Jonas Valanciunas and Joakim Noah

Raptors coach Dwane Casey was on Prime Time Sports yesterday to talk about the season and his thoughts about the Raptors’ savior, Jonas Valanciunas. He said pretty much what you’d expect about Andrea Bargnani — that he’s impressed by his scoring and his ability to play defense when motivated, but that “he’s gotta do a better job of going after rebounds” — and he had encouraging words for Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan. But his money quote was his response to a question about Jonas Valanciunas’ potential:

“I saw him last summer with the Lithuanian national team and the Euro games in the championships — big-time energy, runs the floor, rebounds. At the worst, we’re getting a Joakim Noah from Chicago — a guy who mans the middle, challenged a little bit in terms of scoring in the paint but as far as of pick-and-rolling to the basket, he has great hands to roll and finish. He hasn’t developed that consistent outside jumpshot at the elbows yet, but something that you can’t teach — and I do know that it’s an NBA skill — is each every time he walks on the floor, he’s gonna hit people, he’s gonna play with energy, he’s gonna play hard, he’s gonna bring an energy to the court that is an NBA skill. And being seven-foot, that’s a plus when you can have your big man with that type of energy and that type of aggression.”

Clearly, Casey sees the same things many of us have witnessed over the past 10 months. I’ve tended to waver between comparing him to Noah and Tyson Chandler, but with the potential for more offensive polish than both of them. I don’t think Valanciunas has Noah’s ball-handling or passing skills yet, and he’s definitely not the defensive force that Chandler is, but the comparisons are far from a reach.

In terms of when we can expect Jonas to take over the starting center role for this team, Casey referred to his old-school values when it comes to young players needing to earn their spot in the starting lineup:

“At some point… Now to say that he’s gonna come in here and take over the starting position early — I want him to earn it… Someday, he’s gonna be our starting center — I don’t know if Day One, I don’t know if Aaron Gray — hopefully, Aaron Gray, we’ll re-sign him as a free agent, or Amir Johnson playing the five, those guys may start out that way. But sooner or later, he’s got the talent and skill and ability to be our starting center. And I hope that he’s improved and he keeps on working this summer so when he comes in, he just kicks everybody’s butt, and takes over the starting center position and keeps it from Day One. But in reality, he’s probably going to be backing up one of our guys until he earns it and until he learns the nuances of the NBA.”

It’s worth noting that Casey seems to want unrestricted free agent Aaron “White Panther” Gray to return next season, and I definitely wouldn’t have a problem with that as long as he’s relegated to a backup role no later than midway through next season — assuming that Jonas doesn’t get hurt or show up to training camp in Andray Blatche condition. Gray was the Raptors’ best rebounder this season and he seems like a decent teammate. As a placeholder while Jonas acclimates to the NBA, you could do a lot worse.

Comments (10)

  1. Same can be said about most of my ex-girlfriends.
    Hey-oh!

  2. If given the time I think Casey can really get the job done

  3. I’m really surprised at how much the brass are hyping this guy. At worst, a Joakim Noah? That’s a lot of pressure for a very young player coming from a different country who is not nearly physically mature. I don’t question JV’s talent or motor, but I wish the brass would stop setting the fanbase up for disappointment. He needs to acclimate to a new culture and language, a new team, a new league, and for all his motor and height and reach, the dude is a stick by NBA standards. Look how long it took for Chandler to develop into the player he is today. JV is obviously coming into the league with more experience but it’s going to take time to learn how to quarterback a defence like Chandler or Noah.

    As far as the comparisons go, at least based on potential, I don’t think he’s as athletic as Chandler and I’m not sure he’s going to get as strong as either him or Noah, but offensively he probably shoots the ball better than either guy already. You don’t worry about either of those guys much (especially Chandler) in pick and pop situations, but Jonas looks like he can develop a very reliable mid range game which would be huge. Noah is also an excellent passer.

    • I don’t get the sense that Jonas is the type to get fazed by these kinds of expectations. They probably pale in comparison to the pressure he feels in representing his country in international games, and he certainly hasn’t shrunk from that spotlight.

  4. Jonas is a very inconsistent player so far. One day he can be dominant on both ends, the other he can be a shadow of what he is.

    A couple of observations from what we saw this year in Europe. Jonas began his season in Europe out of shape after tiring and tough summer with both youth championship and the Eurobasket. He was quite slow to pick up his game again. With the NBA season starting later and Jonas’ summer probably being a bit less busy, this factor may not be in play, but we should not discount it.

    Another thing is that Jonas is very young and vulnerable to pressure. This is what happened in the Eurocup semi-final this year. Jonas went to the court scared and got 5 fouls in 8 minutes – some of them were probably dubious and surely not fouls by NBA standards, but still. The next day without any pressure he had 10 points and 9 rebounds after first half and did not play much in the second part of the game. Definitely the first NBA games are going to be scary to the guy and this may hinder his performance.

    • You have to take into consideration his role on these teams, with Rytas they didn’t expect him to carry the team, the minutes and offensive game plan indicate this. And fouling in bunches is common for aggressive players at a young age, it is a good sign and awareness of these things come with time and I’m sure the transition won’t be as difficult for him as you try to make it out to be.

  5. Can we start a “Re-Sign Aaron Gray” petition? I know he has offensive limitations but I was at several games in the back half of this year (the Knicks win and the Boston win in particular) where opponents who were supposed to be bullies basically abandoned the paint, offensively and defensively, because they had nobody that could move him, so he grabbed every rebound. Rasho’s first year here demonstrated the value of a big, strong guy who knows where to stand…..and our experiments with Hoffa, among many others, should have taught us how rare it is to find someone huge who’s also savvy.

  6. I’d sign it if it’s a “Just for men” petition. By that, I mean I want to leave just a touch of Gray.

  7. Scott – on one hand you love Amir J, and on the other you have Jonas replacing him in the starting lineup half a season into his career?

    I fear you guys are going to be sadly disappointed next year. Jonas may have a lot of upside but he’s hardly NBA ready, especially alongside Bargnani.

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