Why Jonas Valanciunas Deserves More Playing Time for the Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have four efficient frontcourt players, but Valanciunas is the best of the bunch.

The Toronto Raptors are currently the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference but have lost five straight games.

Now, Toronto is just a half game ahead of 3 seed Chicago and one game ahead of Cleveland.

Although All-Star Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make the headlines for the playoff-bound Raptors, one of the Toronto’s most productive players has been Jonas Valanciunas.

Since being drafted fifth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, Valanciunas has improved every year. Last season, Valanciunas finished with a nERD of 1.9, meaning he would add 1.9 wins to a team full of league-average players over the course of a season if he started for them. This season, however, Valanciunas ranks 15th in the NBA in nERD, with a score of 8.8, a swing of nearly seven games!

Also, in terms of numberFire’s Efficiency rating, which measures point differential with a player as a starter, Valanciunas graded out at just 1.0 for last season. But, this season, he has a solid score of 3.4, ranking 11th in the NBA among players who have played at least 20 minutes per game.

Valanciunas has started 56 games for the Raptors this year but plays only 26.3 minutes per game. In terms of per-36 numbers, Valanciunas has been incredible, averaging 16.4 points per game, 12.0 rebounds per game (both career highs), while shooting 55.6% from the floor.

Valanciunas’ Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 20.3, Win Shares per 48 minutes of .192, and Defensive Rating of 104 are all the best on the team and personal career-highs. Lastly, his Offensive-Rating of 121 is a career-high and third-best on the team.

So why is Jonas Valanciunas playing just the fifth-most minutes on a team where he is a leader in some of the most important categories?

Power forwards Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and James Johnson all average 21 minutes per game or more, but none measure up to Valanciunas’ performance.

Both Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson grade out slightly above average in terms of PER, at 15.6 and 15.8, respectively, and while James Johnson’s PER of 18.9 is solid, they are all less than Valanciunas’.

Then, in terms of numberFire’s nERD metric, Amir Johnson’s nERD of 3.0, Patterson’s of 5.7, and James Johnson’s of 4.4 are all significantly less than Valanciunas’. Finally, numberFire’s Efficiency metric gives Amir Johnson a score of 1.2, Patterson a 2.2, and James Johnson a 2.5, which are all, again, less than what Valanciunas contributes.

Amir Johnson, Patterson, and James Johnson are all playing good basketball, and all are above average in efficiency this year and rank at least 44th in the NBA in nERD, but none quite compare to Valanciunas, who ranks 15th.

After looking at several different statistics and metrics, it may be wise for Raptors head coach Dwane Casey to alter his rotation slightly to incorporate more of Jonas Valanciunas in order to stop the losing streak and continue the fight to hold onto the 2 seed in the East.