Title: How Raptors can use Jonas Valanciunas with Kyle Lowry out, Serge Ibaka in
Date: March 2, 2017
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I suggested a potential experiment where Jonas Valanciunas props up the Raptors’ second unit to help keep the offense afloat.
The era of Jonas Valanciunas closing out games for the Raptors ended with the acquisition of Serge Ibaka ahead of the trade deadline.
In reality, that era never really existed, or at least not consistently. Valanciunas’ defensive shortcomings and head coach Dwane Casey’s relatively short leash with him late in games has been a discussion point around the team for years. Ibaka’s arrival simplifies matters. No longer is it an equally but differently flawed Lucas Nogueira or the defence-only Bismack Biyombo chipping into Valanciunas’ fourth-quarter role. Now, they have a legitimate, two-way centre who can bring rim protection, improve the team’s ability to switch on defence, and space the floor.
“It’s gonna be matchup-driven,” Casey said last week ahead of a game against the Boston Celtics. “If they’ve got a guy like (Al) Horford popping out to 3-point land, putting the ball on the floor, I’m not gonna put Jonas in that situation, to try to go out and guard perimeter players that are playing the five position. That’ll be a game-to-game, matchup-driven situation as we go forward.”
That the Raptors closed out their first three games following the trade deadline with Ibaka as the centre is no surprise. While it’s not a guarantee things will continue in that manner, it would certainly make sense. Ibaka’s plus-9.2 net rating through four games speaks further to his impact, albeit in a small sample, and his plus-7.5 mark at the centre position suggests that downsized look will be a favourite of Casey. (Valanciunas owns a minus-9.8 rating in those same games.)
This isn’t to say Valanciunas’ overall importance stands to be limited, though.