TSN: Ibaka could be Coming off the Bench
Now that Kawhi Leonard has come and DeMar DeRozan has gone, speculation turns to who will fill out Toronto’s new-look starting lineup.
Kyle Lowry and Leonard will be fixtures in the starting 5, while newly acquired Danny Green would seem a likely candidate to fill DeRozan’s shooting guard spot. One might expect Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas to man the power forward and centre spots, respectively, given their experience and prominence. However, this might not be the case.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse chose to play O.G. Anunoby at the 4 during Summer League, and according to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, Nurse was pleased with what he saw. If Anunoby slots in as a small-ball power forward, either Valanciunas or Ibaka would move to the bench.
With his throwback style, Valanciunas might seem destined for a bench role, where he could feast on smaller backup units. Meanwhile, the more mobile Ibaka would appear to be an ideal modern NBA centre. Nurse, however, has been encouraged by the development that JV showed last season, and may have other ideas.
“I’m still on the JV train, for sure,” Nurse said. “I thought he made his biggest leap forward last year. I don’t know if his numbers were that much better, I don’t think they were, but just overall you felt better about him being on the floor. He felt better, he looked better, he just felt like more of a basketball player, (rather) than just running up and down, posting up and not getting the ball, and running back, and running down. He’s moving, and he’s swinging, and he’s rolling, he’s catching, he’s kicking. He just looks like more of a basketball player.”
According to Nurse, Valanciunas’ growing versatility is something that the team wishes to utilize.
“They sent me over, I don’t know how many years ago, to Lithuania for a couple weeks to work him out and I said, ‘No post-ups, two weeks of no post-ups’. And he’s like, ‘What do you mean?’. And I’m like, ‘Well, I know you’re going to do that stuff, everybody who coaches you chains you to the block and throws you the ball, and you do your little running hook’. I said, ‘I wanna have you trail on the plays, I wanna have you dribble the ball, I wanna see what you can do in (dribble handoffs), I wanna see how you can shoot, let’s shoot some threes, let’s expand a little bit just to see what it looks like’. So I kinda knew a few years ago he could do a lot more of that stuff, and we just didn’t do the system change until last year.”
“I think he’ll come back with such a far head start this year, because I don’t think we were even sure he was going to be able to handle handling the ball that much. And now we know he (can), and now he knows he’s capable of doing it.”
The aspects of the game which previously held Valanciunas back might no longer be significant issues. Still, Nurse reminds that nothing is set in stone.
“Maybe it’s a night Serge goes to five and JV doesn’t start,” Nurse said. “Maybe there’s a night OG comes in and starts for Serge at the four.”
At the helm of a versatile team with depth on both ends of the court, it will be interesting to see how Toronto’s first-year head coach mixes and matches the talent at his disposal.