Valanciunas Flashes Potential, Raptors Down Bucks

Four blocks from Jonas and a big Lowry fourth quarter. 5-1 record.

Mad Dog Face.
Raptors 104, Bucks 95 – Box

The Toronto Raptors continued their hot preseason on Monday, defeating the visiting Milwaukee Bucks 104-95, pushing their record to 5-1 in friendlies.

Of course, preseason results mean little, and the game was not without its warts. Turnovers, in particular, were a crucial problem for a sloppy Raptors outfit, enraging head coach Dwane Casey and causing him to more or less throw out the result in post-game comments. The 19 turnovers didn’t come exclusively by way of sloppy passes or miscommunication, as the Raptors also committed five offensive fouls and had an additional two loose ball fouls negate team rebounds.

Despite the somewhat uncoordinated showing in terms of ball control, the Raptors looked every bit an impressive offense otherwise. The team shot 45.5% including 45% on threes (9/20) and also got to the line 35 times (25/35). The fact that the team was able to overcome 19 miscues and still score 104 points is a testament to their shooting and aggression on the night. The 11 offensive rebounds also didn’t hurt, leading to 12 second chance points and adding to the Raptors’ 49-40 rebounding edge.

But the carelessness and some poor defense through three quarters almost let this game get away. Trailing by three heading into the final frame, the Raptors took over with a 30-18 fourth quarter advantage, taking the lead for good with eight minutes to go.

I’m burying the lede a bit here, because the big story for us Raptor fans is probably the glimpse of the future that Jonas Valanciunas provided in the victory. While DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry led the way in the boxscore, with the latter in particular taking over in the fourth quarter, my eyes were consistently drawn to The Lethaluanian. This is probably in part due to the fact that this was only the second Jonas game I’ve been able to watch this preseason, or the fact that he spent a lot of time on camera – that tends to happen when you’re living at the free throw line. Valanciunas finished just one of three shooting but managed 10 points by hitting eight of 10 at the charity stripe. He also added eight rebounds, showing a nose for battling for balls he may not have started in the best position to grab, and a steal that was really him just scooping up a loose ball that tipped off of DaLOLmbert’s stone hands.

Perhaps most impressively, though, were the four blocked shots. Right off the bat he blocked DaLOLmbert, only to have Canadian Sam put in the second attempt. Jonas then travelled, but rather than get frustrated he pocketed it for motivation for a few plays later when he would stuff a Tobias Harris dunk attempt. With just seconds remaining in the first half, Valanciunas pinned an Ilyasvoa layup attempt, leading to a buzzer beating attempt for the team. Finally, early in the third Jonas blocked another Harris shot in close. While there are those concerned with him aggressively pursuing blocks, given the foul trouble we’re all assuming will come with a rookie big, Valanciunas showed great timing and instincts on each of these blocks. He also happened to only pick up a pair of fouls in 28 minutes of play, marking his lowest foul-per-minute rate of his young career. It’s a positive not just for his potential as a shot blocker, but also to reaffirm for him that he can attack opposing players without being timid, a notion that was also hammered home when he was trusted to play with five fouls late in the Knicks game last Friday.

For what it’s worth, I also noted a couple of times in my game notes when Jonas’ presence, especially as a dive man, caused a disruption for the defense. Three of his five trips to the line came as the dive man on pick-and-rolls (his basket came on a jump-hook, and his other two trips came on layup attempts), while he also freed Kyle Lowry up for a three with a hard screen at the elbow late in the fourth.

But enough about Jonas…for now. I’m sure I’ll be poetic about him all throughout the season, but if you didn’t get to see this game it’s worth going out of your way to get a look at the highlights, especially the shot-blocking excellence.

As for the others, Lowry actually had a very quiet game until the fourth quarter, furthering the narrative on his personality type and role as the team’s potential closer. Lowry had 10 points, three rebounds and an assist in the fourth, giving him 15-5-6 in total for the night. While he committed six turnovers, two of them down the stretch, he was an absolute mad man when push came to shove. Lowry hit a three with 3:29 to go after Andrea Bargnani drove and kicked it out to him, following it up by dishing to Bargnani for three just one play later. He would add a three with a minute to go to extend the lead to five and then hit four free throws in the closing seconds to wrap the game up.

