Who is Jonas Valanciunas?
Shocked. That’s how I felt once I heard the Toronto Raptors’ only draft pick of 2011 being called by David Stern.
It was only a few weeks prior to the draft when Bryan Colangelo proclaimed that if Brandon Knight fell to the Raptors, he would not have to drop any further. As Utah drafted Enes Kanter with the third overall pick, Torontonians were already thinking of what clever nicknames they could bestow the next Raptors point guard. Cleveland proceeded to draft Tristan Thompson, making him the highest drafted Canadian in modern history! This was a surprising move as many mocks had pegged the Cavaliers to pick-up Jonas Valanciunas. As a commercial break ensued, I wondered whether the Raptors would go by their word and select Brandon Knight, or would they make a stretch pick and opt for Bismack Biyombo. On the day of the draft, word had spread like wildfire that Bryan Colangelo was strongly considering drafting the Congolese Center EVEN IF Brandon Knight was still on the board. The commercials ended and David Stern was back on the podium ready to announce the next pick:
“With the 5th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors select Jonas Valanciunas.”
I was shocked. Not only did we skip on Brandon Knight, but we also drafted a player who would not join the team until the 2012-2013 season. Although Jonas Valanciunas was projected to be drafted fourth in a majority of mocks, Cleveland decided to select a player who could contribute to the team right away. Bryan Colangelo, who is no stranger to choosing the best player available, felt the Cavaliers made a big mistake by passing up on Jonas. He then pulled an Ed Davis by drafting the best player available who’s stock dropped due to contract buy-out issues (in Ed Davis’ case it was due to injury). During the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft, Toronto media had provided coverage on Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Jan Vesely, and Bismack Biyombo. Not much was said in regards to Valanciunas as many believed he would not be available by the fifth pick. So who IS Jonas Valanciunas? What can he do? What can’t he do? We will cover the pros and cons of the pick and verify whether Jonas Valanciunas was the right choice for the Toronto Raptors.
1) I figure it would be more more reassuring to discuss the cons before the pros. The first thing I noticed from footage found online was that Valanciunas appeared noticeably stiff in his movements. His game simply did not look smooth or comfortable in his own body. However, I guess this could also be attributed to his rugged style of play and call him a non-finesse player then leave it at that. Once he is more accustomed to the ebb and flow of the league he should develop a better feel for the game.
2) The next drawback is his size. If Jonas wants to play the 5 in the NBA, he will most definitely need to bulk up. Valanciunas’ length is what allows him to rebound over opponents, but he will likely be pushed around and routinely boxed-out unless he can put on some weight. He’s got over a year to accomplish this goal and adding 15-20 pounds to his 240 pound frame is certainly attainable.
3) So far, he is unable to create his own offense. Most of his points begin with lead passes, put-backs from offensive rebounds, and hitting his free throws. If he can develop a couple of post moves before entering the league, he could be quite a formidable player straight from the get go.
4) Struggles to pass out of double teams. Without offensive variety near the basket, Valanciunas tends to panic when the defense closes in on him. While he has no problem deferring a play for another teammate, completing the pass has not always been successful. Jonas will have to learn how to relax and let the game come to him. Again, with more in-game experience, he should grow out of this. He’s already unselfish enough, he now just has to learn to stay calm and find the open man.
5) And finally, the biggest con is his current contract buy-out situation. Although it was reported that Valanciunas’ buy-out was officially agreed upon, Jonas still won’t be able to sign with the Raptors until the 2012-2013 season. Even though I have listed this as a con, it could very well be a blessing in disguise. The question is no longer if there will be a lockout or not, but how long. Whether the season is cut in half or the whole season is gone, it will be much easier for Raptor fans to endure the 2011-2012 season without any significant changes to the team. Frankly, it may not be that bad. While the NBA may be put on hold, Jonas Valanciunas will still be constantly improving his game on the other side. And if the whole season is subjected to the lockout, it makes Bryan Colangelo’s risk on Valanciunas all that much more worth it.
1) Perhaps one of the more important benefits to having Valanciunas is that he helps fill an utterly enormous void at our Center position. Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis are all better-suited to play Power Forward. The only real center the Raptors have is the raw as sushi Solomon Alabi, who appears about as ready for the NBA as me. Without a true 5 holding down the fort, the Raptors have been forced to play Bargnani at the Center. Needless to say this has been failure. Valanciunas will give the Raptors an inside presence that has been missing since… Antonio Davis (mainly during his prime in 2001), and he was only 6’9″.
2) From what I’ve seen, Jonas has the pick and roll down to a T. The greatest part is that he is highly efficient on the finish and is able to convert over 70%(!) on FG% alone in the Euroleague. He’s starting to develop a hook shot that could very well be his go-to move in the NBA. If he can perfect this shot, it will be a difficult task for anyone to defend.
3) Along with his incredible field goal percentages, a more astonishing stat is his 88% free throw percentage. When you think of Centers in the NBA (Shaq, Howard, Bogut, etc), you rarely associate such players with high free throw percentages. Jonas once stated that he takes 200 free throws after every practise, this is dedication to the game that many centers could learn from.
4) Another attribute that many scouts admired was his great length and high motor. Never one to give up when the ball is within reach, Jonas also understands the importance of boxing out whereas many young players tend to forget about getting into position for the rebound. Boasting a standing 6’11″ frame with a gargantuan 7’6″ wingspan, Valanciunas is able to corral rebounds beyond other players’ reach and block shots on defense. It is not surprising that Jonas Valanciunas’ name was constantly mentioned along with great rebounding and solid shot blocking. Both of these characteristics were largely absent in the Raptors’ last season.
Patric Young: 18 Min, 2/7 FG, 2/5 FT, 6Pts, 6Reb, 1Ast, 2Stl, 0TO, 3Fouls.
Jonas Valanciunas: 25 Min, 6/11 FG, 11/15 FT, 23Pts, 11Reb, 1Ast, 1Blk, 3TO, 3Fouls.
Jonas will need some time getting used to the power and speed of the NBA. If he is given a long enough leash during his rookie season, I feel he could be a solid 10/10/1 (pts/reb/blk) player right out of the gates. His peak season should hover around 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. The rebounding numbers should remain steady considering his front court mate shuns from such endeavors. But if Bargnani is traded or simply leaves, Valanciunas’ points scored should see a definite spike. Jonas’ deft free throw shooting will undoubtedly help pad his scoring numbers.
I am thinking at worst he will be an Andris Biedrins with superior free throw shooting and best case scenario being a Joakim Noah less the passing.
As I have already mentioned, I was initially not a big fan of the Raptors’ newest acquisition. After doing my homework on Jonas Valanciunas and attempting to step into the shoes of Bryan Colangelo, only then was I able to realize that this pick was simply bittersweet. Bitter because the Raptors will not be receiving immediate help for the upcoming season yet sweet because we will finally be able to fill our void at the center position. Think of it like trying dark chocolate for the first time. Bitter, but once you warm up to the taste you learn to truly appreciate its flavour. In addition, should the lockout negate the whole season, it just makes Colangelo’s decision that much more logical. Not only were the Raptors able to select the best player available, they were also able to fill a desparate need. (Even if that need is not set to join the Raptors until the 2012-2013 season.) It was not the sexiest thing to do, but it was definitely the smartest move.
Welcome to the Raptors, Brother Jonas!
By Nicolas Chow, Contributing Writer.