In our first season preview we will look at the Center position in Toronto and how it will likely impact the Raptors 2013-14 season.
This is one of the first years in recent memory that Raptor fans have a reason to be optimistic when looking at the battles they will have in the paint. For years, the Raptors have had issues rebounding the ball and blocking shots. They’ve been unable to establish any kind of dominance in the paint and teams have generally taken them to school in that area.
With the addition of Jonas Valanciunas last year the Raptors became a better rebounding and shot blocking team. They have a huge presence in the paint and one who is very capable on both ends of the floor.
The league has seen a decrease in the amount of large centers over the years. The days when teams all had mammoth players occupying the defensive lane are gone. Shaq has retired, so has Alonzo Mourning. Those kind of centers aren’t around to battle with anymore.
In Valanciunas, the Raptors have a clear advantage over many teams in the East simply based on size. Valanciunas is one of the biggest centers in the league and has and will continue to provide matchup issues for opposing teams.
Sure Tyson Chandler is a strong defensive presence in NY and Al Jeffereson is a nice addition in Charlotte, Tristan Thompson is a solid player in Cleveland, but I would argue, other than Roy Hibbert, Jonas Valanciunas matches up admirably with every center in the Eastern Conference. The fact that he is much younger than all of these players is a huge bonus for the Raptors and will likely have major impacts moving forward.
Jonas had a successful first year in the league. Despite being overlooked for the rookie/sophomore game at the All-star beak he was named to the All-Rookie 2nd team and was named the MVP of this years summer league.
It is clear that Valanciunas is still developing his skills, but if he turns a corner this year, the Raptors could have one of the more dominant big men in the league.
Last season served as a learning experience, but this year Valanciunas will be given added responsibility on both ends of the floor and will likely be a top option on offense for the Raps.
He needs to become more of an option on the offensive end. Lowry needs to look for Jonas in the post and needs to hit him off the pick and roll. This is where Jonas was most effective last year. According to this guest post at Raptors Republic his numbers in those areas were relatable to some of the best centers in the league. With this kind of accuracy, Jonas needs to become a first or second option on offense for Toronto.
That will be the big transition for him this season. Last year he was a young player finding his way. This year he needs to take the next step and establish himself as the primary or secondary option for this franchise. This is a bold step to make, but one other young bigs (Roy Hibbert and Kevin Love) were able to make before him.
This is the year we find out how far Jonas’s star will rise. Will he be an All-Star candidate? A member of the sophomore team at the All-Star break? Will he continue his development and become more dominant on both sides of the court? Is he in the upper echelon of Centers in this league?
This is the year we will find out exactly what kind of player Jonas is going to become.
Backing him up is the serviceable and dependable Aaron Gray. He likely won’t see major minutes as coach Casey will likely slide Amir Johnson over to the center position when Jonas isn’t on the floor.
The other key this year will be keeping Valanciunas on the floor for as long as possible and minimizing the foul trouble. With Jonas on the court Toronto is a much better team. The development he shows this year will likely be the difference between competing for a playoff spot and preparing for the lottery.
The key to the Raptors season likely lies in the hands of Valanciunas.