What does High b-ball IQ mean, and which Raptors have it?


Some Raptors have a high basketball IQ, others not so much. Let’s look deeper.

There’s a bunch of new terminology which has sprung up in basketball to enlighten (we hope) those we are talking to about players. A couple of expressions, “high basketball IQ” and “glue guy”, are in common parlance among hoops freaks, yet accepted definitions are rarely on hand. I’m going to take a run at each of them in turn, with a particular view towards deciding which Toronto Raptors are worthy of these complimentary, yet vague, idioms.

What in the name of the sainted Dr. Naismith is high b-ball IQ? For me, there are a number of aspects. Ultimately it’s the talent to understand what the play should be before it happens. In short, to be described as possessing a high IQ, a player must demonstrate the skill of anticipation. Clearly Kyle Lowry displays that every night; he leads the NBA in steals. What I particularly like about his steals is how seldom he’s wrong – how often have you seen Kyle out of position after gambling unsuccessfully on a steal? He’s also top drawer at slapping rebounds out of big men’s hands before they lift the ball out of range. Again, that’s anticipation.

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A player can’t be credited with high IQ if he’s predictable. If he always passes the ball, or never passes it, that’s trouble. The advance scouts pick those tendencies up, just like they do a player’s likelihood of trying to turn the corner left-handed rather than right. DeMar DeRozan makes us crazy a lot of the time with his ball-stopping habits, but he makes enough baskets (and enough quality passes) to compensate.

I give players credit when they create easy shots, either for themselves or others. Steve Nash might have been the best ever at putting his teammates in optimal spots for easy, uncontested shots by delivering superb passes. That skill was also a huge positive for Larry Bird and his friendly rival, Magic Johnson. In today’s game, Stephen Curry attracts so much attention that he has almost limitless opportunity to make excellent passes, and he does.

Nov 29, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) goes to the basket and scores as he is fouled against the Phoenix Suns at Air Canada Centre. The Suns beat the Raptors 107-102. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Watch a smart player on a 2-on-1 break. He’ll dribble until the last possible moment, then deliver the ball to his mate without the need for him to do anything but go up. Beware players who make premature passes, thus forcing the receiver to dribble.

Here’s a low-IQ marker: picking up your dribble. A professional player who catches a pass, then looks around, dribbles once, and looks some more, is off my Christmas card list, and my high-IQ one. Bismack, use your head.

Defensively, I want to see players on the weak side when a shot goes up. There are a lot of “cheap” rebounds available, if someone wants to get in position. Andrea Bargnani was terrible for this (one of the many reasons for his shabby career rebounding marks).

Certainly a high-IQ player is going to get his share of blocked shots. Those are frequently a function of positioning and timing. So is the ability to draw charges, another strength of Lowry. A high-IQ big man will be sure he’s outside the under-basket semi-circle before establishing position. The ordinary player doesn’t even look. Nor does he look when he’s setting his feet to go up for a jump shot. Don’t you want to take as many 3-balls as you can? With preparation, it’s possible to increase your 3-point opportunities. Here again, DeMar loses marks, as he takes far too many jump shots just inside the arc.

Next: Assessing Raptors progress as a team

This topic is so large I could turn this post into a two-parter, but I think I’ll stop now. If you would like me to write more, please say so in the Comments. Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts on what makes, or disqualifies, a high-IQ player.

Soon – “glue guy”.