In my last column I reviewed an analysis of Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas over at raptorshq.com. I thought reviewer Braedon Clark made some salient observations about Valanciunas’ game as it currently stands and where it has the potential to go. We agree, even if I’ve more emphatic about not only his role but the Raptors’ obligation to foster his development in every way possible. It was a quality synopsis, so I figured that I would review the rest of his “part 1” grades, including Dwane Casey, with whom I feel strongly pulled in both directions. Let’s look at some other interesting grades from their first section.
Clark gives Terrence Ross a “B” grade. I’ve really vacillated on Ross over the course of the year. I went from thinking he was a “bit” guy, that type of long athletic specimen that very good teams need to have but don’t necessarily need to count on, to thinking he really needed to develop into something much bigger for this team to take the next step. To see Ross going well, it is a sight, and one that makes me think that he is capable of more than I initially give him credit for. As big as I was on DeMar DeRozan all season, he still was not a consistent three point shooter and Ross’s development into a consistent threat in that area would make things easier for everyone else.
It took the Rudy Gay trade to get Ross into the starting lineup. Honestly, I think they would have traded Gay even if it meant starting Steve Novak. By no means was Ross expected to take over Gay’s furiously inefficient scoring role, but he did hit threes at a rate (39.5%) that had to have exceeded expectations. More importantly, he played within the offense and went big when he was feeling it. No one can argue that philosophy is better than Gay’s “im-the-man-get-out-of-my-way-while-I-put-up-25-shots-a-game” bull in a china shop way of playing.
Like the grade for Valanciunas, I think Clark saw enough this year to give a lofty grade based on projections. On pure merit, I’m not sure that Ross deserved a “B” given that he could disappear for multi-game stretches. His explosions were spectacular and Clark is right in saying that there were flashes big time defensive skill, but it simply was not consistent enough. Ross gets a slight downgrade from me, but that isn’t blinding me to what I think Ross could show next year. A significant grade bump is well within his reach.
And then there’s Dwane Casey. He has to be applauded for his ability to get this team to the playoffs. The fact that the city of Toronto had such a reaction shows that Casey and Co. have something going here. Too often, though, I found myself wondering why he seemingly wasn’t willing to just feed Valanciunas and make him the integral piece. It would work, and then Casey would go away from it. Certainly, there are intricacies in all that which is foreign to me, and having volume players like DeRozan and Gay would have made a Valanciunas-centered offense tougher, but that is Casey’s responsibility. Perhaps he didn’t manage that well enough. He still got a B+ from Clark.
As Clark points out, the players seem to love playing for Casey. Of course we all saw what that did for Mark Jackson, but there is something to be said for that kind of contentment and continuity. I like Casey and I liked him when he was with the T’wolves. He was prematurely fired from that job but no one expects the same on this front. Like Clark, I do question some of the x’s and o’s sometimes but wonder, again, if that is contributed to DeRozan feeling like he has to completely take over sometimes.
I think the enthusiasm works in Casey’s favor. Management sees that and wants to keep the train rolling. However, such enthusiasm generally comes with increased expectations. If the Raptors plateau, the good feelings might fly right out the window. I’m not saying that will happen, but the “patient period” for this franchise is certain to wane.