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DanH
LX wrote:


Wow, ok. Seems unfortunate to have to carry so much bitterness. Safety net huh? I’m not sure I see the need for a safety net, nor all much value in one. You need to trade good players to get good players. Too bad we have such incompetence in play to have completely misused one player and then traded him for a player that is then also completely misused? Or you are overblowing things on both sides of the equation and could possibly have some faith in a very successful team not being entirely incompetent.


Bitter? Regretful, perhaps. 

I sure hope they don't need the safety net. But their uneven play while JV was out, and their uneven play since the trade, haven't given me a lot of confidence they won't need that. 

They didn't really misuse JV.  They underutilized him.  He was successful in his role, but could have helped the team more.  

Gasol is certainly being misused right now.  Hopefully it's just growing pains fitting in with the team, but I'm not going to pretend they are using him right just because I think Masai and Nurse are generally good at what they do.  Should we just ignore what's happening, because it can't be, just because?
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DanH
elT wrote:


After the trade you openly talked about him being your favorite player so I have no intention to give you too much of a hard time but this talk of proper JV utilization is just too much. Nurse has been working with him in the off-seasons, Sikma has been brought in almost every year to work with him individually. The team wanted him to take the next step more than anyone. They worked towards expanding his game and he had doors wide open to become way more important on both ends if he wanted to. Different rosters, approaches, coaches and nobody was capable or willing to properly use him? What is the proper use? #1 option? 30% usage? Tailor the roster around him?

I think you overrate JV beyond measure. He is a good role player, best suited as 6th man scoring/physicality/rebounding specialist for about 20 minutes per game. He was settling in that role very nicely before the injury. A great team first guy that never complains and sacrifices for the 'greater good', no questions asked. 






See? I reference the many posters who placed a ceiling on JV that there was little evidence to support and you helpfully pop right up to provide an example.  Appreciate it.

When have I ever suggested any of that crap? #1 option, 30% usage (though high usage would be fine, not my main goal), tailor the freaking roster?  Every argument I've made about JV's utilization has been about how he's a great role player who fit well with our starters, dominated whenever played with them as he should have been all the time, and was brought off the bench because of the misconception you continue to promote that it was necessary or better to do so.

I've said again and again that even if you wanted to only play him 20 MPG, the 20 minutes he was getting were the wrong 20 minutes.  Just like Gasol has the potential to unlock different levels for the Raptors' offence with his passing, we've actually seen that JV can do the same with his screening and roll threat alongside the starters.  I also think it's silly to suggest he had any such minutes limit, but I know you aren't to be convinced of that no matter the evidence provided as we've been down that road before.
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LX
DanH wrote:


Bitter? Regretful, perhaps. 

I sure hope they don't need the safety net. But their uneven play while JV was out, and their uneven play since the trade, haven't given me a lot of confidence they won't need that. 

They didn't really misuse JV.  They underutilized him.  He was successful in his role, but could have helped the team more.  

Gasol is certainly being misused right now.  Hopefully it's just growing pains fitting in with the team, but I'm not going to pretend they are using him right just because I think Masai and Nurse are generally good at what they do.  Should we just ignore what's happening, because it can't be, just because?


Cool. I disagree about the misuse of Gasol, and I don’t like the suggestion that I therefore must be pretending. I honestly don’t have the foggiest idea of the big picture for sure. I can guess. You can guess. Knowing all of the complicated factors in play, and that remain fluid and therefore not fixed (and that fluidity is one known we have due to the natural course of events and more importantly what has been stated) and how they should or could be grappled with to get optimal results doesn’t seem any more probable than being able to make it through to the end of this sentence.
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DanH
LX wrote:


Cool. I disagree about the misuse of Gasol, and I don’t like the suggestion that I therefore must be pretending. I honestly don’t have the foggiest idea of the big picture for sure. I can guess. You can guess. Knowing all of the complicated factors in play, and that remain fluid and therefore not fixed (and that fluidity is one known we have due to the natural course of events and more importantly what has been stated) and how they should or could be grappled with to get optimal results doesn’t seem any more probable than being able to make it through to the end of this sentence.


