All season long, Kyle Lowry has acted as a vocal mentor for Raptors’ second-year centre Jonas Valanciuas. He’s prodded him on the court, he’s supported him in the locker room and worked to get him the ball when the rest of his teammates feel free to ignore him.

However, Lowry may have given Valanciunas’ season the biggest shot in the arm yet by getting his knee bruised against LeBron James in Miami last week. Since that game Lowry has been sitting and Valanciunas has been thriving. With Toronto’s offensive options limited by Lowry’s absence (that’s 17.4 ppg sitting inactive), the Raptors have had to go in search of points elsewhere, and Valanciunas has been the key beneficiary.

In the three games since Lowry’s injury, Valanciunas’ has seen his scoring spike from 11.0 ppg to 18.0 ppg and his involvement in the offence jump to a heretofore unseen level. All of the Raptors are now working to get him involved in the offence, none more so, perhaps, than fill-in starting power forward Patrick Patterson.

What is happening now is the Raptors are putting a great deal of responsibility on Valanciunas’ shoulders and he’s handling it admirably. That not only helps his confidence but it builds trust between him and his teammates. When teammates feel like they can trust a young player to make smart plays when he has the ball in his hands they are more likely to let him see it. Moreover, when that player proves dependable enough to bail those same players out when they get themselves into tight jams (especially guys like DeMar DeRozan who see frequent double teams) they actively begin looking for more and more ways to get that player the ball.

[Also Read: Raptors 83% Chance to Finish 3rd; Bulls Breathing Down Our Necks]

That has a trickle-down effect as well. With increased touches comes an increased belief that you’ll see the ball again. That means that when Valanciunas gets a touch he doesn’t feel obligated to make a big play with it. He blends into the offence better, acting as much as a facilitator for the greater good rather than as just a token option, which (again) breeds more trust and confidence in his teammates.

This is doubly important given the time of year its occurring. The Raptors were in a visible funk heading into their first postseason in seven years. With Lowry out, however, the club has to find other ways to maintain productivity. Lowry had become the team’s safety net; a last minute bail-out option that was being overburdened too often in late-game situations. When the Playoffs roll around and teams get that much more time to key-in on scouting one team that was going to spell trouble. Lowry’s injury has forced other players to step-up and alternate avenues to be explored. While it hasn’t caused a reimagining of the way the teams plays, it has reminded guys that there are ways to win games without Lowry hurling himself into the fray on each and every possession.

What remains to be seen now is whether or not the club will stay active at getting Valanciunas looks throughout the game and how often Valanciunas sees the ball when Lowry returns. Again, Lowry is one of the few Raptors that has consistently looks to keep Valanciunas involved in the on-court action, but DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Valanciunas’ fellow big men need to keep looking for him, as well. Opposing defences are going to be planning to lock-in on those perimeter guys because Toronto’s offence is so perimeter-heavy; having Valanciunas be a consistent part of the team’s attack will make a huge difference not just in getting post scoring but also pulling some defensive attention away from the club’s big scorers.

Let’s also keep in mind that, in a lot of ways, this season is found money for the Raptors. They were thought to be setting-up for a rebuild, but instead they’ve pushed themselves into an unexpected postseason berth. This is a golden opportunity to test the mettle of the core players that Masai Ujiri has (mostly) inherited before having to make some big decisions about the  teams’ future this summer. Valanciunas remains a huge part of those future plans, and the team can only benefit by seeing how he responds to the pressure of the Playoffs as an active participant in the proceedings. Let’s face it, when Valanciunas is involved in the offence he is also more locked-in on defence, more apt to rebound, box out and set good screens and that that makes it easier for Dwane Casey to keep him on the court throughout the game and, most importantly, in crunch time. This little burst of effectiveness, brought on by Lowry’s injury, has given Valanciunas a platform to earn trust and confidence in the postseason – now the team just has to keep riding it.

  • Jeff

    Hopefully this DUI doesn’t kill the momentum!

  • robertparish00

    I agree but it seems to me like it might be a bit coincidence too. Lowry goes out and really for the first time in the season JV is now shooting with confidence from midrange. The book on his pump fake was out and I think that was hurting his stats. Now he is tougher to defend.

  • afrocarter

    These injuries right before the playoffs have truly been a blessing in disguise. Players like JV, Ross, and Vasquez have had to step up, and they have done so admirably. These players’ confidence has got to be sky-high, which is perfect considering that, in the playoffs, teams will be working to take away primary options (ie. Lowry, DeRozan).

