Jonas Valanciunas

Today’s gold medal game between Lithuania and Serbia was fast-paced, chippy, and very entertaining. But Lithuania was the best team and they had the best player in the tournament, so they triumphed with an 85-67 victory. Jonas Valanciunas dominated the game with 36 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Unsurprisingly, he was named the most valuable player of the tournament with averages of 23.0 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, a 59.5 percent field goal percentage and an 81.1 percent success rate from the free throw line.

Valanciunas has now been named the MVP of the FIBA Under-16, Under-18 and Under-19 tournaments, so this isn’t someone who has emerged out of nowhere to assert his dominance on the national stage. It has to make you wonder why a player like this would last until the fifth pick in what appears to be one of the weakest drafts in recent years. There’s certainly nothing we can observe that would explain this, but I’m well aware that there are haters out there who will insist on doubting his capabilities until he shows and tells on the NBA stage.

With that in mind, let’s focus on his weaknesses right now so that those of us who are super-excited about Jonas’ potential can’t be perceived to be blind to his faults. Let’s face it — a post like this is strongly inviting a “calm down” response unless we show restraint in our praise.

Let’s start with his apparent weaknesses: his lack of strength, which is to be expected from a gawky, six-foot-11, 19-year-old. He doesn’t always bring 100 percent effort on defense, as I witnessed today as he demonstrated an unusual tentativeness on that end of the floor so that he could stay out of foul trouble and continue to dominate offensively. And he’s a little too confident with his ball-handling abilities — a few times per game this tournament, he brought the ball up the court like a point guard and he’ll get stripped without impunity if he tries that in the NBA.

Have I criticized Valanciunas enough so that I don’t come off as a fanboy? Have the hater sharks been fed their chum? OK, let’s get to the inevitable fawning.

This kid is talented, driven, passionate about the game and about winning, and I’m now convinced that he has more upside than anyone to come out of the 2011 NBA Draft. If you watched Jonas Valanciunas in this tournament and you still believe he wasn’t worth a fifth overall pick in that draft class, you’re an idiot and I’m not interested in engaging with you in a debate about his potential.

I’m not guaranteeing that Valanciunas will be an All-Star — this isn’t Shaquille O’Neal from the 1992 draft where it was obvious that only injuries would prevent him from a Hall of Fame career. But in terms of his résumé, his temperament, and his potential, if you can’t see what Jonas Valanciunas is capable of achieving in the NBA — you’re just trying too hard to be a hater, and you need to be trying harder.

There is absolutely no reason not to get your hopes up about what Jonas Valanciunas can do for this franchise, if you’re a Raptors fan. Forget about everyone who is currently on the roster, this could be the franchise player we’ve hungered for since Vince Carter forsook us. We won’t get to see him in action in a Raptors jersey until October 2012, but if you didn’t get to watch him in the FIBA Under-19 tournament, I’m telling you as a hard-hearted Raptors cynic that it’s OK to get excited about him. We can’t know how he’ll turn out, but he looks like the real deal right now.

Comments (33)

  1. If was tentative at times today, maybe it has to do with playing all 40 minutes in his third game in a three days.

  2. Valanciunas looks like he is going to be a home run for the Raptors and Colangelo. The Cavs are going to regret passing on him for a long time, I think.

  3. What’s next for Jonas? Yi Jianlian’s chair?

    I’m not sure why we’re fawning over him for dominating competition his own age, he wouldn’t be talked up as a Top 10 pick if he wasn’t head and shoulders above everyone else taking part in this tournament. Nothing wrong with getting excited about his performance but it tells us next to nothing about how he’ll adjust to the NBA.

  4. Have you heard from any scouts or people like that to see were they think Jonas should have went now. It seems obvious he wouldn’t haven’t made it to 5, but could he have went 2nd or are GM’s too afraid to be Darko’d.

  5. MattK: Jonathan Givony from DraftExpress.com has tweeted that NBA scouts have told him that the Raptors have the steal of the draft in Jonas. I think his buyout might have scared Utah and Cleveland off, and the Raptors should be grateful if that is the case.

  6. The comparison I’ve heard time and time again is with Tyson Chandler, but at least in a tournament like this it appears that Jonas has a lot more offensive upside than that. I think he looks similar to what Kevin Garnett was around the age of 19.

