Sports

Raptors' Valanciunas OK with being on bench late in games

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

When the Raptors opposition goes small, Jonas Valanciunas (left) often finds himself on the bench because he is not capable of covering the quicker players in the league. (USA TODAY)

When the Raptors opposition goes small, Jonas Valanciunas (left) often finds himself on the bench because he is not capable of covering the quicker players in the league. (USA TODAY)

The Raptors rabid fan base is far more concerned about Jonas Valanciunas’ fourth-quarter playing minutes than he is.

Valanciunas confirmed that Monday when he was asked about his playing time in late-game situations.

“No, I’m just doing my stuff,” Valanciunas said. “I am not frustrated. Sometimes I play in the fourth. Sometimes I don’t. It’s a different matchup every night.”

There are times, even now, when language is an issue for Valanciunas, particularly when dealing with groups of media types, but he has no problem expressing why he sees his playing time doled out the way it is.

“Every night is a different situation,” he said. “A lot of teams go small, so coach is trying to match their smalls. When they go small they can shoot, so it’s hard for me to get out at the three-point line and guard the shooters, so he’s just trying to match them.”

Head coach Dwane Casey spends an inordinate amount of time addressing this very subject with the changing media faces that make an appearance bringing the subject up at least once a week.

Consistently he has maintained that if Valanciunas is dominating the game at the other end of the court with his scoring, he will make every effort to keep him in games through the fourth quarter.

Monday was one of those times when Valanciunas was dominating offensively. Unfortunately for Valanciunas though, he was probably the only member of the starting five having any real success. .

It wasn’t until the second unit came in to start the fourth against the Milwaukee Bucks and ramped up the defensive focus and intensity that the Raptors began to get back in the game.

Monday’s second unit which primarily consisted of Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, Terrence Ross, Pat Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough got 13 consecutive stops at one point through that fourth quarter while scoring 15 unanswered points to get the Raptors back on even terms.

Tied at 75-75, Casey admitted there was plenty of discussion about getting guys like Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan back in the game.

“Last night was one time I did question whether (Jonas) should be in there instead of Tyler,” Casey admitted. But I would argue too that Tyler was a big reason our pick and roll defence was so good, our scramble defence was so good. Usually in that situation we are small and are trapping​.

“We gave up a couple of threes just because we were slow with one of our bigs trying to get out to rotate,” Casey said. “They are playing (Jared) Dudley who is usually a three at the four. We needed to get faster in our rotations and we did that with Tyler and Pat. No disrespect to JV. If I had Tyson Chandler in that situation he probably wouldn’t be in the game. It’s just a style of play.”

For whatever reason, the Raptors’ Lithuanian big man is a real lightning rod for second guessing by the fan base that sees a young man who can be unstoppable in the paint at times have decent runs through three quarters only to be left on the bench in crunch time in the fourth.

Casey gets it. He would like nothing more than to be able to stick with his starting centre, but when the opposition goes small, the threat of getting lit up at your own end is just too great.

“Unfortunately we have been in those situations a lot in the fourth quarter where we needed speed on the floor or they’re going small and Amir and Pat or Amir and Tyler give us that defensive energy we need.

“(Jonas’) next evolution as a player is to be able to rotate out to the three-point line and do that. That will be his next step. Guard smaller players on the perimeter in a rotation if we have to do that,” Casey said.

Valanciunas took steps in that direction this past summer when he spent a few weeks working with a running coach but he knows that work is only just getting started.

“It’s something that I will work on in the summer, quickness and strength,” he said. “I worked with some running coaches and that helped but I’m not there yet so I still have work to do.”

For now, the bulk of Valanciunas’ minutes come in the first and third quarters (see chart). But Casey sees a day when there won’t be the drop off in the fourth.

“I think he can someday be that guy at the end of the game, definitely,” Casey said. “He’s better this year, way better than he was in the first couple of years. He’s better at staying in front, staying down in his stance and he’s getting better all the time. Is he there yet? No, but he’s getting there. I love the way he’s competing.”

WAS LOWRY PULLING A MARSHAWN

Kyle Lowry was not in a talkative mood on Monday night.

But he laughed off the suggestion a day later that he was channelling his inner Marshawn Lynch as he answered three questions about his coach’s take on the game (a stinker), an apparent injury he suffered (a hamstring/finger combination) and the team shooting just 32% on the night with pretty much the same answer.

Lowry, who is the player he is today in part because he is fully committed to doing things his way, was not about to take back anything he said the night before.

“People can have their own opinion (about how the interview was handled) but at the end of the day that’s how I felt,” Lowry said. “The questions that were asked yesterday basically deserved answers of a bad game. We had a bad game.”

And that’s how Lowry answered all three questions: “We had a bad game.”

Lowry seemed genuinely surprised his responses were even an issue.

“I think I handled it perfectly to be honest,” Lowry said. “The questions that were asked to me were how do we fix the offence and I said it was a bad game. About the defence and about my injury and it was overall a bad game.”

About that injury? Lowry clearly wasn’t about to get specific about it, although he at least addressed it a day later after asking out of the game and heading to the locker room with a trainer and the team doctor.

“Just a little soreness,” Lowry said. “That’s about it. Nothing major. Nothing that will keep me out.”

Rather than identity the injury he just chalked it up to general overall soreness that comes in an NBA season.

 


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