The Raptors Desperately Need Jonas Valanciunas if They Want to Beat Cleveland
After making the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors had to be feeling good about themselves. Then, they were outscored by a combined 50 points in the first two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are still unbeaten in the 2016 Playoffs.
Toronto took two of the three regular season games against Cleveland, but these have looked like two completely different teams through the first two games of the series. Cleveland is shooting 52.7 percent from the floor, as opposed to Toronto's 41.1 percent. The Cavs have also dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Raptors 100 to 73 so far.
Considering Toronto's seventh-ranked regular season Rebounding Rate of 51.6 percent came just behind Cleveland's 52 percent mark, it doesn't make much sense that they have been abused inside.
Unless, of course, you consider the fact that Toronto is playing without their 7-foot, 245-pound monster Jonas Valanciunas. His absence wasn't noticed nearly as much as they closed out their series against Miami because the Heat were dealing with injuries to their own frontcourt.
Against the physical Cavaliers, though, Toronto's need for their big man has been made quite apparent.
Before succumbing to an ankle injury, Valanciunas was enjoying the best postseason of his young career -- averaging 15 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.4 combined blocks and steals, while shooting 55 percent from the field. His 1.16 points per possession was the highest among any Toronto player seeing significant minutes.
Bismack Biyombo filled in admirably for Valanciunas in the series against Miami but has struggled against Cleveland's more physical frontcourt, averaging just 7.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1 block, despite playing 30 minutes per game. Through two games, he has a plus/minus of -26.
Toronto was desperate enough that they inserted Luis Scola into the starting lineup in Game 2. It's hard to blame them after Patrick Patterson has averaged 7 points and 1.5 rebounds, while posting a -31 plus/minus in 28.5 minutes per game.
Toronto simply hasn't been able to come close to replicating Valanciunas' stellar play, and it has really hurt them. In the first two rounds when Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were struggling, Valanciunas carried the team. With him watching from the sidelines, Toronto has appeared a bit hopeless thus far.
The Valanciunas Effect
Aside from clearly being Toronto's best individual low-post scorer, Valanciunas' presence opened things up for the entire offense, which is reflected in their regular season stats.
Per NBAwowy.com, Toronto has averaged more points per possession with Valanciunas on the court, while also posting a higher True Shooting Percentage.
They have also taken much higher percentage shots with Valanciunas in the lineup, as 28.6 percent of their shots have come from layups or dunks with him on the court, as opposed to 25.7 percent with him off. With Valanciunas off the court, Toronto has struggled to get much going inside -- instead settling more for three-pointers.
With Valanciunas off the court, 30.2 percent of their shots were threes, as opposed to just 25.5 percent when he was on the court.
Toronto has also rebounded the ball better with Valanciunas on the court, posting a 52.4 percent Rebounding Rate, as opposed to 50.7 percent without him on the floor.
The Red Sea has parted with Valanciunas sidelined, as Toronto's interior defense has allowed opponents to finish at the rim at will. That point could not be more easily articulated than through this excellent tweet comparing LeBron James' postseason scoring to Stephen Curry's.
LeBron James and Steph Curry are doing their scoring in VERY different ways in their respective Conference Finals pic.twitter.com/DYDBAMnkjH
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 20, 2016
LeBron has shot an absurd 89.5 percent in the restricted area through the first two games and has an average distance on made shots of 1.6 feet in this series.
Wait, what? That's not a typo?
Toronto has invited LeBron in, and he just went ahead and set up camp at the rim, making his 18 field goals from a combined distance of 29 feet. Curry hits one from 29 feet every game!
In Game 1, Cleveland shot 83.3 percent as a team from inside the restricted area.
Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) will miss Game 2. With Valanciunas out, the Cavaliers were 25-of-30 shooting inside the restricted area in Game 1.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 19, 2016
It is clear that Toronto has missed Valanciunas' presence at the rim in a big way.
So You're Telling Me There's A Chance!
Down 0-2 after back-to-back drubbings, things look bleak for Toronto. However, the series is now headed back to the Great White North, and Valanciunas has two more days to get healthy.
Our algorithm doesn't love Toronto's chances of coming back from the 0-2 deficit, giving them just an 18.72% percent chance to take the series.
Don't tell that to John Tory, though. Toronto's Mayor, or the Mayor of "Other" as he is calling himself these days, says the Raptors are accustomed to being underestimated. After watching Toronto bounce back from a Game 1 loss in both of their series this postseason, maybe he has a point.
Whether you believe in the Cinderella story or not, it's hard to argue that they are in desperate need of Valanciunas' return to the court if they want to make this series competitive.