Toronto Raptors: How Nick Nurse will Impact Jonas Valanciunas

TORONTO, CANADA -APRIL 17: Jonas Valanciunas
TORONTO, CANADA -APRIL 17: Jonas Valanciunas /

The Toronto Raptors have gone through a massive overhaul this off-season, including a new head coach. With Nick Nurse now at the helm, how will Jonas Valanciunas be impacted?

The Toronto Raptors first signed Nick Nurse as an assistant coach during the 2013 offseason.  Prior to his arrival the team finished with a 41-percent win record, and desperately needed to make a change. By signing Nick Nurse, the Raptors unknowingly welcomed a new era of basketball.

From 2013-14 and onwards, Nurse has been responsible for gradually improving the Raptors offense every year. Now able to fully implement his offensive paradigm, many look to see how Nurse will impact previously underutilized Raptor players.

The Toronto Raptors and their Valanciunas problem

Through-out the years, one key Raptor who has always been criminally underrated (by Casey at least) is Jonas Valanciunas. A skilled big man with a mid-range stroke, Valanciunas is an effective center who can score the ball in multiple ways.

Unfortunately, Casey continuously preferred running his offense through volume shooters, irrespective of efficiency. Within the past five years, Valanciunas has never been seen as a viable offensive option.

Throughout his career, Jonas has only once posted a top three usage rate (22.7) within the team. In previous campaigns, he saw less usage than Terrance Ross, Lou Williams, Grievous Vasquez, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell (the list also understandably included Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan).

Though at times others may have also been effective, Valanciunas is simply too good to not properly use. Many times the Raptors chose to run their offense through inefficient shooting which undeniably hurt the team’s success. In retrospect, Toronto pounding the ball inside for high percentage shots may have been the difference between a win and a loss.

The Nurse Effect

Unlike his predecessor, Nick Nurse is a big fan of the Jonas Valanciunas. Knowing how to appropriately use the center gives Nurse the opportunity to build something special.

By swapping out DeMar DeRozan with Kawhi Leonard, Nurse has all the tools to establish a dominant inside-outside offense. Priming Valanciunas as a strong inside presence all while surrounding him with efficient shooters will also help Toronto’s offense to become balanced and consistent.

Furthermore, Nurse has worked closely with Valanciunas for years, consistently improving his skill set. Now with an offensive emphasis on ball movement and floor spacing, Jonas Valanciunas will be able to thrive on the court.

Fans should expect to see a rise in Valanciunas’ usage as Nurse will look to establish him as the team’s second option. Allowing Lowry to focus solely on ball movement, efficient shooting, and solid defense will give Valanciunas enough touches to blossom into a dominant force.

On a more serious note, Nurse also discussed his view on Valanciunas’ weaknesses and how he plans on working around them.

"“The biggest key for me is that you’ve got to put these guys in positions where they can be successful. And I think we’ve learned a lot more about Jonas and what he can do and not try to expect him to do things he can’t. We’ve either (got to) work on the things he can’t do a lot more, or we’ve just got to build our schemes around doing what he can do really well. And I’m looking forward to this. I’ve got some defensive schemes in my mind that aren’t quite ready to be talked about, but along the lines of that…That’s the biggest thing for him.”"

Though it is unlikely Valanciunas will develop into a defensive anchor, he does have the tools to not be a defensive liability. Working on footwork and defensive awareness will play a definitive role in Valanciunas improving as a whole.

Additionally, given enough usage, Valanciunas will develop his offensive skill set on his own. Nick Nurse will look to focus mainly on defense during training, hoping to develop Valanciunas as somewhat of a reliable defender.

Raptor fans shouldn’t expect Valanciunas to become an all-around star but should trust in Nurse’s ability to create change. No doubt, Nurse will have a strong impact on Valanciunas, influencing his areas of improvement and success.

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Having a coach that believes in your abilities and sets you up to succeed can make all the difference in the world. Here’s to hoping Nick Nurse and Jonas Valanciunas can deliver for the Toronto Raptors.