Why Valanciunas could hold the key to Raptors’ offensive woes

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Toronto Raptors 97-83 in Game 1.

The three most obvious takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 97-83 Game 1 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks were, in some order:

1. Holy $*!%, Giannis is unreal.
2. Holy $*!%, Lowry ice cold.
3. The Raptors offence s-t-i-n-k-s.

The first one isn’t going to change, and that’s fine by me. Antetokounmpo put his full talents on display on Saturday afternoon, and even the most diehard of Raptors fans should acknowledge that it’s pretty fun to be able to see a player of his calibre attack the rim for, at minimum now, five straight games.

The second one will probably change because Lowry is too good to shoot 2-for-11 every night. He says he’ll make a point of forcing his shot more in Game 2 (Is that a good thing?), but it’s somewhat troubling to see the Raptors’ all-star continue his playoff struggles.

The Raptors offensive woes as a whole in Game 1 were troubling, too. Throughout the regular season, the Raptors offence wavered between “historically good” and “solidly top-10.” They scored less than 83 twice all season and while you can expect a bounce-back offensively (because really it doesn't get much worse), Milwaukee's length and perimeter defence will continue to pose a legitimate threat.

Although they only got five steals—a little more than half of their regular-season average, finishing 10th in the league—the Bucks disrupted and deflected a number of passes as the Raps worked the ball around the outside looking to generate clean looks.

One clear solution to getting the Raptors offence back on track, according to former Raptors point guard Alvin Williams, would be to utilize centre Jonas Valanciunas more. The 24-year-old centre took just five shots on Saturday.

"J.V. has to be more than just a screener and ball-reversal guy," Williams told Sportsnet's Jeff Blair Monday morning on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. "He has too much talent just to be out there on the perimeter screening around."

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The Jeff Blair Show
Alvin Williams: Raptors need to make Bucks pay physically
Originally aired April 17 2017

That it's Year 5 of his career—his fourth consecutive playoff series—and we're still talking about getting J.V. more touches is somewhat depressing. We know that the Raptors roster makeup means that their offence is generated on the perimeter by virtue of, as Williams puts it, "not necessarily isolation, but a lot of clear-out, pass and cut, and pick-n-roll." And though it goes against trend in today's NBA, it's been fairly established that for the most part good things happen when they dump the ball to the big man down low.

This season, the Raptors were 21-10 in games in which Valanciunas attempted 10 or more field goals and, while it's hardly that simple, those numbers do tell a story at a kindergarten reading level.

But looking to Valanciunas on offence is more than just getting buckets. With Valanciunas "screening around," as Williams put it, it leaves one of the Raps' best defenders further away from the basket, giving Milwaukee easier opportunities to play to their strengths and get out on the run in transition where they can attack the basket and pack the paint.

"The Raptors have to be deliberate in their offence," said Williams, "as far as how it’s going to affect their defensive ability to get back in transition. [Valanciunas] has to get the ball in the paint more often down low—kind of like how [Milwaukee] uses Greg Monroe—and make the Bucks make more adjustments on the defensive end. J.V. is the kind of player who can do that."

Game 2 in the series tips off on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.