Valanciunas’ lethargic play in preseason furthered the burnout theory. Outside of his rookie year, Valanciunas was never confused with being an energetic player. He normally labors and lumbers — he just seems even more laborious and more lumbering through October. Valanciunas looks tired in most games and didn’t asserted himself to any appreciable degree in preseason.
Perhaps that was to be expected. Dwane Casey mused before their first preseason game in Vancouver that Valanciunas wasn’t fully fit. And while Casey’s comments weren’t nearly as scathing as those made by Kuzlauskas, the only difference in their words was PR training. The message was the same.
“Right now I think he’s still having a little lag from coming from Europe, coming from the Olympics … so right now he’s working himself into tip-top shape.”
Whatever the extenuating circumstances, Valanciunas’ production can’t be questioned.
He hasn’t played at peak fitness but he’s still putting up close to a double-double in just over 20 minutes per game. On Wednesday he looked atrocious on either end in the Pistons game, but to my surprise, he finished the night with nine points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and nearly led the team with three assists. Two weeks before that against Denver, Valanciunas was burned repeatedly by European counterpart Nikola Jokic but Valanciunas somehow racked up four fouls on Denver’s defense in the opening frame.
What that points to is that the talent is right there for Valanciunas to harness. Even during a bad month, sporting a bad haircut, Valanciunas still manages to provide meaningful production.
Michael Grange sits down with newest Toronto Raptor Jared Sullinger ahead of the 2016-17 season, to see what expectations he brings into his new team.
The team announced that Jared Sullinger will undergo foot surgery on Monday to place a screw in his fifth metatarsal to alleviate stress.
Sullinger, 24, signed with the Raptors as a free agent in the summer and his presence was expected to help offset the loss of Bismack Biyombo, who departed for the Orlando Magic.
The metatarsal stress reaction is the same kind of injury that limited Sullinger to 58 games with the Boston Celtics in 2014-15.
In 81 games last season, Sullinger averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 23.7 minutes a night.
Sullinger worked out in Washington on Thursday, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the team’s game against the Wizards on Friday. Sullinger had his most serious setback there, prompting a trip to New York for a closer look at what was troubling him.
Rookie power forward Pascal Siakam started the Raptors’ final three pre-season games and could get the start for Sullinger on Wednesday. Veteran Patrick Patterson is an option, but Casey likes Patterson’s contribution off the bench and would prefer to keep the second-unit together as much as possible.
“We haven’t decided whether to go with Pat in that situation or start with Pascal,” Casey said earlier on Sunday, still saying he was unsure of Sullinger’s status.
“Pascal has done an excellent job. He is making a lot of mistakes but they are hard mistakes. You can live with that until he picks it up and learns.
“He is an active young man and sometimes that in itself is hard to guard. If he’s not sure what he’s going to do, you can be damn sure his opponent doesn’t know what he is going to do. That is good. But I like his disposition, his spirit. His heart is in the right place. He is going to work his behind off.”
Casey slid DeMarre Carroll into the power forward spot for stretches and used a smaller lineup in the Raptors’ loss to the Wizards on Friday
The team had hoped the injury, a stress reaction, not a fracture, would heal by itself with rest but a slight setback on Thursday in Washington where he was actually going to attempt to play changed the plans.
The move is a preventative one in that it gives the Raptors confidence going forward that the injury is behind Sullinger for good and will not flare up again.
While there is no set timeline for recovery the team is expecting a two-month absence.
Sullinger initially hurt the foot when he stepped on an opponent’s foot in the first game of the pre-season in Vancouver.
By doing the surgery now the team is conceding it will take its lumps early in the season in order to avoid any surprises later in the season and be at their best when it is most important.
The question now becomes who slides into Sullinger’s position and takes those minutes until he returns.
The Raptors power forward (and backup centre) spot is already acknowledged as the thinnest spot on the team. With Sully out, the Raptors will have to lean heavily on Patrick Patterson, the rebuilt Carroll (depending on matchups), and youngster Pascal Siakam.
Of course, Patterson has shown to be most effective as a bench player not to be unduly taxed with long, long stretches of minutes. Carroll’s natural position is the three, despite the edicts of the modern NBA (and his surgically repaired knee). And while Siakam has shown he can run around and provide energy for the Raptors, he’s nowhere close (yet) to the polished player that Sullinger is at this stage of their mutual careers. The Raptors will need Siakam to hold the fort as much as possible now and while I think he can definitely show something, it really does put Toronto at a disadvantage right from the jump. So yes, this sucks, is what I’m telling you.
For Toronto, the risk in taking Sullinger on was priced into that discount. Beyond the conditioning concerns, which have followed him since coming out of Ohio State, the former Celtic had missed 24 games with a stress fracture to the same foot in 2014-15. He was supposed to be sidelined for the remainder of that season but came back early, returning just in time to make his playoff debut.
