Box – Raptors 99, Pistons 82

Okay, here’s the deal – I only caught the second half of the game and forgot to PVR it, so I’m working with a shortened deck. Fortunately, Arse wrote a very detailed quick react that has all of the relevant notes from last night’s game. Instead, I’m going to focus on two specific areas of last night’s game: Jonas Valanciunas’ performance and Kyle Lowry’s passing.

The Lethaluanian
How ESPN credits DeRozan and Gay for this win in their headline is beyond me – they each scored 21 points on 50% shooting, while Amir Johnson and Valanciunas combined for 34-and-21 on 16-of-22 shooting, having a far greater impact on the game. Yes, Gay had a hot third quarter as the Raptors pulled away, but credit belongs with the post players today. Since Johnson has gotten his fair share of text lately, we’ll focus on JV today.

Valanciunas continued his excellent run of play with a 14-and-13 performance, shooting 7-of-11 and chipping in four blocks (he also had four turnovers). Let’s have a look at his 11 field goal attempts.

1. Offensive board tipped to him and he dunks it.
2. Gets ball on left block, posts up Monroe but he alters the shot, forcing the layup to miss.
3. Pump fakes at free throw line to freeze the help, drives for two-handed jam.
4. Gets open off a back door cut and gets ball on left block, takes one dribble into Jerebko and hits a hook shot moving away from the rim.
5. Gets ball at right elbow, posts into Drummond, passes to Lucas in corner. Jonas sets a screen, Lucas sends a bad pass his way but he recovers it. Hits a baseline jumper with five on the clock from about 15 feet.
6. Gets open on back door cut, receives ball on left block. Takes two dribbles on the post up, flattening Drummond, and lays it in.
7. Gets ball as trailer at the top of the key and makes the jumper.
8. Gets ball at right elbow, misses the jumper with Drummond on him. But…
9. Off Shot #8, follows his miss and collects the rebound for a lay-up.
10. Gets ball on left block with Kravtsov on him. Takes two dribbles on the post up, gathers and misses a turn-around jumper.
11. Sets screen for Lucas, gets ball at top of the key and air balls the open jumper.

He also had a pair of assists: First, a hand-off to Lowry where he immediately screened Calderon to free Lowry up; second, a high-low feed from the top of the key to an open Johnson under the bucket.

And now, to be fair, the four turnovers:

1. Lowry is stripped and Valanciunas tries to recover but loses the handle going up with it.
2. Valanciunas posts up Kravtsov but doesn’t see the double coming, and he’s stripped.
3. Spin move on Kravtsov works and is pretty, but referee calls Jonas for a push. Ticky-tack call.
4. Fields hands the ball to Valanciunas with three Pistons around and he can’t keep a handle on it.

It’s been really nice to see Valanciunas’ improvement around the floor on the offensive end. We talked about this on Rapcast #147 on Friday, but he’s really shown a lot of growth since the start of the year. Not only is his jumper improving from outside of 10 feet (he’s 40% from beyond 10 feet overall, not great but enough that teams need to start respecting it), but his post work has improved as well. While still somewhat sloppy, he’s using his body and his strength well and that should only improve. His touch around the basket is coming along, too, as he’s at 66% in the restricted area.

The improvement since his return from injury on Feb. 1 is obvious:

Valanciunas, first 28 games: -8.5 Net Rating, 8.2% Ast, 14% Reb, 14.2% TO, 56.7% TS, 17.4% Usg
Valanciunas, last 26 games: -1.4 Net Rating, 3.1% Ast, 17.5% Reb, 18.5% TO, 64.5% TS, 15.8% Usg

You can clearly see the scoring and rebounding rates going up, while the turnovers are rising and assists dropping. Perhaps most troubling is that his usage rate is down, which wrinkles the brain given the current state of the franchise. But maybe things have changed in March.

