With the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NBA entry draft the Toronto Raptors selected 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. There was a country of Raptors fans watching this draft pick closely. Going into that draft Chuck Swirsky, and others, called it the most important pick in the history of the franchise. The few seasons leading up to the 2011 draft were a nightmare. If David Stern announced the Raps had drafted anyone than Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight there was sure to be ire from Raps faithful. The pick was the big fella from Lithuania.
Making the pick even tougher to swallow for Raps fans is that JV would not be joining the team that season. More patience was required as it would not be until the 2012-2013 season when we would see Valanciunas make his NBA debut.
Valanciunas is a 7 footer with a 7’4″ wingspan and a 9’3″ reach. None of that can be taught. At 20 years old there is still time to add mass to his 260 pound frame (wide shoulders will allow JV to add weight, without adversely affecting his athleticism).
JV already has pro ball experience playing for Lietuvos Rytas. He has been competing vs pro talent, and he has been excellent. He has won numerous MVP awards the past few years playing overseas.
Very good athleticism for a man of his size. JV has the chance to be a great pick-and-roll asset which fits nicely into what Raps coach Dwane Casey wants to do. He could develop a nice chemistry with a fellow bulldog-type player like new Raps PG Kyle Lowry. He will be asked to be a main cog in most pick-and-rolls. His “roll” part is NBA-ready, but he does need to improve his footwork and fundamentals on setting the screens.
JV is going to rebound at NBA level on both ends of the floor. He already has a fantastic touch around the rim (will be very good at put-backs on teammates misses)
Many fans wanted Bismack Biyombo at #5 to be the guy to anchor this Raps D going forward. If the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t shock by taking Tristan Thompson at #4 then it would have been Biyombo at #5 to the Raps (Valanciunas would have gone #4), but JV has same potential to protect the rim, with a significantly higher offensive up-side than Biyombo. The consensus amongst NBA GMs and scouts was that JV landed in the Raps lap and that was a very good thing for this organization going forward.
His 8-12 foot jumper is good. Free throw stroke is already NBA-worthy/ready (excellent really).
Any notion that JV is European so he must be “soft” will be erased, and quickly. This is a guy who loves the contact, and most times JV is the initiator of the contact/physical play. He wants to bang in the paint.
JV has an ability to get out and run on fast breaks that will separate him from other 7-footers, and help him create easy buckets for himself. This is another area where he and Lowry can really connect for baskets (Lowry looking to run at every chance and he will reward the big fella when JV runs the court with him).
One intangible that I really like with Valanciunas is he has very good b-ball smarts, and he has a major passion for the game (some 7-footers are thrust into basketball whether they like it or not, but JV loves the game).
Valanciunas already has a very strong willingness and understanding of how to pass out of a double-team (his passing skills do need improvement, but they are not bad for a 20 year old). Toronto added several shooters in the off-season and we can expect JV to be adept at passing out of the double team to any open shooters.
Right here, right now, for JV to score he needs to clean up at the rim. He is not good at creating his own shot just yet (most 7-foot 20 year old people aren’t). His only move currently is a move to his left. In this day and age we know the scouting reports get around quickly so 1 trick ponies will get exposed (quickly too). Offense moves is a sure area to improve for JV.
Valanciunas, like most young big-men, needs to develop his ability to be a presence in the paint on defense without getting himself into foul trouble.
When JV has struggled on D it is usually against players that are stronger than he is. Well he is going to find out that the National Basketball Association is jammed-packed full of studs stronger than he is. This area requires a major improvement (Casey should be able to help here as he is great at teaching better angles and technique on D)
Also in his favor is the idea that Toronto has a wonderful Lithuanian community, plus fellow Lithuanian Linas Kleiza will be sure to show JV the NBA ropes. To have those things for a franchise player like JV who is changing continents is rare, and likely very helpful.
I know many of you were upset with the pick (many still are), but I think it is exciting to have this guy. Jonas Valanciunas fell in Raps lap. Time will tell if this was a lucky break (FINALLY) in Raptors-land, or are we welcoming Rafael Araujo part II (or Aleksandar Radojevic part II).
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