Few things are more enjoyable than sitting on your couch, watching a basketball game and seeing a play coming before the defense does. Timely play calling by coaches — and players alike — is the lifeblood of a well-oiled, precision offense.
The Raptors 905 are in their second season of existence in the D-League and are coached by NBA great Jerry Stackhouse. Right now, with seven games left in their season, the 905 own the league’s best record at 32-11 and are the only team to clinch a playoff spot so far.
Late last night, while re-watching their win over the Austin Spurs earlier Monday, I witnessed one of the better “Elevator Door” plays I have seen all season; NBA or D-League. The thing is, I saw it coming but the defender, Orlando Johnson, did not and it proved problematic for him and his team.
Here is the 10 second clip of the play:
The game would be so easy if all plays could be run with this precision. This play has been dubbed elevator doors because — like old school elevators — the two screeners close on the defense to leave an open shooter. Normally this play is done at the top of the key, on sideline out of bounds plays or baseline out of bounds plays. This is one of a handful of times I’ve seen this play run on the wing and it worked to perfection. All of the pieces are working in conjunction and each is pivotal to the success of the play.
Here is the play step-by-step.
The play kicks off with Pascal Siakam holding up top as Axel Toupane frees Will Sheehey with a simple down screen. The arrow shows (kind of) Brady Heslip on the wing who is being blanketed by Johnson. Heslip is a deadly 3-point shooter who leads the league with 162 made 3s (43 percent) and to this point in the game he was 7-of-8 from deep.
Sheehey ends up at the top of the arc, letting the play develop. You can see Siakam start to meander his way towards his screening partner Yanick Moreira, and the timing of this has to be just right. Heslip wisely uses Johnson’s own aggression in denying him the ball to his own detriment as he walks him down to the paint, ultimately setting up his demise.
Notice Toupane at the bottom right of the screen as he’s creating the spacing for this motion to happen. Had Stackhouse had a non 3-point threat in the game instead of Toupane, his defender might have been able to sag and break up the play.
Now with the trap set, Heslip bursts through the crevice created by his teammates knowing the cruel fate which awaits the trailing Johnson. Siakam and Moreira create the illusion of an open elevator door and Moreira’s defender, Charles Garcia, makes the mistake of hugging his defender instead of releasing toward the perimeter.
Boom! Now Heslip is through the doors and Siakam and Moreira slam them shut like that hot girl in your apartment building every time she sees you sprinting to the elevator. Johnson runs right into Siakam and Garcia is playing way too far back to make a play on Heslip. Sheehey is able to dribble over to create a better passing angle and the delivery of the pass is the next to last step.
Heslip catches the well-timed pass, rises up and Garcia’s reaction time isn’t quick enough once he realizes they have been set up. With a dead-eye shooter like Heslip, a sliver of space is all that’s needed to drain a 3 and crush the spirits of a team.
This game was already out of hand when this play was run, but it’s beauty was too great to pass up. Heslip makes the shot which is the icing on the cake, but Stackhouse would have been pleased with the execution of this play even with a miss.
Here it is at full-speed again, just for good measure:
With many of the talented crop of players in the D-League, it’s the little things holding them back from an opportunity in the NBA. Showing they can execute play calls with precise timing, in all aspects of the play, is just another feather in the cap of their ever-growing resumes.