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NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

It Took A Lot For Casey To Wake Up Jonas Valanciunas

Through the ups and down of the Toronto Raptors three previous playoff runs under head coach Dwane Casey one thing remained constant, Jonas Valanciunas (“JV”) stepped up and played big, but not now. It took a lot for Casey to get JV to wake up and play up to his potential this year.

In Valanciunas’ first 23 playoff games prior to this year he averaged a double-double 12.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on 57 percent shooting. He was a force and a go-to-guy when DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry were struggling.

This year was a different story. JV was sent to the bench shooting 37.5 percent from the field after his team went 1-2 in their first three games against Milwaukee. Casey could use the excuse that the matchup with Bucks backup center Greg Monroe was better, but Milwaukee’s starting center was a rookie, so it would have been reasonable to expect more.

In hindsight it was unfortunate Valanciunas bought the excuse and willingly went to the bench. It would have been better if he’d bristled at the demotion.

After getting past the Bucks with a 3-0 run and JV coming off the bench, Casey put Valanciunas back in the starting lineup in Game One against the Cavs and to put it bluntly, JV stunk.

It wasn’t easy to tell Valanciunas he’d be coming off the bench for Game Two with the undersized Tristan Thompson starting for the Cavs, but Casey had to do something to shake Valanciunas out of his malaise.

“I think the hair is up on the back of his neck a little bit,” Casey said prior to Game Three. “A little teed off that he is coming off (the bench). My hat goes off to him cause he has been starting the entire year and because of matchup situations and trying to win the series he has had to come off the bench.

“He is still one of the top centers in the league and it takes a lot for him to come off the bench. He is trying to show everyone I’m not a backup center in this league. Which he’s not. He’s just doing it for the fact that we needed that matchup in the last series and also we tried to take advantage of that in this series.”

Finally the demotion to backup center in Game Two woke JV up and he led Toronto in scoring with 23 points in just 20.2 minutes.

“He’s a good player on the low post,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said prior to Game Three. “Uses his shot fakes well, gets to the basket, can make a jump shot, but they play thru Kyle and DeMar a lot, so that being said, he’s a third option on his team. What he did in the last game is a little different than what he did in the past. He did make some shots last game.”

He make some shots in his next game as well. Back in the starting unit because he earned it, Valanciunas was second in scoring on the Raptors with 19 badly needed points on 8-10 shooting.

In his first seven games this postseason, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points on a disappointing 46.8 shooting, but since being woken up by Casey that’s jumped to 21 points on 78.3 percent.

The improved play from Valanciunas hasn’t been enough for the Raptors to steal a win from the favored Cavs, but at least the team has looked better than in Game One and that could matter in what is likely the final home game of the year for Toronto on Sunday.

“We are going to show what we are made of,” Valanciunas said about Game Four. “We are going to come in and give up or we are going to come in and fight. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, we need to come here and fight and leave everything on the court.”

Welcome to the fight JV. Game Four is all about pride and we’ve seen how well JV and the Raptors can play when their backs are against the wall.




Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson





NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Must Ignore Matchups And Start Norman Powell

The Raptors went with a big starting lineup in Game One of their second round series against the Cavaliers, but in the ever changing landscape of today’s NBA, head coach Dwane Casey must ignore the traditional matchups and start second year guard Norman Powell over center Jonas Valanciunas if he wants to win.

This isn’t an easy call for Casey. Valanciunas (“JV”) has been his starting center for five successful seasons and the big man has been nothing less than awesome in the postseason, at least he used to be awesome until this year. Telling a 24-year-old that he’s lost his starting job at this point in the season isn’t easy and could have future implications, but if the Raptors want to have a chance at getting by the heavily favored Cavs, that’s a bitter pill Casey is going to have to hand to JV.

JV had already been pushed into taking a back seat to Powell in round one out of necessity. For whatever reason, the high energy dominant center of the past three postseason runs hasn’t shown up yet and in his four starts (including Game One versus the Cavs), JV is a +/- of -11.5 points per game and in this case that +/- stat accurately reflects his impact on the games he’s started.

Powell, on the other hand, was a +14.3 points in his three starts so far this postseason (all against the Bucks) and there is no way to sugarcoat it, the Raptors would have lost that first round series if Casey hadn’t made the change.

The object of using a big starting lineup was to matchup DeMarre Carroll with LeBron James, Serge Ibaka with Kevin Love, and JV with Tristan Thompson. However, JV didn’t dominate Thompson and the lack of three-point shooting and poor perimeter defense quickly put the Raptors into an early hole they didn’t get out of. JV was a -9 points in the first quarter of Game One in Cleveland.

Like the red hot three-point barrage the Bucks buried the Raptors with early in that series, the starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan Carroll, Ibaka and JV (-5.8 points per game this postseason), didn’t score and couldn’t stop the Cavs (30 points and 4-7 from three in the first quarter) from scoring either.

The Raptors starting unit was +5.3 points in the three games Powell got the nod over JV.

As bad as a small forward matchup between the 6’4 Powell and the 6’8 reigning King of the NBA James looks and undoubtedly is, this postseason Powell has given the Raptors starting unit the elements they are going to need to survive the offensive onslaught in the opening minutes against the defending champion Cavaliers.

“The league is changing,” admitted Casey after practice on Tuesday. “The league is changing and believe me, you’ve got to change or you get stuck in the mud. It’s more of a scoring league now.

“We’ve got to score points. We’ve got to manufacture points and not get down cause the other team scores.

“We’ve got the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

As it quickly became obvious against the Bucks, Powell gave the Raptors starters a third ball handler that frustrated Milwaukee’s efforts to  disrupt Toronto’s offense by putting pressure on Lowry and DeRozan. Powell also provided a badly needed three-point shooting relief valve as he went 9-9 on threes as a starter in addition to creating a faster paced offense and another player that could drive and finish in the paint.

What the Raptors give up in size defensively with Powell they should gain in better perimeter defense and a harder to defend offense. They may or may not be able to stop the Cavs from scoring, but at least their own offense should be more effective.

There have also been calls for P.J. Tucker to get the start over Carroll, but the numbers don’t back up that move. The best two man unit for Toronto this postseason has been Carroll and Powell at +9.3 points. Powell and Tucker have been +3.4 points. Conversely, the worst two man unit has been Ibaka and Valanciunas at -6.0 points, so it isn’t that hard to see which two-man unit is the one that needs to be broken up.

Breaking up Ibaka and JV seems to be the Raptors answer to improve defense and offense. Five-man lineups with Lowry, DeRozan, Powell, Valanciunas and either of Carroll or Tucker have been +4 points in the postseason. For the most part, JV has looked good coming off the bench and gives the Raptors a superior backup center.

Three years ago it was all about player development for the Toronto Raptors  when they finally got back to the postseason after a five year absence, but this year is different. Coming off consecutive 50+ win seasons and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning in the postseason matters. It might ruffle some feathers, but coach Casey has to do what is necessary and the numbers say start Powell and bring in JV off the bench.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Milwaukee Bucks

Raptors Looked Lost And Confused In Milwaukee

This was supposed to be a first round series featuring the playoff tested and experienced Toronto Raptors taking on a young Bucks team with two rookies in their starting lineup, but it was the Raptors veterans who looked lost and confused in Milwaukee.

“We just look like we don’t know what the hell we are are doing,” Jonas Valanciunas explained postgame. “We just gave up from the start of the game.”

Toronto shot 4-18 in the first quarter of Game Three to get behind 32-12 and things didn’t improve from there as the Raptors dropped a 104-77 contest they were never in.

“It starts with us, myself self as a coach as far as having them ready to play in a hostile environment” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said trying to deflect blame away from his players. “They ambushed us. There is no aspect of our game that we executed whatsoever.”

However, there is no excuse for not being ready to play in a hostile environment for the Raptors veterans. Except for P.J. Tucker, they’ve all been here before multiple times. They knew or should have known what to expect.

