Following our look at one Toronto Raptors sophomore with high hopes and higher expectations, it seems apropos to write about the other. While Terrence Ross’ maiden season was a mild disappointment, that certainly can’t be said of Jonas Valanciunas’ [JV from now on, or I’ll get writer’s cramp]. Can our centre of the future “arrive” this year?
Mar 10, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) comes up with a rebound against Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (3) and center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the second half at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Cleveland 100-96. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
JV was selected #5 in the 2011 draft by Bryan Colangelo, who was well aware that there was little chance of his prize pick joining the NBA for the ’11-’12 season. JV was under contract to his European team, and while he wanted to join the Raps, the buyout cost was prohibitive. So JV spent another season in the Euro-league (which is like the CFL is to the NFL; a top minor league with different rules), and also played for Lithuania in the Olympics. I mention all this to emphasize that while JV lost an NBA season, he wasn’t short of tough basketball. He arrived in Toronto as a seasoned pro at the age of 20, but with no experience of North American hoops.
Folks, this kid is a fast learner. Item: JV played only one game in his last 19 in which he failed to hit double figures in points. Item: in an April win against the Wizards, 16 of JV’s 24 points came at the free throw line. Item: after fouling out twice in four games in November, he never hit 6 fouls again, despite a big uptick in minutes per game as the season progressed. Item: While JV’s season average of 1.3 blocks per game was more than respectable, he had 17 blocks in his final 7 games.
So many elements of his game improved dramatically during his inaugural season. For me, his outside shooting was perhaps the most pleasant surprise. He showed the league that you can’t leave him alone, for if you do, JV will hit jumpers from both the base- and foul line. JV will be a match-up nightmare this season for all but the most skilled of big-man defenders, as he will put the ball on the floor effectively if they challenge his jumper. “Hack-a-Shaq” won’t work, as JV shot almost 79% from the charity stripe.
I haven’t predicted individual’s stats so far in this series, but I’ll break that rule here. Jonas will average 35 MPG [Minutes Per Game], up from almost 24. His Points PG will increase from 8.9 to 15, and his Rebounds PG from 6 to 9. It’s reasonable to expect his assists will spike, as I believe the Raps will play inside-out much more, now that JV has proven he’s an offensive force. He is very comfortable with high pick-and-roll play from Europe, so the Raps will have an additional “look” with which to confuse defenses. JV’s overall leap in production will ripple through the lineup, and make everyone better.
JV’s season broke into thirds, more or less. His first third was getting acclimated, his next third was spent in street clothes while recovering from a broken finger, and his last third offered huge hope for Raptor fans everywhere. He played summer league ball in Las Vegas, and was named MVP. There’s no doubt who will be starting at centre for the Raptors this year; his name is Jonas Valanciunas, and he could well become the best player at that position the team has ever had.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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