So Monday was apparently Raptors Day in Toronto. Wow. You don’t hear a lot of city-wide commemorations for a pro sports team that just lost in the first round of the playoffs. Of course this is also coming on the heels of a thank you video that the team made for the fans after a raucous and boisterous showing during their first-round home games.
Maybe this is different because it’s Canada and they feel like they have to go out of their way to convince others, and themselves, that they can be a viable basketball city. Maybe the disappointing Toronto Maple Leafs have no business raising the morale of a city on its own. Maybe this is the city’s special way to convince Kyle Lowry that there is no other place he should want to play.
Either way, it’s noteworthy. And it’s something to keep an eye on with both Lowry and potential free agents this summer. It seems obvious that they are looking to cultivate an image and impression there. So far, while perhaps a little askew, I really like the vibe.
That enthusiasm will be an interesting theme to watch. But for now, the Toronto Raptors are still out of the playoffs and a comprehensive review of their up and down, but largely successful, season is necessary. That will be an ongoing narrative, but a few days ago I did come across some thorough Raptor player grades done by Braedon Clark over at raptorhq.com, which developed into one of my favorite sites over the course of the season. In his Part 1, Clark gives grades to Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross among others. Let’s briefly discuss his grade and rationale of the former.
Clark is generous with Valanciunas, giving him an A- grade even while hitting on a few acute weaknesses. He bases this mostly on a very optimistic long-term outlook. Of course we strongly agree, given what we have said (and complained about) over the year regarding the vacillation between domination and complacency. Even though I called for an All-Star berth for Valanciunas this season (prisoner of excitement, I know), I will just subtly transfer that call over to next season. I think he’ll be an All-Star.
Clark gets pretty specific and analytic in his review of Valanciunas and I think he is spot on with most of his assertions. He says that Valanciunas has trouble catching the ball while on the move and putting it on the floor. That’s true, and it showed a lack of grace. Perhaps Hakeem Olajuwon can pinpoint this as a point of emphasis in which to work. If his offensive fouls could turn into drawing more fouls when he catches on the move, it could make for a dramatic improvement.
Yet the reviewer also claims that Valanciunas offensive game is “restricted to single acts.” I’m not sure he is giving quite enough credit there. Obviously there is no better tutor than Olajuwon for improving this, so it would be reasonable to expect significant improvement next season. I saw some more nuance to Jonas’s game than some stock move with no surprise or creativity. And of course it is all contingent on the thing I have been asking for all year: get him the ball in the post and find him on those pick-and-rolls. Even if he is a work in progress there, it is worth the effort. He is still not being showcased like someone of his talent ought to be. Maybe it’s youth or the fouls or the flourishing of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but if he really was considered the “untouchable” then he needs to be treated as such.
I’m going to come back to these grades throughout the offseason as I think the reviewer did a very nice job of outlining strengths, weaknesses, and potential down the road. Jonas Valanciunas has been the centerpiece of my Raptors narrative because I think he’s the centerpiece of a team with big time aspirations. His improvement was obvious, and that why I will agree with Clark, but he is not yet an A- player, and the word “potential” and “flashes” isn’t something you want used in abundance during a player’s third season in the league. The results have to be there. Every night.