Toronto Raptors fan favourite week: Jonas Valanciunas

Toronto Raptors - Jonas Valanciunas (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Jonas Valanciunas (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Former Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas now plies his trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. He still remains an ultimate fan favourite among Raptors faithful.

Drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft – a draft that featured the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Klay ThompsonJonas Valanciunas was viewed as one of the top prospects on the board but took a year to arrive in the NBA, spending another year with Lithuanian outfit Lietuvos rytas Vilnius before transitioning to the Toronto Raptors in 2012.

Valanciunas arrived in Toronto during the midst of the Raptors funk. The 2010-11 NBA season saw the Raptors finish 14th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 22-60, their third lowest win total since the franchise was founded. He stepped into the light as a promising center, capable of finishing in the post and rebounding effectively.

The story of his rise parallels perfectly with the rise of the Toronto Raptors. Hand in hand, the got better each and every year, improving just a little bit more of their overall games. Valanciunas matured as the Raptors grew into contenders. He went from the baby-faced 20 year old to the bearded hero he was the day the Raptors traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Valanciunas was never the star of the show for the Raptors, working behind the clear one and two faces of the franchise in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Either way, Valanciunas was the clear number three of the team and had the numbers to back it up.

Sometimes, the numbers weren’t enough, though. A lot of fans felt that JV’s game had been bypassed by the stylistic change of the NBA. Some believed his game-type was prehistoric. Thus, the JV Hive was born.

An arduous collection of Valanciunas supporters, willing to defend him at every turn, while others proclaimed he was outdated. The Hive represented the belief that Valanciunas was never effectively used by the Raptors. Considering his short `19 game stint in Memphis were Valanciunas averaged 19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. His first-ever averaged double-double and the best numbers of his career at every turn.

Valanciunas always found a way to be a difference maker when the team needed him most. His career-high rebound splurge came in Game 1 of the second round tie against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA playoffs. Valanciunas erupted for a career-high 21 points-21 rebound double-double.

The dual-edged sword reared it’s predictable head, though, as Valanciunas missed a potential tip-in in the games final seconds of regulation time. Instead, the Raptors went on the lose 113-112 in overtime.

As the Raptors struggled to implement Valanciunas into the desired, and clearly more effective, role, he still managed to capture the hearts of all Raptors fans. Even his harshest critics couldn’t disagree that he was a lovable presence on the roster.

The Raptors needed Valanciunas to adapt or perish midway through the 2017-18 NBA season. He adopted an outside shot and the famous “Death, taxes, and JV threes” war-cry from Matt Devlin was born. Some found it insufferable, while others, like myself, couldn’t wait to hear it.

It was a sign of hope. If Valanciunas could add the much-appreciated three-point game to his repertoire, then maybe there was a role on the team after all. His salary routinely touted him as a trade candidate, but one would that would never be the case.

He fitted into the teams international extravagance, became a fixture in the cities culture and, unfortunately, became the face of the Go Daddy curse. Something that became the norm for fan favourites in Toronto.

Next. The ultimate Toronto Raptors fan favourite bracket. dark

There was no in-between, you were either a critic or a member of the JV Hive. Only one of these should have been the correct option.

Jonas Valanciunas, the man, the myth, the undoubted fan favourite.