It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but fans got a glimpse of what Lithuanian star Jonas Valanciunas can do. The Toronto Raptors lost the game 101-99, but getting Valanciunas out there was the bigger story.
The big man made his much anticipated debut against the Detroit Pistons, and while he only played 13 minutes as a precaution Valanciunas gave everyone a taste of his game play. He scored two points, but blocked two shots and was a plus 8, the highest on the team. Valanciunas made an impact on both sides of the floor in his limited minutes, banging Piston big men on defense and setting solid screens to set up the Raptor attack on offense. When Valanciunas was asked how finally stepping onto the court felt, his response was a good one.
“My dream come true.”
Playing in Europe at a higher level than NCAA, Valanciunas should be one of the most NBA-ready rookies and will contribute on both ends right away. It is possible that we will see a Valanciunas-Anthony Davis showdown for rookie of the year, as both big men are the most talented, highest upside rookies in the class. It seems as if analysts have forgotten Valanciunas’ name when looking at rookie of the year candidates, but that should change quickly.
While Valanciunas still has a long way to go, being out on the court it was apparent that he gets it. Whether it was freeing up DeMar DeRozan for a monster jam, or swatting the explosive Greg Monroe, Valanciunas’ high basketball IQ was evident.
It is unlikely that Valanciunas will be the starting center on opening night as head coach Dwane Casey has said he wants the rookie to earn the spot, but I would be shocked if Val isn’t starting by the all-star break.
Believe it or not, Valanciunas somewhat resembles a young Chris Bosh. Lean, smart, solid mid range shooter, with massive upside. However, Valanciunas is a much better defender and post player than Bosh was, and there is a good chance that Val reaches a similar level of play that Bosh did, and I don’t think Raptor fans would mind that.
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