In an odd turn of events, a stroke of unfortunate luck, the Raptors are losing a starter and their biggest free agent signing to an early-season foot injury for the second straight year (last season DeMarre Carroll was limited by plantar fasciitis before sustaining his knee injury). Sullinger figured to be a big part of their front court rotation this year. Not only was he primed to take over for Luis Scola as the starting power forward, Casey had planned on using him to help absorb some of the backup centre minutes following the departure of Bismack Biyombo.
Now, the Raptors will open the new season undermanned and may need to get creative with their rotation for as long as Sullinger is out. There’s more pressure than ever on Carroll to stay healthy – Toronto is already thin at three and could look to use him some as a small-ball four – while the team’s collection of young bigs will need to grow up in a hurry.
The next man up at power forward is rookie Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ 27th-overall pick in last June’s draft. Although they’ll continue to lean on Patrick Patterson – who should see a major uptick in playing time in this, his contract season – Casey prefers to bring the versatile vet in with the second unit. He’ll almost certainly play the bulk of the minutes at the position and close games, but Siakam could very well step into the Scola role as Toronto’s starter next to Jonas Valanciunas.
Michael Grange explains how the Raptors will deal with Jared Sullinger being out of the lineup and who could benefit from his absence.
Zone 2 fractures are typically known as Jones fractures. They occur at the intersection between the base and the shaft of the fifth metatarsal. These fractures are known to have a higher chance of not healing (nonunion). They are also at risk of refracture even after healing. Surgical treatment is commonly performed for these fractures.
Patients can expect to return to full activity three to four months after a typical fracture. This includes returning to sports.
Some complications can result in the need for repeat surgery.
Full details of Sullinger’s injury are not likely to be released, but this type of injury is pretty common in the NBA and while some players get back on the court within the same season, some don’t, and some require additional surgeries/treatment for the condition before they can finally return.
While it’s possible Sullinger is back after the All-Star break, a prudent general manager would be planning on not seeing him on the court again this season.
There can be no dispute that there is method to Casey’s madness. He is about to enter his sixth season as head coach — longer than any of the seven men who preceded him — and has a franchise-best 210-184 regular season record. His team’s win totals have improved every year, the Raptors won the only two seven-game playoff series in franchise history last season while getting to the Eastern Conference final. He has twice been signed to contract extensions by president Masai Ujiri, who arrived back in Toronto after Casey was in place but who has never seen a reason to replace him.
“Case, man, he never changes,” DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s always going to be the same.”
Casey’s best attribute is his ability to inspire those around him to work for the common goal in a more collaborative effort than a dictatorship. Final decisions rest with him but engaging others and paying more than lip service to their input inspires.
“He’ll listen to all his coaches in the room which is refreshing, it’s nice, it’s good for your head coach to be able to listen to and trust all his assistants and that he does,” said Rex Kalamian, now in his third season with Casey in Toronto after having first worked with him in 2004 in Minnesota.
“In a coaches meeting or in a room a lot of times you can agree to disagree but when you exit the room, you align.”
It has helped that Casey has basically grown up with a handful of key Raptors players and the relationship with them has grown. DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are among the longest-serving players, their comfort level with Casey has mirrored their on-court success.
When second-year point guard Delon Wright got hurt at summer league, with a return date set for late-December, at the earliest, VanVleet’s odds of making the team improved greatly.
But he still had to go out and perform and earn the spot and that he did, first showing off an improved outside shot in Las Vegas (54.5% on three-pointers in five games) with a minuscule turnover rate and then again during the pre-season. VanVleet defended well — his calling card — and also averaged 8.3 points and 2.4 assists, shooting 50% from the field, including 39% from three in seven games, two of them starts.
Back in July at summer league, VanVleet said he thought highly of the Raptors organization and that’s why he turned down offers from several other teams, even with all-NBA point guard Kyle Lowry, stellar backup Cory Joseph and Wright, the 20th pick of the 2015 draft ahead of him on the depth chart.
“They show interest in developing young talent and that’s key,” VanVleet told Postmedia.
“I’m kind of savvy in my experience, but I haven’t played (in the NBA), but I’m kind of more mature, so that plays a role in it too. I’m not 18, most organizations, if you’re not 18, they don’t really develop you,” said the 22-year-old, who made an instant impact as a freshman at Wichita State, helping the team to the Final Four.
“They might go get a vet, but they’ve shown that they develop talent with guys like Norm (Powell) and Bruno (Caboclo) and Delon. So I’m just trying to develop the blueprint and work on things. I keep my head down, work hard and do what I do, not try to be anything special outside of myself and just play my role and contribute to winning, that’s what I take pride in, contributing to winning.”
Casey also said VanVleet’s “steely toughness” set him apart.
“We told Fred: ‘This is not a licence to come in and relax. You come in every day and put pressure on Kyle and Cory, I want you to try to take their minutes and make them better. It’s going to make you better, it’s going to make our team better,’” Casey said. “That’s what he does. He does not back down whatsoever from Kyle or Cory, he doesn’t let them relax, there’s no ‘buddy ball’ in scrimmages.”
