Feb 10, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) dunks against the New Orleans Pelicans at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors: Important Month Ahead For Jonas Valanciunas

While the players and coaching staff for the Toronto Raptors have little choice but to move forward and focus on the schedule that lies ahead, my mind remains stuck on their 134-129 triple-overtime loss to the Washington Wizards.

The game was billed as a possible playoff matchup and one that promised more intensity than expected for a regular season contest in late February.

In addition to providing edge-of-your-seat entertainment from the opening tip to the final buzzer, the game ended up making the record books as the longest in the Raptors’ 19-year history, totaling three hours and 32 minutes.

Many statistics and performances stood out on Thursday night, ranging from Washington’s 80 points in the paint, to John Wall’s breathtaking quickness, to the season-high 26 points from Greivis Vasquez.

Center of attention

Feb 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) wins the opening tip-off of the second overtime period against Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) wins the opening tip-off of the second overtime period against Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

All over the court, there were individual battles worth paying attention to, particularly the matchup at the center position between Marcin Gortat and Jonas Valanciunas.

The Wizard’s relatively quiet acquisition of Gortat from the Phoenix Suns just a few days before the season started has paid immediate dividends and now looks especially good with Nene out for up to six weeks with a knee injury.

Against the Raptors, Gortat put on a clinic around the basket. Now in his seventh season, the 6’11” pivot man poured in a career-high 31 points, hauled in 12 rebounds, logged 51 minutes and essentially chased Valanciunas from the game before picking up his sixth foul late in the third extra period.

At 6’11” and 231 pounds, Valanciunas is nearly identical to Gortat in height and weight.

Feb 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) with center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and guard Terrence Ross (31) against the Chicago Bulls at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls beat the Raptors 94-92. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Big V, however, appeared in just 29 of a possible 65 minutes and although he did do his job on the glass by collecting 10 rebounds, he managed only seven points on 3-for-9 shooting, committed two costly turnovers and was on the wrong end of several game-changing plays.

In his post-game remarks, head coach Dwane Casey mentioned that he had to go away from Valanciunas and call on Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes to handle the speed and quickness that Gortat repeatedly demonstrated in pick-and-roll scenarios.

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun did not have to reach far when he wrote that Valanciunas played one of the worst games of his career. Even the sophomore center himself agreed with that assessment.

“I feel really bad right now. I could do a much better job than what I did. I’m going to watch the film, learn from it to not repeat it next game.”

-Toronto Sun, Feb. 27, 2014

Give Valanciunas credit for acknowledging a tough night at the office and hopefully he took notes on Gortat’s performance, but there were other factors that contributed to his struggles.

Heavy reliance on perimeter shooting

The Raptors — like almost any basketball team anywhere and at any level – are at their best when they apply an inside-out approach at the offensive end.

Driving to the basket or dumping the ball into the post as the first option creates easier scoring opportunities, trips to the free throw line, and shooters left open by collapsing defences. It is when the Raptors use this method that they become a much tougher opponent and infinitely more fun to watch.

Feb 15, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross (31) dunks during the 2014 NBA All Star dunk contest at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Too often, though, the Raptors are content to swing the ball around the perimeter in search of an open 3-point shot.

On the season, Toronto has attempted 1521 shots from within five feet of the basket. This may seem like a lot, but only the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets have attempted less.

Admittedly, this stat does not have a direct link to success because at the top of this leader board you’ll find the Philadelphia 76ers with 2291 attempts.

Still, the Raptors have shown more of an inclination to shoot from between 20-29 feet from the basket with 1,566 attempts. To further cement this point, the Raptors have attempted more 3-point field goals (1,332) than free throws (1,106) in 2013-14.

There hasn’t been much reason to complain about this yet as the Raptors are 32-26 and lead the Atlantic Division by four games, but the Raptors are heading into uncharted territory where every possession will matter and points will be harder to come by.

Balanced attack

Now is the time for the Raptors to get Valanciunas more involved and likewise for Valanciunas to step up his game. A happy big man is one who is involved in the offence early in the game and who in turn feels more energized when he is expected to protect his team’s basket.

Valanciunas has shown to be a capable scorer in the post this season, connecting on 202 of 359 attempts near the rim, so it’s not as if throwing the ball to him is a big risk.

After all, more attention on Valanciunas means more space for shooters to roam on the perimeter and no one on the Raptors is going to argue with that.

Tags: Jonas Valanciunas Toronto Raptors

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