He really didn’t look aggressive early, opting to defer the offense to DeRozan and Bargnani for the most part, and perhaps this will be the design this season – DeMar and Andrea getting there’s early, while Lowry “settles” for controlling the ball in the fourth. Or it’s just a preseason anomaly.

DeRozan was aggressive once again tonight, getting to the line for 10 free throw attempts en route to 21 points on 7/16 shooting. While the shooting efficiency wasn’t great, five of his misses actually came in the paint. Not finishing there is obviously an issue, but it’s better he miss those high-average shots that might eventually be expected to fall rather than miss mid-range jumpers, of which he went 4/8 on.

Bargs didn’t exert himself too much in this one, chipping in with 17 points on some ugly 7/15 shooting without a single free throw attempt. He added three assists but had just four rebounds, basically saving his boxscore line with a couple of threes (3/6).

Amir Johnson’s Wet Jumper
Amir’s shot chart isn’t what you’ll want to see on the regular during the season, but for a game it was an interesting experiment in testing his range. Left open off of a few pick-and-pops and left unguarded a few other times, Amir hit three of six attempts from outside of 18 feet. Overall he had 10 points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes.

The Others
Quincy Acy got the 10th-man minutes in the first half while Ed Davis took on that role in the second half. Acy had three points and three rebounds in his nine minutes while Davis had two points, five rebounds and a dime in his 13 minutes. Acy showed some nice hustle with a put-back and another tap-out on an offensive board, but he also showed his downside with two turnovers (including a moving screen) and a loose ball foul. Davis showed nice range with a jumper and also extended a possession with an offensive board, taking far less off the table than Acy. The role of fourth big seems to be Davis’ to lose, with Acy in the D-League and Gray utilized against bulky pivots.

Landry Fields was quiet with four points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists in 27 minutes, focusing his energy on the defensive end and off the ball on offense. He’s a smart player and his contributions won’t always show up, as has been pounded into your head by now. His backup, Double-A, had 10 points but took 10 shots to get there, showing an awfully quick trigger for someone who should be aiming to play mistake-free ball right now.

Finally, Jose Calderon added six assists and only took three shots (aka what will come to be known as The Standard for him in his backup role), while John Lucas was John Lucas, scoring eight points on seven shots and adding four boards and three helpers. Calderon is secure in his role, and with Ross out sick Lucas showed he can play spot minutes at shooting guard effectively against smaller lineups. It’s important to note that this game wasn’t really a check-mark for the two-point guard offense as the Bucks hardly have what you would call a big guard in their rotation (Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and Beno Udrih played the bulk of the minutes).

Terrence Ross sat with the flu. Aaron Gray, Linas Kleiza, and Dominic McGuire were unexpectedly kept on the bench, possibly because Casey wants to split up the minutes between the sets of bench players in the last couple of games, but possibly also tipping his hand as to the eventual rotation. With John Lucas playing exclusively at shooting guard, it pushes Anderson’s minutes to the three, limiting the minutes available to Kleiza and McGuire. Of course, with Ross out and likely a rotation player, tonight’s minute distribution could have meant nothing at all. Who knows with preseason games?

Rest in Peace
Jerel McNeal and Chris Wright were waived after the game, trimming the roster to 16 with Jamaal Magloire likely being the final cut eventually. There was no word on if McNeal and Wright would be asked to try and head the D-League (hopefully the Bakersfield Jam), though it’s a likely option considering neither got the chance to impress another team during the preseason.

What’s Next
The final preseason game comes Friday in Memphis, and it’s just over a week from the opener on Halloween. I’ll double back tomorrow for some more generic preseason chatter.

I realize I haven’t said anything about the Bucks. Who cares, right? That’s not my attitude in the regular season, but I’m 1600-words deep about a preseason game (yikes, sorry). Dunleavy was great, Ellis is a chucker, Ilyasova is Turkish Josh Hartnett/Zombie Ashton Kutcher/Basketball Forrest Griffin and is more or less awesome. There.

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