Jonas Valanciunas vs. Andre Drummond in battle of two of the league's best rookie bigs


  • Teams: Toronto Raptors (3-9) at Detroit Pistons (2-10)
  • Date: November 23, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

Lost in all of the many, many complaints about the present way the Pistons are handling Andre Drummond‘s playing time is an eye toward the future. Certainly, Drummond is only an eyelash into his NBA career, so numerous things could trip him up on his way to stardom, but if he continues to improve at the rate he’s improved since the Pistons drafted him as a project who they were unsure would be ready for a major role this season, it’s clear he’s an elite talent. Eventually, a coaching staff (not sure if it will be this one) will figure out that it’s smart to play your best players more minutes and eventually, Drummond will be a really good NBA player if everything goes as planned.

But tonight’s game against the Raptors also gives a glimpse at the significance of this rookie class. Drummond, Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas and Hornets rookie Anthony Davis have a shot at being a really special class of big men. All three have unique skillsets and I can’t wait to see Drummond match up with both guys, starting with Valanciunas tonight.

Valanciunas is coming off his best game as a pro. He had 16 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a block in a loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. Most importantly, he played 34 minutes. In fact, check out the trajectory of Jonas V’s minutes this season in the game logs. As he’s gained more experience and played better, his minutes have — get this — gone up. What a concept. He has two straight double-doubles. He’s played 20 or more minutes in eight of 12 games this season and two of those sub-20 minute games can be explained away because he was in foul trouble. He’s also starting for the Raptors despite the fact that they have veteran options up front who are limited, but certainly not worthless, NBA players in Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray and Ed Davis.

To put it simply, the Raptors are getting it right with Valanciunas. He still has weaknesses — particularly fouling too much — and he still makes rookie mistakes. But he has also been better than every big on their roster, even with those rookie flaws and mistakes, and he’s being rewarded for that production with a large role and minutes. The Raptors aren’t winning much this season as a result of him starting, and I would never make the case that the Pistons playing Drummond more would miraculously lead to more wins. It would, however, be in the team’s best interests long-term to allow Drummond to grow based on him proving he’s ready for more. The Raptors clearly understand this concept with their talented young big man.

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