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Raptors trying to get Valanciunas to defend like Roy Hibbert

Oct 14, 2013, 6:59 PM EDT

Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Pekovic AP

In his rookie season, Roy Hibbert averaged 7.7 personal fouls per 36 minutes. You can’t stay on the court that way. Pacers coaches worked hard on teaching him how to play vertically — jump straight up and down and referees are less likely to make a call, even if there is contact. Don’t swing at the ball and try to block it, just be vertical when you go up. The past three seasons Hibbert has not averaged more than 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes, which is good considering how much the Pacers rely on him to protect the paint.

That brings us to Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, who is on everybody’s breakout players list — we’ve been telling you since Summer League. However, one of one of the issues he needs to get over to fulfill that promise is picking up fouls (4.6 per 36 minutes). He got sent to the bench too often after picking up early fouls last season.

Raptors coaches are working with Valanciunas on playing vertical, reports David Aldridge at NBA.com.

“He’s still learning,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Saturday. “The main thing with him is he had such a long way to go to learn the NBA, just the nuances of the NBA, the timing, the quickness … he came in blind. We had to tell him who the players were, what their strengths were. And he missed all of training camp last year. That start [last season] was a lot of him not knowing what was going on, and getting his timing back. As the year got better, he got better….”

The Raptors have worked with him extensively on the “Hibbert” (named after Roy, of course) defense — jumping vertically to challenge shooters instead of reaching and hacking.

“He’s far more comfortable in the NBA games,” Casey said. “More confident, moving with more confidence, understanding where to go, what to do…. And defensively, understanding the nuances of the NBA, the speed of the NBA. We need a rim protector and he needs to be a rim protector for us.”

Valanciunas has looked good in Summer League and in preseason, which counts for zip when the games get real in a couple weeks. Valanciunas still has to prove he can do this when it matters.

But he’s a guy to watch for a breakout year (and could be a good fantasy sleeper grab).

  1. elwaysagenius - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    Masai has a lot of work to do, but he has one very good piece to build this team around in Valanciunas

  2. ohioteamsusuallysuck - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    Toronto could have had the real hibbert but they traded him for jermaine oneal!’

  3. jnoah13 - Oct 14, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    id rather have him play like noah on d, helping on outside shooters, covering the guard on pick n roll switches. the whole point of valanciunas was his mobility for a big. and yes, noah is better than hibbert. he can actually run the court more than twice without getting winded.

    • vickwalksmydog - Oct 15, 2013 at 3:43 PM

      this is so cute! a guy named noah goes into articles that aren’t mentioning noah and constantly brings up noah!

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