This hasn’t been a good series for the Raptors starting center. Valanciunas (10 points/ 8.7 rebounds) has been unexpectedly taken advantage of by the Bucks rookie “stretch” center Thon Maker (50% 3FG) and the usually favorable matchup with Greg Monroe (16 points/ 8.7 rebounds) hasn’t gone so well either.

An efficient and effective beast in the postseason in his past three trips, this year Valanciunas has been getting rushed into bad shots on offense, shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the series, and schooled at the other end, boasting a plus/minus of -8.3 points in 22 minutes per game. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he hasn’t been alone.

Among the Raptors veterans, only Serge Ibaka (45.9% shooting) and DeMarre Carroll (54.5% shooting) are hitting shots at better than 37.5 percent. Ibaka is making an impact, but Carroll doesn’t play enough or shoot enough mostly because the guy he is guarding, Kris Middleton (16.7 points), is second in Bucks playoff scoring.

It’s looked like a Raptors brickfest out there except from the young guys Delon Wright (50%), Norman Powell (50%), and rookie center Jakob Poeltl (42.9%).  The guys who weren’t supposed to play much are the only players with a plus in the plus/minus stat and it could be argued Wright has noticeably outplayed Cory Joseph, Poeltl has been more effective than Valanciunas, and Powell has been more aggressive offensively than Carroll.

“We’ll make changes,” Casey said. “We made changes going into the second half, but whoever goes in has to go in and make a difference.”

It isn’t easy making changes to a starting lineup when these are the guys who got you here, but the Raptors can’t afford to get run out of the building by the Bucks aggression in Game Four on Saturday. If this lineup, this rotation can’t adjust, Casey has to try something new.

“They just came out really aggressively and took (away) our easy points, took our normal rhythm shots, they took our rhythm away from us,” Valanciunas said. “They were into the ball, into people, not letting (us) screen easy.”

News flash, the playoffs aren’t supposed to be easy. The cliche ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ is true and the Raptors know it.

“Whoever plays the hardest is going to win the series,” P.J. Tucker said. “Nobody (should) got to hype you to go out and play hard. This is what we do. If you don’t have the moral (fortitude) to go out and fight in the NBA playoffs, then this ain’t the job for you.”

Ignore DeRozan going 0-8 in Game Three and ignore coach Casey’s promise of, “as a staff we have to do a better job of finding ways of opening and space for us to score.” The Raptors didn’t lose Games One and Three because the Bucks out-schemed them. The Bucks are winning because they are playing harder, pure and simple.

“We got to forget the plays, forget everything and come out with energy,” Valanciunas said. “Come out willing to play basketball, not Xs and Os, hard school basketball.”

“I still believe we can win the series,” Kyle Lowry said. “It ain’t over. It just sucks right now. It’s terrible right now. It’s a terrible feeling the way we just got our asses beat. So we better pick it up or it’s going to be a terrible feeling again.”

If the Raptors players Casey puts on the court don’t play harder and tougher from the start, no amount of game planning is going to prevent another terrible feeling after Game Four.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

     Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson



Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

When the Toronto Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall in 2011 then assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini described him as, “Tyson Chandler with good feet.” He may as well painted him as a traditional big man, but in Valanciunas’ phone call to the media in Toronto, he described his game as being like the Raptors recently departed jump shooting power forward Chris Bosh. In addition to being a big young center with potential to thrive inside, Valanciunas could shoot, but his play outside of the paint is something that has often been overlooked early in his NBA career.

However, since his arrival in Toronto, the NBA game has been undergoing what can only be described as dramatic change. Traditional centers that are mired in the paint have been disappearing and replaced by guys who can stretch the floor, make plays for others and/or leap high for an alley-oop and run like a deer.

Plays based on pound, pound, pound and backing down your defender in the paint with sheer power are getting less common. It’s become obvious as this season has moved along that Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done, so it’s a great shot for him, elbow free throw line and maybe a step or two higher where he can see everything, make passes, make plays because the floor is open now.

“In his career he is going to move out further and further with that shot and he’s got a good rhythm out there. He’s one of our best free throw shooters.”

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

In the New Year, there was Valanciunas before each game standing above the arc and tossing three-pointers and in the new NBA, this hasn’t looked out of place. Yes, it’s one thing to shoot jump shots in a gym by yourself before the crowd shows up and no one is defending you, but the process has to start somewhere.

“That’s the next evolution of centers,” Casey said. “Guys migrate out there. Lucas (Nogueira) is migrating out there and JV is migrating out there and I think that’s going to be the new wave. Ibaka is knocking down shots (from three-point range), so that’s the new thing in the NBA now.”

“We’re practicing,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report about his three-point shooting in the pregame warm-up. “Practicing to add this to my game. This is something new. Probably coach Nurse can talk about this more. Just slowly getting that developed, slowly getting that in my game.

“It’s not usual. Most of the time I’m not there to shoot it, my job is to go inside, but I find myself liking that shot, (so) why not?”

While Valanciunas has yet to attempt a three-point shot this season and has only lofted two in 338 regular season games, he is taking more jump shots than ever before. Two years ago, he took 88.5 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim. Last year that dipped to 85.5 percent, but this season it’s down to 75.9 percent. The number of shot attempts from the foul line area is actually getting noticeable during games.

“These days all the bigs are doing that,” Valanciunas explained. “The more weapons you have, the more I can do on offense. It’s harder to defend, so trying to add that in my game and have myself shooting those 15-footers.”

The number of attempts aren’t overwhelming yet and on occasion he is still turning down open shots even after making the same shot only moments before, so deliberating adding a jump shot to his regular offense is something that will take time to get comfortable with.

“Slowly getting there, slowly developing myself into that 15 foot shooter,” Valanciunas said. “Still I have a lot of work to go. A lot of practice, a lot of work to put in and that’s probably summertime work to add something new in your game.

“(Fortunately) we still got time in pregame warmups, after the practice. It’s been my work since a couple of months ago.”

Valanciunas is going to keep working on his jump shot and extending his range. As Casey pointed out, “That’s the next evolution of centers” and there are more than a few that have already evolved.

“I am not on the three-point line, not yet, but it is definitely harder to defend a shooting big than a non-shooting big, so I guess all the league is going to the shooting bigs,” Valanciunas said. “I still think that we need power inside and muscle inside, what I am trying to do (currently).”

This is an evolution not a revolution as far as Valanciunas is concerned. He wants to add an effective jump shot and extend his range, but he doesn’t see a day when being effective in the paint isn’t important.

“I hope I am never going to get allergic to the paint,” Valanciunas said. “That’s my bread. That’s where I get my everything. I still believe the game needs the big guys inside to rebound and do good things in the paint, but shooting is something that (adds to) a big man.

“Maybe in the last year of my career you are going to see me take more threes than twos.”


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Raptors Boast NBA’s Top 5-Man Unit But It’s Not Who You Think

At 22-9, the Toronto Raptors really don’t have much to complain about, not that a really good record has ever slowed down any team’s complaint department. They boast the NBA’s top rated offense (114.1), top rated five-man unit (+30.8) and are second only to the Golden State Warriors with a Net Rating of +9.5 points per 100 possessions.

However, they aren’t in second place overall in the NBA and have lost three times to the Cavaliers and twice to the Warriors. The result has been a fanbase looking for change, an upgrade among the players they don’t believe are pulling their weight.

Those currently being picked on in social media include starter Jonas Valanciunas and sixth man Cory Joseph who just don’t seem to be having the expected impact after the team’s franchise record setting season and rising expectations from last year. Even DeMarre Carroll has seen (if he follows social media?) his name tossed around as the guy the Raptors should move for an upgrade.

However, just maybe, the Raptors problems (such as they are) stem from somewhere else.

The NBA reports there are 45 five-man units playing at least 100 minutes so far this season and Toronto has the top two offensive rated units and the first and third best net rated units in the entire league.

