A lot of people know John Lucas III as the guy who filled in for Derrick Rose for the Bulls last season. Others remember him for being the guy LeBron jumped over last winter in a vicious in-game dunk. Some know him as his father's son and many shrug their shoulders at the undersized point guard that they feel shoots too much.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey knows him as the spark plug off of his bench and already considers him to be an important part of the team. After a recent preseason victory against the Detroit Pistons, he was asked about what Lucas brings to the table and didn't attempt to temper his praise.
"John is…I love John," Casey said. "[...] he's the spirit of our team, the fiber of our team. He stands for everything right on the basketball floor. He's going to be a heck of a coach we'll see when he gets out of basketball and retires. He's a scorer. He's a born scorer."
Strong words from a coach after just three preseason games, but this is the way Lucas makes people feel about him. He's a charismatic locker room leader already, pulling younger guys aside and teaching them how to take criticism from the coaching staff while not taking the negatives to heart. Similarly, he'll pull reporters aside to answer their questions, and then after giving a smile, will wait for the recorders to be turned off so he can share some hilarious story from a career path that has taken him from the NBA to the D-League to Italy, Spain and China before returning to play for the Bulls last season.
It's easy to see why his teammates love him, even if he is the point guard who'll hoist up three shots in his first four minutes of being on the floor like he did in the Raptors' recent victory against the Wizards. He makes basketball more fun. If he continues to make his 3-pointers, he will also make the Raptors a better -- and deeper -- team this season.
When informed of the praise his coach had given him, Lucas said that the two have built a good relationship thus far.
"I just come in and play with my heart," Lucas said. "I don't care if I play five minutes, 10 minutes, I'm always into the game. I'm always tuned in. I'm just about winning. I think that's what coach likes about me. I don't care about my stats, I don't care if I had this many points, that many points. My whole thing is about winning. I want to get to the postseason. That's my mentality. I've always been like that. Losing is not an option for me."
For Toronto fans who often value effort as much as output (witness Reggie Evans having an entire arena chanting his name when he made a comeback from injury two seasons ago), Lucas is a player that appears to be a solid fit for becoming a fan favorite. In addition to leaving it all on the court, it's easy to see that the long and winding basketball journey he's had keeps him very appreciative of his opportunity to play in the NBA.
"I feel like you should always go as hard as you can because you've got fans that are paying to come watch you play and you're going to your job," Lucas said. "You can't disrespect your job. At the end of the day you have to go out there and play your heart out, not just for you, it's for you because of your pride, but also for the organization and your team and most importantly for the fans who support you. You should never let them down."
For Toronto fans already excited about the energy that rookie Jonas Valanciunas brings to the table, Lucas only gives another reason to enjoy tuning in to Raptors games this year. After plenty of dark moments in recent years, it's nice to see a fan base get rewarded with vibrant personalities that are easy to root for both on and off the court.