The Evolution of Jonas Valanciunas

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 26: Jonas Valanciunas
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 26: Jonas Valanciunas /

The NBA is constantly evolving with the newest trend being floor-spacing big men. It’s as if an entire species is coming to extinction. Teams are looking for centers that are freak athletes and can shoot the 3-ball.

That’s not to say that low-post centers can’t still be effective, it’s about if they can adapt to the game or not. Take for example centers like Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Al Horford,  all of whom have developed the ability to shoot a 3 point shot at an efficient level. More and more centers are learning to play the ‘new way’ centers. The Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas may have started late, but he’s catching up fast.

Throughout his career, JV has been the subject of yearly trade talks, with fans repeatedly calling for his head. JV has fallen behind the curse, resembling the slow-footed big men of the past. All signs were pointing towards JV never evolving and being left in the past. But suddenly, in a surprise twist, JV matched the trend of the Raptors and changed his game. Just like DeMar DeRozan, JV has become a new player and it all started with learning to shoot the ball.

In past years the Toronto Raptors have been one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA. Thanks to a collective effort this year, the shooting has gotten better. Part of the effort has been thanks to Jonas Valanciunas. He’s hit a total of 14 3-pointers in his career, 13 of them coming this season.

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Reports had emerged around February 2017 telling readers that JV was working towards a 3-point shot. As a skeptic myself I was hard-pressed to believe that JV would be shooting anywhere near the 3-point line but here we are. Kevin Garnett said it best “anything is possible!”

The Evolution

JV has shown the capability to shoot the ball; the most recent example being the game against the Portland Trailblazers where he shot 2-4 from deep. While it is encouraging to see JV shooting from deep, his shot is still “clunky”. He has this stop and start release that’s reminiscent of a Charles Barkley golf swing. Most of the time he pump fakes before deciding whether to take the shot, even when no one is guarding him. 

JV has also paired his new range from deep with ferocious athleticism. Using his soon to be patented pump fake, he’s gotten multiple defenders to jump, presenting him with an open lane to the basket leading to a vicious dunk. In past years we’ve never really seen attack the basket with this much intensity. That’s not to say that he hasn’t dunked over people in the past. We’ve simply never seen Jonas Valanciunas drive from the corner of the floor, blow past a defender and yam the ball over a defender. Simply put, it’s a spectacle.

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 08: Jonas Valanciunas /

There are many more great things to come as JV is only 25 years young. These first steps are inspiring ones and will hopefully lead to further progression for the big man. JV has essentially been given the green light to shoot when he feels comfortable enough to do so. He’s shown that he’s not only dedicated to the team but to being the best player he can possibly be.