Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

What changes for Skinny JV under Nurse, if anything?

Looking at whether Jonas Valanciunas can, 1) have a greater impact in the fourth, 2) diversify the offense to make it less predictable, and 3) be good enough defensively to play in smaller lineups.

The other day I was at Asian Garden in Richmond Hill chowing on some Hakka food and JV came to mind. If you’ve never tried Hakka, you’re missing out on a fairly significant part of fusion cuisine. It’s a combination of Chinese and Indian/Pakistani food served by Chinese people who speak Urdu. The history is that pre-partition India housed Chinese immigrants who blended traditional Chinese cuisine with Indian spices to create some flavourful recipes. In that restaurant, there was a placemat which had the 12 Chinese zodiacs, and I happened to be born in the year of the monkey. Jonas Valanciunas, much younger than me, was born in 1992. Also the year of the monkey. It was at this moment that I could finally explain the soft spot I’ve had for the lumbering Lithuanian. This also got me thinking: does anything change for JV under Nick Nurse?

Let’s tackle this using a simplified version of the scientific method, and acknowledge the caveat that we can only speculate on how the prediction will be tested, and do not have actual data from any test. We’ll tackle three things: fourth quarter minutes, overall touches, and defensive improvements.

Fourth Quarter Usage

Observation
JV’s fourth quarter minutes under Casey were limited even when he was having good games.

Hypothesis
If JV played more minutes in the fourth, the Raptors offense would yield higher output.

Can we test the hypothesis?
Unlikely. The 4.8 minutes that JV played in the fourth last season was his lowest ever, and that number has been steadily declining since his rookie year when he played more than 6 minutes. Even if we didn’t have a coach that was a documented fan of JV, the chances of the 4.8 number rising is pretty high just on statistical grounds. Given that Nurse is curious about JV, this number will very likely rise, but that doesn’t mean JV’s fourth quarter offensive opportunities will, or that his presence will be the reason the offense will perform.

Nurse has little incentive to take crunch-time offensive opportunities away from one of the premiere players in the game, who is, 1) far more likely to draw fouls than anyone else, and 2) very able to make the right pass when need be. The opportunity cost of going away from Leonard is far greater than it was going away from DeRozan, so Nurse is actually more incentivized to go through Leonard than Casey was with DeRozan.

The fourth quarter offense may be fabulous or disastrous, and it could have nothing to do with how many minutes JV played.  Whereas last year JV’s absence in the fourth was seen as a faux pas that may have cost us games (ahem, Clippers), his presence this season is unlikely to be correlated with the outcome, simply because of the depth of talent elsewhere on the court.

A Matter of Touches

Observation
The Raptors offense was iso-heavy and even when JV was on the floor, his touches were limited because of Dwane Casey’s approach to the offense.

Hypothesis
Feeding the ball consistently to JV (instead of just the first three touches of the game) will diversify the offense, making it less predictable.

Can we test the hypothesis?
Yes. Every time JV was given the ball, there was a sense that the possession was pre-allocated to JV and the rest of the team just stood there to see what he’d do with it, rather than being an active part of the play.  Nurse appears far more open to letting JV make reactive decisions which are integrated with the team, instead of him heaving the ball out once his initial post move doesn’t work. It’s plausible that JV’s face-up and post touches will increase, with his teammates being actively involved in the possession rather than watching from distance as he struggles to execute Plan B. This will be the main difference between this and last year.

My view is that how dynamic JV’s involvement makes the offense depends significantly on how well JV’s face-up game improves. Possessions die when he’s indecisive during a face-up, and though he has gotten better over the years of not chewing up the clock wondering what this orange thing in his hand is, this is where the gains can come from. The latitude that Nurse gives him when executing during face-ups, and how well he’s able to mesh with his teammates in spotting cutters and playing 1-2s is what can take him and the offense from predictable to dynamic.

Simply put, he’ll get the touches and the longer leash that some have been calling for over the years.

Trusted Defender

Observation
JV struggled playing in smaller lineups because he couldn’t defend on the perimeter and didn’t have the recoverability to contest at the rim.

Hypothesis
The new #SkinnyJV is more mobile and able to stay on the court in smaller lineups .

Can we test the hypothesis?
Yes. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic about whether he’ll be able to stay on. The basic idea was discussed in my conversation with Brian Goldfinger, and it’s about footwork. He may look leaner and quicker, but his footwork on defense has always been suspect, especially on the perimeter. It’s like he doesn’t know where to put his weight, which makes his reactions slow. No amount of leaning up can help to a degree where you go from unplayable to playable. Of course, I could be entirely wrong like I was about that manchurian beef (turns out you can cook tasty fried beef).

The good news for JV is that in a small lineup, there are limited options when it comes to the 5: it’s essentially Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, or the newly signed Chris Boucher. Ibaka is prone to droughts (though I do believe he’ll recover), Siakam may find himself at the PF slot more than at the C, and Boucher is green, which gives JV a way into the smaller lineup, meaning we’ll certainly be able to see if #SkinnyJV can cut it on D.

What was that post? I’m not even sure. The best explanation I can give is that it was my attempt at using a different lense to evaluate someone.

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