Four games into the 2011 FIBA Men’s Under-19 World Championship, there should be little question who the tournament MVP has been so far. That would be the Raptors’ draft pick, Jonas Valanciunas, who is ranked fourth in scoring with 19.3 points per game, second in rebounds with 13 per game, and first in blocks with 3.5 per game. Earlier today, he led Lithuania to a 71-54 win over Serbia with an impressive performance of 18 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks and just two fouls in 34 minutes.
I feel it’s important to mention the fouls because he fouled out of two of his four tournament games, including Saturday’s match against Canada when he picked up five fouls in just 14 minutes. Like many young big men who are aggressive defensively and on the boards, foul trouble is something that could be a significant barrier to Valanciunas’ ability to contribute consistently early in his NBA career.
Naturally, there are people who are saying that we shouldn’t be impressed by Valanciunas’ performance in the tournament because he’s putting up these numbers against kids. But if he does emerge as the MVP at the end of this tournament, I think it’s fair for Raptors fans to start to feel a little excited about the special talent we might have in our midst — between the lockout and the dismal last few Raptors seasons, we need something to grasp on to so we can have a somewhat positive outlook about this franchise’s future.
Valanciunas and Lithuania will face their biggest test of the tournament so far when they play Team USA tomorrow. The Amercian team is the only remaining undefeated squad, so we can assume they’ve bonded somewhat since the 108-75 smackdown they received from Lithuania in an exhibition game last week. One American player in particular, power forward and likely 2012 lottery pick Patric Young, will definitely be looking for revenge based on this conversation he had on Twitter with “Arsenalist” from the Raptors Republic blog:
@raptorsrepublic: What did you think of Jonas Valanciunas?
@Patric4Young: I know for a fact he is not a lottery pick. He has potential though and he is still a good player though and a good guy. I think its a good investment but yall cant give him every foul call lol
@raptorsrepublic: Is that what you think happened in your game?
@Patric4Young: I know thats what happened 3 Lithuanian refs in Lithuanina and their superstar is playing come on lol.
A little trash-talking always helps to ramp up the drama, doesn’t it? Lithuania-USA will start at 7:30 a.m. ET tomorrow and if @liptas on Twitter is correct, the game will be viewable (legally!) online at this link. I might miss part of the first quarter while I help get my kids out the door in the morning, but if the game is streaming after that, I’ll be providing Valanciunas updates on my Twitter feed (@scottcarefoot) throughout the game.