The much-anticipated debut of Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas came on Wednesday night in Detroit. And though the big Lithuanian didn’t exactly produce off-the-chart numbers, he showed enough glimpses of positive things to come for Toronto.
Valanciunas was active on defence — getting up on shooters like Greg Monroe from 12-15 feet, and using his 7-foot frame to lean on the Pistons’ bigs (like Monroe and Jason Maxiell) down in the post.
“Coming into his first NBA game against (some) of the most physical inside players in the league, I thought he did an excellent job,” said head coach Dwane Casey.
His athleticism was evident as well, blocking 2 shots in 13:11 minutes of action, and diving hard to the hoop on a couple of pick and roll sequences with Jose Calderon. Valanciunas finished 1 of 2 from the floor (2 points).
“He was where he was supposed to be on a lot of his offensive sets and defensive situations,” said Casey. “He opened up Andrea (Bargnani) on his rolls. Those things create shots for other players. But he doesn’t get credit on the stat sheet (for stuff like that).”
In short, the youngster didn’t look out of place in his limited minutes.
“I thought he got a little winded – which is understandable,” said Casey. “His energy got us back into the game. His activity; all of the little nuances that he does in the paint other than scoring points.”
Valanciunas’ debut was the story for fans of the Raptors but it was Detroit – and the loyal followers of the Pistons – that walked away happy from this pre-season tilt. The Motor City celebrated a 101-99 victory with their win sealed by rookie Andre Drummond’s put-back with about :35 seconds to go.
Drummond finished the game with 12 points (6/8 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals in 22:30 minutes.