  7. On the Euroleague team, where he is not a ”numero uno” guy, he always gives 100% on D, sometimes too much, a lot of mistakes and cheap fouls, but he was only 18 last season. And he never dribbles the ball playing in Euroleague, I mean, never…. You know, it was U19 competition, thats why we saw him taking 3 and dribble the ball few times…

    Some of you do not understand how he dominates. He dominates big time. 4th. pick, T. Thompson also played in U19 when he was 18. 8 points, 6 rebounds. Course he was 1 year younger but he also play on by far worse team, no offense to Canada, But Jonas’ Lithuania dominates 3 years straight and just won world cup. Jonas has so much more upside.

  8. Raptors are lucky to have him. You won’t regret it. He is a really great player. Best of luck for him from Lithuania!!!

  9. Isn’t there another tournament coming up near the end of August with the actual national team which he will be a back up for the Lithuania squad? For all the cynics, that’s where they should be looking to see if he can play. He’s going to have to go against the Gasol brothers among other legit NBA big men. If he proves he can hold his own there, then I don’t see what the cynics will have to point at. The guy is fun to watch for a big. He’s proving himself to be a steal at 5. Wouldn’t you rather have a talented big rather than the over hyped Brandon Knight? Anyone who watched the NCAA tourney and the season can tell you Knight wasn’t all that great. Sure he hit two game winners but he stunk up the rest of the game before those last second shots. Rap fans be happy we got a center. We haven’t had one in a while. We can get a point guard next season if need be but we probably won’t be able to get another big man with this kind of potential. Keep in mind were it not for the buyout, this guy could have been the number one overall pick.

  10. Buruzoth: The FIBA.com calendar is horrible, so I can’t tell when the senior teams play. If anyone can determine this, please post it in the comments.

  11. There will be The European Basketball Championship in Lithuania August 31- September 18

  12. Jonas is a great kid and he has proven that he’s capable as a professional player. But the most exciting bit in the near future is the FIBA EuroBasket championship which will take place in August in his home nation of Lithuania. Lithuania is a top notch team (albeit currently without its leader Linas Kleiza) which took Bronze in the latest FIBA World championshim in Turkey and we will surely see what Valanciunas is worth. Let’s wish him and his team the best luck. Basketball is the main source of the national pride to many Lithuanians so I’m sure he’ll do 101% to his team and to please his fans (of whom he has plenty after last night’s match). After that we’ll know exactly who he is and whether it’s time to party in Toronto.

  13. From Wikipedia:

    Note: All times are UTC+2
    August 4
    TBA Lithuania vs. Slovenia Klaipėda Arena, Klaipėda, Lithuania
    August 6
    TBA Lithuania vs. Czech Republic Klaipėda Arena, Klaipėda, Lithuania
    August 10
    TBA Russia vs. Lithuania Moskow, Russia
    August 14
    TBA Spain vs. Lithuania Madrid, Spain
    August 18
    TBA Lithuania vs. Spain Žalgiris Arena, Kaunas, Lithuania
    August 19
    TBA Lithuania vs. Russia Cido Arena, Panevėžys, Lithuania
    August 20
    TBA Lithuania vs. Latvia Cido Arena, Panevėžys, Lithuania
    August 24
    TBA Slovenia vs. Lithuania Ljubliana, Slovenia
    August 27
    TBA Lithuania vs. Georgia Siemens Arena, Vilnius, Lithuania

  14. “He’s playing against kids, inferior competition” I can’t stand this overused garbage statement. Oh ya? So is every player in the NCAA.

    Look at this statement that stands out (via draftexpress.com):

    “When asked about how they (U19 team Lithuania) would fare in the NCAA, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, one of the leading draft-evaluation sites on the internet, said they would be the best team in the country.”

    I rest my case.

  15. The timing of this tournament was fantastic. First of all, it has turned a lot of the immediate angst over the draft pick into either silence or excitement. The other thing is that fans were able to watch elements of JV’s game that probably won’t be on display in the senior tourney. Apart from the fact that he won’t play as many minutes, it’s doubtful he’ll get the same looks on offence or that he’ll even try putting the ball on the floor.

    What’s happening on the nickname front? Anyone proposed Tenacious V yet?

  16. Val reminds me a lot of Joakim Noah. Energy big guy that does his best work on the boards, wears his emotions on his sleeve, more motor than skill, tons of room to develop and already possessing arguably a better offensive game than Noah would have at that age.

    The value of having a guy like that on your team, who pushes others to play harder because of his passion and effort, is invaluable. It’s like taking Reggie Evans’ hustle and putting it into a more NBA-appropriate body. Even if he never turns into a strong offensive player, his impact on the Raps should extend far beyond measurable stats.