Valanciunas, 14 March games: -9.0 Net Rating, 3.3% Ast, 16.2% Reb, 16.5% TO, 66.9% TS, 17.5% Usg

We see a dip in net rating of late, but this stat isn’t a great indicator in small samples since so much relies on team context (perhaps a better indicator is on-court/off-court stats, which, for the season, show the team is better without him on the floor). That’s all fine, though, since the goal isn’t winning games right now anyway. It’s all about developing Valanciunas, and that’s something that is happening before our eyes in terms of rebounding and scoring. The playmaking and ball control need to come eventually, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’m sure no Lithuanian city was either.

His defense is a topic for another article, but let me leave you with this for the offensive end of things:

Valanciunas, rookie season: 60.1% TS, 14.9 PER, 15.6% Reb, 3.9% Blk
Number of players who have done that in their rookie season: 2 (Jonas and Dean Garrett)
Number of players who have done that at age 20: 2 (Jonas and Andrew Bynum)
Number of times it’s been done by any player, any age, any year: 36

Yes, they’re random cut-offs, but it’s pretty rare company Valanciunas is in at a very young age.

Lowry’s Playmaking
Kyle Lowry had 11 dimes last night but only four points. It’s the second game in a row he’s had double-digit assists and single-digit points, and it continues a worrisome trend: Lowry appears to either be in “attack” mode or “facilitate” mode, and doesn’t yet grasp how to blend the two styles in the same game. Sure, he has a few double-doubles, but more often than not it feels like Lowry is picking either his KLOE persona or his Calderon Knock-Off persona.

For the year, his 11.9-4.8-6.1 line can’t be called anything but disappointing, as it represents a drop-off from his last two years in Houston. In rate terms, it’s more or less the same.

Lowry, 2011-12: 1.8 Net Rating, 55.8% TS, 32.4% Ast, 8.2% Reb, 21.8% Usg
Lowry, 2012-13: -0.3 Net Rating, 55.4% TS, 32.3% Ast, 9.5% Reb, 20.0% Usg

We thought that with the keys to the kingdom, Lowry would thrive. So maybe things have gotten better since Calderon left?

Lowry, with Calderon: -1.2 Net Rating, 57.8% TS, 34.6% Ast, 9.9% Reb, 23.0% Usg
Lowry, post-Calderon: 0.7 Net Rating, 51.7% TS, 30.0% Ast, 9.0% Reb, 16.9% Usg

More so than any Calderon effect, this tells me that Lowry might be having trouble adjusting to playing with other high-usage players. His assists and usage are both down a fair amount, backing up the anecdotal evidence that Lowry just isn’t handling the rock as much. When he does, he seems to be struggling with said scoring-playmaking balance. What I don’t understand is why his effectiveness when he does try to score has dropped off so dramatically – you’d think extra attention diverted to teammates would help Lowry, especially from long range, but his percentages have faltered.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the solution is beyond more time playing together (which was one of the reasons I didn’t advocate the team shutting down Rudy Gay unless the injury was serious).

And just for fun, here is a graphical representation of all of Lowry’s assists from the last night, because I’m a nerd and wanted to try something like this for future analysis. The blue lines represent his movement and the red lines represent the pass. The x indicates where the shooter got the ball. Hooray for colouring!

lowry passes

Man, that’s a mess. Oh well, live and learn.

And that’s all I’ve got for your post-game. Happy Easter/Passover/Whatever else you may celebrate this weekend.

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  • André Börg

    The blue and red line diagram thing is a bit of mess, but don’t give up on it. It could be interesting.

    To make it even more complicated, how about scaling the “x”s to represent the distance to the nearest defender when the shot was converted. I think that is pertinent information, maybe more so than the blue lines.

    Why doesn’t my normal login for the forums work on comments to storys?

  • pran

    “Kyle’s an attack guard and he’s got the green light to attack. What we’ve got to do now is get the ball back in his hands and get it in his hands on the break. A lot of our turnovers are happening because our wings are initiating the break.” le doug quoting casey. Perhaps we will see something different in lowry these last couple games.

