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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.