Valanciunas impressive in Raptors debut
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
|Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas smiles during the team's media day before the upcoming NBA basketball season in Toronto October 1, 2012. (Reuters/MARK BLINCH)
AUBURN HILLS, MICH. - The Jonas Valanciunas era is off and running with plenty of fodder for the fine folks predicting big things for the young Lithuanian.
But the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft wasn't overly thrilled with his own showing.
"It was a good test, but I'm waiting for Friday," Valanciunas said afterwards. "Yeah, I want the return match," he said referring to Detroit's visit to Toronto on Friday.
His debut, initially delayed by an extra year of service to his club team in Lithuania, was further delayed by a calf strain he suffered just before training camp began.
All that delaying only built expectations higher and, as head coach Dwane Casey pointed out, they were pretty high to begin with.
"(They're) probably unrealistic right now just because he's been out for so long," Casey said. "The only way he is going to learn is to get out there and get thrown into the fire."
Casey, after saying he was going to hold Valanciunas to eight to 10 minutes "maybe stretch it to 11," couldn't help himself and after playing the Lithuanian for almost nine minutes in the first half brought him out for another four in the third quarter before shutting him down.
Like any rookie, Valanciunas had some good moments (two blocks and at least one forced turnover) and some bad one's (a turnover on a bad handoff at the top of the key and a goaltending call that even Valanciunas chided himself for). But on the whole, his debut was far more good than it was bad.
Still, not nearly good enough for Valanciunas himself.
"I was not ready 100%," he said. "We discussed my playing time before the game. (Coach) let me play just 10 minutes. We'll see Friday."
His only bucket of the night came on a nice roll to the basket that he finished with an easy layup off a perfect feed from Jose Calderon. Casey considers that part of Valanciunas' game one of his real strengths.
"He is one of the best rollers that I have seen in a long time," Casey said comparing him to Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejeo.
On two other occasions with Valanciunas rolling to the basket, the defence collapsed on the rookie leaving Andrea Bargnani wide open in the corner for a three.
"That was Jonas creating that with how fast he rolls," Casey said.
But it's Valanciunas' running ability for a big man and his motor that Casey considers the rookie's most NBA-ready skills.
Watching Valanciunas battling under both baskets every second he was on the floor, we can say with complete confidence that the kid is not going to get outworked.
REST OF THE GAME
Just a brutal first quarter defensively for the Raptors as the Pistons shot 70% from the floor making 16-of- 23 attempts. "That is not how we're going to be built," Casey said. "We talk about playing fast, but we're not going to play fast and give up 70% shooting to the other team and try to outscore people. We've got to find a balance between the two." ... Casey said the return of Valanciunas is important for his offence because he has built a number of plays into the offence that revolve around the skill-set of the young man ... While Ed Davis has been getting plenty of love from Casey throughout the early part of this pre-season for his new-found confidence, not to mention new shot, Casey also has been impressed with Amir Johnson. According to Casey these two have caught his eye more than anyone else so far this season. "They came in making a case for their minutes and as we've said, it's difficult for five bigs to play so we're looking for guys to emerge and those two have emerged above all right now because they are playing at a high level with confidence and a sense of purpose."
AND STILL MORE
John Lucas III is taking full advantage of the minutes he is being afforded with Kyle Lowry sitting down with a strained muscle in his left leg. Lucas, who had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting on Monday, had another 16 last night on 6-of-12 shooting. So far this pre-season, he is 5-for-10 from three-point range ... In Toronto, this game was very much all about Valanciunas' NBA debut, but Detroit has a player in Andre Drummond who pretty much stole the rookie show. Drummond threw down a handful of thunderous dunks and rejected Ed Davis at the Detroit basket with the kind of block that turns games around. Drummond finished the night with 12 points and seven rebounds. He also had two steals and two blocks... Staying with the rookie theme, Raptors forward Quincy Acy got some early run (third quarter) and like Valanciunas showed he's not backing down from anyone. He wasn't on the floor more than a couple of minutes before both he and Pistons Jonas Jerebko were issued technicals after mixing it up.