Week That Was In The NBA

Jonas Valanciunas, NBA Summer League MVP

Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has been named the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 NBA Summer League by a panel of media members.

Valanciunas averaged 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in 29.3 minutes over his four outings in Las Vegas. He shot 56.1 percent from the field and hit 29 of 33 free throw attempts.  His personal bests were 23 points against Miami and 13 rebounds over San Antonio.  Valanciunas dominated in the paint scoring in double figures each game with two double-doubles.  When opposing players were able to affect his ability to score from the field, the big man was able to consistently draw fouls and live at the line.

Lithuania Unhappy With Raptors About Valanciunas

Lithuania’s Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas seems very unhappy with the Toronto Raptors these days over the delay in allowing star center Jonas Valanciunas to join his National teammates this summer.  Kazlauskas called the Raptors ‘arrogant’ and complained about Toronto not encouraging Valanciunas to join his National team earlier than five weeks ahead of the start of Eurobasket 2013 on September 4th in Solvenia.

Star players from countries outside of the United States often feel immense pressure to play for their National team and that pressure can run into extremes as evidenced by Coach Kazlauskas.  However, excessive demands are often not in the best interests of the player or his career. 

The NBA style of play is not the same as in Europe and although Valanciunas has enjoyed success at every level overseas, he is still learning the NBA game.  Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey needed Valanciunas to get the extra practice and experience that the NBA summer League provides.

Ujiri Scores For Raptors With Dwight Buycks

The Raptors newest point guard Dwight Buycks has been scoring the rock since he went to high school at Bay View in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  The scoring continued in junior college, however, things changed for Buycks in his final two college seasons at Marquette.  He went from being the go-to-scorer on his team to a sixth man in his first season with the Golden Eagles and he had to learn how to become more of a traditional point guard. 

After a successful D-League season with Tulsa in 2011-2012, Buycks was picked by Gravelines of the French Pro A League and everything came together.  Buycks averaged a team-high 18 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 32 games while hitting 38.4 percent of his three-point attempts and won the league MVP honors.

Perhaps the most important observation from Summer League about Buycks was his ability to read a defense.  A good shooter with the skill and strength to drive to the rim, Buycks was able to take advantage of what was available whether it was by mistake or design.  These games were only against relatively weak Summer League competition, but as an incoming NBA rookie, they were very impressive.

Raptors Linas Kleiza To Fenerbahce Ulker and Place Marcus Camby On Waivers

Earlier reports about the Raptors amnestied player, Linas Kleiza, indicated the forward was healthy and likely to return to Europe for next season.  Basketnews.lt has confirmed Kleiza will sign a two-year deal with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey for 1.6 million Euros per season.  The good news for Toronto is they could have some rights to offset a portion of the $4.6 million they will be paying the Lithuanian star this season under the provisions of his amnesty waiver agreement.

The Raptors announced they have reached a buyout agreement with Marcus Camby.  Camby was acquired in the trade with the Knicks for Andrea Bargnani and was never expected to report to Toronto.  As part of the agreement, Camby has agreed to reduce the guaranteed portion of his contract by approximately $2 million thus freeing up about $1.4 million of addition space beneath the luxury tax line for the Raptors this season.

Raptors Sign Pacers Free Agent Point Guard D.J. Augustin

When Toronto didn’t pick up the team option on backup point guard John Lucas, the position immediately became the Raptors biggest off season need.  With only one point guard on the roster and a long history of struggling through injuries to point guards, a solid backup that could start if necessary had to be found.  Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri didn’t waste any time creating a list of prospects and the Pacers free agent point guard D.J. Augustin was on it.

Augustin started his last two seasons in Charlotte and averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 assists, but that was when Head Coach Larry Brown left and was replaced by Paul Silas and the Bobcats were sent into full-blown tank mode.  Even with apparently acceptable numbers, it is a hard period of time to evaluate a player in.  Everything changed for Augustin when he signed as a free agent with the Pacers last season.  He went from a seven-win team to a legitimate Eastern Conference Finals contender.  However, that doesn’t mean the change was easy or went smoothly.  Augustin struggled at times, but by his own admission, it was still better than being in Charlotte.

If Augustin works hard and accepts the role he wins in training camp and throughout the season, he could be the Raptors sometimes starter, sometimes backup and all-the-time competitor to rookie Dwight Buycks.

Raptors Pickup Free Agent Austin Daye

Austin Daye was the 6”11” small forward that the Pistons drafted 15th overall in 2009 who reminded people of Tayshaun Prince, but he never quite lived up to expectations.  His sophomore campaign with the Pistons showed promise as Daye played over 20 minutes per game and hit on over 40 percent of his three-point attempts.  He even rebounded at a reasonable rate and grabbed half a steal and swatted half a block, but that was as good as it got for Daye.  When the Pistons traded him to the Grizzlies last season, he was hitting three-pointers at a 54.5 percent clip, but his days were clearly numbered in Detroit and the Grizzlies did not make him a qualifying offer.

Still just 25-years-old, Daye is highly skilled, but probably best suited as a project player to try and develop on the back end of a roster.  Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has mentioned several times he likes building with young players and he would like to add more shooting.  Daye qualifies on both counts.

The long lanky Daye plays more like a wing than a forward and that could be bad news for the Raptors Terrence Ross.  If Daye comes ready to play, he could take whatever minutes the Raptors were thinking about giving to Ross and not give them back.

What will the Raptors Offense and Defense Look Like Next Season

No one is going to mistake Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey as an offensive-minded coach.  He is at his best and happiest preaching defense, but even Casey acknowledges his team has to score some points to win games.  Heading into training camp this time Casey is going to put the emphasis back on defense and his offense will look a lot like last seasons, except where it will look very different indeed.

Jonas Valanciunas will be used to flatten out defenses by sending the ball inside and forcing defenses to decide between single coverage in the paint on a very mobile seven-footer with good hands and feet or sending a double-team and opening up passing opportunities to the Raptors cutters and jump shooters.  However, when this season starts Valanciunas will only be 21-years-old and it isn’t realistic to solely put these kinds of burdens on a player in his second NBA season.  Where the future belongs to Valanciunas, the present belongs to Rudy Gay.  Gay had to insert himself into Casey’s schemes mid-season last year.  This time, the offense will be built with Gay in mind.

Casey believes teams win with defense and sites how the best defensive teams are the ones most often seen deep in the playoffs.  It makes sense from a Raptors standpoint.  Toronto has never been a big free agent destination for the league’s elite offensive talent, but strong defensive clubs like Indiana can make noise in the playoffs with limited offensive punch and that is the model Casey is trying to emulate.  This version of the Toronto Raptors will play defense more like the team Casey coached during his first season in Toronto.  They will just have a lot more talent at their disposal and, thanks to Ujiri, are built better for task.

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