Raptors’ Valanciunas Recharges Batteries After Long, Busy Summer

The expectations for Jonas Valanciunas remain considerable, even grandiose: Double-double production on a nightly basis, pushing toward 20/10 status. Heavy minutes regardless of his team’s or the opponents’ strategy, with the discipline to avoid foul trouble that would thwart that.

Sooner rather than later, the ability to score like Brook Lopez, rebound like Tyson Chandler and protect the rim like Roy Hibbert. In short, become the cornerstone at both ends of the floor that the Toronto Raptors envisioned when they spent the No. 5 overall pick on him in June 2011 and then waited 14 months to see some return.

Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

The results so far have been much more modest.

In Toronto’s first three games, the 6-foot-11 center from Lithuania averaged 6.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 shots in 21.7 minutes, essentially a push with his 2012-13 stats (8.9, 6.0, 1.3 and 23.9). Still 21 with a mere 65 games of NBA experience, Valanciunas has made nine of his 22 shots and had only two chances from the line.

He logged just 16:16 in the Raptors’ victory at Milwaukee Saturday, with three first-half fouls only part of the reason. Though he was effective (seven points, six rebounds) when he was out there — and the other Toronto starters made sure to look for him in the early going, something that doesn’t always happen with ball-stickers Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan – Valanciunas played fewer than six minutes in the third quarter and none at all in the fourth.

With the Raptors at home against Miami Tuesday, it’s possible his court time will be limited again, given the Heat’s propensity for smaller, quicker lineups. In other words, Valanciunas’ breakthrough season is still tap-tap-tap-tapping from the other side.

“He’s gonna get there,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey after the victory over the Bucks. “Believe me, he’s gonna get there.”

Just not overnight or even in 15 months of overnights. One of the reasons for Valanciunas’ idle time in Milwaukee was small ball, with Casey countering the lineup Bucks coach Larry Drew put out there. No Larry Sanders, no Zaza Pachulia, no Ersan Ilyasova down the stretch. The Raptors had encountered the same thing 24 hours earlier in Atlanta, where the big guy played only 4:40 after halftime.

“It’s just such a challenge for him, not only in the halfcourt game but getting back in transition,” Casey said. “Because they had [Al] Horford bringing the ball down in transition and now it’s 5-on-4. It was a quick game. But again, for him to grow and get better, he’s going to have to learn to play in those situations.”

Another reason is Casey’s desire not to let winnable games slip away. The coach is in the final year of his contract. He has new bosses, including GM Masai Ujiri, who aren’t the folks who hired him. And anything even close to the Raptors’ 3-13 start last season, for a team with rumbling ambitions of the postseason, likely would be curtains for Casey.

The coaches did force-feed Valanciunas some minutes last season, and the results paid off more for the individual than the group. In the 20 games in which he played 30 minutes or more, he averaged 14 points and 7.9 rebounds. But Toronto went 7-13 in those games, including 0-6 in the ones prior to Jan. 1.

The final reason for Valanciunas’ regulated playing time is a sense that he’s a little court weary. Remember, besides the long runs he got last spring, he participated in the Las Vegas Summer League, where his 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds earned him the MVP award. From there, it was on to the EuroBasket Championship in September, helping Lithuania earn the silver medal. He went through his first NBA training camp last month, then started seven preseason games, averaging 8.7 points and 6.4 boards.

Now, Valanciunas knew what he was in for. He talked in camp of being up for the workload. He has been able to maintain his bulked-up form and strength.

But several Raptors insiders will tell you that, frankly, he is a little gassed right now. Certainly too much for the pace of small ball or keeping up with bigs who routinely get out in transition.

“There’s going to come a time,” Casey said, without apparent worry, “where he’s going to be able to do that.”

That and much more, if the plan proves out.

36 Comments

  1. ko0kiE says:

    Imo Toronto sometimes need to play thorugh their bigs Amir and Jonas, inside out.. not through ballhogs rudy gay and derozan.

