Jonas Valanciunas has been amazing this season. And he's gone for six weeks, possibly more. And with the team tailing off already, that's not good.
But let's take a look and see if we can spot the specific problems that will cause, and try to fix them before they happen.
Problem 1: Bismack Biyombo
One must assume Biyombo will be getting starter's minutes now, and the game against the Clippers held up this theory. This is kind of a problem. Biyombo has been terrible this year. Biyombo's on-court offensive rating is the lowest on the team among regulars, a full two points worse than the next closest player, Terrence Ross. His on-court defensive rating is not much better - 101.9, worst among regulars (again), this time just slightly better than DeMarre Carroll's 101.2. Even worse, every other bench player (who Biyombo typically plays beside) is at least two points better than him.
It's bad. I could write a full article just like the Valanciunas one, except with how much of a negative impact Biyombo has had on his teammates.
So now, with him playing a lot of minutes, a rapid decline seems likely. Let's see what we can do about that.
Defensively, there's not much to be done, system-wise. Just hope for the best.
But offensively, and I'm sure others have noticed this, the Raptors just absolutely have to stop using Biyombo as an on-ball screener. Defences have started to clue into Biyombo's ineffectiveness as a roll man, and have simply started doubling the ball handler. The guards rarely pass to Biyombo on the roll, and when they do nothing good happens.
Biyombo on the season has only finished a possession as the roll man in a pick and roll 12 times in 14 games. He's shot 3-for-7, turned the ball over twice, and been fouled three times, good for a 0.83 points per possession (PPP) rating. That's not great, especially with how little he is used that way.
Compare that to his "cuts" offensive rating. Cuts are usually thought of as the DeMarre Carroll special, cutting into the lane. But plays where a big man has his defender go to help in the lane, then slides under the basket for an easy dump off pass are also classified as cuts by the NBA.com stats page. And here is where Biyombo excels (relative to his own offence). He scores at a 0.97 PPP pace on these plays (still very bad compared to the league but preferable to 0.83 PPP on the roll, am I right?). Combine that with his 0.88 PPP (again, bad, but better than his pick and roll number) on putbacks and it looks like Biyombo should be kept off (and away from) the ball.
There are better options for screen setters too. Luis Scola has been hitting a little better than Biyombo on the roll (0.9 PPP) on much heavier usage, and is a much better passer as well (assist ratio of 8 assists per 100 possessions to Biyombo's 4, with a much lower turnover rate as well). Patrick Patterson has been elite as a scorer on pick plays, hitting at 1.35 PPP (95th percentile league wide) though he's been underutilized at 17 possessions total.
So that's the idea for playing with Biyombo on the floor. Let's move on to problem number 2.
Problem 2: Backup C
If Biyombo is starting, who backs up the 5-spot? Well, judging by the first game and a half with Valanciunas out, we have our first big silver lining.
Apparently, it will be James Johnson. Now, I'm of the opinion that Johnson is best as a wing defender, but he's pretty great no matter what you ask him to do. Let's take a look at his performance this year without Biyombo or Valanciunas on the floor with him (these stats from NBAwowy.com, a must visit site for splits like these):
That's pretty great -- he's rebounding at a rate comparable to Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson last year, which is OK. But overall the team is destroying opponents on offence and has very good stopping power, and Johnson is converting his shot attempts at an impressive rate.
I'd expect some lineups where Lucas Nogueira gets a chance to play C, and some small ball lineups with Scola as the only big on the floor, but if most backup C minutes are filled by James Johnson, the Raptors will be in good shape.
All stats from NBA.com and NBAwowy.com