Apr 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) celebrates after making a basket against the Indiana Pacers in game two of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

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As is the case in the post-mortem of every season, the question is how to build from here – even after the most successful campaign in franchise history. Somehow many were left disappointed, given that the summer ended without any high-profile moves or shakeups to the roster. If anything, in May of last season, if you were to point out to fans that the inevitable departure of Bismack Biyombo would leave the Raptors with Jarred Sullinger and a few ambiguous draft picks and rookies as the band-aid to the delicate depth in the frontcourt, many would see that as a sign of regression, particularly in comparison to the shuffling and stockpiling some of the other teams in the East have done.

None of that should be the de-facto measuring stick, of course. Labelling Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl as ambiguous is harsh, particularly in Siakam’s case, who looks more NBA-ready than originally thought. But beyond that, assuming neither of those two players will have significant impact for the Raptors this season, the best signing of all may come to be continuity itself. Amid the quiet summer, Cory Joseph’s evolved jumper could be seen as a new signing on its own, ditto with the improved health of DeMarre Carroll and the leaps that Norman Powell and Jonas Valanciunas are projected to make.

This will be Valanciunas’ fifth season in top-flight basketball. By nearly every possible metric, he has improved year-by-year since he’s been in the league. His numbers have risen in points, blocks, and rebounds per game; while his foul-happy tendencies have seen a gradual year-to-year drop in the four seasons he’s been in the NBA. His field-goal percentage has dropped marginally – but that’s a reasonable slide that correlates with the increase in usage, and it’s still good for sixth-best in the Association. We’ve even seen Valenciunas show rare glimpses of passing out of the post, and witness first-hand his dominance in the post-season and back-and-forth man-handling between himself and Hassan Whiteside before they both regrettably went down injured in game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, depriving us of the greatest behemoth melee since Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone’s rumble in the ’98 NBA finals.

To boot, this is by far Valanciunas’ best haircut since he’s been in the league. The stars have aligned.

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 28: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors poses for a portrait during 2016 Media Day on September 28, 2016 at the BioSteel Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

Note: Since embedding the above picture, I have been notified by certain members of the RR staff that I am, apparently, the only human in the universe to admire JV’s new haircut. I want to take this opportunity to express my displeasure at humanity over this disagreement. The cut itself is underrated and incredible. To be fair, it looks better in-game, where a part of the hair tends to bounce as he runs back on D.

There is perhaps no better indication of where Valanciunas’ NBA career is headed than when observing his cold-blooded performances, over the years, when it matters. In his playoff debut against the Nets in 2014, in front of a raucous Air Canada Center starved of playoff basketball, the Lithuanian center rose like a phoenix when his teammates looked completely paralyzed. He didn’t seem to feel the same heebie-jeebies as other players do at their first rodeo, and to fast forward to 2016, he found ways to score the basketball during the post-season when the team struggled to carve their way through to the hoop.

In those scenarios, among others, having an asset like Valanciunas is huge. The perpetual challenge facing Valanciunas though, is how to take advantage of his efficiency more regularly. Dwane Casey likes to go to Jonas early and often, giving priority in providing early touches to JV over his all-star backcourt. Why that hasn’t been sustainable over the course of 48 minutes is still a question mark. While Valanciunas is efficient, his usage is relatively low.

He’s more than just a tip-in player who will hover the boards and get you 2nd chance points. Valanciunas’ mid-range jumper is respectable and his post-moves have proved efficient. At the very least, if he’s not scoring, Dwane Casey must find ways to incorporate him by giving him touches inside. One solution, which has been presented on RR several times by Blake, is to incorporate the Lithuanian with the 2nd unit more. That’s a sound idea, and would allow the Raptors to increase Jonas’ usage without sucking touches from their primary scorers. At the very least, even having an inside threat as good as JV while surrounding him with shooters would open up all kinds of possibilities on the offensive end. Not that any lineup would trump the Lowry + bench lineup, but this would be an interesting scenario to have.

Despite all this, Dwane Casey has stated he’s yet to commit to that idea.

Valanciunas effects the game when he doesn’t have the ball as well, to be sure. He can suck-in the shot-blocker and create space for the pull-up jumper once one of the swing-men gets inside. In this case below, if Whiteside hedges too far on Terrence Ross, he risks getting burned on a lob down-low to Jonas who was a complete menace to Miami in the post.

Year five is a milestone for Jonas Valanciunas. It’s safe to say he’s made it, and the signs over the years have been more than encouraging. In today’s NBA, he’s a rare commodity who provides Dwane Casey with a number of options to build his offensive scheme around. This season should be one where Valanciunas makes yet another leap as a player, and if he does, the Raptors have an entirely new foundation to build upon.

