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!

  • TheSpiceTyrant

    “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. ”

    This is a fair assessment, and I can see frustration with JV while the refs call illegal blocks extremely tight this year. He has set and then wait for the contact before he seals. But the PnR relies on KL playing tight and not moving until JV is set, which he is also guilty of from often bulldogging his way around the pick and looking for something else, (I hate sound like Leo Rautins on this, but he’s right).

    I don’t think JV should take the brunt of the blame. We saw a few PnR actions with Buycks with Amir/JV with success, so it is there… the team isn’t executing it well. Finally, I haven’t paid attention to the spacing DD and RG provide during the PnR. I am betting their hedging towards KL and looking for the ball rather than giving space for JV/AJ to roll.

    • sitnonDfence

      I do think he should take the brunt of the blame. His screens are soft and often non existent. You cant expect the point guard to stand there and wait for a pick that youre going to slip every time. PLant your feet and knock some people on their asses. Then the refs will know youre not moving!

      • TheSpiceTyrant

        Prob the majority of the time i’d agree… but KL is a veteran. He doesn’t have to blow by if JV isn’t set in the first place. AJ’s been called a few times on the moving screen as well.

  • robertparrish00

    Casey is annoying. You keep losing with Gay and DD as option 1 and 2. Time for something and someone different.

  • Rick

    Keep hearing trade derozan get picks while we can. Do him a favor get him in a diff team (national post) wtf is wring with people. The guy hasn’t asked for a trade plays his ass off. Gets better every ffffing year and only 24. Raptors need to get there shit together and start making moves like trading other players who’s useless and keeping dd and jonas. Build around those guys. People say tank tank tank. Again wtfffff. You wanna wait another 5 yrs for those players to develop if they do? Hence john wall, Erving are those two teams play off teams with those number 1 picks. No!

    • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

      The Wizards have the the third best record in the East and are 7-3 in their last 10. The team is bad now. I’d rather they be bad now, but with a more promising future, than continue with what they’ve been doing.

      • Paul

        If you want a model to follow, how bout the 76ers. The take a good player (Holiday) who looks like a great player because he’s o a bad team (sound familiar) and turn him into Noel and a future first. Not only do they get two top flight talents directly in the trade but they also increase their lottery odds this year. It’s basically 3 for 1. That’s how you build a team.

        • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

          Perfect example. Like Holiday, DeRozan is a guy who gets good looking stats on a bad team, but really isn’t as good as he appears. Sell him when his stocks the highest, and get something to build the future on.

          • DDayLewis

            Agreed, but Holiday is a pretty good player. Not the greatest shooter, but a pretty good facilitator and a menace on defense.

            If Ujiri could get two lotto picks for Demar, that’d be great.

            • Paul

              I don’t think Demar would yield two first rounders. But like the above scenario, I would take one future first and the increased lottery odds this year.
              People’s biggest cognitive mistake in player evaluation is linear thinking. ie because a player it playing great now, they will be better in the future. The more likely result statistically is regression to the mean. Demar might very well be playing the best basketball of his career right now. Sell high and build for the future.
              Oh, and this nonsense about “he loves the city” is a bunch of garbage. The only thing that will make players stay in Toronto in the long run is winning.
              Selling high on a player rather than being forced into a trade would be a good start in that regard.

            • Paul

              Demar to Cleveland for Varejao + 1st rounder

              Demar to Detroit for Villanueva +1st rounder

              Demar and Novak to Phoenix for Okafor + 1st rounder

              Plenty of options out there. Just need to find a willing partner.

  • Rick

    You actually have some players like derozan and jonas who wanna be apart of this city raptors. Start building around these guys run more plays for jonas. Time to make deals ujiri. Maybe even start looking for a coach. But it’s not all Casey’s fault it’s the players we have. You guys like acy on the bench who comes in the game grabs so many reb per game and yet still sits on the bench. If guys ain’t playing well start beacon them simple. These are professionals. No room for mediocre intensity. Trade for Tristan Thompson. Build a front big man like Tristan and Jonas with demar and whomever else we draft and trade for at wing. Give t Ross a chance at the 3 for rest of season!

    • OldSkoolCool

      A lineup of DD-TT-JV would be worse than having one of Amir or TH in there…honestly we need to make drastic roster changes in order to improve. And that means bye-bye DD, Gay, Lowry, TH, Novak and whoever else will get us in a better situation moving foreward, be it through draft picks or other players who fit together properly

      Let me remind you that a DD+Val pairing is bad…it will never be good because these players do not compliment each other. Val is heavily dependent on the PnR, and DD can’t run the PnR…auto fail roster composition

  • Dr. Scooby

    Often Rudy, DD & Lowry fail to use the screener (Amir, Hansborough or JV) when they slice towards the basket. The result is them having a defender in front and in back of them (See Rudy&turnovers).

    Look at good teams like SA: Parker almost always uses the screen provided whether is dishes or drives.

  • Tanks-a-lot

    Can we get Zach Braff’s opinion?