Jonas Valanciunas had his best game of the season yesterday in helping the Raptors get the win over the lowly Knicks.
The Toronto Raptors are starting to find ways to win games they shouldn’t, after losing games they shouldn’t have. The 27-point meltdown versus the Golden State Warriors represented the low point, a game they should have won easily, slipped out of their hands and could have been one of those moments when a season begins to spiral out of control.
In the aftermath, a lot of players were talking about heart and what it means to compete. Yet the reality was, that was Rudy Gay’s team, not the team as we see them now. The Rudy Gay trade was the second master stroke for newcomer GM Masai Ujiri, the reigning Executive of the Year.
Having already jettisoned Andrea Bargnani, Ujiri made it clear that the future of this team was very much in his hands, and those hands seem ever more competent as the days go by.
Meanwhile, through all the rumours and trade talk surrounding this team, there is one player who seems immune to such chatter as even Kyle Lowry is being shopped, as is most every player on this team. That is, except Jonas Valanciunas.
The Lithuanian big man had his coming out party during the Las Vegas Summer League, earning MVP honours, and establishing himself as a player to watch. Yet this season, in its early days, he has been nothing short of inconsistent, stymied in his efforts by a team that wasn’t designed to make use of his talents.
Now, instead of a Gay-Derozan combo shooting upwards of forty times, the Raptors feature a back-up point guard in Greivis Vasquez, who is a savvy operator in the pick-and-roll, which should become Valanciunas’ bread and butter.
In last nights game, the typical pattern of feeding him early was in effect, but unlike in past games, the team made a concerted effort to get him touches as the game progressed. Jonas finished with 16 points, and a career-high 18 rebounds, leading the team to a 95-83 victory over the New York Knicks after trailing much of the game.
As a fan, I can only hope that this is a sign of things to come. Jonas’ talent is obvious, and he works hard game in game out. With time he will become one of the most dominant centers in this league, and the Raptors, and their fans, will be thankful every day.