Raptors Notebook: Joseph, Valanciunas, Ross go to work ahead of Friday’s big game

Toronto Raptors' centre Jonas Valanciunas (17) drives to the hoop against New York Knicks centre Robin Lopez (8). (Frank Gunn/CP)

Joseph and Valanciunas Pick and roll

Cory Joseph can often be found getting shots up with assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse long after practice is over. Today he was in the gym late but was with a different workout partner, Jonas Valanciunas, the two practiced attacking different pick and roll defences. It’s interesting that these two, specifically, were working together, an indication that Joseph could see more minutes playing with Valanciunas down the stretch as the team looks to take some workload off Kyle Lowry.

Crunch time aside, Joseph sees most of his minutes with the Raptors’ second unit. His pass frequency to Valanciunas is just 4.4% (compared to Lowry’s 8.9%). Out of players in Casey’s nine-man rotation only James Johnson sees fewer looks from the backup point guard.

Talkative Bismack Biyombo

It’s no secret that the Raptors have gotten noticeably better on the defensive end, jumping from 23rd in net rating last season to 12th so far this year. A big part of the Raptors improvement on the defensive side of the ball this season can be attributed to Biyombo’s presence inside. Biyombo is third on the team with a 99.4 defensive rating and leads the team with a 28.5 defensive rebound percentage.

But one immeasurable area in which he’s perhaps had the biggest impact is vocal leadership (Biyombo admits it is in his nature: “I’m just a talkative guy.”). It is a role Biyombo takes seriously. “The one thing I try to do, even before I go in the game, is start talking from the bench,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “Usually I talk to Cory,” he added.

1-on-1: Bismack Biyombo talks with Kristina Rutherford about his defensive philosophies and new role with the Raptors

Terrence Ross making strides on and off the court

Terrence Ross worked himself into a healthy post-practice sweat going through a full shooting workout with assistant coach Rex Kalamian. Always a lanky wing player dating back to his days in college at Washington, it’s hard not to notice that he’s starting to really fill out into his frame. Most players struggle to make strength gains during the season, trying just to maintain strength and ward off injuries, but Ross has bucked that trend and appears even more cut in his upper body and arms then he did on the first day of training camp. The added strength could be a reason we’ve seen added success from Terrence of late.

Ross was shooting the lights out at Thursday’s practice, specifically in catch-and-shoot opportunities coming off of screens and spotting up in the corner. A high emphasis was put on shooting off the dribble, especially attacking the defense and then pulling up from deep. Ross shoots 55.3% on catch-and-shoot but just 30.7% on pull-ups. Ross shoots 59.6% when he doesn’t take a single dribble. That number drops to 13.7% when he takes just one dribble, and as you continue to chart his dribbles, his percentage continues to drop.

Pass it on

Toronto’s offence would be far more effective if the quality of their passes was better, and, based off of Thursday’s drills, the Raptor coaches clearly recognize that. They were charting the quality of passes made under duress. Was the pass on target? Did the recipient have to move to catch the ball and reset or was it in their natural shooting motion?

Bad passes are often only noticed when they lead to a turnover, but a poor timed or directed pass can lead to a shot missed or worse a potential shot not taken. The Raptors assists to pass percentage adjusted (percentage of passes that lead to assist, free throws, or secondary assists) is just 8.2, tied with Philadelphia for third-worst in the league. No coincidence Golden State leads the league with 12.7% to go with they’re equally impressive league leading 29.1 assist per game. Toronto is second-last in the league in assists with just 18.5 assists per game.

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