Signature moves almost shouldn’t exist. As a player gets to a certain level of basketball, the more uniform their training and play becomes, weeding out any quirks in their game. They also likely have watched thousands of hours of NBA basketball by the time they enter the league, learning the sport from what they see on TV. This leads to a bunch of athletes with very similar games and aesthetic styles — and a huge, unpredictable bag of tricks. Sometimes, however, players can leverage an athletic, skill-based, or mental edge in a way that separates them from the pack. If they do so consistently in a unique manner, it becomes their signature move.
Now, the signature moves of some of the more established Toronto Raptors are fairly evident. The most obvious one is the Pascal Siakam spin move, of course. It perfectly blends his speed, coordination, skill, and unpredictability into one beautiful move that Siakam uses time and time again for an easy bucket. To go with the Siakam Cyclone, there are some other notable moves that Raptors use consistently like Serge Ibaka’s midrange jumper on the pick-and-pop and Kyle Lowry’s pull-up three in transition. Similar to Siakam’s spin move, Marc Gasol effectively challenging a shot in the paint by being positionally sound, maintaining verticality, while remaining ground bound tells you everything you need to know about the Spaniard in a 2-second span.
Though we would have seen some of these non-core Raptors anyways, the injuries this year have allowed us to get a real feel for these guys and their game. In our time observing them, they have the shown the propensity for signature moves of their own. In this piece, I’ll be going through some of these Raptors that we’re getting to know this season, and picking a current or potential signature move.
Matt Thomas – Midrange Bank-Shot Floater
Between injuries and inconsistent play time, we have not seen a ton of Matt Thomas. Between his reputation and the time he has had on the court, however, it is clear why he has a role in the NBA. Thomas is a deadeye shooter from three. He doesn’t need much time or space to let it loose, and he’s shown some serious heat-check potential from beyond the arc.
Three-point shooting is not a signature move, however, as there are other players in the NBA with similar skill sets to Thomas in that regard and do it better than him for that matter. His shooting prowess opens up windows to attack openings created by players hustling to closeout on him. A couple times in this scenario, Thomas has busted out a unique little floater/jumper off the glass. Take a look at 0:18 in this video.
Thomas needs something that can punish defenders overplaying his shooting. He hasn’t shown confidence in attacking the rim, so something in between could be a real weapon in his arsenal. That shot is going to be there for him. If he can hit this consistently, we may see the emergence of a signature move, especially with the fact that he’s using the bank — a lost art in today’s league.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Missing the Lay-Up, Getting the Tip-In
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can be simultaneously the most frustrating and the most likeable Raptor on a given night. His offensive limitations are maddening, but hustle on defense and the glass make it impossible to stay angry with him. RHJ’s signature move encapsulates this sentiment.
Hollis-Jefferson has a keen sense of spacing and where to be offensively, and often puts himself in spots to get some easy buckets. The thing is, there is no such thing as an easy bucket for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. His jumpshot is among the less smooth of NBA players, and inspires little confidence. His layups, a shot that typically look easy and natural, are anything but for RHJ. He jumps, cocking his arm back like a shot putter, and launches the ball at the glass with nonexistent touch.
Often enough, the ball bounces out. Between his positioning, hustle, and second jump ability, Hollis-Jefferson is consistently able to get a hand on the ball for a tip-in. It’s not always pretty, but two points is two points. This process is the basketball equivalent of me needing a second try to get off the couch. It’s ugly to watch, but if I’m standing up by the end, then all is well.
It’s shocking how frequently this occurs for Hollis-Jefferson, thus making it his signature move.
Chris Boucher – Activity Heat-Check
The activity heat-check is a concept I’ve been workshopping for a few weeks. Bear with me for the explanation.
There is not one particular play or move that he consistently goes to. Instead, Boucher is unique in that everything he does is energetic, frantic, and borderline reckless. He’ll fly in from the other side of the court for a highlight reel block. His effort can often overcome poor positioning for an offensive rebound. He will run the floor hard for even a chance at a three or a dunk. Whether or not he gets that opportunity, his effort opens up windows for his teammates.
The thing about Boucher is that his active play can lead to a snowball effect. Some of Boucher’s best moments are sequences, as opposed to one play. When he makes an active, energetic play, he feeds off the momentum that comes from the bench and the crowd. He realizes how effective he was with pure effort, and then brings that mindset to the other end of the floor. That brings us to the activity heat-check.
A heat-check is typically reserved for shooters. If they make two or three shots in a row, they have the green light for a heat check — throwing up a lower percentage shot in hopes that you have the hot hand and are about to go off. Klay Thompson is the king of the traditional heat-check.
(Note: This is slightly different than the Terrence Ross heat-check, which occurs when you make one shot. Literally any shot. It could be a layup even. On the following possession, you jack up a three the first time you touch the ball because, hey, you might be red hot after that one make. Norm Powell occasionally veers dangerously towards the T-Ross heat-check.)
