The Toronto Raptors have sustained their elite offensive efficiency for three seasons now, due in part to their tremendous ability to drive to the rim and leverage advantages gained in pick and roll situations. This offseason, they added to their already talented core of driving perimeter players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry with the acquisition of Corey Joseph. While some observers of the team think these drives come straight from a playbook filled with Isolation play-calls, the more reasonable and observant onlooker would see these driving perimeter players are aided by the use of various pick and roll sets.
The three aforementioned players (DeRozan, Lowry and Joseph) all rank highly individually in pick and roll statistics gathered by the NBA, each with a points per possession (PPP) at or above 0.9, ranking in the top twenty of players that have registered 250+ pick and roll possessions. The Toronto Raptors as a collective rank third in frequency of pick and rolls used and second in PPP, registering a 0.92.1
One of the main ways the Raptors allow their pick and roll ball-handlers to probe their way into advantageous situations is by utilizing the “Ram pick and roll”.
Ram Pick and Roll
"Ram" action can be described as screening-the-screener in an attempt put the screener’s defender at a disadvantage.
By getting the screener’s defender off balance, it allows for the ball-handler to be free of not only his original defender who has been pinned behind a screen, but also any help. This moment can be leveraged into drives to the rim and relatively uncontested jumpers.
The screen-the-screener action is particularly effective at getting said screener’s defender off balance, but defense’s with more conservative pick and roll coverages will sag back on that and be seemingly unaffected as the big-man defender does not always “show” as high. That being said, the separation the screener gains by being initially screened for allows for particularly clean and effective screens to be set afterwards. The screen set in the pick and roll allows for separation to be gained between the ball-handler and their defender, at which point they are working with a full head of steam and a ton of area to operate. Going downhill against a bigger defender leads to great looks in the paint.
While this is simple in nature, the Raptors have developed wrinkles and variations for their “Ram pick and roll” sets, such as “Ram Stagger”
The initial action here is identical to the first “Ram” set covered. Screening for the screener, followed by a pick and roll starts out both set plays.
Next, Biyombo, the initial screener who created space for Patterson to screen the ball-handler, will step up and set a second screen for the ball-handler.
This set of consecutive screens is where the Stagger in “Ram Stagger” comes from.
By doing this, the Raptors create greater opportunities for their ball-handlers to get a step ahead of their defender, while also causing confusion among the responsibilities of big men, leading to open perimeter opportunities as well as drives. It also tends to clear the lane of clutter and can lead to effective looks at the hoop, even if the ball-handler rejects the screens.
Any time the strong-side of the court is cleared for a pick and roll, breakdowns will occur and NBA defenses traditionally send help from the weak-side. Out of Ram Stagger in particular, the Raptors have become accustomed to throwing cross court passes that capitalize on this help.
The Raptors love to make use of “Ram pick and roll” down the stretch of games because the set is simple in nature and allows for the ball to be in one of their best player's’ hands while strategically capitalizing on a weakness of the opposing defense. It’s a very common set amongst NBA teams, but the Raptors are a terrific example of how to methodically pick a defense apart by using it.
Annotations 1 Stats per NBA.com and accurate as of March 14th 2016ng it Down