The Valanciunas Era in Toronto began on Wednesday night with a close pre-season loss to the Pistons in Detroit.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

- Valanciunas played a little over 13 minutes, posting two points and two blocks (I counted three), while altering a few other shots and deflecting a few Pistons passes. Jonas’ size and length were apparent, especially on the defensive end, where I was impressed with his presence without committing more than one foul. On the offensive end, he set good screens, as expected, and rolled hard to the basket, but only put up two shots, converting one of them. It wasn’t a highlight filled debut, but it was solid.

- I liked how aggressive DeMar DeRozan was from the start, and have liked his overall game through two pre-season contests. The one thing that’s really jumped out at me is how improved his ball handling looks, and that has to bode well for Toronto. Having said that, his forced fadeaway near the end of the game was a terrible decision, and almost overshadowed the solid game he had. DeRozan finished with 17 points on only eight field goal attempts and made 10 trips to the free throw line. If you’re counting, that’s 19 free throw attempts in two games.

- The defence in the first quarter was abysmal, as the Pistons shot over 70 per cent from the field. The root cause of the problem early was Jose Calderon’s inability to guard Brandon Knight, and for the second straight game, the defence noticeably improved when John Lucas III came in for Calderon. Jose masked the poor D with an excellent offensive night, though, and is unquestionably the better point guard, but Lucas’ defensive advantage over him is apparent. This is why a point man like Kyle Lowry, who can run an offence and defend the opposing team’s lead guard, is so valuable.

- The Raptors continue to throw up bricks from the free throw line, as their 18/28 performance against Detroit brings their two-game pre-season total to 35/57 from the stripe, good for just 61.4 per cent. I mentioned after the Madrid game that I wasn’t concerned with poor free throw shooting in early October, and I maintain that, but if this becomes a pattern throughout the pre-season, it will be hard to dismiss it as merely early October rust.

- Andrea Bargnani, in particular, has been brutal from the free throw line. Bargnani went 1/5 on Wednesday and is now 4/11 through two games, while also shooting a disappointing 2/8 from three-point range. He’s looked out of rhythm and uninterested, for the most part, in both games. Hopefully it’s just a result of not playing any basketball this summer and still being a bit rusty post-calf injury, but given Andrea’s pre-Casey reputation, it’s a bit concerning. If he still looks like this on October 31st, I’ll be a lot more concerned.

- John Lucas and Aaron Gray really helped turn the game around in the second half, and no, that’s not a joke. Lucas’ shot was falling in the third quarter, while Gray helped control the Pistons’ interior domination from the first half and even chipped in on the offensive end with six points.

- The story of this game was not Valanciunas’ debut in the end, but rather the impressive debut from Detroit’s rookie big man, Andre Drummond, who went off for 12 points (including the game winning tip-in), seven rebounds and two blocks in 22:37 of action. I won’t take anything away from Drummond’s performance tonight – he looked solid – but forgive me for not being sold on the guy after one exhibition game. As I mentioned to Scott on twitter, I wasn’t a Drummond believer before this game, so I’m not going to suddenly be one after an impressive pre-season performance. Furthermore, one of the biggest knocks on Drummond is the fact that his effort is inconsistent. Well I expect him to get “up” for his first NBA game, but let’s see if he can stay focused for the long haul, because I’m skeptical.

Lastly, to the few people on my twitter timeline who were tweeting about how the Raptors should have drafted Knight and Drummond instead of Valanciunas and Ross, it’s a little early for that, isn’t it?

***

I doubt I’ll be able to post my thoughts on Friday night’s game (aka Valanciunas’ home debut), but in the mean time, Scott and I will roll out another player profile this week and I’m sure I’ll find something else to discuss over the next few days.

Until then…

Comments (7)

  1. I was very impressed with JV!! He looks huge on the floor. As the season goes on I think he will be a big difference on the defensive end.
    Does anyone else love the arc on Ross’ shot?
    Even though they lost my love for the rookies is growing.

  2. He looked a lot more fluid on the court than I expected him to look as a 20-year old. I know it’s the preseason and literally nothing matters (the results of the games or player performance) but you could definitely see some flashes of his athleticism especially on the defensive end.

    Now, let’s see how he responds as (hopefully) his minutes increase over the rest of the preseason. I’d like to see him play at least 15-20 minutes every night without being punished for his mistakes.

  3. It seemed that coach Casey didn’t want JV to go head-to-head with Drummond. I do understand that you don’t want to put the player who had only one full training before the match against someone so physical. But I will be looking forward to their meetings later in the season.

    Bargnani was bugging the hell out of me the whole game, and the last shot by DeRozan… grrrr.

  4. I love how John Lucas came through for the Raps–16pts off the bench.

  5. Let’s all admit that if JV Did what Drummond did last night in his debut we all would have went bananas.

    JV And Drummond as draft picks Might have been insane. Time will tell.

    • I don’t deny that at all, and like I said, I’m not taking anything away from this performance from Drummond, as it was obviously impressive. But when dealing with players who are known to have major issues with effort and consistency, their first Summer League game, first pre-season game and first regular season game are nights I expect them to get “up.” I’m skeptical that a guy like Drummond brings that same effort very often this season. If he does, good for him and I’ll admit I’m wrong, but I don’t expect it.

      • I would also add that Drummond and the Detroit guards seemed to have developed a nice bit of chemistry already. They seemed to have a good sense of what he is capable of, and he seemed to have been well instructed on how to take advantage of his physical gifts.

        Conversely, Big V had not been on the court at game-speed (other than maybe a single practice) with the Toronto guards, so we only really saw one solid use of his pick-and-roll game. I’ll be interested to see how much that changes by our first official game.

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