the aptitude to recognize, react, and defend the long ball becomes equally as valuable.
While numbers like above are certainly fun, The Close Out in me is significantly more curious in the “how.” What, exactly, did the Raptors do well to defend three-pointers, and for that matter, how did they contest jump shots as a whole?
Let’s find out.
The stick arm is a middle school concept that most professional basketball players forget by the time they enter high school. It’s one of those “use the square for a layup” fundamentals which typically induces the hardest of eye rolls from players when coaches gently remind them.
Yeah coach, I know.
Then do it!
I put the Mike Snyder guarantee that you will hear coach Casey
remind scream at his Pistons team to use defensive stick arms from the sideline. It’s akin to Stan Van Gundy’s “Get back!” howl after every Detroit miss as a not so subtle hint to retreat and play defense.
So what is stick arm(s)?
Commonly used in closeout scenarios (recovery, rotations), the stick arm is used to deter the ball-handler from making an easy next pass, contesting their shot or influencing the ball-handler down a predetermined path (usually, the stick arm is the outside arm which helps negate the ball-handler from going middle).
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Pascal Siakam, would you be so kind as to give us nerdy DBBers an example:
Siakam’s stick arm closeout is absolutely textbook. Proper use of the outside arm, runs the Bulls’ Paul Zipser off the line, forces Zipser to the baseline as Jakob Poetlt meets him at the box (another unremarkable Casey concept that might get highlighted soon).
Earth shattering defensive craft? Nope. Highly effective? You betcha.
Casey simply loves the stick arm and his insistence on its use should play right into the strength of the lengthy-limbed Reggie Jackson:
If at all humanly possible, Casey uses only two defenders (no tag man) to nullify a pick-and-roll although it highly depends on the opponents’ offensive personnel. The two PNR defenders are responsible for corralling the ball-handler and popper/roller allowing the three remaining defenders to stay home on their check (another soon-to-be-discussed Casey concept) which helps to limit three-point attempts. Doing so demands the involved big be completely dialed in:
In both cases above, the big is responsible for impeding the ball-handler’s route to the hoop AND recovering to his check. As they recover, outside hand goes up to contest the shot. A+, gentlemen.
How Casey chooses to defend the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin is one of the most intriguing strategic story lines going into next season.
Stunt and recover contest
First, the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway accepts an off-ball screen from Luke Kornet. Pascal Siakam stunts towards Hardaway to buy time for Fred VanVleet to recover. As VanVleet locates Hardaway, his stick arms go up to make sure the pass goes over his hands. VanVleet’s stick arms is an effort to, again, buy precious time for, now, Siakam’s recovery who ends the possession with a contest of Kornet’s three-pointer.
My lord, all that happened in two seconds.
Next, the same Knicks duo run a slot PNR. Michael Beasley’s shitty spacing allows Nigel Hayes to play the gap (a fourth Casey concept to be examined). Hayes stunts over to Kornet on the return pass which denies any middle drive as Lucas Nogueira recovers to contest the shot. Raptors ball heading the other way. Hayes can get away with stunting and NOT recovering only because it’s the Knicks.
As described above, the sticks arms VanVleet exampled is primarily used to buy time for a recovering teammate. In the best case scenario, it creates a turnover:
At 14.8, the Raptors finished 8th last year in deflections per per game.
(Full disclosure, I had to Google Luke Kornet. I’ve never seen that man in my life.)
Pump fake contest
During the 2010-11 season, Casey was an assistant under Rick Carlisle in Dallas. To refresh your memory, the 2011 Mavericks beat the Miami Heat, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, in the NBA Finals. While James struggled, Wade thrived and quickly became the focal point of Dallas’ defense. Wade, king of the pump fake, caused numerous headaches for Dallas and Carlisle demanded his players not a fall for the simple pump fake trap. It’s a coaching emphasis, starting in Dallas, that Casey carries with him to this day.
DeMar DeRozan gets leveled leaving C.J. Miles on an island. Miles not only smothers the initial shot but also doesn’t fall for the pump fake on the next attempt. As a defender, you always want to be the second person to jump. If you jump first to contest a shot, you’re toast. This is yet another Casey defensive priority.
Very few players I’ve been more disappointed with than Avery Bradley. I really thought he was going to be something.
In the switch happy NBA, mismatches, at least perceived mismatches, are plentiful. Perhaps no one in Toronto under Casey’s watch defended mismatches better than Serge Ibaka.
The key to Ibaka’s success is the continued ability to showcase his length. Above are examples in which Ibaka’s active hands helped to squash any quickness disadvantage. Hand is up (not out) and ready for action.
Athletically, Drummond is on equal ground, if not a bit higher than Ibaka - can he and will he buy into defense on a possession-by-possession basis?
None of this is revolutionary but it’s unquestionably part of Dwane Casey’s coaching agenda.