The media was given a rare glimpse into practice and Valanciunas was seen excitedly banging away with the likes of Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and veteran Jamaal Magloire.
The Lithuanian 7-footer had been itching to get back to regular duty and his teammates were pleased to have him out there as well.
“He’s very active, you can tell he’s so amped to play,” Johnson said.
“Every play in practice he just cuts in front of people. He’s ready to go.”
Valanciunas has drawn some comparisons to Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah and ex-Bull John Lucas III said that made some sense.
“(Valanciunas is) more under control. Both those guys are high-energy guys. When you have guys (like them) you know you’re going to have someone who is going to run the floor, set the picks, be in the right spot defensively, bust their butt and try to get every defensive rebound and go after the offensive boards. You can’t ask for (any) more,” Lucas said.
The veteran guard is intrigued by the big rookie.
“I don’t know if a lot of people know his game yet, but he can knock down the 15-footer, he’s athletic. He just plays hard every time he gets the ball in the paint he’s trying to dunk it, so it’s either going to be a dunk or a foul. When you have a big doing that, it’s no telling what else he can do. We’ve just seen glimpses of it right now, he still has a lot more in the bag,” Lucas said.
“We’re still trying to ease him into it, and he’s trying to go full speed and we’re like: ‘Slow down big fella, we’ve got a long season.’”
Reining in Valanciunas and keeping him out of foul trouble will be a key all year for the Raptors and it starts on Wednesday.
Casey wants to see how Valanciunas does against a sturdy group of Detroit big men which includes Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Jason Maxiell and the ornery Jonas Jerebko.
The coach was furious that the Raptors allowed Real Madrid to shoot 44 free throws and wants to make sure the Pistons — a far more physical team — don’t live at the line as well.
“Those guys love contact and so it’s going to be a totally, totally different game for our guys,” he said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how we all react to a physical game.”
Well, maybe not everybody. Casey is pretty sure how Valanciunas will react.
“He’s not afraid of contact (and) hits you first,” said the coach.
Now, he can finally start hitting opponents instead of teammates.
LUCAS WANTED A CHALLENGE
John Lucas III had some options this off-season, but ultimately decided that he most wanted to be a Raptor.
What was he looking for?
“Something that’s different, something challenging, but (I) also wanted to (find) something I feel is going to be special,” Lucas explained on Tuesday.
“Coach Casey, (Bryan Colangelo) and the organization made a lot of changes over the summer trying to put the pieces of the puzzle altogether. Just to be a part of something that I see on the verge of about to be something spectacular — and people look at me crazy — but I really feel like we have something special,” he said.
Lucas said the group has bonded extremely quickly and genuinely enjoys being around each other.
“When you have a team like that, it’s always something special that’s going to turn out.”
Lucas knows that he might have a limited role at first since proven starters Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon are already on board, but that doesn’t matter to him.
“Anytime I get my opportunity, if I play, if I don’t play, I’m still right there for the team,” he said.
Raptors at Pistons 7:30 p.m. NBATV Canada
Jonas Valanciunas vs. Andre Drummond
Valanciunas, the 2011 No. 5 overall selection is expected to make his NBA debut, while Drummond, the No. 9 overall pick a year later is also one of this season’s most intriguing rookies. They likely will match up at least a little bit on Wednesday. Super raw, but just shy of 7 feet and 270 pounds, Drummond has a big upside but will require a lot of patience.
The Pistons are a big team. Rodney Stuckey likes to back down smaller guards, but doesn’t get to do so as much since Brandon Knight has taken over at the point, moving Stuckey to shooting guard ... Greg Monroe is the team’s best player, a multi-talented big man ... Expected to fight with the Raptors and other teams for the East’s final playoff spot this season.
DID YOU KNOW?
Drummond is among the league’s youngest players, having just turned 19 in August ... Former Raptor Charlie Villanueva is still on the team, while Tayshaun Prince is the lone remaining bridge to Detroit’s 2004 title-winning team ... Amir Johnson was selected by the Pistons out of high school.