Top five-man unit: Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, and Lucas Nogueira – 143 minutes

#2 OFF RTG 127.9
#5 DEF RTG 97.1
#1 NET RTG +30.8

Third Best five-man unit: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas – 122 minutes

#1 OFF RTG 129.7
#20 DEF RTG 102.9
#3 NET RTG +26.8

These Raptors five-man units pass the eye-test. When these five-man units are on the court, the Raptors are a dominant team and who the opponent is doesn’t seem to matter all that much. The frequent slagging of Joseph’s impact this year notwithstanding. Maybe some people are watching a different team play by mistake?

Toronto also has the top five-man unit in the NBA playing less than 100 minutes together of Lowry, DeRozan, Norman Powell, Patterson and Nogueira. In 33 minutes over 8 games, this unit has an offensive rating of 145.7 and a defensive rating of 80.1 for net rating of +65.6 points per 100 possessions. Thus answering any queries as to why head coach Dwane Casey keeps making up excuses to get Powell into the rotation despite a strong season from Ross.

The problem, it seems, is once again Toronto has found itself on the player development bandwagon, although this time it wasn’t totally by choice. Rather president Masai Ujiri chose to hold onto his young talent rather than adding veteran depth, so when Jared Sullinger was injured, the next man up was rookie Pascal Siakam.

Siakam doesn’t deserve to be thrown under the bus. He didn’t expect to be starting and playing in the Raptors highest use five-man unit this season. He was supposed to be learning in Mississauga with the Raptors 905 and in that context, he’s having a great season averaging 5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks in 17.7 minutes.

Overall Siakam is a neutral +0.2 points per 100 possessions and as should be expected from a rookie, he’s a +2.6 while shooting 59.3 percent at home and a -2.4 shooting 43.4 percent on the road. In wins he’s a +2.4, but in losses that drops to -5.1 and with the majority of those losses coming against the Dubs and Cavs, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Veteran teams look upon rookies as fresh meat to be tested and then abused.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, Siakam’s development comes at a cost to the starting unit. The unit of Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Siakam and Valanciunas has played a team high 296 minutes and it’s losing ground at -2.9 points per 100 possessions or 36th ranked in the NBA.

The -12.4 point swing per 100 possessions from the team average comes almost entirely on defense where the Raptors starting unit ranks 40th among five-man groups that have played at least 100 minutes together

Replacing Siakam with Patterson bumps them to an NBA net rating that’s third best.

In this context, it isn’t hard to see why the Warriors can get off to much better starts. Their five-man unit of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia has the seventh best offensive rating (122.2), ninth best defensive rating (98.3) and an NBA fourth best net rating of +19.1 points per 100 possessions. This unit has played 321 minutes together.

The Raptors starting unit got hammered in Golden State in the first quarter on December 28 and the numbers back up what happened. The push back from Toronto after Patterson entered the game shouldn’t have surprised anyone either.

When the Dubs go “small” substituting Pachulia with Andre Iguodala which they have for 143 minutes this year, they have the NBA’s second best defensive rating (93.8) and second best net rating of +28.5 points per 100 possessions. It must be nice when your first substitution can move your team from great to outstanding.

However, maybe the numbers justify some of the angst surrounding the Raptors?

It’s obvious when Toronto’s best units are on the court, this team isn’t playing up to the full potential of its roster. The Raptors can and do completely dominate their opponents for stretches, often seemingly on demand and then they don’t, although even the Cavs and Warriors aren’t winning every game by 20 points either. The NBA just doesn’t work that way.

The Raptors will be a better team when (if?) Sullinger gets back to assume a spot in the starting line-up and the “investment” in starting the rookie Siakam should pay off down the road with accelerated development (even if he isn’t expected to start playing like a veteran this year.)

This team is winning because of continuity and players filling a role they know and are comfortable with. Joseph might not be blowing your doors off every night, but he helps anchor the best five-man unit in the NBA by letting Lowry play off the ball and become a scorer no team has really figured out how to stop this year. Valanciunas and Carroll are only two of the guys on the NBA’s top offensive unit, so they must be doing something right as well.

And don’t trample on Siakam. If the Raptors were a middle of the road team or headed to the Lottery, the kid would be getting accolades as a massive steal at the end of the first round in the draft and if Casey had veteran power forward available, the rookie would be tearing up the NBA D-League.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Takes Up Boxing To Get Quicker

About the only thing Toronto Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas has struggled with in the NBA is getting quicker and it seems like every year he is trying something to work on that aspect of his game. This year the team’s white-haired guru Alex McKechnie introduced Valanciunas to boxing to see if this heavy-weight could learn to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” or maybe just find a way to squeeze out a few more minutes on the court during games.

“Alex brought a boxing guy here to try, just like a warm-up during the preseason, so I tried it, I liked it, so why shouldn’t I continue?” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report. “Be quick on you feet, be light, be quick, that takes a lot of energy.”

The 24-year-old in his fifth NBA season is effective in the post, usually dominates single coverage and has become an elite rebounder, but the game has been changing for a while. There are fewer physically imposing big men like himself and more bigs that make their living on the perimeter or with jack-rabbit like quickness and hops. Valanciunas, like most young players in the league, has discovered the training and conditioning needed to dominate in the NBA is at a whole other level and boxing gives him that.

“It takes a lot of conditioning to be able to box for 12 rounds three minutes,” Valanciunas continued. “I was trying to do it, not boxing just hitting the coach, for 12 rounds and couldn’t do it. It’s so tough on everywhere.

“Still a long way to go, it’s not easy stuff. It’s not like you go there and you are a boxer. I find this stuff helps me with footwork, being live on my feet and quickness.”

Perhaps the best part is the big man has found himself a training tool that should improve his quickness that he really enjoys doing. That’s a regime that is going to produce results.

“I like it,” Valanciunas said. “It takes some adrenaline. You feel good after punching the bag.

“If you have something going on in your mind, you go to the boxing gym and punch the bag for half an hour and you’re good. Come back home easy, relaxed, nothing going on in the head.”

Boxing for Valanciunas sounds like a winning training program.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Takes His Game To Another Level

Overshadowed by the offensive dominance of DeMar DeRozan to start the season, the Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas has taken his game to another level against a murderers row of opposing centers.

“You have the two top rebounding teams in the league,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said prior to the game against the Raptors on Monday night. “You have a team in Toronto that is averaging 16 offensive rebounds per game and everybody thinks of DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry), while you have to start talking about Jonas (Valanciunas). He’s a load down there.”

Valanciunas opened the season with a 32 point 11 rebound game against the Pistons and last year’s leading rebounder Andre Drummond. Then he scored 10 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against the Cavaliers and last year’s second best offensive rebounder Tristan Thompson. His third game was a 12 point 9 board effort against the NBA’s current best rebounding team and their young center Jusuf Nurkic. On the road in Washington playing against the center who has always given Valanciunas his biggest challenge, Marcin Gortat, he had a better than last year 10 point 7 rebound night in the Raptors first road win of the year.

The challenges facing Valanciunas aren’t about to end either as the Eastern Conference’s top scoring center Hassan Whiteside (19.8 points and 13.8 rebounds thru 4 games) and the HEAT visit Toronto on Friday night.

Valanciunas has always been outgoing and friendly off the court and willing to accept coaching on the court, however, his steadily improving stats has never translated into a bigger role on the Raptors, until now that is. Thru four seasons the young center was averaging about 26 minutes per game and he was still playing 26 minutes per game last year, but this season head coach Dwane Casey is asking more from him as he’s kept his starting center on the court about 32 minutes a night and it’s been worth it. Valanciunas looks more comfortable and more dominant than at any point in his career.

“He’s just comfortable,” DeMarre Carroll told Pro Bball Report. “He’s demanding the ball a little bit more, getting on the offensive glass. I think he took it personal what he did in the Olympics and he wanted to come out and play.

(Valanciunas and Lithuania feel they underperformed in Rio this past summer.)

“He understands that he’s growing and this is a league where you have to grow. I feel like he’s maturing. He understands the basics of how to play the game and it’s slowing down for him.

“He’s starting off the season really hot.”

