TORONTO — When Jonas Valanciunas lined up for a three-point shot Tuesday night, Detroit’s Andre Drummond made no move to come out to guard him. Drummond instead waved a dismissive hand at the Toronto Raptors big man as if to say it wasn’t worth his effort.
Valanciunas missed on the three-point point attempt, but got the better of Drummond a couple of minutes later, shimmying past the Pistons centre for a basket on a solid night for the Lithuanian.
Valanciunas finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds to lift the Raptors to a 116-94 pre-season victory over the Pistons at the Air Canada Centre.
"He’s done an excellent job and I’m not even looking at his scoring," said coach Dwane Casey. "His reads, his rolling to the right place, understanding he has to be an outlet if they’re blitzing and he’s doing a good job with that, catching and making a decision, whether it’s scoring or making the pass.
"Just a feel, the rebounding, the toughness he showed, screens, all the things that he’s doing."
Newcomer C.J. Miles had five three-pointers as part of a 19-point performance, Serge Ibaka added 14 points, DeMar DeRozan finished with 13, Jakob Poeltl chipped in with 12, and Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet had 10 apiece.
Ish Smith had 22 points to top Detroit (2-2).
The 25-year-old Valanciunas had been virtually written off by many last season as being left behind by the NBA’s trend toward an up-tempo, three-point shooting lead. But Valanciunas, who showed up in perhaps the best shape of his career, obviously felt differently, and has looked excellent through the pre-season.
"Jonas is not a finished product by any means," Casey said. "And he’s made huge strides over the last couple of years and he’s got some more strides to go."
The Raptors (2-2) hope to amp up their three-point shooting this season, and acquired Miles in the off-season for that reason. The goal is to take between 25 and 30 three-point attempts a night, Casey had said earlier in the day. The Raptors had hoisted up 23 attempts by halftime Tuesday, and went 13-of-37 on the night.
More impressive was Toronto’s passing. The Raptors had 30 assists, eight of them from DeRozan.
"It’s always good when you put a product in and you see the results of that product," said Kyle Lowry. "It’s always encouraging to see that what you are trying to do is working."
Rookie OG Anunoby made his Raptors debut, finishing with two points — on a dunk — and three assists in 18 minutes.
"The kid’s got a lot of rust but I really liked what I saw, his intensity, his toughness, his ability to switch, he did everything that was asked him to do," Casey said. "The young man has been hurt but, again he’s a top-10 pick (the Raptors took him 23rd overall). We got lucky wherever we were in the draft to get him, we look at him as a top-10 pick because he’s got that type of talent."
The 20-year-old played in the Raptors’ open scrimmage in training camp in Victoria, but he’s on the mend from the torn ACL that cut short his sophomore season at Indiana last January, and had sat for Toronto’s first three pre-season games.
Ibaka hit three of his first five shots to help the Raptors to a 30-23 first-quarter lead. They took a 61-51 advantage into halftime. Leading 92-71 with one quarter left, Casey went deep into his bench to finish the game.
The NBA is playing a condensed pre-season under the new collective bargaining agreement, leaving Casey just five exhibition games — they normally play seven or eight — to figure out rotations, and take stock of his new players.
The Raptors cap the pre-season on Friday in Chicago, and then host the Bulls in their season opener on Oct. 19, about two weeks earlier than they’re accustomed to.