  • dunkmycat7

    I hope JV comes out like a man on fire tonite…let him take it out on the rest of the league.
    Gotta say I love how the team has rallied around him while still emphasizing how serious what he did was.
    Good parenting skills.
    Can someone tell me the correct answer to this :
    So I get it that If the Raps tie Chi they get 3rd because they win the division while Chi does not.
    If they fall to 4th overall they don’t get the 3rd seed as the division winners do in the NFL, they would be 4th and play the 5th place team -is that correct?
    And that is Brooklyn and THAT is just such a terrible matchup for this team.

    • DryDry

      Win division = 3rd seed, regardless of Chicago’s record.

      Winners of each division get the 1 2 and 3 seeds

      They just have to tie or better Brooklyn’s record for the 3 seed.

      • Gambit

        That’s incorrect. Division win = top 4 seed guaranteed. 1,2,3 and 4 seeds are then determined by record.

        • Lucas

          @Gambit: Correct. @DryDry:disqus: This changed a few years back.

          Also, @Chef: It does not guarantee home court in the first round. If the 5th seed has a better record than the 4th seed (because of this rule), then the 5th keeps home court advantage, as it should be. I remember this happening out West a few years back.

          • 2damkule

            good catch on that, most ppl aren’t aware of that little caveat re. home court. i don’t think it can happen this year (i.e. it’s not possible for brooklyn to finish 5th and also have a better record than the raps, for instance), and it doesn’t look as though it’s anything but an extreme mathematical longshot for the nets to finish with a better record than CHI, not win the atlantic, and also finish 5th.

            remaining schedules for TO, CHI & Nets are easy, and each SHOULD go at least 4-1 in their last five (5-0 is in play for all of ’em), so the overall standings likely won’t change much. my guess is that CHI slips past the raps for 3rd, TO settles into 4th, and plays the nets 1st round – which is horrifying, but at least they’ll have home-court.

            • dunkmycat7

              Thank you all, much appreciated.
              Horrifying is right. If this team manages to get to the 2nd round this year and get to see just how intense it gets, it will be HUGE for them in 2015.

    • Chef

      No, winning the division does not guarantee 3rd, it guarantees 4th and home court in the first round. They still have to at least tie Chicago to earn the 3rd seed.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      “And that is Brooklyn and THAT is just such a terrible matchup for this team.”

      It’s not the team so much as the obvious pressure refs will be under to push forward a more viable TV ratings generating team such as the Nets. What with all their future hall of fame players, don’t cha know.

      • 2damkule

        i’ve got my tinfoil hat in for a cleaning…LET THE CONSPIRACY MONGERING BEGIN! i’ll start…last night’s non-call on plumlee’s ‘block’ on LBJ that (likely) would have won it for the heat was the NBA trying to extend the nets’ opportunities to win the division (a loss last night would pretty much have sewn up the division for the raps, though it’ll take a monumental collapse for that to happen at this point anyway, so…CUE MONUMENTAL COLLAPSE!!!).


        • Tanks-a-lot

          Well, the refs didn’t call the Plumlee goaltend on Bosh’s shot either. check out the vids for Plumlee’s blocks that game.

          Yeah, I think the Refs swallowed their whistles.

        • FLUXLAND

          You think the refs are blowing the whistle on 50/50 last second play? Right before the playoffs?

          And If he makes the call, the conspiracy is MIA has the refs in their pockets. Funny, no matter the call – CONSPIRACY!!!!

          • 2damkule

            i saw that play as a foul. i realize plumlee got a fraction of his pinky on ball, and i realize that ‘the ball is part of the hand,’ but i disagree with the interpretation in that case. basically, what they interpreted is that any physical contact with the shooters HAND is ok, which we know is not the case – if you slap a jump-shooters hand in the act of shooting, it’s a foul, whether there’s ball or not.

            i’m not sure why it matters when/where/against or for whom. personally, i think the only ones who’d be complaining if the foul had been called would be the nets/nets fans, as is the case in any situation where ‘your’ team doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. the reaction in this case is mainly because people love to see those on top get humbled a bit (oh, and the white sportswriters like it when a big white guy does something that isn’t embarrassing).

            • FLUXLAND

              I looked at it a few times, I think he got ball first, than hand/wrist. The ball seems to travel in the same as direction Plums’ arm – away from LBJ and the bucket. Either way, ball contact was made..not a clear foul up there, I’d say.

              You could make an argument JJ fouled him on the reach in or that Plums had his off hand on LBJ’s chest… but I don’t see what ref makes that call on any of those, on the last play of the game. But, LBJ seems to be arguing hand too, or maybe he’s just saying harm.