I made no comment about you pretending anything.  I am not going to pretend to see something I don't, or to not see something I do. That's all I said. 

And I did make it through, so what does that tell you! 😋
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elT
DanH wrote:


See? I reference the many posters who placed a ceiling on JV that there was little evidence to support and you helpfully pop right up to provide an example.  Appreciate it.

When have I ever suggested any of that crap? #1 option, 30% usage (though high usage would be fine, not my main goal), tailor the freaking roster?  Every argument I've made about JV's utilization has been about how he's a great role player who fit well with our starters, dominated whenever played with them as he should have been all the time, and was brought off the bench because of the misconception you continue to promote that it was necessary or better to do so.

I've said again and again that even if you wanted to only play him 20 MPG, the 20 minutes he was getting were the wrong 20 minutes.  Just like Gasol has the potential to unlock different levels for the Raptors' offence with his passing, we've actually seen that JV can do the same with his screening and roll threat alongside the starters.  I also think it's silly to suggest he had any such minutes limit, but I know you aren't to be convinced of that no matter the evidence provided as we've been down that road before.


Oh come on, you projected him to play 30mpg before the season, considered him part of the core and vast majority of your Raptors complaints have been about JV use/minutes/usage/efficiency and what not. It always came back to JV regardless of what other issues were there with the team. It wasn't until the trade that you said he is your favorite player when it became clear why the tremendous, continuous bias and focus were there. Need evidence of limitations for a guy with obvious limitations and lack of certain skills and progress in developing those skills? Yes, we should totally have him playing 30mpg without being able to consistently make a damn simple pass out of the roll to the corner three let alone other dynamic/quick reads/decisions. That is with turning off 'fatigue' in game settings so he can handle 30 minutes.

Brought of the bench because of the misconception I continue to promote? I suggested in the summer that he should start some games and Ibaka other games because we need both to be out of their comfort zones and work on things they are not good at or need to get better at over the course of the season. You dismissed that with same phrases you default to when it comes to JV - lack of evidence which is just lack of evidence that you want to consider. And then Nurse starts Ibaka some, JV some and the whole thing just defaults to 'the terrible misuse of JV'.

All there ever was with Raptors is misused JV.  Forget about rejuvenated Ibaka having one of the best seasons of his career. Forget Siakam exploding. We should totally align and sacrifice both of them so we can have JV 'dominate'. We should never play OG at PF because Siakam and Ibaka need to be there so JV can be at the five where he 'dominates'.

And JV not being able to sustain playing that many minutes is now silly despite everyone outside of JV hive clearly and independently observing he can't handle that many minutes? And I'm being silly and ignoring evidence?

Every time any clearly observable JV limitation has been brought up you've denied it in every way possible. It's fine, he is your favorite player, everyone has those, you can 'stan' for him all you want. But don't claim some supreme objectivity and lack of bias while accusing me of putting  baseless limitations/ceilings on your guy. Maybe, just maybe, those things being in alignment with reality and decisions by two(at least) different coaches suggests there's more to list of acceptable evidence outside of stats you like to throw at me the moment I mention JV's limitations.

It took me a while to stop hating on JV, needed to realize I wasn't hating on JV but this constant pollution in Ratpor-land brought up by JV fans. I was hoping the trade would clear the air a bit and allow other aspects of the team to get more 'air time'. But fuck no, everything is always about JV. There hasn't been a more tiring, boring, senseless topic in these waters since Vince Carter was traded. And the trade has made it even worse it seems.

And now, the clearly better player we got is bad or badly used or whatever. Really, you think JV's screens have similar potential to unlock offense like Gasol's passing? Is he screening half the opposing roster at a time? And his roles? Same roles he often can't make non-trivial decision out of? Those two have similar potential to Gasol's passing in half court? I'm beyond puzzled.

I really, honestly, sincerely wish JV the best. But I'm happy he isn't a Raptor anymore because there is now hope there will be less pollution in Raptor-land.