Really hot may be an understatement. Through four games, Valanciunas is averaging 16 points and 11 boards against four teams he averaged 10.2 points and 8 rebounds last season and the good news, if you follow the Raptors, is last year he owned the higher profile Whiteside he’ll be facing on Friday.

During the 2015-16 regular season Valanciunas averaged 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds, but against the HEAT that jumped to 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. Then in the two head-to-head games in the playoffs against Whiteside, Valanciunas completely dominated with 19.5 points and 13 boards. Unfortunately both players ended up getting hurt in that series.

To be fair, Whiteside averaged 13.7 points and 11.7 rebounds during the 2015-16 regular season against Toronto, just below his season averages and managed 11 points and 14.5 boards in the two playoff games, so the comparisons with Valanciunas boiled down more to expectations than poor play on Whiteside’s part. This should continue to be a battle to watch with expectations that are no longer slanted by the heavier media coverage Miami enjoys over Toronto.

“I feel good, I feel good about this team and I feel good about us as a group,” Valanciunas responded to Pro Bball Report when asked about his personal success this season. “I am just trying to give everything on the court, fight for every ball, try to beat the other team.

“(Going with force,) That’s the next step. Got to bring that every night. Got to go hard, that’s how this league goes about it, going hard. I want to be part of the good group.”

“One of his strengths right now is making sure he’s attacking the offensive boards, dominating the boards,” Casey said. “If we are going to keep a big in there, he’s got to dominate. I think he understands that now.”

The improvement in Valanciunas’ game so far this season suggests he knows what he has to do and he’s doing it. The big Lithuanian is playing at another level this season.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Home Opener Features Valanciunas Vs Drummond

The Toronto Raptors tip-off their 22nd season in the NBA by hosting the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night and a league that has in recent years been overlooking traditional big men, this contest features the recurring rematch of the paint-bound seven footers Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond.

Drummond and Valanciunas will always be linked in Toronto as Drummond is the defensive center the Raptors bypassed in the 2012 draft to take three-point specialist Terrence Ross because they had already drafted the young Lithuanian center Valanciunas the summer before and he was set to make his Raptors debut that fall.

Battle lines and future comparisons were set between the two young centers and while the Raptors have enjoyed significantly more team success since the centers rookie seasons, Drummond has easily won the popularity contest and created second thoughts in the Toronto fan base.

The Pistons finally made it back to the postseason last spring with a 44-38 record after six straight trips to the NBA Draft Lottery and were swept out in four straight by the Cavaliers. The 56 win Raptors returned to the postseason for the third straight time and eventually lost to those same Cavs 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Drummond has gotten all the publicity in this “relationship” as he has continued to put up ever more gaudy numbers during the regular season. Last year the Pistons center averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks in 32.9 minutes while Valanciunas appeared to lag with just 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes as he split time with Bismack Biyombo.

Since Drummond and Valanciunas entered the league in 2012, the Raptors are 9-5 versus the Pistons and the two bigs are a lot closer in stats head-to-head than their regular season totals would indicate. Valanciunas averaging 14.9 points on 62.3 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 14 games versus Detroit. Drummond averaging 11.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in his 14 games. One of the big differences coming at the free throw line where Drummond’s struggles have been epic, scoring fewer points on nearly twice as many attempts (36.5 percent) as Valanciunas (72 percent). Drummond has actually been getting worse from the charity stripe over the past three seasons.

This seems to be the year Raptors head coach Dwane Casey will finally be forced to “free Valanciunas” as Biyombo was lost to free agency and his replacement Jared Sullinger is going to miss a few months with a broken foot. On opening night, the Raptors backup center will be rookie Jacob Poeltl. For Toronto, there couldn’t be a better and more interesting matchup for opening night than Detroit.

Toronto will open the season missing Sullinger (left foot surgery), center Lucas Nogueira questionable (ankle sprain) and point guard Delon Wright out until December (shoulder surgery).

Detroit will be missing Reggie Jackson (left knee rehab).

Last year Toronto won the season series 2-1 outscoring the Pistons 105-103.3 with the edge coming at the free throw line 20.7-27.3 versus 16.3-26 and pretty much all of that discrepancy can be attributed to Drummond’s inability to connect from the charity stripe. So these two teams should be expected to put on a good show.

The Raptors won this year’s preseason game in Detroit 103-92 with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combining for 53 points in a blowout not reflected by the final score.

“They ran their stuff with a lot of tempo, a lot of speed and we weren’t able to match that,” (Tobias) Harris said. “The physicality got to us early on and that’s something we have to adjust to and really adapt to when we’re playing against teams that can impose their will. We have to learn and grow from it.”

But that was preseason and everybody is ready to get beyond what happened in those meaningless games.

“We are really looking forward to tomorrow’s game,” Valanciunas said after practice on Tuesday. “Enough of preseason, we need some real games.”



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.






NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Jonas Valanciunas Kyle Lowry 2016 media day

Coach Casey Says Raptors Are Going To Score This Year

The Toronto Raptors played at the second slowest pace in the NBA last season, but they still managed to put up points in the dead middle of the pack (102.7 points per game) while playing solid defense so they had a league fifth best plus/minus of +4.5 points. Head coach Dwane Casey maintains it’ll be defense first again this season and he isn’t worried about scoring. “We’ll score,” Casey explained after a recent preseason practice and one look at this Raptors roster suggests they’ll score more than last season unless the injury bug bites them hard again this time.

In the Raptors starting unit of 2015-16, center Jonas Valanciunas missed 22 games, small forward DeMarre Carroll missed 56 games and the 35-year-old power forward Luis Scola started 76 games as his team’s best starting option at his position.

The Raptors blew through these issues somewhat seamlessly, but likely impact of injuries to starters and Scola on their scoring isn’t that hard to see.

The stone-fisted Bismack Biyombo was a solid replacement for Valanciunas in the starting line-up, but he he averaged 7.2 points as a starter versus 12.9 points for Valanciunas.

Carroll averaged 11.9 points as a starter, but more importantly spread the floor with 5 three-point attempts as one of the Raptors best three-point shooters. Veteran forward James Johnson stepped in for 32 starts, but he only averaged 5.9 points and 1.5 cringe-worthy three-point attempts per game. Rookie Norman Powell eventually won the job and started 24 times (almost all after the All-Star break) and averaged a solid 10.1 points and 3.2 three-point attempts while shooting 46.1 percent from three. Powell doesn’t have Carroll’s experience or size, but he sure makes that Raptors bench look a lot stronger heading into this season.

As much as everyone would have liked a stronger starting power forward than Scola, the veteran was pretty effective averaging 8.7 points and spreading the court with 2.1 three-point attempts and hitting over 40 percent of them. Still, newcomer Jared Sullinger is bigger, younger and forced his way into the Celtics starting lineup over several bodies put in his way before the season started. In his 73 starts with Boston, Sullinger averaged 10.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. He only shot just over one three-ball per game, but like Scola last season, the potential to become a three-point threat is there.

The other scoring aspects of this year’s roster are:

1) Valanciunas, third on Toronto in scoring last season, is expected to play significantly more minutes this year.

2) Sullinger is also expected to play significant minutes at center where he’ll be a much more effective offensive player than Biyombo could ever hope to be.

3) Lowry, coming off a career year, is heading into a contact year that should/will land him a deal in the $130-150 million range. Look for the Raptors’ leader to have an even bigger year this time around.

For purely fantasy purposes, a quick look at the Raptors projected nine man rotation using last year’s stats illustrates why Casey isn’t worried about scoring.

Kyle Lowry 77 games, 21.2 points, 4.7 rebounds
DeMar DeRozan 78 games, 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds
DeMarre Carroll 26 games, 11 points, 4.7 rebounds
Jared Sullinger 81 games, 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds
Jonas Valanciunas 60 games, 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds

Terrence Ross 73 games, 9.9 points, 2.5 rebounds
Norman Powell* 25 games, 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds
Cory Joseph 80 games, 8.5 points, 2.6 rebounds
Patrick Patterson 79 games, 6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds

Totals: 113.7 points, 44.1 rebounds (last season 102.7, 43.4)

* Powell post All-Star break

The biggest fly in the fantasy numbers will be Casey trying to find minutes to develop players like Lucas Nogueira, Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright. The reality is there isn’t enough minutes available to give the nine guys in the rotation all the time they should be getting and are expected to earn this season – unless someone gets hurt.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll

Raptors Are Fighting To Be The Next Man Up In Toronto Again

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has one of those nice problems to have. He has too many deserving players and not enough minutes to go around leaving a group of guys fighting to be the next man up when opportunity finally knocks.