              LOL @ (). Yeah, it’s all about the benefit of the doubt in extremely non clear situations. Players that have typically gotten the short end before and rose above seem to get that benefit later. I think refs want to see you make the shot regardless of contact to prove you would have made it – creating the benefit – as opposed to conditioning you to just create contact and get the call, e.i. they want you to “earn it”. I agree it shouldn’t matter, I think the refs use it because it allows them to make less hesitant calls, the game being difficult to officiate as it is.

              • 2damkule

                i mainly hate the idea that because a defender ‘got ball’ (partial or full) on a play that doing so absolves them of all physical contact that would otherwise be a clear foul. i realize that the contact in this case being hand-on-hand muddies the water somewhat, but i still feel like plumlee getting 2% ball & 98% hand shouldn’t automatically mean that he couldn’t have fouled.

                my personal pet peeve is the chase-down defender blocking a guy on a break, but completely obliterating him in the process & having it as a no-call. the idea that cleanly blocking a shot allows a defender to essentially hammer a guy after the block seems dumb.

                • FLUXLAND

                  I hear ya, I think it’s all in what happens first, really. I think he got ball first, than hand (up top). But then, it seems his off hand was on LBJs chest before any of that. Now, we have the benefit of the replay, but what’s the ref looking at primarily, becomes the question, while considering game speed etc.

                  Agree with the second paragraph, I dislike that as well. Although, I think under the most egregious infractions there’s a potential for a flagrant regardless of the block 1st. I remember this happening once, I just can’t recall what game.

            • Abused Raptors Fan

              Also, you forgot about the foul that occurred before LeBron gathered himself on the way to the rim. I think it was Joe Johnson who nailed him across the chest with his entire arm lol

              • FLUXLAND

                Umm… no, I didn’t. : ) “You could make an argument JJ fouled him on the reach in”

                • Abused Raptors Fan

                  Lol, nah I was talking to the original poster. I didn’t even see your comment until after I replied, and subsequently felt like idiot : [

                  Edit: also, I agree that officials almost never make that kind of call with the game on the line unless its blatantly obvious that a player was fouled outside of incidental contact

                • FLUXLAND

                  LOL! Hey, let me join your idiot bus… I saw your comment under mine and thought it was a reply to me.

                • Abused Raptors Fan

                  Happens to the best of us.. and welcome aboard! Its a short bus but there’s lots of room! Hahaha

            • stretch bigman

              I couldn’t call that there. Play on.

              If they wanted to call JJ’s reach just before, that’s fine but they didn’t. Thought that was more of a foul than Plumlee.

      • FLUXLAND

        Wait, wait. You think the Nets will need the refs to beat the Raps? Where do you see this overwhelming matchup advantage for Raps, that the Nets will only be able to overcome with help from the refs?

        • Tanks-a-lot

          If they do need it, the refs will provide it. Don’t act like a dunce and pretend you don’t understand this truth about the NBA playoffs.

          • 2damkule

            the sacto/LAL series from the early aughts NEVER HAPPENED!

            • FLUXLAND

              Why stop there? LA/PHX. LA/Blazers. LA/BOS. You didn’t know? All the chips in LA were provided by the refs.

              • 2damkule

                well, duh.

                • FLUXLAND

                  : )

                • 2damkule

                  in all honesty, though, there were some shaky moments in that series. i’m not buying into the notion that the LEAGUE wanted LA to win, or that sacto didn’t contribute to their own demise. i’m more of the opinion that certain refs are more prone to certain, shall we say, being swayed by the moment than others.

                • FLUXLAND

                  Co-sign. And there may be a small argument that for all the calls, LA still had to execute.. and did.

                • 2damkule

                  don’t get carried away, that series is universally regarded as an abomination from an officiating standpoint. let’s not pretend otherwise.

            • FLUXLAND

              My favourite part was when the refs helped Vlade slap that ball to the 3 point line, and then helped Big Shot Bob drain that 3…

              • 2damkule

                really? my favourite part of the series is the elbow kobe tossed into bibby’s grill, for which bibby was whistled for the foul, with seconds left in the game.

          • FLUXLAND

            I understand the playoffs.

            But in you previous comment it sounded like you’re not worried about the Nets at all, as if the Raps clearly have the advantage, putting pressure on the refs to help the Nets win.

            • Tanks-a-lot

              I’d say it’s an even match. All refs being equal, it’s very tough to predict which team will prevail.

              • FLUXLAND

                I think the Nets have more than a few advantages, refs being equal. There’s matchup nightmares everywhere.