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DanH
elT wrote:


Oh come on, you projected him to play 30mpg before the season, considered him part of the core and vast majority of your Raptors complaints have been about JV use/minutes/usage/efficiency and what not. It always came back to JV regardless of what other issues were there with the team. It wasn't until the trade that you said he is your favorite player when it became clear why the tremendous, continuous bias and focus were there. Need evidence of limitations for a guy with obvious limitations and lack of certain skills and progress in developing those skills? Yes, we should totally have him playing 30mpg without being able to consistently make a damn simple pass out of the roll to the corner three let alone other dynamic/quick reads/decisions. That is with turning off 'fatigue' in game settings so he can handle 30 minutes.

Brought of the bench because of the misconception I continue to promote? I suggested in the summer that he should start some games and Ibaka other games because we need both to be out of their comfort zones and work on things they are not good at or need to get better at over the course of the season. You dismissed that with same phrases you default to when it comes to JV - lack of evidence which is just lack of evidence that you want to consider. And then Nurse starts Ibaka some, JV some and the whole thing just defaults to 'the terrible misuse of JV'.

All there ever was with Raptors is misused JV.  Forget about rejuvenated Ibaka having one of the best seasons of his career. Forget Siakam exploding. We should totally align and sacrifice both of them so we can have JV 'dominate'. We should never play OG at PF because Siakam and Ibaka need to be there so JV can be at the five where he 'dominates'.

And JV not being able to sustain playing that many minutes is now silly despite everyone outside of JV hive clearly and independently observing he can't handle that many minutes? And I'm being silly and ignoring evidence?

Every time any clearly observable JV limitation has been brought up you've denied it in every way possible. It's fine, he is your favorite player, everyone has those, you can 'stan' for him all you want. But don't claim some supreme objectivity and lack of bias while accusing me of putting  baseless limitations/ceilings on your guy. Maybe, just maybe, those things being in alignment with reality and decisions by two(at least) different coaches suggests there's more to list of acceptable evidence outside of stats you like to throw at me the moment I mention JV's limitations.

It took me a while to stop hating on JV, needed to realize I wasn't hating on JV but this constant pollution in Ratpor-land brought up by JV fans. I was hoping the trade would clear the air a bit and allow other aspects of the team to get more 'air time'. But fuck no, everything is always about JV. There hasn't been a more tiring, boring, senseless topic in these waters since Vince Carter was traded. And the trade has made it even worse it seems.

And now, the clearly better player we got is bad or badly used or whatever. Really, you think JV's screens have similar potential to unlock offense like Gasol's passing? Is he screening half the opposing roster at a time? And his roles? Same roles he often can't make non-trivial decision out of? Those two have similar potential to Gasol's passing in half court? I'm beyond puzzled.

I really, honestly, sincerely wish JV the best. But I'm happy he isn't a Raptor anymore because there is now hope there will be less pollution in Raptor-land.



You've got your causality backwards.  JV became my favourite player over time because he was a long term member of the team who consistently stepped up when it counted and unlocked so much potential for the other top members of the team.  I've been a fan of the team forever but only really became a fan of JV after the 2016 playoffs.  And was arguing for different usage for him long before that.  

Sort of like how I didn't have some pre-existing bias against John Salmons, or Luis Scola, nor was Patterson a favourite player of mine, nor Fields, and yet I made lots of arguments about them too.  How is JV always my thing?  Over the past couple seasons his usage/role has been one of the keys to the team's success, so of course I've focused on that.  I've also made a big deal about having to stagger Siakam to play with the bench.  And giving OG minutes beside the star players.  Not running all bench units.  Being pro-resting-Kawhi.  I guess those are all just me being biased about stuff, and all connected to my JV conspiracy.  Yeah, my stance that Gasol should start over Serge is also about JV. Same goes for my insistence that FVV is an off-ball player and should not be running the bench offence or the offence when he plays with the starters. It's all about JV. You got me, elT. 