Even with the departure of starter Luis Scola, back up center Bismack Biyombo and heavily used fill-in James Johnson, finding meaningful minutes for players outside of the team’s top nine players will be a challenge unless someone gets hurt.

Plus, if Casey can, he’d like to find more minutes for some of the guys in his top nine, but if all of them were to just average playing the minutes they had last season, he’d have to create about 10 more minutes a game just to do that.

The Raptors will feature a three guard rotation with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph soaking up virtually all of the minutes at the one and the two spots. These three very durable guards averaged so many minutes last season (98.5 minutes combined out of 96 available) that the only way Casey could keep them on the floor was to play them together. In 74 games Casey ran a lineup of Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Patrick Patterson and one of Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo for an average of 3.2 minutes per game.

Heading into this season, the developing Joseph could see even more than the 25.6 minutes he averaged in his first go around in Toronto and since the All-Stars DeRozan and Lowry aren’t likely to be cut back, those minutes will have to come from somewhere (someone) else.

The one player Casey has already hinted at trying to “protect” this season so he’s available in good shape for the playoffs is DeMarre Carroll. Carroll averaged 30.2 minutes, but only played in 26 games due to injury and has only recently returned to playing five-on-five basketball in practice. Known as the Junkyard Dog 2.0, Carroll won’t exactly be excited about playing 24-26 minutes a game, but he’s secure in his contract and a team player. Besides, Casey knows he has to create minutes for the very deserving Norman Powell somehow, someway.

With very limited opportunities expected to be available at shooting guard, Casey will be left searching for ways to get Powell and three-point specialist and all around super tease Terrence Ross 24 minutes a game each this season. Casey can create time by playing small ball and the Raptors, like so many other NBA teams these days, have featured very successful lineups of guards and wings with one big man on the court.

Ross led the Raptors bench in three-point attempts last season (4.6), averaging 9.9 points in 23.9 minutes. As much as Ross can frustrate the fans for not doing more, Toronto needs his ability to stretch the floor. Post All-Star break, Powell averaged 9.6 points in 22.8 minutes and hit on 45.5 percent of his 3.1 three-point attempts, plus Casey loves his physical brand of defense.

The squeeze may come with the big men, although it won’t be easy to sit these guys down either.

Jonas Valanciunas was third in Raptors scoring (12.8 points) in just 26 minutes per game last season and he came up huge in the postseason before he was injured. Now entering his fifth NBA season, the pressure will be on to find JV more playing time. It’s easy to project Valanciunas at his 2016 pre-injury playoff numbers of 15 points, 12.1 rebounds, a steal and 1.4 blocks if he gets 28 to 30 minutes a night.

The crunch may come with Jared Sullinger and Patrick Patterson. Sullinger averaged 23.6 minutes a game in Boston putting up 10.3 points and a team best 8.3 rebounds. He replaces Scola (21.5 minutes per game) at starting power forward, plus Sullinger is expected to spend some time at backup center. Patterson played 25.6 minutes a game last year. However, both players are on expiring contracts and will be pushing hard for a bigger role this time around.

Sullinger and Patterson are highly motivated and very talented players, so Casey isn’t likely to find any minutes here to hand out to someone else. If anything, these two guys should be expected to earn more playing time than last season. It just isn’t that easy to see where the additional minutes for them are going to come from.

Then there’s the crew fighting to be the next man up if and when Casey needs someone.

Sitting on the sidelines and hoping to make an impression on coach Casey at training camp are centers Lucas Nogueira, rookie (9th pick) Jacob Poeltl and rookie (27th pick) center/power forward Pascal Siakam (who is eerily similar to Biyombo except this kid can score too). In other circumstances, on a team without so many quality big men or not fighting for a high playoff seed, these guys would play.

Nogueira has natural gifts of length, hops and quicks that are hard to find. He has the ability to be the best screen setter on the team, the potential to be a three-point threat or to feed the post from the outside for dunks and layups, and a is natural shot blocker. He just has to stay healthy and put it all together for longer than a quarter at a time.

Poeltl was described as the least likely player to be a bust in this year’s draft, a back-handed compliment to be sure, but not wrong. He has all the earmarks of a solid traditional NBA center. He might even become better than JV given time to develop.

Siakam is the guy everyone is likely to get excited about. High energy with more skill than he’s been given credit for, this is the guy to watch in preseason – even if he’s the one pegged as most likely to see time in the 905 right away. There’s just a “Norman Powell-like” feel to this kid.

Just maybe Casey makes the effort/sacrifice to create a few minutes for one of these three big men at backup center?

There never really was an issue with Delon Wright or Bruno Caboclo.

Wright won’t be available until December and he might not even get backup minutes at point guard if Lowry or Joseph aren’t available. Powell looked just as good as Wright running the offense with the 905 last season.

Is Bruno still two years away? t.b.d.

Of the six guys in training camp hoping to land the 15th roster spot, 26-year-old 905 Wing E.J. Singler has the three-point stroke and all around game that would make him an ideal replacement for last season’s injury reserve James Johnson. However, nothing is for certain with this group.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has a lot of decisions to make before the regular season starts, but they feel more like tweaks than earth shattering moves. His biggest issue may be trying to keep everybody happy with the number of minutes he has available and to keep guys fighting to get more.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.






NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Can Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Step Up To All-Star Status?

The Toronto Raptors 5th overall draft pick of 2011 is entering his fifth NBA season with ever increasing expectations on his 24-year-old shoulders. However, the “kid-glove treatment” from head coach Dwane Casey has to end for center Jonas Valanciunas to reach his potential. If the big 7′ Lithuanian can step up to All-Star status, the Raptors are a shoe-in to repeat as Atlantic Division winners and Eastern Conference Finalists again this season.

No pressure J.V., but you set the bar this high yourself during last year’s playoffs.



Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has always been cautious with his young center. It’s as if he’s worried about bruising Valanciunas’ ego/confidence by leaving him in situations where the traditional center will be challenged by the increasing number of smaller more mobile bigs (forwards playing out of position at center) and stretch-fives making a living on the perimeter. Valanciunas has averaged just 26.2 minutes per game over his NBA career and the trend in playing time has been flat despite steady increases in points scored, rebounds and blocks. The big man led his team in rebounding last season (9.1 rebounds) and was third in scoring (12.8 points).

There has always been some reason for Valanciunas not getting more run from Casey and at least part of the issue has been team success and increasing expectations. If the Raptors hadn’t made that huge and unexpected turnaround three seasons ago, his minutes likely would have been higher.

Last year it was the unexpected play of Bismack Biyombo at backup center and an unanticipated 56 win regular season that put Casey in a spot where he had two centers deserving minutes and splitting them almost equally was the best way to keep up the team’s elevated winning pace. This year Casey’s excuse will be to find minutes for rookie center Jacob Poeltl or to get free agent acquisition Jared Sullinger extra time as a stretch-five in “small” lineups. It’ll be up to Valanciunas to force Casey’s hand by making opponent’s pay for trying to go quick and/or small when he’s in the game.

Valanciunas showed he was ready to do more during last year’s playoffs. In the 10 games before he was injured, he averaged 15 points, 12.1 rebounds, a steal and 1.4 blocks in 28.5 minutes.

It was Valanciunas stepping up when his team’s All-Stars were struggling early in the postseason. A 23 point 15 rebound 2 block performance led to the series tying Game Two win over the Pacers and it was Valanciunas’ dominance over Miami’s Hassan Whiteside that gave the Raptors an early 2-1 round two series lead. Valanciunas put up 24 points 14 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks in Game One against the Heat.

