Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Jonas Valanciunas got his first career start for the Toronto Raptors last night at the ACC. Although his performance was extremely solid, another Raptor--Ed Davis--stole some of his spotlight.
"Somewhere Doctor Naismith is shaking his head."
That was how head coach Dwane Casey began his post-game address to the media on friday night. Casey was of course referring to the Toronto Raptors' 82-75 victory over the Detroit Pistons in what was an immense offensive struggle for both clubs.
"It wasn't pretty to watch," Casey continued "But i thought our guys battled, the effort was there. we have not had a day off and we played like it. But but that is how it's going to be if you want to play for something."
Casey was right, it wasn't pretty. And this was true for both teams as they shot a combined 38% from the floor and 26% from beyond the three-point line. They also turned the ball over 41 times between the two squads.
But, as Dwane Casey pointed out, these are the kinds of games that you will see in the preseason when the practice schedule is a little more gruelling. And, at the end of the day, it is nice to see the Raptors show some grit and tough out a win when their shots weren't falling.
The game began in a rather familiar fashion for the Raptors as the starters again struggled, putting the team in an early hole. it's only preseason, but this has to be a concern, given how badly the starting unit has struggled.
DeMar DeRozan began the game aggressively attacking the basket and looking for his shot, which is what you want to see out of the fourth-year guard. But, after a few early buckets, the defence adjusted, drawing two consecutive charges against him.
By the time the first quarter had come to a close, DeMar had accumulated four turnovers and wasn't exactly setting the world on fire with his shooting numbers.
DeRozan would finish with 14 points on 5 of 11 from the floor, but he wasn't overly impressive and his shot selection was suspect at times.
Andrea Bargnani also struggled offensively, going 1-5 from the floor in just over 24 minutes and appeared to still be working his way back into game shape. His defence though, was a different story.
Bargnani was paired with Jonas Valanciunas--who received his first career start in front of the home crowd--to begin the game, and the two big-men provided quite the challenge for Detroit's frontline of Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell.
The Pistons' shorter front court duo had a great deal of difficulty dealing with the length of the Raptors' frontline which was a promising sign considering how much talk there has been about Bargnani's defensive improvement and Valanciunas' defensive promise.
If these two guys continue to buy in on that end of the floor, they could be a very scary presence for opposing teams to deal with going forward.
Speaking of Valanciunas, the rookie had quite the game on both ends of the floor and really showed flashes of that potential we have been hearing about for over a year now.
As mentioned above, he was solid defensively. But his offensive game was also impressive, particularly the way he ran the screen and roll on offense and how hard he rolled to the basket despite not always receiving the ball when he was open.
"He is one of the best rollers in the league. I have said that," Casey said about Valanciunas' pick and roll play. "He's open, and If he's not open, that means someone is tagging him and covering him so it means the weakside guy is open."
Valanciunas' ability to take up space and draw that attention in the lane is going to create open opportunities for not just himself, but other players on the floor as well.
Also, I would be remiss if I failed to mention what was perhaps the highlight of the game. With 47 seconds left in fourth quarter, Valanciunas posted up and delivered a sweeping skyhook that got the biggest reaction of the game out of the crowd, capping off what was a strong home debut for the rookie to say the least.
Perhaps overshadowed by Valanciunas' strong outing was another similarly strong performance by Ed Davis.
Davis came off of the bench ready to play and looked confident on both ends of the floor, finishing with 12 point, six rebounds and a block in just 18 minutes. Davis was one of the big reasons why the team bounced back from a rough start, and pulled out the victory.
Davis' play certainly has him primed to earn more minutes in that overcrowded front court, and with Valanciunas already looking like a solid contributor, things are about to get very interesting for Dwane Casey's big-man rotation.
There was one other huge positive for the team last night, and that was the play of John Lucas III.
Lucas--who has already gained a bit of a reputation as a player that likes to put up shots--played extended minutes due to a minor injury to Jose Calderon and took over the role of distributor, leading the team with 8 assists.
"Obviously the Pistons were playing me a little bit differently, so I had to do something else. I was just going to get to the paint and try and get everybody involved. That was my mentality" Lucas told RaptorsHQ after the game.
Granted, Lucas still took 10 shots. But he showed the ability to mix up his game depending on what the defence gives him.
When asked about Lucas after the game, Dwane Casey had some high praise for the point guard.
"He is the spirt of our team, he is the fibre of our team. He stands for everything right on the basketball floor. He is going to be a heck of a coach, once he gets out of basketball, (retires). He is a born scorer and we just have to work on those passing skills, where he can see things. But he does what he does, which is score the basketball"
That is high praise for a player slated to be the third point guard on the roster.
There is no doubt that Lucas brings leadership to the team regardless of whether or not he plays, but based on Casey comments, as well as the way he has performed these past couple of games, we could be seeing a little more of john Lucas III on the basketball court for the Raptors this season than many of us initially expected.
It's still early, but it certainly looks like that mantra of internal competition that coaches and management were preaching during training camp is continuing on well into the preseason.