Coming into the season I thought JV should play 30 MPG because the Ibaka-JV front court was so successful last year (and it was), and with the two of them getting a lot of their minutes at C we would need that many minutes from each of them (though, yes, I'd have pegged JV for more most nights, as JV is a better player than Ibaka, and fits better with the other starters).  

When did I ever suggest we should prevent any of what has happened with Siakam or Ibaka?  I wanted Ibaka to play most of his minutes at C and play lots of minutes.  I wanted Siakam to soak up the rest of the PF minutes since OG is a SF - never have I argued for OG playing SF so JV can play C, he's just way better in that role, that's why I'm still arguing for OG to play SF right freaking now with zero JVs on the team.  And once Siakam was breaking out I transitioned to wanting him to get extra minutes with his own unit to drive the offence himself.  I'll leave aside how overblown the narrative is with Serge this year - he's somewhat more effective than he was last year.  

The clearly better player - if he was clearly better, the results would be better, right? Ultimately all that matters here is the results. I hope that this isn't the ideal usage for Gasol, because if it is, it's a little silly to expect the results will improve. Which I'm sure we are all hoping for, no?  And for JV's screens - I didn't say they had potential to improve the offence.  I said we've actually seen them improve the offence.  This isn't some wacky theory I have, it's just plain fact, that's what happens, JV improves the offence when they run PnR with him. Yes, even though he's not the best with 4-on-3 execution in the PnR.  The contrast I was drawing was that Gasol's passing is great and we all hope that it can lead to a significantly better or more robust offence.  But it's just hope at this point.  We haven't actually seen it happen, unlike with JV.

Everything is always about JV?  We're in the freaking JV thread.  Get out if you can't stand people talking about JV.  Or keep engaging, preferably, but don't tell me I'm polluting the discussion just because you disagree with me.  That's ridiculous.
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elT
DanH wrote:


You've got your causality backwards.  JV became my favourite player over time because he was a long term member of the team who consistently stepped up when it counted and unlocked so much potential for the other top members of the team.  I've been a fan of the team forever but only really became a fan of JV after the 2016 playoffs.  And was arguing for different usage for him long before that.  

Sort of like how I didn't have some pre-existing bias against John Salmons, or Luis Scola, nor was Patterson a favourite player of mine, nor Fields, and yet I made lots of arguments about them too.  How is JV always my thing?  Over the past couple seasons his usage/role has been one of the keys to the team's success, so of course I've focused on that.  I've also made a big deal about having to stagger Siakam to play with the bench.  And giving OG minutes beside the star players.  Not running all bench units.  Being pro-resting-Kawhi.  I guess those are all just me being biased about stuff, and all connected to my JV conspiracy.  Yeah, my stance that Gasol should start over Serge is also about JV. Same goes for my insistence that FVV is an off-ball player and should not be running the bench offence or the offence when he plays with the starters. It's all about JV. You got me, elT. 

Coming into the season I thought JV should play 30 MPG because the Ibaka-JV front court was so successful last year (and it was), and with the two of them getting a lot of their minutes at C we would need that many minutes from each of them (though, yes, I'd have pegged JV for more most nights, as JV is a better player than Ibaka, and fits better with the other starters).  

When did I ever suggest we should prevent any of what has happened with Siakam or Ibaka?  I wanted Ibaka to play most of his minutes at C and play lots of minutes.  I wanted Siakam to soak up the rest of the PF minutes since OG is a SF - never have I argued for OG playing SF so JV can play C, he's just way better in that role, that's why I'm still arguing for OG to play SF right freaking now with zero JVs on the team.  And once Siakam was breaking out I transitioned to wanting him to get extra minutes with his own unit to drive the offence himself.  I'll leave aside how overblown the narrative is with Serge this year - he's somewhat more effective than he was last year.  

