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Discuss: Is Jonas Valanciunas becoming a reliable defender?

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The last six games have seen Jonas Valanciunas' defensive numbers drastically improve. Is this a blip on the radar, or is the big man finally turning a corner in his development as a two-way centre?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the season, Raptors fans have questioned Dwane Casey's usage of Jonas Valanciunas. It's been a regular occurence: Valanciunas will put up a double-double in the first half - but when you check the box score at the end of the game, his stat line goes largely unchanged in the final 24 minutes of action. The reason?

His defense.

For the bulk of the season, Valanciunas has been one of the worst defenders on the Raptors, and the defensively versatile big-man duo of Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson has been charged with closing out most of the team's close games.

But in the Raptors' most recent stretch, Valanciunas has compiled some impressive defensive metrics:

To Feb. 23

OFF Rating

DEF Rating / Rank among Regulars

NET Rating / Rank among Regulars

First 49 Games

105.4

107.3 (2nd Worst)

-1.9 (Worst)

Last 6 Games

99.4

88.2 (Best)

+11.2 (2nd Best)

That's a 19.1 point improvement in defensive efficiency. Combine that with his improved Defensive Field Goal Percentage on shots from in close (56.1 percent in his first 49 games, 51.6 in his last 6), and there is a case to be made that Valanciunas is starting to morph into a reliable defender.

What do you think? Is this a case of small sample size, aided by the addition of stud defender James Johnson to the starting line-up? Or is Valanciunas gaining your trust as a player who can be counted on late in games?

(All Stats via NBA.com/Stats as of Feb. 24)