Toronto Raptors – Lithuanian Lightning Strikes Washington

Jonas Valanciunas Lithuanian Lightning
TORONTO , ON- APRIL 17 - Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Washington Wizards Ian Mahinmi clash under the basket in first half playoff action in Toronto. Rene Johnston/Toronto Star (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Game 5 of the Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards series was one where Raptors fans were constantly worried throughout the whole night. A back and forth affair had people on the edge of their seats and full with doubt. A sudden jolt of energy courtesy of Jonas Valančiūnas and all fear was evaporated.

Toronto Raptors – Lithuanian Lightning Strikes Washington

Jonas Valančiūnas was the Spark the Raptors Needed

Throughout the entire series, Valančiūnas had not seen the floor during the fourth quarter. Head coach Dwane Casey likes using more mobile bigs in the fourth, in theory, it’s to improve defensively. Although, in this series, the Raptors have struggled to defend for a full 48 minutes. Along with their defensive issues, their offense has taken a hit since travelling to Washington. More isolation, fewer threes, lack of quality ball movement, and turnovers have been the Raptors Achilles heel. Demar Derozen has been tasked with carrying an offense by himself. Some of his teammates have lost some confidence in their shot (at least on the road). With all their issues Dwane Casey had not put in Valančiūnas for all games but game five. The results were exactly what the Raptors needed.

As soon as Lithuanian Lightning checked back into the game he made an excellent pass to a cutting C.J Miles that led to two free throws to help the Raptors end their mini-drought. His rebounding played a key role in fourth, he had 7. For someone who is known not to be the greatest defender JV did a great job. Contesting whatever came his way as well as making perhaps the biggest play of the night. Stealing the ball from John Wall that led to a Derozen slam the other way.

JV’s impact on the game was so vital, so the question is why was he not used in the previous games during the fourth? All advanced stats show that the Raptors offense plays at an elite level with JV on the court. He is their best screener and most efficient post-player. Along with that, his rebounding leads the team and his defense this season has been mostly solid. The Raptors are a net positive with JV out there and a negative without him. Dwane needs to provide JV with more opportunity.

Jonas Valančiūnas’ Next Steps to Becoming a Dominant Centre

Hopefully, this performance allows Dwane Casey to give JV a longer leash and have him play more minutes throughout the postseason. It is moments like these where Valančiūnas shows brilliance. He just needs to stay confident even when things aren’t going his way. I believe he can be one of the best centres in the league. JV has already expanded his game to the three-point line, averaging over 40% (although only on 1 attempt per game in the regular season). All he needs is more time to fully use his talent and develop a strong defensive game and JV will be right up there with some of the best centres in the league.

Just as much as his performance and individual development will play a key role in JV taking his talents to the next level. Dwane Casey needs to give him more chances to make mistakes but allow him to try and make up for them. For example, Jakob Poeltl has been disastrous this postseason until game 4 and Dwane played him in the final 13 minutes of the ball game. But once JV makes one or two mistakes on defense Dwane pulls the plug and subs him out.

The Raptors have made a conservative decision to promote the youth movement on this team but it should extend more to Valančiūnas. He is only 25 and hasn’t hit his prime yet, there is still so much potential in him. Raptors fans first got a glimpse of that in the 2015-2016 post season. JV picked up the slack when Demar and Kyle struggled with their shot and arguably the Raptors won games because of his play alone. Valančiūnas will be a key part of the Raptors postseason run and to close out this series. Let’s just hope he gets the opportunity to do so.

Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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