Extended range making VanVleet and Raptors that much tougher to handle — Toronto Sun

Fred VanVleet had one of those nights where it really didn’t matter where he was shooting from, the ball was almost assuredly going in. Read More

Extended range making VanVleet and Raptors that much tougher to handle — Toronto Sun

Fred VanVleet had one of those nights where it really didn’t matter where he was shooting from, the ball was almost assuredly going in.

He went a ridiculous 11-for-15 from the field including 8-of-10 from behind the arc on Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets.

Extended range making VanVleet and Raptors that much tougher to handle

And we aren’t just talking about about your run-of-the-mill three-pointers either.

Only one of VanVleet’s eight makes from behind the arc came with his toes approaching the actual three-point line. At its furthest the three-point line is 23.75 feet from the basket. VanVleet’s final three of the night came from 23 feet. The other seven ranged from 25 feet all the way out to 31 feet, his second make of the night from deep.

VanVleet has always had the three-ball as part of his arsenal but extending it well behind that line has taken his game to another level.

The move came at the suggestion of head coach Nick Nurse who had seen just what Kyle Lowry’s expanded range had done for his game and was noticing that VanVleet was having some issues getting his three-ball off.

“It probably came a little bit out of necessity,” Nurse admitted. “He was not getting shots off, he was getting a few blocked and we needed him. We needed his spacing and his three point shooting so we just decided, well, if he backed up maybe five feet, maybe they wouldn’t be able to get to him as quick and he went to work on it.”

The bulk of that work took place last season during VanVleet’s recovery from a thumb injury but he’s been working at it ever since.

“Give him credit, he really started working on it, working on it and I think it just continues to grow from there,” Nurse said. “His range just keeps getting farther and farther out which is good. Again it’s just again more spacing and it’s hard to guard if a guy can shoot it at a really high clip eight feet behind the line. It’s really hard to guard.”

VanVleet is at the point where he no longer looks for the line. He’s comfortable anywhere from 24 to 27 feet and after that his success rate might not be as high (he doesn’t know the actual numbers) but he’s still comfortable taking just about any open shot that presents itself.

“If I feel like I’m open, I’m not really worried about the line and where I’m at, I’m just trying to get one up,” he said.

Having that tandem of Lowry and VanVleet out there ready to bomb from just about anywhere opens up all kinds of space for driving lanes for themselves and the likes of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby and his improved handle.

Throw in the fact that all three frontcourt players are also capable fo stepping outside and hitting from deep and you have the perfect Nick Nurse team.

“Really, it’s all about spacing,” Nurse said. “That’s the other thing I always say, offence is about creating space and that sure helps when you’ve got everyone out there who can shoot in space (and) from three.”

The Nets meanwhile are content to let the Raptors bomb away as they retreat and protect the paint with numbers.

VanVleet was asked if his intent when he starts bombing away from distance is to lure those Nets defenders further out and open up some of that space. On paper that makes a ton of sense, but VanVleet laughed the question off.

“I want them to stay like that the whole time,” he said of the Nets dropped defence. “I’m the one getting the open shots. When they come up I’m going to have to probably start creating and passing it out. You just try to be ready for anything. I work on every coverage and I got an answer for everything offensively I feel like.”

It certainly looked that way in Game 1.

LEAVE PASCAL ALONE

Norm Powell took his turn fielding the question about Pascal Siakam and whether he was pressing or not. Like VanVleet a night earlier, Powell leapt to his teammates defence. “I see Pascal playing his game,” Powell said. “You know, I see he’s still taking the shots that he was accustomed to taking in the regular season before the hiatus. I see he’s playing his game. He knows he’s going to get his opportunities, his shots, his chances, and he’s making the most of them. Sometimes, some of the other shots he’s taking are the same shots he has made, and a bad bounce, whatever it is, but we need him to stay aggressive, stay confident, and continue taking those shots because he’s our go-to player, and he’s the No. 1 option. I don’t think he’s going to stop or deter from trying to make an impact, trying to make a play, and take those shots he’s been taking.”

DOWN ANOTHER BODY

The league expanded rosters to 17 for the re-start to off-set the conditioning lost over a 41/2-month hiatus. It won’t be of any benefit to the Raptors, who are down to 15 bodies with first Pat McCaw leaving the bubble for treatment and now Mississauga native Oshae Brissett having to leave for surgery on his right knee to clean up some loose bodies. Brissett will return to Toronto and have the surgery at Sunnybrook Hospital.

PLAYOFF KYLE VS REG. SEASON KYLE

Kyle Lowry may have been a little overshadowed by his backcourt mate VanVleet in Game 1 but make no mistake Lowry remains the driving force behind this team. Norm Powell who is in his fifth year with Lowry said the face of the franchise takes on a little more serious look once the playoffs arrive. “I think leading in practices and things like that,” Powell said where he really notices a difference with Lowry. “He’s very focused and locked in, he’s a lot more vocal in what we’re doing and talking to the guys, making sure they know what the coverages are and what the schemes are what we’re trying to go out there and do during the games. He’s very vocal in that sense, being locked in and he’s talking to us to make sure that we know everything and that we’re locked in and we’re together in this playoff run. I mean off the court away from that he’s still relaxed and having fun and enjoying the process, but once it’s time to lock in and lace ‘em up, he’s focused.”

FINALLY MEANINGFUL GAMES

If you felt like the Raptors were a little more zeroed in Monday night from the opening tip, give yourself a pat on the back for solid analysis. VanVleet felt it too, and he explains why he thought it was that way. “I think our intensity was up a little bit,” he said. “ think everybody felt like they had something to play for, and that’s tough. It’s been tough for us all year after winning a championship. We know what the ultimate goal is, so getting up for regular season games that we know really don’t matter long-term, I think that was a challenge this year. Having something to really lock in and laser in on, this being the playoffs and Game 1, and you know the history of all the Game 1s, just trying to go out there with a good performance. That was something I think we were focused on, and I liked our intensity and our approach last night from pretty much everybody that stepped on the floor.”

A YEAR WISER

VanVleet said the feeling this year from last starting the playoffs is significantly different and his feeling of the situation had nothing to do with being in a bubble this time around. “I think we are a little more comfortable this time around because we know what it takes and we know what the journey is going to be,” he said. “Last year I feel like we were still pretty new with each other so we were still trying to figure it out. I think the chemistry is probably a little bit up this year and we feel a little bit more comfortable. And we lost against Orlando last year in Game 1 so I think that was all in our minds going in. Like we don’t want to start that way again.”

mganter@postmedia.com

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