Team size was a significant factor in the Toronto Raptors second-round series loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. The Raptors had the frontcourt advantage but failed to take advantage of it while Boston had the size advantage in the backcourt.
Unfortunately for the Toronto Raptors, the backcourt size and emphasis on perimeter play hurt their chances of advancing to the 2020 NBA Eastern Conference Final. First, in 2020, Tronto spent 42 percent of their time on offense taking and making 37 percent of their three-point shot attempts. However, late in game seven vs. the Boston Celtics, down five points 92-87, six-foot Fred VanVleet was stuck needing to take a step back three-pointer over a taller Celtics defender. The shot never had a chance.
While the Raptors smallish backcourt outscored the Celtics 276-229 and distributed 94 assists to the Celtics’ backcourt tally of 75, Fred VanVleet was 24/79 on three-point attempts or 30.3 percent, well below his season average.
Fred VanVleet went 49/135 on shot attempts for 34.8 percent shooting from the field. In contrast, six-foot-four inch Norman Powell shot 13/30 on three-point attempts and 40.9 percent overall for the series.
Fred VanVleet was forced into becoming a volume shooter. At 19.3 shots per game, he took five shot attempts more than his regular-season average of 14.3 per game in the Boston series. His increased shooting may be a symptom of head coach Nick Nurse’s tight bench rotation in the playoffs and an over-reliance on his starters.
During the regular season on field-goal attempts right at the basket (0-3 feet out/layups/putbacks), Fred VanVleet, at 54.9 percent, was 21 percent worse than team leader Serge Ibaka. He was 11 percent worse than Norman Powell. Powell can finish drives to the basket with force/dunks while VanVleet doesn’t.
Fred VanVleet has maximized his talent by working hard, but with a six-foot-two wingspan the same as Kyle Lowry, the Raptors frontcourt is vertically and horizontally challenged. In Nick Nurse’s aggressive perimeter, defensive schemes, size, and wingspan should be a priority. Size allows players to shoot over opponents, disrupt passing lanes and deflect passes defensively.
The only logical conclusion to the struggles in the second round of the playoffs is that Fred VanVleet was locked down by the Boston Celtics’ 4th best defense in the NBA because of his size.