  • Good post game, even if you only watched half of it. A few comments.

    I’ve often wondered about the writeups on games on sites like ESPN. I’ve often thought the person writing it didn’t actually watch the game. And I really don’t think they do watch most of them.

    Valanciunas did score 14 points, but they are still not getting him the ball nearly enough. That said, I remember him making one good pass out of the low post all night. This is something he REALLY has to work on.

    The net rating for Valanciunas is a little skewed, though, because a lot of times during the season it has been Amir who has replaced him at center (whether off the bench or sliding from the four). And it’s rarely doing to be a downgrade to Amir, quite frankly.

    Why does Gay insist on taking so many bad shots during a game? It’s like if he doesn’t take a contested fadaway for too long, he gets anxious and chucks up a three. Last night, he just happen to be hitting them.

    Even thought Lowry got 11 assists, he’s really not looking like an instinctual PG out there. He throws too many passes that are just off the mark, or misses too many opportunities by not seeing a pass. I see Lowry a little like Damon Stoudamire. Stoudamire looked great when he could dominate the ball and do what he wanted, but when he played with more talented players, he struggled because he simply didn’t have a complimentary game, and wasn’t good enough to be a main guy on a good team.

    • pran

      so let him dominate the ball, what the fuck.

  • FAQ

    We’ve all been frustrated by teammates who only seem to be in the game when they are holding the ball and shooting indiscriminately. Sometimes they are heroes and sometimes zeroes.. but they bring down the rest of the team because it’s like playing 4-on-5 with these streetballin’ ballhogs.

    Unfortunately, they are remembered for their great individual performances and they really don’t care what the rest of the team does. Fans love them too because by definition fans are quite stupid when it comes to understanding the team game.

    Lowry is now exposed for what he really is, and what was known about him on all the other teams he played on… he is neither a PG or a SG… he’s an AG… (you interpret what “A” sstands for ….!!!

  • ezz_bee

    I like the blue lines, as it’s interesting to see his movement before the pass. I think you can get rid of the RED lines and just have just have the number again in red, as pretty much all passes go in a straight line. That would probably make it easier to follow. That said, even though it’s hard to read, it’s definitely worthwhile, especially for someone who wasn’t able to watch the game (like me!)

  • Guy

    Biggest reason why Lowry hasn’t flourished is because the coach wants him to be a different player than he is. Instead of designing an offense that suits Lowry’s aggressive style of play, Casey wants him to holster that & be a facilitator. Since that’s not his instinctive style, there will be times when he doesn’t look real smooth. But he attempts to do what’s asked of him, & happens when he does that? He gets criticized for not scoring enough. Further, Casey’s offense is supposed to run thru Derozan & Rudy, both less than efficient(last night’s game notwithstanding), high volume shooters that essentially stop ball-movement. How many more assists would KL have if those guys were more consistent, especially from 3 pt range where both are under 30%. But Casey wants Lowry to defer to those guys, & he does. KL is by no means perfect but, if he’s going to fail in Toronto, I’d rather he did so playing his style instead of the guy Casey is trying to change him into.

    • Matt52

      Great post.

    • FAQ

      Hmmm… isn’t that exactly what was expected of Bargs; to expand his game, and he tried his best and is now the pariah of the forum tribal honkers…??!!!


      i agree 100%…Casey has ruined him…

  • arsenalist

    Blake – how did you make that chart? Did you actually trace his patterns in MS Paint or something?

    • BlakeMurphy


  • RobertArchibald

    Like the diagram even though it is a bit of a cluster. It’s interesting to see that majority of his made assists are thrown over or through the defence from beyond the 3 point line. Very little drive and kick to the wings in our offence which leads to stagnant isos on the wing instead. This is partly because we don’t have great perimeter shooters but I also believe this is a Casey-ism. Lowry likes to drive in traffic and finish which would lead to options to pass after a few makes. Still believe he’s got a leash on him preventing this more often.