The ninth best rebounder in the NBA during the regular season grabbing 20.8 percent of the available boards, Valanciunas was the top-ranked rebounder* in the 2016 postseason at 24.3 percent narrowly edging out DeAndre Jordan (23.7) and well ahead of his teammate Biyombo (21.7). (*per NBA.com players playing over 16 minutes total in the playoffs)

Valanciunas also finished the postseason as the second highest scoring center at 13.8 points per game despite playing limited minutes in his final two games against the Cavaliers after missing eight games due to injury.

Last season coach Casey finally started trusting Valanciunas in fourth quarter situations albeit without an overall increase in playing time. This is the year for Valanciunas to demand and deserve more minutes. His per 36-minute trend over his first four seasons suggests he could be an 18 point 13 rebound 2 block a game All-Star this season, but like every young player that has shown signs of taking a monster step up as he approaches his mid-twenties, it’ll be on him to do it.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Isn’t Benefiting By Playing For Lithuania

Watching how Lithuania uses the Toronto Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas in international events leads one to wonder if the big man is getting anything out of the commitment to his National Team beyond avoiding bad press in his basketball crazed home Country. Anyone would be hard pressed to suggest he returns to his paying job in the NBA showing any signs of improvement after a summer of playing for Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlaukas.

Valanciunas is the most talented player on his National Team and has been for several years, but Kazlaukas still has him on a short leash despite his obvious contributions every summer since he played for Lithuania in both the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship and the 2011 Eurobasket.

As the expression goes, if you want your center to stay engaged, you got to “let the big dog eat,” at the offensive end of the court. Valanciunas was starving during this summer’s Olympics.

Except for the final pool game against Croatia (that there were rumblings Lithuania had thrown in order to get a better quarter final seeding), Valanciunas averaged 22.2 minutes of playing time and 5.2 shot attempts. As has so often been the case in previous summers, Lithuania either couldn’t or didn’t bother trying to feed their “big dog” in the post and just maybe that explains why Valanciunas couldn’t seem to get his head into the game.

“I was pretty bad, you know,” Valanciunas admitted on FIBA.com. “I’ve got to do something to my head.”

When asked in the press conference why Valanciunas had struggled in this tournament – he went into Wednesday’s game averaging 7.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas responded: “You have to ask Valanciunas, not me.”

It’s not that Lithuania should be anguishing as much as they appear to be over their quarter final exit at the Olympics. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Spain blew them out in pool play, Spain easily beat them last summer as well. In the quarter final game, the Australians far superior guard play led by NBAers Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills wasn’t something Lithuania should have been expected to have an answer for. Guard play has always been a concern once Lithuania gets deeper into tournaments and Australia has their own star NBA center in Andrew Bogut.

Lithuanian success in international tournaments isn’t much of a concern back in Toronto (beyond the local Lithuanian nationals.) The goal of every young professional athlete is to take advantage of the off season to work on their game and return better than when their season ended. FIBA basketball, especially for big men, doesn’t necessarily accomplish this.

In prior summers Valanciunas has admitted it takes time to re-adjust to FIBA rules. No three-second call on defenders gets Valanciunas yelled at for moving in and out of the paint on defense like he’s required to in the NBA. Playing the ball off the rim as a legal move. Even all the clutching and grabbing often (albeit inconsistently) overlooked in the paint beyond anything seen in the NBA. FIBA basketball has different rules, is played differently and officiated differently. It doesn’t help Valanciunas that his European head coach isn’t interested in doing anything that might help his center add skills that could be useful in an NBA game.

If anything, what can be observed is Valanciunas having outstanding breakout NBA playoff series in each of the past three years only to return after a summer of playing for Lithuania looking like he forgot everything he’d done well at the end of the previous NBA season.

Valanciunas isn’t about to decline an invitation to play for Lithuania in the futre and even Kazlaukas admits eventually he’ll have to turn the reins over to his star player (What has he been waiting for?), but his call for Valanciunas to stop just playing off his superior talent belies the fact the coach has yet to adjust his own (unsuccessful) game strategy and stopped trying force-fit Valanciunas into how he wants to see the game played. The player has to get something out of his commitment to the team as well.

The scary thing from a Toronto standpoint is Kazlaukas doesn’t see himself as part of the problem. He will keep trying to change Valanciunas from an NBA center into his vision of a FIBA center every summer and he’ll likely keep him on a short leash until his center can figure out how to be both. In the meantime Valanciunas’ progress in the off season will continue to stall or even take a step back and that isn’t good for anybody.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

Raptors Coach Casey To Limit Valanciunas’ Role In Game Five

In an all to familiar refrain, Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told the media by conference call that he isn’t going to have center Jonas Valanciunas chasing three-point shooters all over the court in Game Five. The good news being it sounds like Valanciunas will play in Cleveland on Wednesday barring any setbacks.

“Hopefully we can get (Valanciunas) involved, but it depends on the lineup they have on the court,” Casey said. “I know he’s our starting center, but it’s tough to put him out there if they’re playing Channing Frye big minutes at the Five. So, we just have to make sure we see who’s on the court, make sure he has a matchup and he’s not out there chasing three-point shooters all around the perimeter.”

It’s been Bismack Biyombo’s job all season to guard perimeter players. The very mobile big man can get out to shooters and back to protect the paint or grab a rebound with quickness that Valanciunas simply doesn’t have.

“With our Five man (Biyombo) having the ability to play perimeter players, it helps us when we have to switch, especially when they are playing Love at the Five or Frye at the Five,” Casey said. “It gives us the ability to be able to switch Bismack onto them (and) it helped us in the other series. It’s a luxury that we have that. We know that we have Jonas who is more of an interior center. It’s really been a luxury for us to have a guy that can get out and also switch out on Ones and Twos and Threes and even Fours and Fives.”

With Timofey Mosgov nailed to the Cavaliers bench and Tristan Thompson starting at the Five, Valanciunas’ best matchup will be back in the starting unit with Casey pulling him once the Cavs go to the “small” lineup with Love or Channing Frye at center.

“It’s tough because his best matchup is probably Tristan Thompson and with the second unit they space out the floor a little bit and it’s a tough matchup,” Casey said prior to Game Four. “We’ll see how it goes and see if we can find him some minutes.”

Of course Casey couldn’t find Valanciunas any minutes in Game Four coming off the bench and it won’t be any different in Game Five. If Valanciunas is going to play, he has to start.

“Jonas is our starting center,” Casey said. “He’s our starting center once he gets back, gets healthy and can go 100 percent. He’s our starter and the great thing about Bismack is he understands and accepts his role.”

In the conference call, Casey explained what has to happen if Valanciunas gets caught on the court opposite a stretch-five. If Valanciunas can give the Cavs small lineup trouble, it would be very disruptive to head coach Tryonn Lue’s rotation. If he can’t, Biyombo will be subbed in on the next whistle.

“If he does get caught (out there against a stretch-five), we’ve got to be able to make them pay by having him down in the paint, posting up and getting touches down there,” Casey said. “Also, too, he’s going to be valuable to us if (the Cavs) blitz him because he is an excellent passer and can make plays at the top of the key.”

One of the biggest changes from last season to this one for the Raptors was the acquisition of another rebounding big man in Biyombo. Between Valanciunas and Biyombo, Toronto vacuums up defensive boards and is a real threat on the offensive glass.

The pressure this pair can put on the Cavs might even force Lue to re-insert Mosgov into his rotation and that would be good news for the Raptors. One fewer three-point threat to worry about with Mosgov on the court and Valanciunas should win those battles for rebounds and points.

The Cavaliers will not be dissuaded from their very effective three-point shooting line-ups easily, however and if Valanciunas can’t put up more points than he gives up to those perimeter shooters, his minutes will be limited.

