The Toronto Raptors young center Jonas Valanciunas leads his team in rebounding at 9 per game and has averaged 12.7 points on 57.1 percentage shooting and 12 boards over his last six games (Raptors 5-1 over that stretch), but Head Coach Dwane Casey wants more. Valanciunas has shown in spurts just how dominate he can be on the boards and once Casey knows what a player can be he holds them to that standard going forward.
On Wednesday against the Nets Valanciunas had 6 first quarter rebounds and put up a 16 point 10 rebound double-double, but Casey didn’t see the effort he knows Valanciunas is capable of so the young big man had to watch the veteran Amir Johnson get his minutes at center in the fourth quarter.
“The main thing Jonas has got to do is rebound – two hand rebounds, snap it off, go get it and he did a much better job in the third quarter for us and he has to do that,” Casey said. “All our bigs have to do that cause we can work our behinds off for 22 -23 seconds and (motions forward) uh – go get the rebound and it’s too late. What we got to do is come quick off the mark, go get the rebound and clean up and we have a possession and that’s what we didn’t do in the first half.”
The Raptors actually out-rebounded the Nets 22-21 in the first half and were out-rebounded by the Nets 22-20 in the second half, but this isn’t about statistics. The Raptors worked harder on the boards after the break and that was reflected in the score – particularly after Valanciunas came out of the game after the third quarter. Toronto outscored the Nets 29-16 and out-rebounded them 13-11 in the fourth quarter.
Casey holds Valanciunas to a high standard because he sees what his teammates have seen this season, a bigger, stronger young center that can get the job done in the paint.
Amir Johnson on Jonas Valanciunas’ rebounding:
“He’s a lot stronger this year that’s for sure,” Amir Johnson said. “It’s hard for guys to box out a 7-footer, especially when you are in the paint. He has been able to hold his ground and grab boards for us which we need him to. He’s our big man in the paint and he’s been getting the job done for us and that’s all you can ask from a starting center. He’s been doing well.”
The Raptors have been painfully average at times this year on the boards. They grab 49.9 percent of the available rebounds and rank 16th in rebounding differential at -0.2 boards per game. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that rebounding is a point of emphasis in Coach Casey’s practices.
“The first thing is box out your man and that’s what we stress because if you
don’t box out the ball could be right there and drop into your hands,” Johnson said. “First you got to box out your man and then you got to locate the ball and it’s a hard job. Some people just look at the shot when the shot goes up and don’t know where their man is – what we work on is to make sure you get a hit on your man and (then) go for the boards and we stress that in practice. I think everybody understands we have to do that and where our (rebounding) ranking is on the team, we know where we are and we got to get better so we are working on that. JV is the guy that has been the focal point of our rebounding and he’s been working on it and he’s been getting better at it.”
Valanciunas is the focal point of the Raptors rebounding because Casey sees his potential and the young center only convinces his coach further when he out-rebounds the Pacers Roy Hibbert head-to-head 14-2 like he did a few games ago. However, Casey knows every situation is different and the Raptors go after the boards as a team even if Valanciunas is the guy he expects to lead them in this department.
“It has to be (a team effort),” Johnson said. “Even when you do have a one-on-one box out the guards still have to come in and sandwich a guy, maybe a bigger and stronger guy, to help the rebounder because guys are taking long shots and balls are coming off the rim long and you don’t know where the ball might go. It is just one of those things you just have to prepare and be ready and know your job when the ball goes up.
“We need (Valanciunas) to (rebound). I don’t want to jinx him, we need him to keep it up – the more rebounds, the more it helps us as a team. It moves us up in the rankings of defensive rebounding and we’ll be alright.”
For Valanciunas and the Raptors, rebounding really comes down to just one thing and it can be hard to do on a night-to-night basis, especially for a young player.
“It takes work to everything,” Johnson said. “People don’t like to hear it sometimes, but it is work, it takes work to do anything.”
Expectations for the 22-year-old Valanciunas are high and Casey is going to continue pushing him to get better and sometimes make him watch when he’d rather be on the court. It’s hard to argue with the tough love approach. Valanciunas has gotten a lot better than when he first arrived in Toronto. He leads his team on the boards and still hasn’t come close to reaching his potential.
“One play you can make a mistake, but you know what to do next play,” Valanciunas said. “I am trying to learn from my mistakes and do better next time. You can’t think about your mistakes (during the game). Now (post game) is the time to think about your mistakes, fix things and do better tomorrow.”
“My job personally is not just scoring,” Valanciunas said. “I am not a big scorer – more of a helper for DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry) to get them wide-open, set a screen, rebound the ball, that’s my job. Everybody on the team has their own role.”