  2. Mel says:

    Coach Casey is obviously not able to make sensible decisions

  3. DennisPAO says:

    A player like Valanciunas needs a good TRUE point guard (aka Rubio), or at least someone that gives the ball. Also why draft Terrence Ross with the 9th pick if you’re going to trade for Gay, and vice versa (SF for SF)? I also don’t even know if the Raptors have 1st round picks this year so they can add some pieces on their roster. Future and present doesn’t seem so bright for the franchise, of course they’re not gonna beat the Bobcats record from the 2011-12 season, but still.

  4. joel says:

    “With the Raptors at home against Miami Tuesday, it’s possible his court time will be limited again, given the Heat’s propensity for smaller, quicker lineups.”
    Oh wait. He was 18/9 on Tuesday.
    And nice dunk over LeBron.
    Sorry Steve, you’re wrong.

  5. J says:

    he’s gonna be great

  6. aboutJV says:

    Can’t believe the expectations placed on JV. He’s good, but no 20/10 per night good barely more than an average big man at this point. Besides, everyone in NBA is going smaller now because speed and 3 pt shooting combined with good D is what wins games. The blame Casey gets is unreasonable, he’s actually preaching team ball more than anything, which is why the Raps defense has improved. Derozan and Gay simply shoot the ball lots because there are not many other offensive options on the Raps roster at the moment.

  7. okc2014 says:

    I agree. The Raptors are off to a pretty good start. I do believe, however, no matter how good they are this season (7th seed tops), Casey is coaching his last season w/ the Raptors. There has been too much talk about it. The same thing happened w/ Larry Drew last season with the Hawks. I bet Casey already has something lined up, that’s how they all do it. Nothing personal. This is a business that wants to win championships.

  8. Edgar says:

    Hire Lionel Hollins! He knows HOW to use Big men.

  9. manie says:

    the raptors are on a good start, what’s is everybody complaining about

  10. Another Lithuanian says:

    Who is talking about Eurobasketball as bad?? First of all, NBA is biggest basketball market and is the 1 place where the biggest money go, so you know what I mean. Secondly, Eurobasketball plays more DEFENSE than here, I heard from a lot of NBA playes played in Euro, said that in NBA is easier to get ot the rim as there is more space. In Euro you play with tactics, not only run and shoot like derozan. There are great examples where players like T.Lawson in NBA is quite good, but in Euro he was not so good and of course the same goes converse.
    About JV, well, this guy is overrated for now. He got some weight, muscles what made him loosing his speed, he became like a robot. Of course, he needs more pick-n-rolls, as the only way he can get the points is from rebounding… his post moves still are weak. However, I hope he will find the way.

  11. Mihir says:

    There’s so many great coaches out there, so DC will be fired. I’d like to see George Karl or Alvin Gentry give it a shot with the raptors.

  12. Lithuanian says:

    GET THE BALL TO JONAS VALANCIUNAS!!! ITS ALL THE SAME OFENSE WHEN GAY ANT DEROZAN SHOOT DIFICULT JUMPERS WITH 30% WTF…TRADE DEROZAN AND GUY….

  13. ShawnKemp says:

    I like Jonas’ hustle. But where the hell did a 20/10 expectation come from!?!? He has absolutely NO offensive moves. At times…he looks downright comical in the post. His jump shot wretched. Come on. I like the kid…but he’s not close to being a 20/10 guy and unless he makes drastic improvements…he won’t even be close when it comes to scoring.

  14. stephen says:

    DeRozan and Gay are the most selfish duo in the league. No doubt. Lowrly is not true PG as well. Do not expect good stats from Jonas until these 3 and Casey, who let the “stars” shoot as many shots (most of them makes no sense) will be fired or traded.

    Watch real basketball (Spurs, Clippers, European basketball) and then turn on Rapt… sorry DeRmar and Rudy 2on5 game. You will understand how it is impossible for Jonas to improve like a team guy, individually too.

