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Extra Pass: Kyle Lowry-Greivis Vasquez backcourt sparking Raptors

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BOSTON – The Memphis Grizzlies chose Kyle Lowry in the first-round of the 2006 draft, and then they traded him just two-and-a-half years later. Memphis picked another point guard in the first round of the 2010 draft: Greivis Vasquez, who made it only one season with the Grizzlies before they traded him.

Now, Lowry and Vasquez are united with the Toronto Raptors, bonded by the shared experience being drafted then quickly traded by Memphis.

“It’s kind of like we knew we knew each other from that,” Vasquez said.

On the court, they certainly play like they’ve known each other for years. Since the Raptors traded for traded for Vasquez in the Rudy Gay deal, the two point guards have played 414 minutes together with stellar results:

  • Offensive rating: 108.3 (3.1 better than Toronto’s season mark)
  • Defensive rating: 94.7 (6.8 better than Toronto’s season mark)
  • Net rating: +13.6 (10.0 better than Toronto’s season mark)

No Eastern Conference duo has played together that much and produced such a high net rating this season.

“It’s just natural,” Vasquez said. “It’s spontaneous. There’s nothing forced. We just have good chemistry together, and we play great basketball together.”

Offensively, their impact is felt most by Toronto’s bigs, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Both score better, by volume and efficiency, in Lowry-Vasquez lineups compared to other units, according to nbawowy.


How do Lowry and Vasquez collectively lift the bigs?

“Pick-and-rolls,” Johnson says enthusiastically.

That simple?

“That’s the threat,” Johnson said. “Pick-and-rolls, man.”

Johnson and Valanciunas are both two of the NBA’s better pick-and-roll screeners, and they’re taking advantage of playing with Lowry and Vasquez. Johnson, a ninth-year pro, said he’s never played so much with two point guards simultaneously.

“Not quite like this, when you have two guards on the floor that are threats,” Johnson said. “It’s just so dangerous. When you swing the ball, I can go set a pick-and-roll with Vasquez. If you swing it, I can go set a pick-and-roll with Kyle and attack. And then you’ve got shooters. It’s kind of a good weapon.”

Having two point guards who can throw entry passes also helps Valanciunas’ post-up game. Lowry and Vasquez can throw the ball around the perimeter, quickly changing entry-pass angles that become difficult to defend.

“They see the floor,” Valanciunas said. “It’s easy for me to be under the basket, represent myself.”

And that’s just in the halfcourt.

Lowry and Vasquez significantly push the pace, generating many more fastbreak points than the Raptors usually get. (Johnson said he’s always looking to screen for the point guards when they play together, even in transition or after a play breaks down.)

With two guards capable of breaking down defenses and forcing opponents to rotate, the Raptors also offensively rebound better. And defensively rebound better, too – which is where this gets tricky.

The Lowry-Vasquez combination impacts Toronto more defensively than offensively, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his players say the scheme doesn’t change when the point guards play together.

Vasquez, who’s 6-foot-6 but slow for his position, defends shooting guards better than he does point guards. So, that helps.

And Lowry can pester to opposing shooting guards, who might not be used to such a ballhawk guarding them. The Raptors do force more turnovers with Lowry-Vasquez lineups.

But the more significant difference* is how much better Toronto defends the mid-range and corner 3s when Lowry and Vasquez play together.

*The Raptors also get to the free-throw line and send their opponent to the free-throw line much more often when Lowry and Vasquez share the court. But 42 percent of their minutes together come in the fourth quarter and overtime, when foul rates increase anyway. Lowry and DeRozan have nothing to do with teams intentionally fouling because they’re trailing late. And if you’re wondering, intentional fouls don’t tell the whole story of the Lowry-Vasquez offensive boost, because lineups with that backcourt score better in the first half than the second.

Here’s the effect Lowry-Vasquez lineups have on opponents’ shooting. The slide with more shot attempts is overall, and the slide with fewer shot attempts is when Lowry and Vasquez share the court:

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What changes? Touch to discern a tactile difference, but maybe the Raptors just better contest jumpers when they’re getting on the fastbreak more and scoring more efficiently on the other end. Energy can be contagious.

As can quality play. Lowry shrugs off the notion that he and Vasquez have solved any major issues the Raptors face in other lineups.

“It’s easy to play with another point guard,” Lowry said. “G is an unbelievable playmaker. He knows the game, knows how to play.”

Lowry could be speaking for himself there, which is exactly why this pairing works so well.

Sixers CEO: Ben Simmons will play for Sixers this season

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Ben Simmons is out with a broken foot — a Jones fracture — and that has led to rampant speculation about when the Sixers’ No. 1 pick might return to the court. Coach Brett Brown said January (the short end of the timeline) then walked those comments back, while there are rumors people in Simmons camp may want him to sit out the season.