  • Steve Alex

    Pro Haircut!

  • steve fisher

    The writer Kayan has written a decent article but has NOT done his homework when it comes to their 3 NEW BIGS all of whom are overall much more skilled than Bismarck on both sides of the floor especially on O with the exception of rim protection which should be good by committee: JV, PS, A healthy DC, and the very solid 7’1″ JP with the advantage that at least a couple of them would be on the floor most if not all the time , while Bismarck was not even on the floor MOST of the time !! Last year both JP and PS were the PLAYER OF THE YEAR in their conferences !! PS led the entire NCAA in DOUBLE-DOUBLES averaging 21.5 Pts and 12 Rebs per game ! JP was named the BEST CENTRE in the entire NCAA averaging over 17 Pts and 9.1 Rebs / game !!! Did this writer even watch these 2 first round draft picks in summer league or recently in preseason ?? To suggest that these 2 will contribute very little is not only foolish but wrong since coach Casey has praised their play on BOTH sides of the ball, their energy, speed , their wide range of skills and that he plans to have them as a regular part of the rotation !!! Anyone who watches them has to be impressed and exited with their poise and basketball IQ especially as rookies who are only going to get better with time and PT provided by Casey who seems to have seen the light on developing young talent who by playoff time will be crucial to their depth in playoffs. By playing them you don’t BURN OUT your starters which has happened the last 3 years !! GO RAPS GO !!!

    • Mike$

      Sorry saying “that he plans to have them as a regular part of the rotation” is extremely misleading. He has never once said that they would be a regular parts of the rotation this year. He’s said multiple times though that he doesn’t see Pascal as a 5 yet and the battle between Bebe and Poeltl for Center minutes is on. Saying he sees them as part of the raptors future is different than saying they will be a regular in the rotation this year, which he has never said

    • Tragic Mugatu

      What on earth are you going on about dude? All the writer has said is that our two rookies are ambiguous commodities right now (which is true of p much all rookies except blue-chippers) and that we can probably assume they won’t have a significant impact on the team (which is a completely reasonable thing to say about first-year players who are the 11th and 12th men on a 50-win team)

    • raps-fan

      Siakam and Poeltl both look like they’ll develop into good players but most rookies have trouble contributing in a meaningful way in their first season. And saying that JP, Siakam and Sullinger are all much more skilled than Biyombo on BOTH sides of the floor is completely false. You can argue that they are better than BB on offense, but BB is clearly better than all of them on defense and it’s not particularly close.

  • Mike$

    Agreed about the haircut lol…

    Anyway I like his game so far in the preseason. You can tell he’s working himself back into game shape but he’s shooting without hesitating and his turnaround looks fantastic. Should be another solid year for JV. Increased minutes should also help out his stat line. Im guessing he averages a double double this year

  • Henry Swagson

    There was no back and forth between Jonas and Hassan, JV out right won that duel. He was the best player in that series before he went down.

    Casey better not go back to only giving Jonas 9 shots a game, because we seen that problem come playoff time. We need to integrate JV as a point of the offence early on before the playoffs for it to be organic. He should be playing ~32 mins a game and >12 shots (preferably 15 shots) a game.

    • Sinbad

      JV will not get 32+ minutes a game or 12-15 shots a game unless he sees increased minutes with the second unit.

      • Narkis

        yep – this would be on Casey – he is the Idiot here

      • Henry Swagson

        I’d be very dissapointed if JV doesn’t get more playing time or more touches after all that from Masai and Casey from the summer saying it would happen. Doesn’t matter if his touches come against backups, he needs to be more involved it’ll help in the short term and long term.

        JV’s gotta speak up, guys like cojo or vanvleet shouldn’t have the ability/confidence to look him off when he calls for it. I’m chalking this up to letting fringe rotation guys play and just getting into playing shape/going half speed. Casey said the last 2 preseason games were going to be regular rotation, so I’ll reserve judgement untill then.

    • Red Baron

      Agreed Henry, but not going to happen with DeMar and Kyle on roster. Demar is going to keep shooting and Kyle will also be gunning in a contract year (opting out). Coach Casey has handed them the keys to the offence for good or ill, and they are not going to give up their scoring outputs in favour of moving the ball. This isn’t a rip on Kyle and DeMar, it’s just who they are…their first, second, and third instinct are all to score the ball. JV will have a bit more production this year, but only due to 3-4 more minutes per game with Big Biz gone..