Jay Satur from NBA.com talked to new Raptors coach Dwane Casey recently about a number of topics, but the part of the interview that got my attention was the last two questions and answers related to Jonas Valanciunas. Check out the interview yourself for the full excerpt, but here are the parts I considered worth quoting.
JS: You mentioned traveling to Lithuania this summer to check out some of your new players at EuroBasket. One of those was first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas. What did you see that you liked and what does he need to work on in the year ahead?
DC: Jonas has had a whirlwind summer and he’s just 19. He played in the 19-and-under tournament and they won that. Then he goes right to the Senior National Team at EuroBasket, they finish — in their minds — a disappointing fifth in their home country. So that was disappointing for the program and for him because he had played well with them. Then he turns around and has to play for his professional team in Vilnius and then they don’t make the EuroLeague, they make the EuroCup. He’s had to compete in three pressure situations right in his own country with the spotlight being bright on him, which is a good thing. It helps him grow up a little bit.
But he does so many positive things. He plays hard, he has a quick motor in terms of rolling to the basket and running the floor defensively. He definitely had an offensive presence that I was really impressed with. Now our key as a coaching staff is translating that from a European league to the NBA game, which is going to take time and we’ve got to be patient with him. But I’m really impressed with his skill level, what he brings to the table as far as hard play, running the floor, blocking shots and just his energy level.
He’s not a typical big man that’s a plodder, he’s athletic for his size, which is going to help him transition to the NBA a lot quicker.
JS: Jonas’ club team Lietuvos Rytas is coached by Alexander Dzikic, one of your former assistants in Minnesota. What’s the level of communication going to be like between the two of you?
DC: I plan on saying staying in touch with Alex. They’re using the same terminology and some of the same offensive sets that we used and are going to use here, so that’s going to help. Alex is going to help him with his English and try to get Jonas ready and let him know what NBA culture is about, so that will help the transition be a little bit quicker. He’ll tell him some of the things he can or can’t do and just prepare him for being in an NBA setting. That’s a big plus for us to have him there as his coach. He’s got a job to do, which is try to win for his team, but on the other hand he’s going to try to help Jonas as much as he possibly can.
Earlier in the interview, Casey talks about the type of players the Raptors could be targeting in the free agent market, so I’ll encourage you once again to check it out on NBA.com. Overall, statements like these make me feel better than ever about Valanciunas playing this season with Lietuvos Rytas as an excellent training ground for when he joins the Raptors next season.