  15. swagoo says:

    WHO YOU KNOW THAT DRIP SWAGOO

  16. sakiii says:

    All of the raptors fans hope Casey gets fired and Masaij hires George Karl!! LET JV PLAY

  17. LohLoh says:

    Having watched the 3 Raptors games so far this season, it can be seen that there are times when JV is slow to get back and slow to get up the court in transition. You gotta give the guy some credit for being in the summer league and then the euro championships. People get tired after extended amounts of work, it’s called getting burned out. I can’t comment on DC as a coach, but it’s there to be seen when the speed of the game is not good for JV to get minutes.

    I believe in JV and I believe he will break out this year. We just need to be patient with him and the Raptors.

  18. Also Concerned says:

    I agree with concern’s comment, also whoever asks for Triano over Casey is out of their minds. The Raptors did have talent with Triano, he had Bosh for two seasons didn’t he? Casey coached probably the least talented Raptor team in history two years ago, and made them a top ten defensive team. He knows what he is doing he is trying to win games right now, which is what the raptors need most of all; getting off to a good start for once. JV is “gonna get there” like Casey said, but unlike MCW in Philly or other young players who play 40 plus minutes , he doesn’t have to go on the court and do everything at once for his team. Slowly expanding his role until he becomes the focal point of the offense isn’t the flashy way of doing it, but it is the best way.

  19. lawd says:

    I completely understand wat Casey is doing now. Its smart

  20. jimmy jazz says:

    George Karl ????

  21. TO says:

    Fire him and masai convinces george karl to come to toronto?

    • Coach Karl for Mayor says:

      Agreed! We need a guy like coach Karl here in Toronto. Someone who van really get us to pound the rock!!!

      Pun was intended =P

  22. Concerned says:

    It is amazing to see how many misguided raptor fans there are. As far as I know (and I could be wrong but please tell me) the playoffs aren’t in November. The team (not just Casey) is trying to get the players ready for an extended run this year. You know playing longer than mid-way through April. whats the point in burning out JV before the Allstar break.
    I’m so glad you guys aren’t the coach because if it were up to you JV would be averaging 40 minutes a game regardless of the record.
    Sorry guys, they’re in win now mode (for now) get used to it.

  23. Sam says:

    This is a non-issue, sometimes they need to play small ball like all teams, and once he’s dominant JV will force other teams to try to match up with him. He’ll make a huge step up this year. It just won’t show in the first 3 games that’s all.

  24. as says:

    He dont only need minutes, he does need touches as well. Cause now only chance to score is after he got offencive rebound on his own.

  25. nbaLifer says:

    I doubt Ujiri will keep DC anyway. He likely wants to start again from scratch

  26. Mike says:

    First of all DC is right. Jonas does seem slow getting back into transition, but once hes on defensive mode he does get lots of stop from the offensive team which the raptors need. JV just need to up his speed, and I know he will do that if he gets more minutes. They need JV for defense and not offense for now. JV will develop his offensive skill once he become more mature and get use to playing with the pros and not Eurobasketball and Summer leagues.

  27. tipo says:

    what if raptors management is delusional again that they got a shot at championship or deep playoff run with Rudy Gay now, similar to j.o’neal, bosh and calderon trio? what if that is the reason they don’t want to let rookie develop.

  28. mike says:

    Casey is a joke. I’m pretty sure he will be fired soon.

  29. E says:

    I personally think he’s a bit tired and needs to regroup from such a busy summer and preseason. He’ll eventually come back fresh.

  30. J.D says:

    Dwane Casey is like Mike Antoni they likes to bs.

  31. Raptors28 says:

    I don’t believe anything Casey says at this point. All he’s done since he’s got to Toronto is talk BS. How is he going to ‘get there’ if he doesn’t get playing time or touches? Dwane Casey needs to be fired ASAP he has no business being a head coach in the NBA.