We’ll skip during the last recreation Jonas Valanciunas performed at Scotiabank Area as a result of, properly, he got here off the bench towards the Milwaukee Bucks and didn’t do a lot.
However the second-last recreation? The night time he put up 26 factors and eight rebounds and two assists on Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in (am I studying this proper?) 18 minutes?
Yeah, that deserves a point out.
And you may hold going from there. The large Lithuanian was within the midst of a profession yr when final wore a Raptors uniform. He got here of the bench behind Serge Ibaka and was placing up numbers that may have required some dialog about him being a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award had been it not for harm after which a commerce.
There are many causes to get a little bit nostalgic about Valanciunas taking part in his first recreation in Toronto since December of 2018. Amongst them: he’s one of many nicest, most genial athletes to ever put on the uniform. Not fairly Jose Calderon good – the Spanish level guard is the nicest man on the planet, so robust competitors — however definitely within the Anthony Parker class.
Earlier than the sport, he discovered time to have a couple of phrases with safety individuals, Raptors employees, former teammates and even some reporters. It was like he by no means left.
Valanciunas may not have turn out to be the franchise saviour some had been hoping for when he was chosen fifth in 2011 by then Raptors president Bryan Colangelo, however his effort was at all times evident, the size he went to enhance his recreation apparent and his good nature by no means wavered, and followers liked him for it.
It was legitimately unhappy when Raptors announcer Herbie Kuhn known as Valanciunas’ identify in pre-game introductions and there have been no cheers to greet it. The place would have been roaring within the earlier than occasions.
However sentiment or nostalgia apart, Valanciunas was and stays a tremendously efficient participant.
He by no means performed for the Raptors once more after spraining his ankle towards the Golden State Warriors a little bit after he blew up Embiid. The Raptors had been 23-7 at that time and clearly a group that was going to contend for a title. However Valanciunas was out till the commerce deadline and have become the piece – together with Delon Wright and CJ Miles – that introduced Marc Gasol to the Raptors.
You may’t argue with a hoop or the function Gasol’s defensive and passing acumen performed in getting it, however Valanciunas was averaging 24.5 factors, 13.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per/36 with a TS% of .640 when he was dealt. Simply loopy productiveness in 20 minutes a recreation.
Predictably Valanciunas made his presence felt towards his previous group as he completed with 20 factors and 17 rebounds in 34 minutes in what was a aggressive, robust recreation from begin to end.
Motivation apart, the Raptors have largely not bothered with even having a conventional centre on their roster since parting methods with Valanciunas after which Ibaka and Gasol [through free agency] in 2020], choosing a lineup that options size nearly all over the place apart from when Fred VanVleet is taking part in level guard.
It’s working, roughly. The Raptors had sufficient to outlast the Pelicans 105-101, extending their successful streak to a season-best six video games and enhancing their report to 20-17 whereas the Pelicans, floundering with franchise participant Zion Williamson possible out for the yr with a foot drawback, fell to 14-26.
They wanted the smallest man on the roster — VanVleet — to come back up big once more, nevertheless. A pair of deep triples on consecutive possessions by the molten Raptors level guard put the Raptors up three with 90 seconds to play after it appeared like Toronto was at risk of letting the sport slip away from them. A tip-in by Chris Boucher helped as properly, and that the Pelicans couldn’t knock down a pair of open threes after Valanciunas drew double groups within the publish didn’t damage.
VanVleet even snagged a key offensive rebound within the waning seconds simply to make certain. He adopted his first profession triple-double on Friday with 32 factors, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, his sixth 30-point outing in his final eight begins. The Raptors at the moment are 15-3 in video games when VanVleet scores 30 or extra factors.
Pascal Siakam added 29 factors whereas snagging 10 rebounds and 7 assists, as he’s mounting an all-star push of his personal.
VanVleet’s play has made the Raptors go of late, it’s inarguable.
