Matt Tierney - Raptors.com
Another back-to-back begins tonight when Toronto (52-25) takes on the Hawks (46-32) for an 8pm start in Atlanta. The Raptors were back to full strength Tuesday and bounced back with a victory over the visiting Hornets. The Hawks also got back in the winning column at the expense of the Phoenix Suns.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Dennis Shroder – Despite a couple of off nights recently, Schroder has been a consistent playmaker off the bench for Atlanta this year. The 22-year old is contributing 11 points, four assists and three rebounds a game, backing up starting point guard Jeff Teague. A first-round pick in 2013, Schroder looks to be a key piece in the Hawks long-term plans.
DeMar DeRozan</strong – Atlanta is likely tired of the sight of Toronto's All-Star shooting-guard after he's torched them for 24 points, five rebounds and three assists in their three meetings this season. DeRozan was solid again Tuesday night, recording a game-high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists in the Raptors win over Charlotte.
EVOLUTION OF A BIG MAN
In a year highlighted by the All-Star play of guards DeRozan and Lowry, the progression of Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas continues.
As we approach the completion of year four, the Raptors are starting to see what they envisioned when drafting JV fifth overall in the 2011 NBA draft.
The 23-year old has steadily progressed, improving his offensive production each year in the league. He is averaging career highs of 13 points and nine rebounds and leads the team in double-doubles (21) with five games remaining.
Early on in his career, Dwane Casey was hesitant to have Valanciunas on the court late in games but admitted yesterday at practice that is no longer the case.
“Offensively he’s going to be out there. He is our best (frontcourt) free-throw shooter,” said Casey.
In an ever-changing NBA, the frontcourt position is transitioning further away from the paint and big men are now expected to be able to defend as far out as the three-point line.
JV was asked yesterday about what type of player he prefers to defend against. “I like to have a traditional big man to guard because he’s around the basket and I don’t need to get out on the three-point line or guard the perimeter."
Despite his preference, the Raptors centre has managed to significantly improve his perimeter defence and reiterated that he is willing to do whatever the coaching staff asks of him. “I’m not going to stop growing and I’m not going to stop getting better.”
Valanciunas knows tonight is an example of where he will have to defend outside of the paint. “Al Horford likes to pop out on the three and shoot three-point shots so you gotta adjust your game”
The native of Lithuania wrapped up his practice scrum with a tongue-in-cheek response when asked when he will start shooting the three ball.
“Probably in the playoffs.”