As posted on our RaptorBlog facebook page, Jonas Valanciunas was named FIBA Europe’s Young Player of the Year on Monday. Despite not knowing FIBA’s calendar for handing out awards, announcements like this shouldn’t really surprise us.
After all, Valanciunas did dominate the FIBA Under 19 World Championships (averaging about 23 points and 14 rebounds) before playing with Lithuania’s senior national team later in the year. In 37 games played with Lietuva Rytas this season across the various competitions in Europe, the 19-year-old is averaging 11.6 points on 60 per cent shooting to go along with 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 21.8 minutes per game. As a 19-year-old big man playing against fully grown men.
What I did find interesting about Valanciunas claiming the yearly award is that he beat out fellow 2011 European draftee, Enes Kanter, who is already playing in the NBA with the Utah Jazz (Kanter finished third in the award voting).
You’ll remember that leading up to the draft, many mocks and scouting reports almost always had Kanter slotted in the No. 3 position (behind only Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams) and usually ahead of Valanciunas. In fact, while Jonas received enough praise as a legit prospect, I’m not sure if I can remember even one big board that had him ahead of Kanter.
Cavaliers fans will probably compare Valanciunas to Canadian big man Tristan Thompson over the next 10 years or so, for obvious reasons, but for the sake of FIBA Europe’s announcement and the fact that they’re both 2011 draftees from Europe, Kanter will likely be the big man that is most often compared to Valanciunas.
As mentioned above, Valanciunas is averaging about 12 and 7 with a couple of blocks in almost 22 minutes per game in Europe. He is also continuing to produce at an incredibly efficient rate. Kanter, also 19-years-old, is averaging five points, five rebounds and less than a block per game in 15 minutes of action in the NBA, while shooting 46.9 per cent.
The numbers obviously heavily favour Valanciunas, but given the fact that Kanter is playing against the best in the world and is getting less floor time than Jonas, it’s hard to discount him based on numbers alone. Throw in the fact that Kanter’s Turkish team wasn’t in the U-19 championships this past summer, and we almost have nothing concrete to use to really compare the two.
But I will say this. If you watch them both play for their respective teams this season, Valanciunas looks much more impressive and polished, which says something about Kanter when you consider that Jonas is far from a polished product.
Kanter has been disappointing if you ask me. His defence isn’t as sharp as I expected it would be and at times, it looks like he has no offensive game what so ever. Valanciunas, on the other hand, seems to be improving his offensive game every time I watch him, and his defensive instincts and natural ability on that end of the floor should thrive under Dwane Casey’s tutelage.
From the looks of it, Kanter’s development and overall game took a massive blow from not playing competitive basketball for a year, while Valanciunas has made the most of an extra year to fine tune his skills in Lithuania.
Right now, Kanter’s game often leaves me confused. Raptors bias aside (though it certainly doesn’t hurt), Valanciunas’ game often leaves me childishly giddy.
While it’s far, far too early to draw any conclusions between the two European big men at this stage in their careers, watching each of them play makes me think FIBA Europe’s Young Player of the Year award is just the first of what will be many triumphs for Jonas Valanciunas over Enes Kanter.