With NBA All-Star weekend upon us, I think it's fair to put a few things into perspective. When I state, "a few things", I mean the play of Raptors standout rookies Terrence Ross & Jonas Valanciunas. Both players born in the early 90s, and both athletes viewed as franchise cornerstones.
It's certainly too early to make an accurate prediction as to what both of these young players will bring to the table in the next few years, but there I something certain; their heart and passion for the game cannot be undermined.
Before missing 18 games with a broken bone in his finger, Valanciunas has made his presence felt as a grinder that head coach Dwane Casey could depend on when toughness is required down the stretch.
"It's contagious, his activity, his toughness, him rebounding, running the floor, setting screens," said Casey. "Within all of that, there are a lot of mistakes. He makes up for it with his hustle and hard play. I don't mind mistakes as long as they're hard."
Valanciunas posted his second-career double-double recently against the New Orleans Hornets, and it was that "hustle and hard play" helped spur the Raps to a win, and made for maybe his finest performance of the year. JV's energy level has been something the Raptors and their fans have coveted for many years, and in combination with other energy guys such as Amir Johnson, Toronto promises to have a very exciting future frontcourt.
And suddenly the back-court is no slouch either.
After being drafted eighth overall in this year's draft, many wondered if Terrence Ross had been a reach for the Dinos. However when the question arose about what Ross could promise Raps fans in the future he answered "highlights" and indeed, it's those highlights that have not only made an impact this season, but have also propelled him to NBA prominence. He's now participating in tomorrow night's annual NBA Slam Dunk contest, and many players, including Dwight Howard today apparently, think he's got the best shot at pulling it off.
The calm, introverted Ross indeed has his eyes on the prize despite what's apparently an abundance of high expectations.
"It's crazy. People were giving like unrealistic things to do," Ross said. "You can't always do it. It's hard. It's tricky. It's tricky."
One can only imagine what some of these requests have included as after all, it's one thing to request a dunk to be seen come All-star Saturday, and then it's one to actually perform it correctly, showcasing it to the world.
For us Raptors' fans though, we know Ross isn't only about big dunks as he's shown his ability to knock down long-range jumpers and play solid defense in addition to demonstrating his highflying capabilities. However as the youngest participant in tomorrow night's contest, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the big stage.
Again, this event certainly isn't the "be-all, end-all" for Ross, but it will be another good piece in his development, one it's a shame Valanciunas can't partake in as well via the Rookie-Sophomore game etc. (Although there's no question the others who were chosen are currently more deserving.)
Beyond the dunk contest and any future All-Star accolades for Toronto's young duo is their impact on the club and while we've seen a bit of what they can do, what's really exciting is the potential that lies ahead as there's no telling how far up to these young stars can take the Raptors.