It’s crazy to think about, since it seems he’s already achieved so much in basketball, but Jonas Valanciunas is only just now exiting his teenage years, turning 20-years-old on Sunday.
As a Raptors fan editing a Raptors blog in May, without very much to write about right now, I thought a Valanciunas-related post on his birthday was almost obligatory.
With Valanciunas’ post-draft year nearing its end, we can begin to look back at the young big man’s season in Lithuania and can finally begin to look ahead to his impending arrival in Toronto. The only thing separating Jonas from his new kingdom is some post-season play in Europe followed by Olympic qualifiers and potential Olympic basketball this summer.
After watching him dominate the World Under 19 championships for Lithuania last summer and holding his own as a member of the senior national team, fans were anxious to see what Valanciunas could do as a professional in Europe this season.
I spent a good chunk of time finding and perusing through as many Lietuvos Rytas boxscores as possible, and along with using this player profile page as a guide, I made some simple calculations to come up with what I believe are accurate statistics for Valanciunas’ season. While I have a solid understanding of the European basketball season format, I won’t claim to be an expert, so there could be games I included in these numbers that shouldn’t have been included or games that I’ve missed.
Here’s what I was able to put together based on those eurobasket.com numbers:
Through 66 games in 2011-2012 scattered across Euroleague, Eurocup, Baltic League, VTB United League and LKL (Lithuanian Basketball League) competition, Jonas Valanciunas has averaged 11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in over 22 minutes per game.
Those are some solid numbers for a 19-year-old centre playing professional against fully grown men, but they’re obviously not off the charts, and his turnovers (1.9 per game) are a tad bit concerning. But it’s important to remember that Valanciunas is being dealt with by Lietuvos Rytas the same way a young big man would be dealt with by an NBA team. He’s getting an opportunity, but they’re not going to live and die with him as their bread and butter. He’s being developed by Rytas and is playing less than 23 minutes per game.
However, when you look at Valanciunas’ stats per 36 minutes, the numbers tell a very impressive story: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals (plus a slightly concerning three turnovers and four fouls). When paired with his incredible efficiency (nearly 60 per cent from the field and 80 per cent from the free throw line), those numbers look pretty exceptional for a 19-year-old.
Of course, none of this matters or should matter to Raptors fans unless Valanciunas can ultimately produce in the NBA and become an above average NBA centre, but all we can go on right now are his numbers overseas, his scouting reports and his reputed high motor (and his Rambo-like will to win), all of which tell us he’s developing and progressing adequately, and this makes us childishly giddy.
We’ve heard the chatter about how Valanciunas might be the No. 2 pick behind Anthony Davis if he were eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft, and if you ask me, could be a top-five pick if you combined the 2011 and 2012 draft classes right now, behind only Davis, Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Having said all of that, let’s remember the basis for this post in the first place, and that’s that Valanciunas turned just 20-years-old yesterday. He’s going to struggle at times in his rookie year. As Eric Koreen pointed out in a piece for the National Post last week, the Raptors might be well served tempering expectations for Jonas heading into next season.
I believe he’s going to be an above average player and a potential All Star at his position if he maximizes his talent and ability. So the way I see it, as long as I see some signs to confirm that in his rookie season, I’ll be content regardless of the numbers Valanciunas posts as a 20-year-old foreign rookie.
The Raptors should find a healthy balance between marketing Valanciunas, getting fans excited for his arrival and reminding fans that there will be a major adjustment period for him.
If they can do that, and fans are reasonable in their expectations and projections, the evidence to date suggests that we’ll have an intriguing and personable young big man to legitimately get excited about next season.
So happy (belated) birthday, Jonas, on behalf of all of us
sports masochists Raptors fans.