Valanciunas might be rusty and might get winded quickly as he hasn’t played in over two weeks, but if he can give Biyombo a break from playing 40 minutes a game by starting the first and third quarters until Thompson is subbed out, it’ll be a big help.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Out Indefinitely With Right Ankle Sprain

The Toronto Raptors announced Sunday center Jonas Valanciunas will miss the remainder of the Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series versus Miami with a sprained right ankle.

Valanciunas sustained the injury during the third quarter of Saturday’s Game 3 in Miami. He has averaged 15.0 points, shooting .550 (61-111) from the field, with 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 28.5 minutes in 10 playoff games this season. In the series versus the Heat, he has averaged 18.3 points on .649 (24-37) percent from the floor, 12.7 rebounds, 1.33 blocks and 33.7 minutes in three contests.

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside was also injured in Game Three and his team announced an MRI has confirmed a mild MCL sprain. Whiteside is listed as day-to-day, but isn’t expected to return for a couple of weeks at least.


NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Can Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Adjust For Game Five

The Toronto Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan haven’t shot the ball well thru four games in their first round match with the Pacers, but center Jonas Valanciunas has been there to clean up the mess. At least he was until Game Four when he couldn’t seem to find the rebounds. The Pacers stepped up their play on the boards and heading into Game Five, it’ll be up to Valanciunas to adjust.

“We all got to prepare for Tuesday,” Valanciunas said. “We got to lock in. We got to learn from our mistakes. We got to come out with energy from the start of the game.”

The only thing that kept Valanciunas off the glass in Game One was a series of cheap fouls that limited him to just 21.3 minutes of playing time before he was fouled out. The big center set franchise records with 11 offensive rebounds and 19 total boards, breaking his own record of 18 total rebounds he grabbed in his first ever playoff game versus the Nets two years ago.

Valanciunas took down over half of the available offensive rebounds while he was on the court in the playoff opener as Toronto dominated Indiana on the glass 52-38 but let the game slip away in the fourth quarter.

Game Two was more of the same from the Raptors big center as he took down 15 total boards, 5 offensive, helping Toronto to a 44-33 advantage on the glass in the win.

Then in Game Three Valanciunas had 14 rebounds, 4 offensive, to become the first player in team history to record 14+ rebounds in three consecutive playoff games and just the fourth NBA player in the last five years to accomplish this. Toronto maintaining their edge on the glass 45-38 in the third game and taking a 2-1 series lead.

The Raptors starting guards still weren’t shooting the ball well in Game Four and Valanciunas wasn’t grabbing the rebounds as the Pacers stepped up their play and left Toronto in their collective dust. Valanciunas had just 2 offensive boards and 6 rebounds in total as the Pacers led on the glass 43-40 and tied the series at two games apiece.

Without their usual scoring punch from Lowry and DeRozan, this team has almost no chance if they can’t continue to dominate on the glass.

Pacers All-Star Paul George had been complaining his guys weren’t being physical enough with Valanciunas and even took things into his own hands causing a minor incident with the Raptors center in Game Four.

“I didn’t do anything,” Valanciunas explained. “I wasn’t trying to hit him. It was an in-game situation. It happens trying to be physical in the low post.”

Make no mistake, that incident was no accident. George and the rest of the Pacers were trying to get into Valanciunas’ space and get him off his game and it worked.

“They had the energy from the start,” Valanciunas said. “They were running. They were pushing. We were not ready.”

Valanciunas had a similar start on the glass in his first ever NBA playoff series against the Nets two years ago when he had double-digit rebounds in his first three games but couldn’t do it again over the final four games of that series. The Nets, like this year’s Pacers, weren’t known for their rebounding either, but that veteran team adjusted and Valanciunas couldn’t come up with a response.

It should be different this time. This is Valanciunas third trip to the postseason. He’s been pushed around before and he should know how to respond.

“I’m just going out there and battling,” Valanciunas said. “Nobody is going to take that away from me. I am going to battle for every single ball.”

The Raptors center has been a top 10 rebounder in the NBA this season and he has a significant size advantage over the Pacers big men. Adjusting to their quicker and more aggressive play in the paint is something he should be ready and able to do.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





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NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas Is Becoming The Center The Raptors Need

The Toronto Raptors drafted 7′ center Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall in 2011 and then they waited. First they waited a year for him to get out of his contract in Europe, then they waited while he figured out how to play the NBA style of game, but as they waited, the game changed.

Valanciunas arrived as a traditional big man and that’s what everyone expected. A presence in the paint, but not a great runner and a little slow-footed on defense covering quicker players. Unfortunately the trend in the NBA has been to go for stretch-fives that can drag traditional big men away from the comfort of the paint or those long lean players that bounce around on what must be pogo-sticks, can run as quick as a guard and fly high above the rim like a wing. It was beginning to look like Valanciunas wasn’t the center the Raptors would need going forward in today’s NBA.

“I am trying to adjust to the game,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report. “Trying to stay in this league, trying to be efficient, trying to be good in this league by doing everything to succeed.”

The big Lithuanian has been improving since his arrival on a slow mostly steady progression. Each year his scoring has improved and his rebounding has become more effective and while head coach Dwane Casey still only plays him about 26 minutes per game, this year he trusts Valanciunas in crunch time minutes against elite big men of all types including some of the stretch-fives that have been a big problem in the past.

“I lost weight,” Valanciunas explained. “I am trying to move quicker. Trying to be light on the feet. Move better, be able to defend quicker centers. I think that’s the biggest goal for me, stay in the game and be able to defend. On the offensive end, it’s easier for me. They don’t have enough size and enough strength.”

The improvements in Valanciunas’ game are easier to spot on a per 36 minute basis and by using some advanced statistics.

Jonas Valanciunas select NBA mid season stats 2015-16

(Source Basketball-reference.com )
(ORB% TRB% – percentage of Offensive/Total available Rebounds grabbed)

Over the past two seasons Valanciunas has become an elite rebounder who is among the top 10 in the NBA at cleaning the glass. For comparison, this year he is a better offensive rebounder than Bismack Biyombo (11.7%) and almost as effective a rebounder overall as his defensive specialist teammate (20.7%).

It would be completely fair to say there are strong similarities in the development path of both Biyombo and Valanciunas. They are both from the same draft class and have been showing slow but reasonably steady progression each season. Biyombo being the poster child for what happens when a team gives up on a big man a year early and losses them for nothing to another franchise.

A big focus for Valanciunas remains on offense and he has shown progress. Where at one-time making a good decision after receiving the ball in the post was dubious, this year it seems like a sure thing and the advanced stats bear this out.

Jonas Valanciunas select NBA mid season stats 2015-16

(USG% – percentage of team plays used by a player, TOV% turnovers committed per 100 plays)

“I am trying to develop my game on being efficient on the low post,” Valanciunas said. “Being the guy that can handle blitzes, not blitzes, going to the hoop and make a basket, trying to be consistent every game and bring the same game every night and help the team win.”

Basically, Valanciunas has stopped screwing up when his teammates feed him the ball. He knows what to do when facing a double-team and usually makes a good decision after receiving a pass. He has become the center this team needs on a night-in and night-out basis and nothing illustrates this better then his recent games back from his hand injury.

Over his last six games Valanciunas averaged 12.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He had a 16 point 18 rebound game against the Rockets traditional big man Dwight Howard and a few nights later followed that up with a 19 point 9 rebound game against the Hawks stretch-five Al Horford.

Following the win over Atlanta, the only stat Valanciunas wanted to know was how many points Horford had scored. When he saw it was just 7 points, he exclaimed, “YES!” Valanciunas knows if he can keep those big men that live on the perimeter off the score sheet he gets to play more and his team is more likely to win.

In this recent span of games, the Raptors every evolving center also showed off his lighter feet by tying his career high in blocks with 5 in New Orleans and then setting a new career best with 7 in Memphis against the always tough and physical Grizzlies.

It didn’t happen overnight, but Valanciunas is proving he’s a traditional big man who can adapt to the changing NBA game and still be the starting center the Raptors need going forward.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Game Has Slowed For Raptors Center Jonas Valanciunas

Averaging 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in just 26.3 minutes this season, Toronto Raptors 23-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas has been playing the best basketball of his relatively short NBA career. Aspects of the game have slowed down for the seven-footer and he’s been making better decisions at both ends of the court. While Valanciunas is never going to run like a deer or jump out of the gym, he has started to figure out how to read the court and be where he needs to be.

