Jonas Valanciunas had one of his more influential games of the season in the Raptors’ win over the Hawks. Valanciunas propelled the Raptors early on and was crucial to the crunch-time offense when the Hawks made an astonishing comeback. Through his ability to get good position and punish smaller big-men in the post, as well as his prowess in the pick and roll, Valanciunas impacted the game in an incredibly positive way for Toronto.
While many fear for Valanciunas’ ability to match-up defensively against the Hawks, an equal or greater expectancy for Jonas to produce offensively should be connected to that thought as he has tremendous size when compared to the big-men for the Hawks. Jonas showed an incredibly ability of getting deep post-position early in the shot clock.
Here, Lowry and Thompson run a side pick and roll while in semi-transition to see if Atlanta’s defense would inexplicably fail to cover that action. While this occurred, Millsap’s attention was drawn to the driving Lowry while his assignment, Valanciunas, plotted his way deep in the paint. After establishing himself only mere inches away from the restricted area, Valanciunas leveraged the difference in size and strength between Millsap and himself and capitalized with a quick hook shot.
Throughout the game, Valanciunas was able to find himself matched up with smaller defenders in the post and executed by either finishing at the rim or drawing a foul.
Pick and Roll
While Valanciunas’ strength and proficiency in the post propelled the Raptors early on, his talent in the pick and roll shined throughout the duration of the game.
In this example, Valanciunas engaged in a superfluous pick and roll with Lowry to initiate the secondary action where he would be swung the ball. Next, he and Powell engaged in a DHO (dribble hand-off) which is effectively a pick and roll in and of itself. Valanciunas is aware that Powell was unable to gain a step on his defender, so he flips the screen and Powell dribbles into the Hawks’ ICE defense. Powell does a great job of pulling Humphries away from Valanciunas’ roll to the rim. Combining that with none of the weak-side defenders (Bazemore, Scott or Schroder) “tagging” Valanciunas on his roll allowed for a pass from Powell to the 7-foot Lithuanian. Valanciunas’ soft hands catch the ball and he finishes in one swift motion after the over-the-top pass from Powell. Without his size or finesse, this finish in the pick and roll would not be possible.
Throughout the duration of the game, Valanciunas’ combination of awareness as a screen setter, to both time and set solid ball-screens, as well as his ability to catch and finish in the paint with one motion plagued the Hawks’ pick and roll defense to the point that the Raptors’ crunch time offense was vanilla pick and rolls every time down the floor. The Hawks couldn’t stop him.
His influence in the pick and roll exceeded just him catching the ball and finishing, as Valanciunas’ gravitational pull towards the rim allowed for perimeter players to find open looks.
In the first example, the Raptors ran “Loop” action, which is jargon for a triple screen along the baseline for Lowry, who then engaged in a side pick and roll. This dragged Sefolosha away from DeRozan to disrupt Valanciunas’ roll. As a result, DeRozan was given an open three point look. Valanciunas actually dragged Millsap away from Patterson in the corner as well, yet another three-point threat that became open as a result of Valanciunas’ gravitational pull towards the rim.
Similarly, Valanciunas drags away Horford from Patterson along the perimeter to disrupt a potential catch-and-finish opportunity. As a result, Horford had to close out while out of control and Patterson capitalized, blew by his man and finished strong at the rim.
Valanciunas’ impact was felt offensively at crucial parts of the game. His buckets did not necessarily come easily, as he had 11 shots that were contested. But his unique combination of size and finesse allowed him to finish 8 of those 11 shots successfully in a variety of ways ¹. Whether it be posting up or finishing in the pick and roll, Valanciunas’ impact on the offensive end was important in pushing the Raptors by the Hawks.