  17. question: what happens if there is no season this year? is there still a 2012 draft? how would the draft order be determined?

    Also, your review of JV’s performance is interesting, but building your case for endorsing the pick shouldn’t need to involve dismissing those who theorize a greater benefit to the franchise from a different selection and/or draft day trades as “haters”. Admittedly, there are many posters that likely wanted to see an exciting, nba-ready (as in, for this coming season, if there is one) point guard renewing the vigor of the team; or perhaps some who saw the large number of available “bigs” in the next draft versus the dearth of PGs and felt that this was a great opportunity for the Raptors to acquire a potential franchise PG…

    but if it’s of comfort to you to simply dismiss these alternative paths as “hate”, so be it.

  18. Do you really expect Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight to be NBA ready and renewing the vigor in Detroit and Charlotte by starting and leading their teams as franchise players?

  19. I honestly think he’s going to be a good starter in the league… However, he will leave Toronto in his prime and head down to the states… This is the common denominator with all the talented players the raptors have had.

    Vince Carter stayed and made everyone hate him so it would be easier to leave
    Chris Bosh did the same thing
    Turkeglu went to Toronto for a free paid vacation… he was never interested in making a change
    Bargnani is going to stay because of all the Italians that live in Toronto.

    The new kid will be all about T.O. till he realizes that he can get more exposure playing in the states… and after that he will be gone too… That’s why i think that the raptors haven’t done as well as we would have hoped. The Americans don’t want to win in Canada they want to win in the states. They have too much National Pride… I wish I was good enough to play in the NBA so that I’d love to play for T.O. you are going to need Canadians representing Toronto if they ever want to win… Unfortunately the talent in Canada isn’t as strong as in the states.

    My opinion… you don’t have to agree with it, but it cannot be wrong because after all it is MY OPINION!!! :)

  20. I think Colangelo targets international players specificially because they are more likely to stay in an international city like Toronto than to go to the US. I disagree completely that in the US he’d get more “exposure”. I also don’t understand your rationale behind believing that making a city hate you makes it easier for you to leave.

    Anyway, I’d say at this point that it’s assuming way, way too much to have a conversation about the kid leaving in his prime. Let’s let him put on a Raptors uniform and play a few games first, shall we? :)

  21. What really matters to me is how Jonas, in his early stages of his career and life, would do in the next 5 years to make himself better and even better.

    Will he be the last players leaving the gym, hates making excuses, and takes whatever accountability he takes pride in?

    Or will he make “because I get lazy” statements, and make bad Primo commercials?

  22. Since we are at it, Valanciunas being from ole’ merry Europe now has his very own sword:

    http://img215.imageshack.us/img215/8901/valan.jpg

    A meme is born/

    And he still has this passion in his eyes. Hope the kid won’t get spoiled.

  23. Chris, thanks for posting that. Circle August 14th and 19th on your calendars then. Back to back Lithuania vs. Spain (home and home series). Noice!

  24. Edit: August 14th and 18th, not 19th

  25. Chris calendar is wrong. Lithuania plays Spain September 4th.
    31 August 2011
    Spain v Poland Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Turkey v Q2 Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Lithuania v Great Britain Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    1 September 2011
    Q2 v Spain Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Great Britain v Turkey Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Poland v Lithuania Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    2 September 2011
    Spain v Great Britain Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Q2 v Poland Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Turkey v Lithuania Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    4 September 2011
    Great Britain v Q2 Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Poland v Turkey Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Lithuania v Spain Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    5 September 2011
    Great Britain v Poland Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Spain v Turkey Cido Arena, Panevėžys
    Q2 v Lithuania

  26. Check this link for EuroBasket 2011 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EuroBasket_2011

  27. Antonio – Carter and Bosh both re-signed to stay in T.O. They left because they were tired of losing, not because they were tired of the city. That “no basketball player wants to be here” idea is an oversimplification. It’s been true on occassion, but it’s winning that changes everything.

  28. Irma, Chris calendar is good! It’s the friendly matches before the Eurobasket 2011 ;)

  29. I’m stoked for Jonas…I could care less what people have to say, Valanciunas and the Toronto Raptors will come out of this strong. The Tim and Sid KID grabbed some great photos of Jonas meeting the President and some of his comments about upcoming Lithuania Seniors. http://t.co/WK1abbK

  30. I think it’s absolutely hilarious that people are actually complaining and saying that it’s a bad thing that we just drafted the best player on the best team in a tournament that directly relates to draft eligible players….seriously?!??

    Are people really that confused and disillusioned that they have to resort to fallacies and untruths to make themselves feel better?

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