                • 2damkule

                  agree. they’re playing really well too. they’ll give anyone they play a tough series.

                • Abused Raptors Fan

                  One thing to consider is how well they play when MPG rise and the bench becomes less of a factor. No player on the Nets plays more than 33MPG, & they have 9 players at 20+, with another 3 playing 17.5+ a night. Obviously, this has been part of their player management strategy, given the advanced age and/or deteriorating health of their key players. Now, during the regular season, this doesn’t present much of an issue, as every other team manages their starters’ minutes in order to preserve their health over the 82 game season. But in the playoffs, its not uncommon for the starters to play 40+ minutes a night, with the rotation shortening down to an 8 or 9-man bench. Just something to consider.

                • Tinman

                  As well as they have been playing, were still up on them and have been almost as hot.
                  And I like our chances with home court. I actually feel we match up well against the Nets.

                • FLUXLAND

                  Where do you see them matching up well?

                • Rapss

                  And it will make you so, so happy when the Raps lose, whenever that is. Still odd that a non Raptors fan would spend so much time in a fan forum.

  • Robin

    The only raptor who does not really like to pass it to JV is DeMar, DeMar’s body language whenever JV messes up is hard to miss but it’s been changing the last few games, thankfully.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      DeMar, such a dunce sometimes. Wing players need a good center which helps collapse a defense thus opening up better possibilities for open wing plays.

    • 2damkule

      i dunno, i see that as equal parts him (DD) still getting comfortable with JV and what JV can do, and part of it as a lack of confidence in his passing ability. simple entry passes aren’t always so simple, and if he doesn’t feel JV has good enough position, or if the pass angle is a little off, he’ll generally swing it back out or put it on the floor.

    • ace5950

      I’ve noticed that too but I don’t think DeMar hates the the dude or anything like that, I think whenever DeMar is on the floor he feels the offence should run through him which is pretty fair. And plus I think DeMar from all people understand how important JV is to the teams success

  • Bendit

    Hope his team mates have warned him about the smack talk that is going to come his way (re DUI) to get under his skin. Garnett & Noah are prime suspects.

  • jjdynomite

    TimC, this is interesting to surmise and all, but couldn’t you just as easily swap out “Lowry” with “Amir” and come to the same — if not more logical — conclusion? After all, Amir averages 10.7 PPG at .562 FG% and oftentimes finds himself involved in late-in-the-shot-clock plays, such as the playoffs-guaranteeing putback off the Lowry miss when the Raps beat the Celtics a couple weeks back. Those almost 11 PPG have to be replaced somewhere… why not his fellow starting frontcourt-mate JV?

    Saying Lowry — by far the team’s best facilitator — being out is leading to JV putting up stronger numbers simply doesn’t make sense. However, Amir being out — often the greatest beneficiary of close-to-the-basket and spot-up plays that JV is now making — actually does make sense.

  • nutcup

    Let me get this straight, Jonas is seen by a Timmy employee supposedly driving with open beer in the car, the police do not pull him over . The police show up at a house and find Jonas drunk and he is charged because of the Timmy employees word ??? Now this might no be correct , I have read nothing but on here, but if this is the case , I could get him off of this bogus charge. The police did not see him ? The police did not pull him over?? And I have a Lithiuanina that is drunk and doesn’t understand English real well ?? Wow , just sayin , Wow

    • jowlis

      That’s exactly what I thought. The only thing is JV admitted DUI and appologized to everyone.

      • nutcup

        A drunk 21 year old that doesn’t speak English real well admitted to being drunk not understanding that they were asking him ?? I really good lawyer would have a field day against this bs. I hope he gets off , this is gestapo crap . Were the keys in the car? what a pile of crap. I don’t believe the kid did anything wrong. Those Wasago cops are just like the Muskoka cops charge you on crap , never give you the benefit , big bust some young cop trying to get a name. Had a couple bs charges in both areas , cops were just total douchebags. They think they got a little bit of power. They will soon learn.

        • nutcup

          Every gd Canadian worth his salt , if the cop comes to the door and asks if you were driving the car laughs at the cop and says no way was I driving must have been someone else. Eastern European think cops are the gestapo . Just a total crap bust , absolutely shameful.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      Will the still anonymous tipster go through with being a witness come trial time? I doubt it. This case hinges on some local shlub tipster waiving their current anonymity.

      If I lived in that area I wouldn’t want even more people know who I am if I were the tipster.

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  • K.J.P

    Did the title say “shine” or “moonshine”?

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