“I am getting more used to the speed and finding what decision to make,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report. “Quicker mind, quicker decision-making. The thing I want to improve more is to find the right passes to be a good teammate and pass the ball, that’s part of basketball.

“That’s the next level when you see a double-team and you find the right man. The open guy cutting or spaced out on the three-point line for an open shot. That’s a thing I am trying to get better on and I need to get better on.”

Unlike previous seasons when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey deflected questions about how he used Valanciunas, now he seems to trust his big man more, run more plays for him and is willing to actually play Valanciunas in crunch-time minutes.

“JV is evolving, he’s getting better,” Casey said. “He’s more comfortable once he’s catches the ball down there. He doesn’t get rattled by fake digs, fake double-teams. Last year he couldn’t decide if they were going to double-team or not double-team and this year he’s doing a much better job of reading that and that’s helped his offensive post game. Before DeRozan was probably our best post-up player, but now Jonas in the right match-ups in going to be a big plus for us.”

Valanciunas doesn’t see the game as slowing down, instead he believes he’s reading the court better, understanding what’s happening around him and reacting quicker.

“Maybe you read better, ‘slows down’ is just a word,” Valanciunas explained. “I think it’s you read better. You see quicker. You see what’s going on on the court better.”

As important as reading what defenses are trying to do to him is figuring out how offenses are attacking him and Valanciunas has gotten a lot better at that end of the court as well.

“You got to read cutters (too), there’s different stuff to do, but you got to read as much as you do on offense, same as defense.”

Some of that ability to read what’s going on has translated to his rebounding numbers where Valanciunas has broken into the top five in offensive rebounding percentage in the Association and is top 10 at grabbing available rebounds overall.

Casey chalks up the improvements to time and experience. This is Valanciunas’ fourth NBA season and he should continue to improve for quite a few years yet.

“He’s matured into that, he’s grown into that,” Casey said. “The game is not as fast for him right now. It’s slowed down for him. Now when he catches it in there he’s not thinking a 100 miles an hour. He’s seeing the cutters. He’s seeing the how the defense is playing him. He doesn’t get hurried up and he can make good decisions out of (the post). This comes from time, maturity, experience in the league. Time is the only answer for that.”

The Raptors regular season success has been largely driven by their All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who score almost 44 percent of this team’s points, but the Raptors goals are beyond regular season success. They’ll need their big man in the postseason.

“I knew (Valanciunas) was a good player, but I have really been impressed,” Raptors veteran forward Luis Scola explained to Pro Bball Report. “Jonas has a great feel for the low post and the little details for the touch around the rim to finish the basketball and making a move on the basket. He has a very bright future ahead of him.

“I don’t think, I know we need his full potential to win. We can’t win without him and I keep telling him that. At times he’s not very happy with the way he has played or the things that happen in the game, but I keep telling him that there is just no way we are going to win without him.”



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola

Missing Jonas Valanciunas Will Test Raptors Improved Depth

By Frank McLean

The schedule maker has not been kind to the Toronto Raptors to start the season. This basketball team comes home from an early season west coast road trip that saw them lose in Sacramento, Utah and Golden State and get a pair of wins against both Los Angeles clubs – the hapless Lakers and so-called championship contender Clippers.

Sitting at 9-6 and fifth in the Eastern Conference is pretty good considering they have played 11 road games which is 2 more than any other team in the league and 4 more than any of the other top 9 teams in the East.

Last year the Raptors started the season with a very front loaded home friendly schedule because of the World Junior Hockey Championships at the Air Canada Centre during the holiday season. They had 12 home games from the time they opened the season on October 29th thru November 28th and were sitting pretty with a 13-3 mark.

No matter where they sit in the standings, Eastern Conference teams going west is usually a recipe for disaster, so Toronto’s winning record looks pretty good after playing 7 road games against the Western Conference. The team now has a little more friendly schedule between the 25th of November and December 30th with 11 games at the Hanger and only 7 games on the road. The challenge may be 7 of those home dates are against the West.

The good thing about this west coast trip was that they showed fight and could have won in Sacramento, Utah and the game with the Warriors, a team who has made everybody look like mortals by starting 15-0.

Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

The bad part of the trip is the Raptors have lost their big center Jonas Valanciunas for 5 to 6 weeks with a broken finger which he suffered in the game Friday night against the Lakers. Fortunately, surgery will not be needed, but now we will see a major part of the Raptors rebuild over the summer and that’s the depth they have built on the bench in case of any major injuries.

In Sunday’s game against the Clippers, Bismack Biyombo was the first man up filling in for Valanciunas, but head coach Dwane Casey will be using, taking a baseball term, a platoon system at center.

“We’re going to start Bismack to start out with to give him the first opportunity to play,” Casey said before Sunday’s game. “There are going to be different people in that position. Luis (Scola) will be there, Lucas (Nogueira) will be there some so it will be manned by committee, but the experience that Biz gives us and his understanding or our defensive schemes, his ability to protect the rim, is what we need.”

This is depth that the team has not had and should be able to keep things in check at the center position until Jonas can get back.

The Biyombo-Scola platoon is interesting. Biyombo is a terrific rebounder while Scola is a scorer. It will probably depend on the game situations on which one you play. Do you need defence or do you need scoring. A look at Sunday’s weird box score in the 91-80 win over the Clippers illustrates the issue.

The Raptors led 66-34 at the half, however, they were outscored 21-8 in the third quarter and 25-20 in the fourth as they escaped with a win. Scola replacing Biyombo with 6.5 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Clippers only down 8 points to go 2-3 from the field plus 2-2 from the free throw line to help get a stagnant Raptors offense going again by hitting of 2 of his team’s final 3 field goals. So the player Casey puts in a center will depend on the score and what the Raptors need at a specific time in a game.

As I have written before, this Raptors team is built for a long run in the playoffs. In order to have a long run in the playoffs you have to have roster depth. Between now and when we ring out the 2015 calendar year we will see what this roster depth can bring.



Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.




Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Has A Boxer’s Fracture

Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas has a fracture of the fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand, an injury that is more commonly known as a “Boxer’s Fracture.” The injury occurred in Friday’s game against the Lakers.

“I don’t know what happened,” Valanciunas said. “I went up with the ball and got slapped. I don’t know who slapped me and I felt the pain. It was hand to hand. We are still waiting for a second opinion. We still got doctors to take a look at it.”

If the bone isn’t out of alignment, treatment should be just time and a splint, but if surgery is required, it could be a long while before the Raptors get their center back.

From Wikipedia,


Boxer’s Fracture is a colloquial term for a fracture of one of the metacarpal bones of the hand. Classically, the fracture occurs transversely across the neck of the bone, after the patient strikes an object with a closed fist.

Prognosis for these fractures is generally good, with total healing time not exceeding 12 weeks. The first two weeks will show significantly reduced overall swelling, with improvement in clenching ability showing up first.

There is plenty of literature available about this type of injury. None of it suggests Valanciunas will be back quickly even if current reports of Valanciunas opting to avoid surgery prove to be true.



NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Evolution of Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has been getting noticed this season and he is key to his team’s success going forward writes The Evolution of Toronto’s Biggest Dinosaur.”

Each year that he as been in the league, all of his numbers have increased and most importantly, so has his confidence. On the court, Jonas has the look of a experienced 10 year veteran, but he’s only 23 years old and that is key going forward. He is playing now like he wants the ball and feels comfortable with it. he has a nice touch around the rim and he is very efficient from the floor. He is a career 55 percent shooter from the floor.  Most importantly, he can be relied on from the Free Throw line as well. He’s right around 78 percent for his career.  If the Raptors are going to be elite going forward, then Jonas has to continue to evolve into the biggest dinosaur in the Eastern Conference jungle.

Check out the rest of the article here.