The clearly better player - if he was clearly better, the results would be better, right? Ultimately all that matters here is the results. I hope that this isn't the ideal usage for Gasol, because if it is, it's a little silly to expect the results will improve. Which I'm sure we are all hoping for, no?  And for JV's screens - I didn't say they had potential to improve the offence.  I said we've actually seen them improve the offence.  This isn't some wacky theory I have, it's just plain fact, that's what happens, JV improves the offence when they run PnR with him. Yes, even though he's not the best with 4-on-3 execution in the PnR.  The contrast I was drawing was that Gasol's passing is great and we all hope that it can lead to a significantly better or more robust offence.  But it's just hope at this point.  We haven't actually seen it happen, unlike with JV.

Everything is always about JV?  We're in the freaking JV thread.  Get out if you can't stand people talking about JV.  Or keep engaging, preferably, but don't tell me I'm polluting the discussion just because you disagree with me.  That's ridiculous.


There's no need to pack in all the other points you made about other players over the years, some of which I happen to agree with or at least agree to a certain, significant extent. Aside from some debates(PPat starting or not was entirely irrelevant to me as he was playing a lot and the most important minutes), this is the first time I'm giving you a "hard time" over any of it. I get you are illustrating your process and basketball values in a way, never questioned that or your 'allegiance' to the team.

Big-big front court did work last year and should also work this year in a lot of cases, minority of match-ups where it could be a disadvantage. However, Ibaka is simply a lot better in his current role. Granted, it isn't just the role, he simply seems better but it is a big part of it. As we can see now when he finds himself all the way out on the perimeter, he isn't really comfortable.(understatement) So having him in more comfortable position on offense has given him a boost of 4% in FG, 0.6 AST per game over last year. That is a leap for somebody like Ibaka. On defense, he is averaging two more rebounds per game and has nearly doubled his DRB% over last two months and 15 games compared to start of the year. 26.5% DREB compared to 16.4% in December(12 games) and just 15% in October(8 games).

This is precisely what I imagined and wished for when suggesting to start Ibaka some games, exposing some of his weakness and having him work on it over the course of the season without JV being there to shield him from it - consistency in physicality and focus when battling opposing bigs. Playing him along JV effectively sweeps the issue under the carpet(or rug?) only for it to be exposed when we are without JV for whatever the reason. That improvement in rebounding that has been clearly visible over the course of the season and stats support it, that thing alone makes it worthwhile to start Ibaka a decent number of games. Did it negatively impact some minutes/lineups/quarters/games? Yes it did, but that is entirely irrelevant because Nurse was quite clear about his goals and methods and we still have the 2nd best record in the league after 68 games. It is also natural given it was his obvious weakness that has now became less so and I dare say it might have become a strength given his 28.9% DREB over last six games.

Given that and other aspects of improvements and developments, I've seen zero issues with JV coming off the bench some games. I think he was thriving in that role to an extent and he too had to work on his 'holes' much like Ibaka. To me, it was his assertiveness, individual game plan, defensive impact and offensive quick decision making that need work and would best be exposed when surrounded with less talent that he would have to help and lift given his skills, size and experience. Unfortunately, injury sidetracked that and we ended up trading him just before he was healthy again. But if he did get those two months to work on it, I think the improvement would have come lately and make him a better player. Just like with Ibaka, it came in last two months. Just like we've seen over last two seasons, it is mid December at earliest that we start seeing signs of improvement with new things and not after the ASB that we see it really come together. Similar timeline is there when it comes to Kawhi's passing, play making and integration on offense.

I don't remember you suggesting things that would prevent Siakam's growth but I didn't accuse you of it either, those were rhetorical questions thrown out in 'heat of the moment' of this seemingly endlessly boiling stew.

The whole thing is about different perspectives, priority lists and timeline. Nurse pisses me off terribly with some things. I don't want to see Green running P&R ever. It should never happen. But it does. And it often comes out of a set where he is the one making the entry pass to low post while Siakam, Lowry and Kawhi spot up. Ball gets back to him, big moves to set the screen and we usually get nothing out of that possession. Because that is precisely Green's weakness. And it is so simple to avoid, just have Kawhi and Green exchange places and suddenly both are in ideal, comfortable positions where they are deadly. Nurse is certainly not stupid to miss that. So what's the fucking point? I don't know and my only guess is it is attempt to develop Green a bit so he can in a moment be opportunistic with it. I still hate the shit out of it and don't think it can ever work. To me, that is Nurse going too far, being drunk scientist.

