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.