Even when he isn’t around people are talking about Jonas Valanciunas.
Valanciunas missed practice yesterday to have his injured neck examined as the Raptors prepared for their Friday date against Chicago.
Valanciunas hurt his neck Tuesday against the Bulls but Raptors coach Dwane Casey said it’s possible the Lithuanian rookie could be back in the lineup in time for Friday’s rematch.
“It’s not as bad as we first thought,” Casey said. “Right now he’s still in the soft brace. He’ll be a game-time decision for Friday but if it’s anywhere close we won’t rush him back. He’s too valuable to us to chance it.”
True enough. The Raptors have just four games remaining and close out the season April 17 against Boston.
The 21-year-old Eastern Conference rookie of the month for March has been steadily asserting himself and his progress has brightened a season doomed by the club’s poor start.
“He has come on so much in this part of the year in terms of his confidence and the respect of the league and the respect of the officials,” Casey said. “I’m very happy for him because he’s probably put in just as much work as anybody on our roster.”
The six-foot-11 Valanciunas has delivered double digit scoring in 15 of his last 17 games and flashed a variety of low post weapons including a baby hook. He is an adequate passer but a good defender, an efficient shooter (.553 field goal percentage) and an outstanding free throw shooter at 78.9 per cent. Valanciunas hit 16 of 18 free throws in posting 24 points in an April 3 win over Washington.
For the season, Valanciunas is averaging 8.7 points and six rebounds a game and his presence has bolstered what was traditionally a weak spot in the roster.
Casey said Valanciunas’ impact has reverberated through the lineup.
“He helps us tremendously with our points in the paint. He gets it in the paint and he shrinks the floor. We’re playing inside out a little bit more and the defence has to come in and compact a little bit more which opens up Rudy (Gay) or DeMar (DeRozan) on the perimeter.”
“His growth in the last month, month and a half has been tremendous,” Casey said. “That’s the way it is with big guys. All at once they wake up and boom, they’re there. “