VanVleet said Lowry beat up on him “pretty bad” on the first day of camp.
“I think I fouled him about 20 times, but I kept coming and that’s all you’ve got to do, never back down,” he said.
The six-foot guard credited both Joseph and Lowry for helping show him the ropes, but said Lowry, in particular, had taken the 22-year-old under his wing.
“He’s been helping me a lot more than I ever thought he would or has to,” VanVleet said. “He doesn’t have to take me under his wing like he has, but he’s been great.”
Finally, there’s Bruno. As we enter year three of the Caboclo project, we’re still not clear as to what exactly the lanky Brazilian, still just 21, is as a player. And from the sounds of some in the organization, they don’t know either. Bruno remains the longest of long term investment projects and since the Raptors have already put two years in (and built an entire D-League team for him), it makes sense to just keep going. Unlike Bebe and Wright however, the future for Bruno post-2018 is immensely unclear.
It would have been entirely understandable had DeRozan and Lowry elected to keep their summers low-key, getting much deserved rest and downtime after leading the Raptors to their best season in franchise history. Instead the duo took their talents to Rio where they represented the U.S. National team in the Olympics, bringing gold medals back home with them. Both players received rave reviews from the coaching staff, with Lowry being heralded as one of the most impressive players on the team on both ends of the floor. Getting to spend more than a month of the offseason training and preparing alongside the NBA’s best talent, while being coached by a collection of some of the brightest minds in basketball can be a transformative opportunity. Not only do you have the chance daily to learn from those around you, but being around players who have reached the level of success you’re still striving to achieve is a special kind of motivation. After stellar All-Star seasons a year ago, Lowry and DeRozan were guaranteed to return to Toronto hungry for more. After the Olympics experience the two besties shared in Rio, that hunger has only intensified.
To the extent that athletes are permitted to be weird, the Raptors are an idiosyncratic bunch. Kyle Lowry, who had a whispered-about reputation as a bit of a jerk before he came to Toronto, has developed a comedy routine rapport with DeRozan. DeMar’s the sunny ham and he’s the skeptical straight man. Jonas Valanciunas belongs to a long line of goofily, obliviously sweet giants from former Soviet republics. DeMarre Carroll, below the radar, dresses every bit as loudly and ridiculously as Russell Westbrook. All of this eccentricity contrasts beautifully with Dwane Casey’s had-it-up-to-here police sergeant aesthetic. You get the impression on nights when Lowry commits four or more turnovers, he has to trudge into Casey’s office with his head down, produce a water pistol and plastic sheriff’s badge, and place them on Casey’s desk.
Biyombo’s absence will hurt the Raptors in terms of interior defense and sparkpluggy rebounding off the bench, but it probably means more minutes for Valanciunas, who, heading into his fifth season, is still straddling the line between promise and disappointment. Carroll is likely to improve on a sub-par first year in Toronto during which he was seemingly always playing through mild injury. There are worse backcourt bench options than Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross, and Norm Powell is coming off a decent rookie season. The Raptors were the only team to finish within touching distance of the Cavs last year, at 56 wins. They might take a half-step backwards with the Celtics adding Al Horford and the Hawks dancing blindly into the Dwight Howard Homecoming Era, but it’s not deathly important where they finish in the conference hierarchy. They’ll play well, win a bunch of games, and get bounced from the playoffs in a series they endeavor to turn into a scrap.
This offseason there was a visible expansion in Powell’s game, he’s a ball handler now. Coach Jama Mahlalela only had the ball in two players’ hands during summer league, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.
He was once just a spot up player, to space the floor and run the break but the team now trusts him in pick and roll situations. Powell made playmaking a point of empasis during the offseason and the staff is rewarding him not only in positions to score but to distribute the ball. Powell has also shown flashes in isolation with his baby right-left cross over into pull up which capitalizes on his speed but Ross has also made progress.
Ross, each year he’s become more and more unabashed with his tjree point attempts, sometimes to his detriment. He was too coy when he received the ball but if this preseason is any indication he’s not only been able to recognize opportunities to shoot but he’s been making those shots consistently. If Ross continues to execute his 3 point shooting it’s enough to validate his value as a legit rotational player. Ross can only perform now, he’s in a situation where only time can tell as consistency can only be established when something is done… consistent.
In my eyes Powell is already a far and away better player than Ross is today. Powell played about 14 minutes a game compared to Ross’ 24, last year because he was playing behind Ross and he just came up through the D-league. Coach Dwane Casey is a defensive coach and a traditionalist, he loves to play dual bigs and he values size tremendously. Since there will be important minutes in games where one or both players play next to 6-foot Kyle Lowry and turnstyle DeRozan defensive size is a matter that needs addressing. Powell, a tenacious defender, is undersized at his position and could be an issue when switching on the court. Terrance Ross has built equity (however not a lot) with the coaching staff throughout the years and has the size he brings defensively allows Dwane Casey to sleep easy at night.
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