Toronto Raptors should bring Jonas Valanciunas off the bench

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13: Jonas Valanciunas
PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13: Jonas Valanciunas /

The modern NBA has given way to the revolution of the small-ball lineup, the Toronto Raptors should follow suit.

Next season, the starting lineup for the Raptors needs to shift from one that features a presence down low, to one that can stretch the defense. A starting lineup without the likes of Jonas Valanciunas does just that.

Having been a Raptor since he was a fifth-overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Valanciunas is the stereotypical inside force at the five.

A rebounder and high-percentage scorer within the paint, Valanciunas has seen the era of the big man pass him by, something ex-coach Dwayne Casey saw early. Last season, the Lithuanian played just over 22 minutes a game, though he started all 77 in which he played.

The regular starting lineup for the Raptors needs to drop the post-only scorer out, adding Serge Ibaka in his stead. The lineup as a whole from top to bottom should be Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby and Ibaka at center.

The regular season was a breeze for the 2017-2018 Raptors. It was one that earned them the top seed and home-court throughout the Eastern Conference. The problem came in the postseason.

The Washington Wizards suffered last season with multiple injuries to their star point guard John Wall and were in the midst of reintegrating him into the lineup, allowing the Raptors to win their opening series in six games.

Then came the adversity.

Cleveland, led by Lebron James, once again dismantled the Raptors, sweeping the opposition from the north with ease.

Their opposition added insult to injury in the fact that they let Kevin Love, a power forward throughout his career, soak up most of the center minutes. The move relegated the Cavaliers version of Valanciunas, Tristan Thompson, to the bench.

The problem is not Valanciunas’ skill set but rather the changing landscape of the league. Popularized by the Golden State Warriors, the days of small ball lineups have taken over.

The Raptors offense is only reaching partial capacity without the ability to stretch the floor with their five. Yes, Valanciunas shot a good percentage from deep last season. He also only attempted one per game and was often left unguarded. Ibaka managed four attempts a game, a far more valuable number in terms of stretching the defense.

Adding Green and Leonard, while leaving Anunoby in the lineup, will be a boon to the defense of the Raptors as well. Both premier defenders and shooters throughout their careers, Green and Leonard will be best utilized with an offense that can stretch the defense and create opportunities for Leonard to isolate.

Valanciunas will still carry value with the bench mob in his ability to replace the departed Jakob Poeltl and improve the bench unit, one that was already the top second unit in the league last season.

Furthermore, a move to the bench won’t necessarily reduce JV’s minutes. Valanciunas played only 22 minutes per game last season, a number that is easily achievable even in a bench role. However his defensive limitations would be reduced, playing against opposing backup centers.

Next. Predicting the Raptors starting lineup next season. dark

Once a vital piece of the Raptors, Valanciunas has the chance to improve the team more than ever, even with his spot on the bench as the opening whistle is blown.