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The Prospect Post: Understanding the Raptors

Fred Katz

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in 5th grade, but he maintains that his per 36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Keep an eye on the Raptors.

From the outside, it looks like rotations make little sense. The roster is a logjam.

Draft Terrence Ross eighth overall, sign Landry Fields to a slightly hilarious contract and extend DeMar DeRozan before the market is even set for him. Then trade for Rudy Gay.

Hold onto Alan Anderson. Then give him more playing time than your young players.

Draft Jonas Valanciunas sixth overall and patiently wait for him to arrive in Canada. Then play Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani more minutes than him.

Toronto has become a dumping ground for bad contracts. Bryan Colangelo's mindset is becoming clearer and clearer by the day.

No big-name free agents want to come sign here so we have to either overspend for middle-of-the-road role players or we have to make trades with teams that are trying to unload their bad contracts.

That's a type of logic that leads to giving DeMar DeRozan four years a year before he was set to become a restricted free agent. It's the thought process that brings in Rudy Gay's $54 million so he can help lead the team to a seventh or eighth seed in the East. It's the reason the Raptors splurged for Landry Fields, part of a strange, unsuccessful ploy to trick Steve Nash into returning to his home country.

It's an odd strategy that probably won't be successful.

But look at the trends. Things are starting to change in Toronto and fantasy owners should take note.

Aaron Gray might be gone.

Let me reiterate: Aaron Gray might be gone.

One more time: Aaron Gray MIGHT BE GONE.

This is good - very good - but not because I have anything against Gray. He's a fine backup center capable of contributing to a team, but giving Gray more than 20 minutes a night on a consistent basis is not anything an NBA team should be doing, especially when that team has Jonas Valanciunas parked on the bench.

Valanciunas has had his ups and downs in his first season in the league, but overall, he looks like he could wind up as a real player.

He's big, strong, and athletic. He runs the floor beautifully and can be a major force in transition (even though he hasn't had many opportunities to do so this season). Without the most refined offensive game in the league, he's still figuring out how to score in his own ways. And lately, he's had the opportunities.

Over the weekend, Valanciunas reentered the starting lineup and played 60 total minutes in two wins against the Pacers and the Hornets. Gray, meanwhile, played only 16.

Here's the thing though: He's capitalizing on his opportunities.

The 20 year old had 14 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks in 26 minutes against the Pacers. He followed that up with an 11-point, 10-rebound, two-block performance against New Orleans on Sunday.

Keep in mind that Valanciunas can't even legally have a drink until May. There's plenty of time for him to polish his offensive game, which surely needs to be shined. But that's all right. He's 20 and he's figuring out how to score in other ways.

He's so strong, so powerful when going to the rim that sometimes, it's just too tough to stop him. A 71.4 percent field goal percentage at the rim only accentuates that. He's becoming a dependable pick-and-roll player and is a consistent enough offensive rebounder that put-backs are proving to be a reliable source of scoring.

Valanciunas has his issues. There are flaws, mainly the fouling. He struggled with picking up bad fouls in the Olympics over the summer and that has carried straight into his NBA career. The 4.9 personal fouls per 36 minutes aren't preferable - and they could affect minute totals for certain games - but it could be worse. He's no Jerome James.

If the fouls don't limit his playing time too much, we might start to see a rise in Valanciunas' production. The Raptors have to realize that with seven games between them and the Bucks for the final spot in the playoffs, the postseason isn't in sight. Even with all the contracts they have, there shouldn't be an obligation not to play Valanciunas, who makes them a better team when he's on the floor anyway. Besides, if the point of gobbling up all those bad contracts is because free agents don't want to go to Toronto, make sure to develop Jonas. On a rookie contract, he might actually be the best value on the entire team.