Over the next few days, you’ll likely hear from Raptors’ management team members, coaching staff, players and Jonas Valanciunas himself about the Raptors’ selection of the big Lithuanian with the fifth overall pick. So right now, I wanted to keep things fresh and discuss your opinion – the fans’ take on the Raptors’ somewhat controversial pick.
I attended the Raptors Season Seat Holder Draft Party at Real Sports Bar and Grill on Thursday night, where I watched the 2011 NBA Draft unfold. Season seat holders are considered the life-blood of pro sports franchises and are the fans depended on for financial support, so I always find it important and interesting to see how the season seat holders react to a draft, especially when their team is selecting near the top.
I’ve been to a handful of these events, and have witnessed some classic reactions in years past (deafening booing when Charlie Villanueva was selected in 2005, intense joy in just holding the number one pick in 2006), but I can honestly say that I haven’t felt the buzz in the crowd that I felt this year.
The devoted season seat holders in Real Sports were amped up and cheering for Kyrie Irving, but grew noticeably more excited when the Utah Jazz selected Enes Kanter third overall. Immediately, Raptors fans assumed that Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker was theirs for their taking with the number five pick, as surely the Cavs would select a big man (likely Jonas Valanciunas) with the fourth pick.
The crowd erupted when Tristan Thompson became the highest Canadian NBA Draft selection ever, and only became louder when they realized that the Raptors were on the clock. Most inside Real Sports seemed to be pulling for Knight or Walker, with some discussing Bismack Biyombo, failing to recognize that arguably the highest upside big man in the Draft had just fallen into Toronto’s lap.
And then it happened.
The look on Raptors’ fans faces, the amount of energy that was sucked out of the building when David Stern followed up “The Toronto Raptors select” with “Jonas Valanciunas” was truly disheartening. There was some loud booing, some sticking to the “wait and see” approach, and very little support for Valanciunas among the restless crowd.
Selecting Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight would have been the safe pick, but anyone who believes the Raptors failed miserably in this year’s draft is horribly misinformed, if informed at all.
If you hate the selection of Valanciunas because you know about his game, have studied him in depth and just don’t like what you see or are scared of his buyout clause, that’s fair. If you disapprove of the pick because you thought there were better prospects available, that’s fine.
But if you’re only argument against drafting Valanciunas is “not another European,” then I suggest, no, I urge you to educate yourself about the kid before pretending to be a knowledgeable basketball fan by simply joining the popular (wrong) opinion.
When Scott, Holly and I profiled Valanciunas in our Draft Profile series, I noted that Raptors fans were starting to “allow the play and tendencies of certain European players to taint their expectations of all European-born NBA prospects.” I also commented that the possible selection of Valanciunas could cause “some backlash from fans who are firmly anti-Euro right now, despite refusing to educate themselves about this year’s crop of Europeans.” And that’s exactly what has happened.
Instead of talking about the facts, which are that Jonas is a 19-year-old, 6-11 big man whose priorities on the court are protecting the rim and rebounding, fans are talking about the fact that the Raptors “already have enough Europeans.” Instead of talking about the fact that the Spurs, the team many consider to be bullet-proof and “always right,” wanted to move up in this year’s draft just to grab Valanciunas, fans are saying that if the Raptors did it, it must be wrong. Instead of talking about the fact that Valanciunas is considered by many to be one of the few young “true centres” around right now, fans are assuming the guy is a defensively incapable, “soft” jump-shooting big man.
Is it okay to be disappointed in this year’s draft choice? Of course it is. But it’s not okay to start ripping a kid you know nothing about simply because he hails from a continent that has produced a disappointing Raptor or two.
As a Raptors supporter, I want Jonas Valanciunas to succeed in the NBA for the benefit of the franchise. As a basketball fan and as someone who tries to educate myself on issues before commenting on them, I hope Valanciunas succeeds in the NBA just to shove it down the throats of ignorant “fans.”
A strong opinion based on something tangible is one thing, but what I saw and am still hearing tonight is a purely ignorant assumption.
And you know what they say about assumptions – someone usually ends up looking like an ass.