However taking part in small – at centre anyway – comes with a price. The Raptors are considerably weak towards the league’s larger massive males. Former Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl – who was traded in the summertime of 2018 as a part of the deal that introduced Kawhi Leonard to Toronto – put up 19 and 12 in 23 minutes when he was in Toronto final week. On Friday Hassan Whiteside’s like was fairly modest for the Jazz, however the quantity of consideration and energy the Raptors needed to put into ensuring he didn’t punish them on the rim was one of many causes the Jazz had been in a position to go 17-of-38 from deep, even whereas lacking nearly all of their key rotation gamers.
The Raptors performed each Birch and Boucher down the stretch to counter Valanciunas’ bulk. However he drew fouls and punished the Raptors for switching, corresponding to his lay-up over Siakam with 4 minutes left that tied the rating 93-93
“Yeah, it’s a priority,” stated Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I feel that is the factor the place you bought a extremely massive, robust scoring centre within the recreation that you simply don’t see all that usually. Satirically, we’re seeing – Whiteside is certainly one of them, Jonas, [Joel] Embiid, you recognize the blokes. We’re not likely beginning a centre so we’ve obtained to take that problem, we’ve gotta get the rotations discovered, how we’re gonna try this, put some dimension in there. Your concern is JV capturing it higher as everyone is aware of. He’s definitely obtained that right-handed hook within the low publish and my primary considerations are at all times his offensive rebounding.”
Which implies, the Raptors defensive rebounding: Toronto is final within the NBA in defensive rebound per centage. The Pelicans, it might be price noting, are first.
And Valanciunas is a extra expert participant than he was three years in the past. Most notably he got here into the sport capturing 43 per cent from three this season on an affordable quantity. He’s not the space-eater he was up to now although he’s nonetheless a handful within the paint as he confirmed when he turned laborious proper from the mid-post early within the fourth quarter and almost put Chris Boucher within the basket.
The Raptors largely dealt with by attempting to be fast and environment friendly when their assist. When Gary Trent Jr. needed to set out with a sore ankle the Raptors began with Khem Birch, who drew Valanciunas. The Raptors set the tone early with VanVleet coming laborious on a double on Valanciunas’ first contact. Within the second quarter – when Boucher was giving up almost 80 kilos to the large Lithuanian – the Raptors despatched dimension to assist as quickly because the Pelicans centre put the ball on the ground, with first Valuable Achiuwa after which Scottie Barnes trigger deflections as Valanciunas tried to cross out of the double.
It’s one technique to method it. And on the different finish, Valanciunas at occasions was misplaced defensively because the Raptors unfold the ground and left him and not using a true massive man or perhaps a important roll menace to remain residence on.
Valanciunas has made strides as a defender for the reason that days since then Raptors head coach Dwane Casey determined he couldn’t hold Valanciunas on the ground late video games when lineups usually get smaller and quicker.
He confirmed it when the Raptors remoted the red-hot Siakam on him on the wing and Valanciunas stored his previous teammate in entrance of him on the drive and obtained again to the rim to dam Valuable Achiuwa on the rim when Siakam dished off.
“He nonetheless performs – his dimension is conducive to defending the paint and he does a extremely good job,” stated Nurse. “You don’t get a complete lot of layups on him; you don’t get a complete lot of lobs on him. He nearly forces you into the mid-range recreation together with his fashion. He’s in all probability gonna be on the market, he’s kinda certainly one of their primary guys who finishes video games now.”
You may’t assist however surprise the place Valanciunas would possibly end the season. He’s obtained two years as $30 million left on his eminently affordable deal. He’s 29 years previous. The Pelicans are a group in no-man’s land however will most probably be sellers on the commerce deadline.
It might make sense anyway.
In some unspecified time in the future, the Raptors will possible want a real massive in the event that they’re going to make any actual noise within the East.
VanVleet can’t do all of it eternally.
They may do so much worse than goal Valanciunas. Think about the ovation then.