He was named the NBA Summer League MVP. He bulked up considerably. He showed an array of moves and confidence not seen during his rookie season. He looked ready to breakout. So why hasn’t Jonas Valanciunas been the franchise center Toronto Raptors fans envisioned for this upcoming season?
Through 14 games this year, Valanciunas is averaging 9.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and one block per game while shooting 47.2 from the field shooting and 79.2 percent from the free throw line. They’re decent numbers, but Raptors fans definitely expected more out after seeing his progression in the summer.
After averaging 8.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG while shooting 55.7 percent from the field during his rookie campaign, Valanciunas has seen minuscule improvements in his numbers early in his second year.
Unfortunately for Valanciunas, he was the first major European draft selection for the Raptors after the selection of Andrea Bargnani. This was an era in which Raptors fans miraculously saw a 7-footer somehow manage less than 5.0 RPG and 1.0 BPG during seven seasons with the club while seeing consistent minutes.
Considering that, it was no surprise that Raptor fans were initially livid with another European selection in 2011, hollering at their TV monitors until their faces turned blue. Well, don’t fret too much now, Raptors fans. Valanciunas has already eclipsed Bargnani’s totals through his first two years in both rebounds and blocks.
More importantly, he has shown an aggressive willingness to bang down low — something Bargnani never possessed. Nonetheless, Raptor fans expect more from Valanciunas, and they should. He is not a bust. The issue is simple: Dwane Casey.
Casey has consistently plagued Valanciunas with erratic minutes and substitution patterns throughout his second season. His inconsistent minutes prevent him from establishing a rhythm and an engagement level throughout the game. The end result is that Valanciunas has forced the issue too often this season.
This explains his’ nearly 9.0 percent field goal percentage drop from his rookie season. Valanciunas is an improved player and he knows it — he just wants to show it is all. As a result, every time Valanciunas touches the ball, he feels as though he needs to make something happen or he will be getting the quick pull from Casey.
The simple solution: Casey needs to set a pattern and a rotation for the big man so that Valanciunas knows when to pick his spots during the game.
Certainly, matchup scenarios will force Valanciunas out of the game at times, but nonetheless, giving him relatively consistent playing time will calm him down and lead him to play better and harder for the team on both ends of the floor, guaranteed. The Raptors need Valanciunas on the court as a defensive anchor and rebounder as the team is already undersized, possessing only one other player over 6-foot-10, the seldom-used Aaron Gray.
Casey also needs to involve Valanciunas much more within the offensive scheme. Unfortunately for Valanciunas, Casey has fell in love with the idea of isolating their two best wing players in Rudy Gay and Demar Derozan and letting the duo hoist up whatever shot they see fit. The end result is a 42.3 percent field goal percentage for the team, ranking them 25th in the league.
Valanciunas could help raise this total if given the opportunity. As seen in his summer league performance in which he averaged 18.8 PPG, 10 RPG, 56 percent from the field and 88 percent free throw shooting, Valanciunas thrived in being one of the primary offensive options. He is an efficient scorer in both FG% and FT%, which is rare for a center.
Why not take advantage of this? Valanciunas’ has improved his offensive game dramatically, and Casey needs to take notice. As it stands right now, the Raptors have absolutely no inside presence, yet Valanciunas is there aching to contribute offensively. Casey needs to wake up and let him.
Valanciunas is only 21-years old. He missed 20 games last season due to injury. Regardless of his age, it is not too early to be examining Valanciunas’ situation with such a critical eye. As displayed by his brilliant summer, he has loads of potential waiting to be unleashed. The only question remaining at this point is if Casey will be able to do it before his confidence and growth is stunted permanently.