Back to Boucher, who takes that concept, and instead of shooting, applies it to effort. Maybe it starts with one of those blocks. Then he comes down and launches a “No, no, no, yes!” three-pointer. That’s when you can see it building in Boucher. He has realized that his activity has made some good things happen, so this is when he doubles down. From that point forward, Boucher will look like the Tasmanian Devil crossed with Inspector Gadget — a tornado of limbs up and down the floor.
This process continues until (a) his hyperactivity leads to a bad foul or (b) one of his shots misses wildly and he realizes that maybe it’s time to pull it back a bit. Nonetheless, the activity heat-check is an exciting thing, and my wish is that he goes on an extended multi-minute one this year, where he blocks, dunks, and rebounds everything in sight while Jack Armstrong fires off catchphrases and bizzaro Brooklyn-laced kindergarten-level French.
Terence Davis II – Highlight-Reel Dunk
For the most part, the Raptors roster is complete and versatile. They can play different styles and have guys that fill all the major roles of a functional NBA team. There is, however, one thing missing from the Raptors roster — the highlight reel dunker.
There were once multiple of this archetype on the same roster. Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and James Johnson all had the potential to ruin a defender’s night with a jam in any moment. Last season, Kawhi Leonard perfected the timely dunk, seemingly always punctuating a good sequence for the Raptors with a grown man’s throw-down. This year, however, the void has been left empty.
Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby seemingly have the athletic ability for this role, but for various reasons, have not claimed it. Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher dunk their share, but it’s not the same when it’s a big man. As a result, the leading candidates to take over the role are Norman Powell and Terence Davis II.
While Powell certainly can ignite the Raptors with a dunk, Davis’ best ones thus far just have a little more oomph. Davis has my favourite dunk of the year by a Raptor (as shown above) and has shown the athleticism to make this a more frequent occurrence. If he claims the position of Raptors lead highlight-reel dunker, then the dunk automatically becomes his signature move. In my opinion, the role suits Davis perfectly, and I would love to see him take the opportunity in front of him to claim the dunk.
Patrick McCaw – Savvy Pocket Pass / Timely Backdoor Cut
Coming up with a signature move for Patrick McCaw was difficult. He has a tendency to fade into the background on offense, and when he does have a solid game, his contributions are relatively subtle. On defense, he is solid, but he is more likely to get recognition in the film room by coaches than the Sportscentre top 10.
McCaw certainly has not established one move that necessarily stands out, so I’ll look at two possible moves.
One aspect of his game where he has shown a bit of life comes when he mans the point guard position. He’s not going to blow you away with his passing, but he as at least shown some playmaking ability, and has a couple high assist games. He can make a smart read and deliver the ball where it needs to be (unless the Raptors are down late against the Portland Trail Blazers.)
His signature move, then, could be a savvy pocket pass on the pick-and-roll. This is the most common and repeatable pass in McCaw’s repertoire, and Raptors fans would be thrilled if this became his signature move. It would represent something he could contribute to the offense consistently and open up some of his own scoring. The Raptors have solid roll-men in Serge Ibaka, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Chris Boucher, and some more pick-and-roll aptitude by McCaw would help add some offense to some clunky lineups, especially if Lowry or VanVleet are hurt or both are resting.
Another potential move for McCaw is the timely backdoor cut. McCaw has shown the IQ to catch the defense off-guard with a backdoor cut along the baseline. Whether or not he gets the ball is not always important, the backdoor cut forces defenses to account for him, and can open holes for his teammate. This possibly is the most sustainable signature move for McCaw, as the Raptors playmakers are returning.
This will take the ball out of his hands, lessening pick-and-roll opportunities, but giving him a chance to get those backdoor cuts flying. Pascal Siakam has the gravitational pull of the sun, and his return will create space. Marc Gasol sees the game at half speed and has eyes on the back of head, allowing him to find open cutters with ease. Look for McCaw to use those cuts to find some offense in lineups full of more talented scorers.
Oshae Brissett – Hustle Offensive Rebound
Brissett sightings, extremely rare early in the season, have become increasingly common. What his time will look like as the team gets healthy remains to be seen, especially after only playing only three minutes against the Spurs on Sunday night. That being said, a combination of his hustle play and Canadian citizenship have led fans to hold Brissett in a positive light.
From his hustle has come some big offensive rebounds. His athleticism, size, and energy can make him a force on the glass, and he has swung sequences, and even games, by leveraging those gifts. The obvious example comes in a game against the Celtics, when his work on the boards helped spur an easy win for the Raptors. Brissett gets going in this video at about 2:20.
It’s tough to say whether Brissett will ever be more than in injection of energy off the bench, but if that is to be his career, at least he has shown potential in that role. He certainly has the athleticism for some highlight reel dunks, so that would certainly be an exciting signature move. For now, however, it is the hustle offensive rebound for Brissett.