Yes, it was just an exhibition game. And yes, Team USA’s under-19 squad doesn’t appear to be jam-packed with talent and they’ve reportedly only been able to practice together for a few days. Nevertheless, Lithuania delivered a dominant performance in beating USA 108-75 today, and Jonas Valanciunas was far and away the best player on the court.

Valanciunas led both teams with 23 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes, and the most impressive part of his boxscore might be the fact that he went to the free throw line 15 times. His length and activity were too much for the Americans to handle and they frequently had little choice but to foul him when he was battling for rebounds or when he had the ball within a few feet of the basket.

Before I break down the various components of his performance, let’s clear something up right now so that anyone who reads this blog can pass this knowledge onto their Raptors fan friends — we won’t know for a while how Valanciunas will fare in the NBA, but I can state with absolute certainty right now that he is the furthest thing from “soft”. He appears to relish battling for rebounds and playing physical defense, and when he got elbowed in the mouth in the second quarter, he simply checked his Chiclets while he went to the bench with an annoyed look on his face. This “all Euros are soft” meme is beyond ignorant and even if you choose to continue to believe that European players tend to be less tough than their American counterparts, I can assure you this doesn’t apply to Valanciunas. So let’s knock off this ignorant discussion point, shall we?

All right, here’s my breakdown of his performance for those of you who weren’t able to watch the grainy feed online.

Offense

  • Ten of Valanciunas’ 11 field goal attempts came within the key, so it’s evident that he’s most comfortable trying to score in the post. His single mid-range jumper came on a wide-open look from about 18 feet out and he drained it.
  • While he scored a couple of his field goals off post moves, his overall post game seems pretty unpolished. He doesn’t appear to be a “go-to guy” you can simply feed the ball to down low and expect him to make things happen consistently.
  • He sets picks willingly, but he showed a tendency to release too early to roll to the basket.
  • Since he usually had the ball close to the basket and the American defenders couldn’t do much to stop him, I didn’t really get a sense of how good of a passer he is because he didn’t pass the ball much.
  • He had an off-game at the free throw line by his standards in missing four of his 15 free throw attempts. Of course, I’ll take that kind of “off-game” from most big men, and Valanciunas looked extremely comfortable at the charity stripe with a smooth shooting stroke.

Rebounding

Valanciunas led the Euroleague in rebound percentage (the percentage of available rebounds grabbed by a player while he’s on the floor) this season and it’s not hard to see why. He uses his length, athleticism and toughness to create space and get in the right position for rebounds, and he showcased an ability to fight off multiple opponents and tip the ball to himself when required. For all the question marks about how his game will translate to the NBA, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t average 10 rebounds if and when he’s playing 30 minutes per game.

Defense

  • It’s just one exhibition game, but Valanciunas doesn’t strike me as the kind of player who flies all over the court swatting shot attempts. Today, he was more of a “shot-botherer” than a shot blocker (although he did have one impressive stuff on a USA fast break) and American players frequently had a tough time making shots inside while Jonas was on duty.
  • One area where the frequent comparisons to Tyson Chandler made sense was Valanciunas’ ability and willingness to guard perimeter players and effectively use his length on switches. He’s obviously not as strong as Chandler (yet), but the potential to be a similar defensive force is there.
  • His lack of strength wasn’t really a factor in this game because the Americans don’t appear to be a bruising team. As I mentioned, they were clearly flustered by his length and didn’t make much of an effort to body him up in the post.
  • Did I mention he’s not soft? He demonstrated more than once that he’s not afraid to give out a hard foul if it means preventing an easy basket. He collected three personal fouls in 25 minutes, and it will be interesting to watch throughout the rest of the tournament if he can stay out of foul trouble while continuing to be an active defensive presence.

That’s about all that comes to mind based on what I witnessed today from the Raptors’ newest prospect. Lithuania’s next game is against Croatia on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET when the FIBA U19 World Championship officially kicks off. I probably won’t write a blog post for every one of Valanciunas’ games in the tournament, but I will provide running commentary on Twitter @scottcarefoot for every game I’m able to watch.

Comments (17)

  1. He’s also a much better pick and roll player on offence than he showed today because Lithuania’s U19 guards can’t run it very well.

  2. Why not do a post like this for every game? Most of us die hard raps fans haven’t had much chance to watch Jonas play and would love to hear more, especially because it’ll help identify trends.

  3. ezz_bee: Well, I don’t want to repeat myself. I wrote this because this was my first opportunity to watch him in full-game action. If you take any basketball player and write a full breakdown like this about him for every game he plays, it’s going to get really repetitive.

    We do have something different and juicy coming in terms of Valanciunas content later this week. I don’t know exactly when it will be ready because it’s out of my hands now, but I’m confident Raptors fans will be pleased.

  4. Also Valanciunas today probably felt tired and we didn’t see really good jumping for rebounds/blocks and probably not s single dunk was made by him tonight. He can and will do better, anyone who watched most (~90%) of Valanciunas games in past 1.5 seasons in Rytas like I did, have to agree with me. And it’s not trying to be cocky or anything – it was Jonas’ slightly above average game.

