When Zach Lowe speaks, we listen.

Over at the Bill Simmons branch of the mothership, Zach Lowe wrote about “young players who are looking to make the leap to greatness”. In the article, he gives his thoughts on several budding stars across the league, including Ricky Rubio, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and our very own Jonas Valanciunas. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

I’ve tried to avoid second-year players here, but I’ll make Valanciunas an exception, since he came via the 2011 draft and carried very high expectations into this season after hitting double figures in 14 of his last 15 games last season, flashing a polished post-up game in the process.

But Valanciunas’s game had stagnated before a ferocious 18-point, 11-rebound effort against Denver on Sunday.1 His minutes are barely up, and Dwane Casey hasn’t consistently trusted Valanciunas to play crunch time — mostly because of Valanciunas’s struggles to execute Toronto’s defensive schemes. He’s using just 17.5 percent of Toronto’s possessions, a below-average number for a high-profile starter, and barely above his rookie-year share.

One reason is simple: This team belongs to Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, for better or worse. Even sets that don’t start with those guys — a Kyle Lowry–Valanciunas pick-and-roll, for instance — probably will end with one of them isolating, curling around a screen, or taking a dribble handoff before dribbling a bunch and heaving a midrange jumper. Lots of Toronto possessions look great for 12 seconds, before devolving into hero ball for the last eight or 10. “He’s third on the food chain,” Casey says, “and sometimes even fourth. Our offense is built around Rudy and DeMar.” Valanciunas is often left to simply get out of the way and prepare for an offensive rebound.

But it’s not all on the wing “stars.” The classic image of Valanciunas to this point is of him setting a pick, rolling down the lane, and raising both his arms in the air, convinced he’s wide open — and then pouting when he doesn’t get the ball

But Valanciunas often rolls to the hoop before making any contact on his pick, meaning he has provided Kyle Lowry, Gay, or DeRozan with no daylight — no space to penetrate, no clear angle to hit Valanciunas in the lane. “He feels like he’s open,” Casey says, “but he’s not. He’s just so far down there. He needs to learn the short roll.”

Pretty bang on, right? Anyway he goes on to break down Jonas’ misadventures on defense as well. Give the whole column a read – Zach Lowe is always worth the ALT+TAB experience. Happy Tuesday!

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