Jonas Valanciunas has single handedly given Toronto Raptors fans a glimmer of hope, and is widely regarded as the second best rookie in this draft class behind Anthony Davis.
Dwane Casey has called Valanciunas a “worst case Joakim Noah” who is still a top center in this league. Offensively, his skill-set his similar to Pau Gasol, however his defense is immensely better than Gasol’s. Valanciunas should become a dominant shot blocker and a defensive stopper along with a dominant offensive game, making him a potential hybrid Noah-Gasol.
In his first Olympic stint, Valanciunas was relatively quite, but shined bright at points. It was a great learning experience as Valanciunas faced world class talent and fared quite well for a 20 year old.
Fans expecting Valanciunas to come in and average 20 and 10 in his rookie year and save the Raptors will likely be disappointed. Considering how raw Valanciunas is, it is unlikely that he will be extremely effective in his first year especially with the adjustments he will have to make.
On the flip side, he could very well be dominant and contend for rookie of the year considering he was playing against tougher competition than the other rookies and still put up similar stats. The fact that he dominated in Europe at such a young age is encouraging. His resume is filled with awards such as the FIBA European Young Player of the Year and MVP and Lithuania basketball player of the year.
There is no doubt in my mind that Valanciunas will become the best center in Raptors franchise history and should become a top 10 center in the league eventually, and could become a top 5 center. However, for him to reach that stage will take time and development, and Raptors fans will have to understand that it is well worth the wait. The key for Valanciunas will be to put on weight in order for him to bang against the likes of Dwight Howard and other top tier centers. As he gets stronger, it will open up his game on both ends of the court and he will develop much faster.
Aaron Gray will likely start the year at center until Valanciunas earns the spot, which will force him to work. Regardless, it is inevidable that Valanciunas will grab the starting job and start to produce and will prove to be well worth the wait.
Projected first year stats: 9.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.8 bpg
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