Sixers CEO Scott O’Neill was on TCN’s Breakfast on Broad and made it clear Simmons will be back this season. He blew off the idea that Rich Paul (Simmons’ agent) wants him to take the season off.

“No, it’s not true,” O’Neil said. “Yeah, he’ll be back.”

There is no timeline for Simmons’ return, which isn’t just the team managing expectations (well, it’s partially the team trying to manage expectations). Jones fractures involve the bone that runs from the base of your little toe up to near the ankle, and the problem is that area of the foot does not have great natural blood flow, which means healing can be slow and harder to predict. We know that Simmons had surgery to repair the break, but recovery times will be flexible.

Brett Brown told me in a ProBasketballTalk Podcast how much he just wants to get Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and Nerlens Noel all healthy at the same time so he can start to see what lineups work, which guys play well off each other and which don’t (we learned last season Noel and Okafor are not a great fit). Maybe Simmons can be part of that process in the second half of the season.

Mavericks’ Devin Harris sprains big toe, out at least three weeks

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Devin Harris #34 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a portrait during the Dallas Mavericks Media Day held at American Airlines Center on September 26, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Devin Harris is the kind of veteran, versatile player Dallas coach Rick Carlisle likes in his backcourt — he can run the point or be a small two-guard off the ball. Carlise wants multiple ball handlers on the court and Harris allows him to do that with a number of different combinations.

Or rather, Harris will allow Carlisle to do that once he gets healthy. From Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com.

Harris had surgery on the big toe on his other foot, this injury is to the “good” one. Harris can be a bit injury prone and the Mavs likely will bring him along slowly.

This likely means more J.J. Barea and Seth Curry in the short term in Dallas.

Should Knicks let Derrick Rose run more pick-and-roll?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks drives to the net in the first quarter past Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Late in the blowout loss to the Cavaliers Tuesday, it was clear the Knicks were making a point of trying to run more triangle sets — it’s an offense a lot of their players are still just starting to learn and the game turned into a glorified practice.

On the night as a whole, Derrick Rose was his old self on his way to 17 points on 17 shots: 41.2 percent of his attempts came after seven or more dribbles and after he held the ball for at least six seconds. He took six shots as the pick-and-roll ball handler and hit two of them. (Carmelo Anthony shot 2-of-7 as the pick-and-roll ball handler.)

Should the Knicks put him in more pick-and-roll situations where he’s comfortable? Here are some postgame quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“Towards the end, when you saw us running it, it was just us trying to get used to it so it’s not that foreign,” Rose said. “We got a lot of room to make up on that side of the ball too.”

“He had that good explosion,” Hornacek said of Rose, who scored 17 points (7-for-17 shooting) in 29 minutes. “He’s just got to figure out all of the stuff that we’re doing, and he’ll be a big part of our team and really help us.”

“We want guys to feel comfortable with kind of who they are,” Anthony said. “We don’t want to try to change anybody’s game. If Derrick feels comfortable being up there in high pick-and-roll, that’s his game. You can’t take him away from that. You want to utilize guys’ strengths. That’s who he is, that’s who he’s always been. We want to rely on that. We don’t want to take that away from him.”

The triangle offense takes time to learn, and Rose has been honest that it’s going to take time. Which is the norm. When Phil Jackson took over the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 2000 and led them to a championship the triangle got credit, but that Lakers’ offense had an almost identical points per possession as the season before (what won them the title was a vastly improved defense). It was in future years that the offense started to click with the players, after they had run it for a season or two.

The Knicks want to make the playoffs now, which may mean some triangle sacrifices. New York certainly played faster for much of the game against the Cavaliers, which should get them some easy buckets. They should let Rose run some pick-and-rolls where he’s comfortable, particularly drag screens early in the clock. Mostly, the Knicks need to keep the ball moving and the players moving, not let it stagnate into defendable isolation basketball (even if Anthony and Rose can make some plays that way). And in the halfcourt, run the triangle — but keep the ball moving.

One game against the defending champs is not going to define the Knicks season, but they also see where the bar is set. They have some work to do this season.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade make fashionable World Series bet

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat shake hands during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on October 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is an Akron guy born and raised, who is caught up in Indians fever like the rest of Northeast Ohio.

Dwyane Wade is Chicago born and raised, a Cubs fan who wants to see the team end its 108-year drought.

So the two have made a World Series bet — loser has to show up at the winner’s arena in the World Series champ’s gear.

After Game 1 — on the night he was collecting his latest ring — LeBron has to feel pretty good.

Either way, the payoff should be good.