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HQ Mailbag: The Raptors’ shooting is off, but Jonas Valanciunas is rolling

The Raptors HQ Mailbag is back again this week, with some thoughts on Toronto’s long-range shot-making, rolling with Jonas Valanciunas, and... Lorenzo Brown?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

What an interesting week of Raptors basketball. Following a somehow-close loss to Denver on Monday, the Raptors were featured in ESPN All-Access style on Wednesday and then capped that night off with a win over the 76ers.

Let’s relive two moments towards the end there that I (and many of you, I assume) very much enjoyed.

I watched this game at home alone. I audibly gasped twice. The Raptors are now 21-5, and are looking damn good as of late.

Now, let’s get to the questions for this week’s HQ Mailbag.

I like answering the sample questions. And this one, in particular, reveals how I always answer your questions and how everyone has a fun time when I’m giving material to work with. So, I thought that maybe it’s time to plug that one again, too. Get me your questions.

Will anyone not named Kawhi hit a three? Yes. Will they consistently? I certainly hope so. Some of the Raptors’ three-point percentages are down below career averages (see: Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka). But instead of doing a deep dive on that, let’s put some odds on game-to-game stuff.

My Rankings of Who is Most Likely to Hit the First Raptors Three of the Game:

  1. Kyle Lowry
  2. Danny Green
  3. Kawhi Leonard
  4. Serge Ibaka
  5. Pascal Siakam
  6. Fred VanVleet
  7. C.J. Miles
  8. Jonas Valanciunas
  9. OG Anunoby
  10. Delon Wright

First five are the usual starting unit. Fred and C.J. take a lot of threes — Miles hasn’t been hitting them necessarily but whatever. Jonas gets the occasional starting unit bump. I think the threes probably been hit by the time the last two guys see the floor; their shot selection doesn’t scream “first guy to hit a three” to me.

From my understanding of Synergy statistics on NBA.com, our best pick-and-roll ball-handlers so far are not point guards, but that’s mostly because Pascal Siakam has been ridiculous all season long. Norman Powell was showing great signs of increased comfort in this regard too this season.

But when it comes to traditional point guards, I don’t know if we can say we’ve seen enough from Lorenzo Brown in meaningful minutes to award him this mantle. Kyle’s at 1.0 point per possession, Fred’s a shade below at 0.95, and Delon’s at 0.71. Zo doesn’t qualify — also, Ben Falk’s great Cleaning the Glass site lists him as a wing.

Now, I think there’s still elements of small sample size and figuring things out on the offensive end at play here. Last season, Delon and Kyle both had 0.9 PPP as P&R ball handlers, with FVV a shade below them (you can toggle the stats I linked above by season). Coach Nick Nurse has been running a lot of the bench offense through Fred VanVleet this season, with shaky levels of success — there have been injuries to deal with of course, and at times it looks like Fred is still finding his footing.

Compared to the others, Delon’s small sample size there also seems likely to even out. He’s been much better historically running the P&R than he has been so far this season. Does he miss his long-time teammate Jakob Poeltl? Maybe.

So, my answer is no. I love when Zo hits the court for his kind-of-high-usage that drives my Twitter feed into a frenzy, and I think he’s a talented P&R guy in limited minutes. But over the long haul, I think both Fred and Delon stand to be better than they have been — and I love Delon here, I hope he gets more opportunities to run the bench offense.

I think any semblance of “on and off” at this point in the season might still have to do with Jonas Valanciunas’ role. He’s an important player for the Raptors (see: Wednesday night) but I’m sure there’s still some part of him that wants to start (I love pretending I know sports psychology). And the nature of Valanciunas is that while he’s trying to stretch his game out, hit 3s, and play a “modern” NBA game, he’s an old-school centre at heart. And as such, the game goes as match-ups go. He can feast on Andre Drummond or Joel Embiid (be still, my heart) but sometimes he’ll be unplayable (see: Warriors game).

That’s the gist of it.

I’m good, Jordan. Heading into exams, which is certain to be fun. I’m writing this mailbag — and this response to you — and it’s quite possible I should be studying instead. How are you?

When I start asking questions, that means it’s time to call it a week. Send in questions for next week using #HQMailbag and tag @61gabester or @RaptorsHQ. See you then.