After a postseason run that came up short of expectations, the Toronto Raptors have some tough decisions to make in what will be a pivotal off-season. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker are all free agents. Among all the players mentioned, losing Lowry obviously serves as an enormous blow to Toronto.
However, Ibaka hasn’t even played a full season with the team. With his skill set, there’s no doubt he’ll benefit from Coach Dwane Casey’s system, which focuses heavily on defense and lacks much creativity on the offensive end. As the league moves towards ‘small ball’, big men who can shoot the 3 and play defense are considered a commodity, a category Ibaka falls under.
Several media outlets have indicated that Ibaka has privately agreed to re-sign with Toronto. While this puts into question whether the organization will go into the luxury-tax in order to bring back Lowry, this could affect the current roster. With that being said, there are several reasons to believe that the team will attempt to trade big-man Jonas Valanciunas.
It’s not hard to understand why such a scenario would play out, considering Valanciunas’ slow footwork has been one of the biggest reasons he’s viewed as such a liability on defense. Casey is a defensive minded coach and Valanciunas is an offensive minded center, so it’s unlikely that Toronto will be the team that maximizes the big mans potential.
As mentioned before, the league is moving towards the small-ball age of basketball. Small-ball incorporates quickness and the ability to shoot from deep, rendering the traditional big-man – one who spends most of his time in the paint – completely useless. That is the biggest problem with Valanciunas. He is the exact prototype of what a big man used to be. Today, that strategy isn’t as affective as the game is played at a much faster pace.
Ibaka on the other hand is quicker, better defensively and has an offensive game that gives the Raptors an advantage at the 5. Through 23 regular season games with the Raptors, Ibaka averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 39.8% from deep in 31 minutes.
Another indicator that Valanciunas could be on his way out is the fact that he has never averaged more than 30 minutes a game under Casey. The closest he came was in his sophomore season where he averaged 28.2 minutes during the 2013-14 campaign.
His defensive short-comings were exposed when the Raptors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of this years playoffs. Toronto was never expected to win the series but after last years Eastern Conference Finals, the belief was that the additions of Ibaka and Tucker to this years squad would be enough to get the Raptors past Cleveland.
That didn’t happen and while the first and last games of the series were lost by 11 and 7 points respectively, Toronto had no answer for the quick-footed, long-range Cavaliers. Valanciunas only started 6 of the 10 games that the Raptors played and saw the court for an average of 22.6 minutes in each of those contests.
The reality of the situation is that after re-signing both Lowry and Ibaka, Toronto would enter luxury-tax territory. It’s unsure what the return would be for shipping Valanciunas out, but as long as Dwane Casey is the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, the big man will continue to be a liability for the team.