What to do with a problem like Jonas Valanciunas?
The word ‘problem’ doesn’t often get thrown into a sentence in regards to Jonas. By all accounts he is a hard working young man, who at 22 is willing to accept the role given to him while still working toward the eventual goal of being a dominant center in the NBA. Outside of his one run in with the law a few years back (DUI), Valanciunas hasn’t caused a single problem in regards to his role with the Toronto Raptors.
That is unless you start to look at his stats on a quarter-by-quarter basis…then a problem starts to become visible.
Not only do Jonas’ minutes decline drastically in the second and fourth quarters of each game (on average), but his games played take a significant shot. Prior to last night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, Valanciunas had appeared in 48 games this season for the Raptors. Despite his 48 games on the season, Jonas has seen time in just 33 of the team’s fourth quarters. Over 30 percent of the games he has played this season he has failed to receive a single minute of play in the fourth quarter.
Fans on the message boards and in the comments sections have eviscerated Dwane Casey for this decision. Yes, Valanciunas is still just 22 years old, but how will he develop if not given the opportunity to do so when the game is on the line?
This issue was highlighted even further Monday night when the Raptors faced the Milwaukee Bucks. Jonas posted a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) in the first half alone, before seeing 7.2 minutes in the third quarter, no minutes in the fourth quarter, and not a single field goal attempt in the second half.
Casey had this to say on the matter to Eric Koreen of the National Post:
“[Monday] night was one time I did question whether he should be in there instead of Tyler [Hansbrough],” Casey said on Tuesday. “I would also argue, too, that Tyler was a big reason our pick-and-roll defence was so good and our scramble defence was so good. That was a hard decision last night. Usually in that situation, we are small, we are trapping in a situation where we do need stops. That was one [Monday] night, where we needed offence, when we got [the score] to 75-75, do we put JV back in there? Again, it’s easy to stand here right now and question. It’s easy after the game to question. But in the heat of battle, I’m looking at Tyler, he’s busting his behind rebounding and doing what he’s supposed to do. We weren’t getting that from the first unit.”
Dwane Casey is first and foremost a defensive coach. Logically speaking, the defence is what has also needed the most help, and is an area that Valanciunas has struggled at this season. After all, Jonas currently has the worst fourth quarter +/- on the team.
Jeff Weltman, the team’s Executive Vice President, expanded a little further upon Jonas’ position within the Raptors:
As much as I want to, and often do, expect more from Jonas than his current abilities, it’s interesting nonetheless that the Raptors currently believe that he is ahead of where one can safely expect him to be.
And all of this just drives me nuts. It makes sense that Valanciunas needs to earn his playing time by playing strong defensively, but I can’t help but think that he is the only member of the team that currently has that expectation placed upon them.
Opposing point guards are eating both Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez alive, which often leaves Valanciunas as the last man standing in attempting to rotate for defensive coverage. Many of the issues that currently plague Jonas on the defensive end would be highly limited, and in some cases eliminated, if the point of attack didn’t have an open for business sign.
If Valanciunas can’t play end of game minutes against a small bucks line-up, and is also losing late minutes against the larger centers in the league (think Cousins), then who is Casey willing to match him up against?
Jonas’ age doesn’t mean he can’t benefit from the experience of closing games. Simply put, Casey and Weltman’s explanations just don’t quite make enough sense when Valanciunas is sitting through 30 percent of the team’s fourth quarters.