And those things are problematic for me, how we use guys on the court not who and when is on the court because rotation is easier to fix. Borderline trivial. I'm fine with 'general miss use' and playing 'out of comfort' in order to learn and develop but not after the ASB. I just don't see a reason why we shouldn't run Kawhi-Gasol P&R every possession until somebody stops it. But that is my timeline, Nurse obviously has a different one. And he has been clear about it. I can disagree with it all I want but it is what it is. And it is holding back results you speak of despite Gasol being brilliant in so many ways.

And at this point, I can only guess that mad scientist mode was employed with a lot of JV 'misuse'. Fortunately or not, we won't get to see the result of that for a few reasons. But the intent was clear with JV, especially early in the season. At least to me, give him enough time to nurture chemistry with best players, give him some time to individually grow and develop in areas that are not his strength. At cost of some results but for benefit of future results. It is developing while contending, researching while producing, sacrificing part of present for bigger part of the future.

When I talked about these things in the summer(JV&Ibaka), you repeatedly dismissed any value or logic in it. It was far from only instance on the topic. 'Playing your best players/linups as much as possible' seems to be very important to your process and that is fine. It is also core of the disagreement, I don't value that as much as you and certainly not when said choice of players is debatable. With it, you regularly offer evidence in form of line up ORTG/DRTG/NETRTG. I recognize those only as somewhat valuable. Sometimes, you categoricaly dismiss arguments/perspective that doesn't come in that particular form.

I've found it most frequently to happen with JV. I once made a point that JV's frequent turnovers in the low post piss me off to which you responded with stats that show the opposite(in terms of frequency) and asked for evidence in return. Thing is, those stats are averages over a big sample, blurred and out of moment. When JV gets the ball poked out by Thon Maker a few times in a playoff game, that gets lost in averaged/normalized numbers over multiple games. But in that moment, those were huge, important, impactful and deflating. If for nothing else, precisely for reason JV should have obliterated Thon there. It is a detail painted by a single hair of a brush on a huge canvas of the big picture but it is also just an illustration of core difference that induces disagreement on the topic.

There are many more yet there's no need to go over these. And I'm sure there will be many more in the future, don't necessarily see a problem with that even if it can get tiring.

While this particular flare up of the debate did happen in JV thread, it is just one instance of it spread across the forum and internet between numerous Raptors fans. That is not your fault. I'm sorry if you felt personally attacked, that was not my intent, a bit more abrasive challenge was as it felt needed to break out of what seemed an infinite loop.


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DanH
Disagreeing on priorities and what we value in player evaluation is definitely an area where it is healthy to have a good bit of disagreement. So cheers to that. I just got my back up with the bias talk, and fair enough, happy to move on.
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Demaross
I read he opted out. Is he tryna get paid or if he looking at signing elsewhere?
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DanH
Demaross wrote:
I read he opted out. Is he tryna get paid or if he looking at signing elsewhere?


The former, most likely. He's tended to value security over maximizing his income in the past, taking a below market extension after his rookie deal. Same thing now - might be trading his 17M now for a smaller annual salary (probably close though) with a few extra seasons added on.  
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LX

zach Lowe had this in his column this past week  

https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/page/beatsow28865867/five-nba-things-like-including-lebron-james-giannis-antetokounmpo-mvp-narrative


Quote:

2. Jonas Valanciunas does his job

Valanciunas arrived in Toronto -- after the Cavs passed on him in the draft because he planned to play one more year in Europe -- as a fish way out of water. He spoke broken English, so he struggled calling out coverages on defense; the Raptors could not play sophisticated, zone-style schemes with him on the floor, coaches remember.

He had the precise sort of game -- slow, ground-bound, reliant on back-to-the-basket brutality -- that was about to approach extinction. Kyle Lowry was not shy pointing out his mistakes.

