If the Toronto Raptors had an Achilles' heel last season it was their half-court offence.
In every other facet of the game, the Raptors were among the NBA's very best. They ranked in the top two in half-court and transition defence and their transition offence was one of the deadliest in the league. But when it came to scoring in the halfcourt, Toronto ranked 16th in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass, generating just 111 points per 100 half-court possessions.
It's hard to say it was a real problem for the Raptors considering they went 53-19 in the regular season and clinched the second-best record in the NBA. But for as good as the regular season was, there was always a concern that when things got bogged down in the playoffs, the Raptors wouldn't be able to get a crucial bucket in the halfcourt.
Against the Boston Celtics, that concern became a reality.
So when assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren left in the offseason to take the head coach position with the Indiana Pacers, Raptors coach Nick Nurse turned to his longtime friend and offensive guru Chris Finch to fill the void.
"I think he's one of the best offensive minds in the NBA, so we're lucky to have him," Nurse said. "He's a hell of a coach."
Finch and Nurse have known each other since their days coaching overseas in Europe. They first met at an Adidas Eurocamp in England, Finch said, so many years ago that Tony Parker won the MVP of the tournament.
For many years they were adversaries, coaching against each other and deploying innovative schemes to best the other one.
Now that's what Finch is hoping to bring to the Raptors. He's hoping to take Toronto's offence to another level by adding even more chaos to one of the most aggressive teams in the NBA.
"To me, the most important thing right now is to be highly unpredictable," Finch said. "The more randomness that you can have, the more purpose you can have within that randomness, the more structure that you can have is always great, but at some point, the game comes down to you playing basketball in some sort of random mindset and if you can do that really well from the beginning it’s really hard for teams to guard you. And I think one of the calling cards of a lot of teams that I’ve been associated with, is that we’ve been able to maintain that type of unpredictability."
Specifically, Finch said he thinks the team can improve its cutting and tweaking its spacing rules to open things up in the halfcourt.
"I think also finding new opportunities for the likes of Pascal [Siakam] to score, or put the ball in hands to create opportunities for his teammates," he said. "A little more unpredictability there, maybe some misdirection."
Unlocking Siakam's halfcourt offence is going to be crucial for Toronto this season. The 26-year-old took another developmental jump last season, becoming the team's go-to offensive option for stretches, but when teams keyed in on him in the playoffs, he struggled.
"I think we can probably generate some more playmaking from him," Finch said. "You saw in the Bubble what a crowd he is going to draw. And let’s be honest, that’s when we’re trying to be good, at the end of the season when it matters most. So creating offence for his teammates."
And then there's 3-point shooting, which Finch is hoping he can help Siakam with. It's not necessarily about tweaking his shot as much as it is about finding Siakam better 3-point looks to take advantage of.
"We did things similarly with Brandon Ingram," said Finch, who was an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans last season. "We did a great job of trending him towards things that suited him a little bit better and it turned out to be a Most Improved Player of the Season award."
Ingram's statistics went up across the board in his lone season working with Finch. His 3-point shooting skyrocketed from 33% on two 3-point attempts per game with the Lakers all the way to 39% on six attempts per game last season. Playmaking wise, the jump was equally noticeable, leaping from three assists to just over four assists per night.
If Finch can help Siakam take another leap, by rounding out his offensive half-court game, the Raptors could be in for another very impressive season.