  5. This was either the fifth or sixth game that I have seen him play since May.

    I agree with you writeup except for one comment.

    Regarding the P & R.

    If can find any of his games this season with Rytas especially in April or May toward the end of the season he was superb in the P & R, both in setting the screen and rolling to the basket.

    I don’t know how much JV has played with this group of LTV players in organized competition especially their ball handlers.

    The LTV U19 team did not do a particularly good job in running the P & R. JV releasing early was probably a timing question resulting form not have played a lot with this group of players, especially the ball handlers in the P & R situation. However, I can definitely say that he can at this time run the P & R better than any Raptors player with the possible exception of some guy named Amare as Casey called him.

  6. I would like anything one thinks Lithuanians are soft to go to Lithuania and say it to their faces. Of the current Raptors, outside of Joey Dorsey, the guy I’d probably want to piss off the least is Kleiza. He’s not a good defensive player, but that’s mostly because he doesn’t have the quicks. If he was about 2 or 3 inches taler, he’d probably be a beast of a PF.

  7. Tim W.: Lithuania was much more physical than USA in today’s game. I didn’t see any softness on Lithuania’s team, least of all from Jonas. Ilgauskas was never the most physical guy, but Kleiza is kind of a bruiser and Valanciunas clearly loves to mix it up. It will be very interesting to see if this tournament has a significant effect on altering the popular narrative on Jonas, considering that this tournament isn’t televised.

  8. Someone show this to TasMelas asap

  9. Has anyone seen him jump off one foot? I’ve scoured the internet and found one such highlight. Not sure what to make of it, but interesting. I imagine it doesn’t make for good weak side help though.

  10. I want to see the kid play against NBA competition enough of these exhibition type of games they prove very little as the US team has been together less than a week.

    The sooner Val gets into the TDot the sooner we fans can see 1st hand what he’s working with against NBA players, in NBA arenas playing with NBA rules.

    Dwane Casey’s coaching staff:
    http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2011/06/28/raptors-coach-casey-completes-staff/#comment-156915

    Johnny Davis- New Lead Assistant (was with Memphis last season)
    Tom Sterner- New Assistant Coach (was with 76ers last season)
    Scott Roth- Holdover
    Micha Nori- Holdover
    Eric Hughes- Holdover

  11. i’m just wondering where did you watch the games. i mean which website since u watched it online. please and thanks.

  12. For those who would loved to see yesterday’s games U19 US-Lithuania:

    http://tinyurl.com/6ym9ugd

    It takes just a few minutes to download. Go ahead, good luck! ;)

  13. @ Kestutis

    Thanx!

  14. @BCGheradiniJayGots2Go!!

    you know who I didn’t see starring for the USA? Norris Cole, the guy you were pumping up after draft night because Miami was able to re-acquire their 28th pick. Remember how you claimed BC was made to look bad because Miami was able to acquire this stiff? Wonder why he wasnt playing for the US? Oh yeah because he was a 4 yr college player who was “starring” at Cleveland State! I also remember you trashing the Raps pick based on absolutely no prior knowledge of his skills. Maybe the two time EOY, who has an impressive draft record, may know what he’s talking about.

  15. @ Jeff

    Norris Cole is not a stiff but that just goes to show how much you really know about basketball outside of the headlines- standing on the sidelines with no guidelines, buddy.

    Norris Cole is 22 years old and that was the U19 USA Basketball Team-recognize!lmfao@u

    BC traded CB for JJohnson, JBayless, AAjinca & JValanciunas add in Norris Cole into the trade equation and Riley got over on BC big time- what do you know about that?

  16. For all of those who think that European basketball (in this case Lithuanian type of play) is soft, I give you a citation from the American u-19 team Big guy Patrick Young:

    “FIBA: What was behind the both losses in the Global Games tournament?

    Patric Young: We weren’t sure what to expect, because European basketball is a lot different than American basketball. It’s a lot more physical. You know, we weren’t prepared for being called for that many fouls and that really affected us as a team. As we started getting those foul calls, we started breaking up as a team and they capitalised on that by knocking the free throws, they got offensive rebounds. They just took advantage of every opportunity they had against us and they did a really good job as a team.

    FIBA: You had a really tough battle going on against Valanciunas. Could you talk about that a little bit?

    Young: He’s a really good both offensive and defensive rebounder, so I had to really be physical with him. He’s a really good guy. We were talking a little bit on the court as well and he told me that out here you have to be really physical, because there’s no over-the-back calls. I had to do what I had to do, hold my own ground. He still had 23 points, but I did my best out there.”

    For the full article you may visit –
    http://latvia2011.fiba.com/pages/eng/fe/11/fu19m/news/p/nid/47564/article.html

  17. I’ml kind of surprised that not as many people are talking about Ed Davis

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