"Jonas would sometimes say, 'What can I do to get him to stop yelling at me?'" says Aaron Gray, who played parts of three seasons with the Raptors.

Toronto's guards found it frustrating that Valanciunas, though an eager and aggressive dive man on the pick-and-roll, was not explosive enough to leap for lobs, coaches say.

"We are family, and sometimes family are hard on each other," Valanciunas once told me of those early years. Lowry made sure to balance nitpicking with support.

Young Valanciunas ate poorly -- soda, sauces galore. David Gale, a former Raptors assistant, remembers dining at a Toronto steakhouse with a voracious young Valanciunas, and watching in astonishment as Valanciunas phoned the pizza place a few doors down to order two pizzas he could pick up on the way home -- a second dinner.

"He was like Andre the Giant," Gale says.

Even then, Valanciunas loved work. He devoured film. He asked questions about opponent tendencies. When Tim Duncan bewildered him with counters atop counters in the post, Valanciunas slunk to the bench and declared to Gray, "I don't know how anyone can stop this guy," Gray recalls.

At every practice over the next two weeks, Valanciunas demanded that Gray and Ed Davis, another veteran big man, play one-on-one against him -- with Valanciunas playing only post defense, Gray says.

"Everything we worked on, he embraced 100%," says Bill Bayno, a former Raptors assistant -- now with the Pacers -- who worked closely with Valanciunas in Toronto.

Save for the occasional ultra-slow-motion 3-pointer, Valanciunas never evolved into a modern center. Instead, he became the best version of his true self.

That player has thrived in Memphis this season: 15 points per game (in only 26 minutes!) on a career-best 59% shooting, and the fattest rebounding numbers of his NBA life. Valanciunas ranks 11th in offensive rebounding rate and sixth on defense. Some of that is due to positioning; Taylor Jenkins has planted Valanciunas deep inside the paint. Valanciunas is closer to the basket on average when an opponent shot goes up than any other player in the league, per Second Spectrum tracking data.

Valanciunas compounds that territorial advantage with some of the league's nastiest boxouts.

Valanciunas does not offer much schematic flexibility on defense. He is not going to hound Damian Lillard types above the arc on the pick-and-roll; the Grizzlies depend on their guards staying hip-to-hip with such players around picks.

But Valanciunas has learned to play his style well enough. He's smarter reading angles and moving his feet. He uses his length well around the rim.

He is in much better condition than he was in his early 20s. That process started in the summer of 2014, when Masai Ujiri, Toronto's president of basketball operations, challenged Valanciunas to get into better shape. He spent the summer working out twice a day with Gale in Los Angeles. He ditched junk food.

Gale and Valanciunas remember celebrating a summer well spent at Nobu in Malibu. Sitting outside at sunset, Valanciunas declared he craved edamame. Valanciunas decided to treat himself: He would order a beer with each order of edamame. "I think we had five orders of edamame," Gale says, laughing. He remembers the bill being around $600.

Valanciunas had earned it. He has maintained a healthy diet and work ethic. On the right night, he can keep Memphis' offense afloat in the post. He isn't super efficient against behemoths who can almost match his size. He's still below average as a passer when help comes, though he has improved.

But if you start an undersized center against him, Valanciunas can beast. Switch, and he smushes little guys. He can use his left hand some after working almost one-handed in the early part of his career.

It was easy to forget Valanciunas after Toronto traded him at last season's deadline. The Raptors, with Marc Gasol in Valanciunas' place, won the title. Valanciunas was miscast on a rebuilding team in a tiny market.

He fit in anyway. Big-man pairings featuring Valanciunas with one of Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, or Solomon Hill all proved workable. The Valanciunas/Clarke duo has been a big winner.

Memphis was one of the league's happiest stories before this horrible virus stalled the league. Most of the focus rightfully went to their young stars -- especially the fearless, charismatic Ja Morant. But Valanciunas was part of it. His old coaches and teammates have been watching, and smiling.

"He's like a son to me," Bayno once told me.

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