Even after the Rudy Gay trade, the Toronto Raptors still didn’t have much of a chance at having a successful season or making the NBA Playoffs. With just 12 games remaining and the Raptors having a 26-44 record, that trend has played out as expected. With only draft position left to play for, though, Toronto has made a smart move by giving Jonas Valanciunas more playing time.
The 20-year-old Lithuanian rookie has been relatively solid for most of the season. He’s played in 52 of the Raptors’ games this year and has averaged just 22.2 minutes per game. He’s been effective in that limited time, though, averaging 7.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and one block per game on 54.8 percent shooting from the floor. That’s not too shabby from a young rookie.
However, his minutes have increased even more over the past couple of weeks and Valanciunas’ production has followed suit. Over his last five games he has played 28.4 minutes per game and has averaged 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game. More impressively he has shot an astounding 77.1 percent from the field. He’s been a monster lately.
The development of Valanciunas is direly important for the Raptors for a couple of reasons. The first is that they really don’t have much depth in regards to their post players. With the seemingly inevitable departure of Andrea Bargnani looming this coming off-season, that leaves really just Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray as their frontcourt options. Valanciunas is obviously the youngest of the players and the one with the most conceivable potential.
The other reason that his development is important is because of the role that big men play on Toronto’s team. The Raptors are a team whose primary scorers of Gay and DeMar DeRozan operate on the perimeter, meaning their opponents’ defensive focus normally shifts to the perimeter. If Valanciunas is able to develop into a threat in the post, that’s going to open up the games of Gay and DeRozan even more and make them more effective.
Valanciunas definitely has more work that he needs to do on his game. He could work on his passing ability, his defense and his quickness on both ends of the floor. However, he seems like he’s on his way to possibly becoming a solid big man in the NBA. The experience that the Raptors are giving him down the stretch this season is only going to help push that process along.