Raptors focus on getting JV into mix
Pre-season kicks off with win, Toronto will give Valanciunas every chance to prove himself
VANCOUVER— They ran repeated plays to get him post-up opportunities or 10-foot baseline jumpers and the defensive philosophy has been tweaked to try and limit his liabilities and allow him to play more.
One of the more enduring storylines of the Raptors’ pre-season will be “what did they do for Jonas Valanciunas now?”
Knowing the seven-foot centre likely needs to show marked improvement in all facets of the game if the Raptors are to have any measure of significant success, Valanciunas will be afforded all kinds of chances to prove himself.
Four plays called for him in the first two minutes of Sunday’s pre-season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers and a tweak to screen-and-roll defence to let him play closer to the basket.
There are a handful of new players to acclimate to Toronto’s system, and one holdover as well.
Valanciunas was solid if unspectacular with 12 rebounds and 10 points as Toronto beat the Clippers 93-73 before a soldout Rogers Arena crowd announced at 19,000 to kick off the exhibition season.
“We were trying to go to him to see what he had,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “I thought he did a decent job but, again, we have to make sure we make the right play.
“We’re trying to have the mentality that just because we call a play, it doesn’t mean it’s for you, it’s for the Toronto Raptors, not for a certain player. Make sure you’re ready to attack but you can still be a passer in that situation.”
While Valanciunas is the work-inprogress, the new version of point guard Kyle Lowry had an exceptional night with 26 points in just 21 minutes that included an 11-for-12 night from the free throw line.
Lowry was playing at less than 100 per cent, bothered slightly by a nag- ging groin injury he said will keep him out of Monday’s game against Golden State in San Jose, Calif.
“I’m a little sore, so I’m going to sit out (Monday) and let the young guys get some reps,” Lowry said.
Regardless of the nick, he played pretty well.
“He’s been playing like that all camp,” DeMarre Carroll said. “Kyle, he’s an aggressive guard. He’s been hot shooting the ball all camp. You can just tell he has a confidence level about himself.”
But as good as Lowry was — the Raptors can count on steady production from him — they want to see if Valanciunas can provide more than he has in his first three seasons.
The centre did look more comfortable on defence — he got more rebounds than usual because he’s typically closer to the basket — but he did have five turnovers and was 4for-10 from the field.
“I love JV a ton but when you have five turnovers as a centre that’s way too many,” Casey said. “We’ve got to make sure we get those cut down and that’s on me because we haven’t worked on a lot of offence . . . but we have to take care of the basketball.”
As is often the case, the Raptors played what could turn out to be a regular rotation for most of the night before going to the deep-bench players in the late stages.
They were without Anthony Bennett, however, as he sat out with a shoulder injury picked up during training camp. There is no timetable for the Canadian former first-overall draft pick to play in a game. James Johnson (Achilles), Lucas Nogueira (hamstring) and Axel Toupane (ankle) also sat out.
It will be the case for most of the exhibition season.
“Off the top of my head, I thought the groupings were good,” Casey said.
“I thought we had some scoring droughts with the second unit. Again, we’ve got to see the matchups, the groupings and how they play on both ends of the floor.”
Clippers’ Blake Griffin is fouled by Raptors’ DeMarre Carroll during first-half pre-season play in Vancouver Sunday.