Judging by the number of people who have been asking me about this over the off-season, it seems that there were a few Raptors fans who weren’t sure if the Raptors’ fifth overall pick from the 2011 draft, Jonas Valanciunas, was actually going to sign with the Raptors and be on their roster next season. Hopefully, this tweet from @RaptorsPR will put those fears at rest.

 

He’s finally coming. It’s really happening, you guys.

Valanciunas is the main reason I can’t understand all the pissing and moaning I’ve been seeing from Debbie Downers over the past few weeks. Does everyone realize that if he had come out in the 2012 draft, he would have been the consensus second-best prospect behind Anthony Davis? This isn’t a raw athlete with unrefined basketball skills like Andre Drummond. Valanciunas is a polished, confident, experienced big man who has been on the radar as a prime prospect for the past three years. He’s not over-hyped and he didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s a legitimate stud and I haven’t been this excited about a Raptors draft pick since I started this blog back in 2002.

Everybody loves to compare basketball prospects to NBA players, so here’s my best Valanciunas comparison: I think he can be Joakim Noah with a better offensive skillset. I believe he has top-five NBA center potential and everything I know about him leads me to believe that he’s willing to put in the work it will take to get him to that level.

Is he going to tear up in the NBA in his rookie season as a 20-year-old? Probably not. He needs to bulk up and he’ll probably have issues with foul trouble while he adjusts to the pace and style of the NBA. But as Raptors VP of Basketball Operations Ed Stefanski told Eric Koreen last month, he’s not going to be intimidated: “This kid didn’t back down once. That’s what I like about him most: He doesn’t back down against older men who are pushing and shoving and hitting him.”

If you didn’t get a chance to watch Valanciunas dominate the FIBA Under-19 World Championship last summer (he was named tournament MVP) then it’s partially understandable if you’re not ready to believe the hype. But he’ll be facing off against grown men in the London Olympics, so now you’ll have a great opportunity to see how he performs on his biggest stage yet. I don’t know how many of these games will be televised or where you’ll be able to view them online, but I imagine it won’t be too difficult to find links to feeds on message boards and Twitter.

All times are Eastern Standard Time.

- July 29: Argentina vs. Lithuania — 5:15pm

- July 31: Lithuania vs. Nigeria — 9:30am

- August 2: France vs. Lithuania — 4:00am (Ugh!)

- August 4: Lithuana vs. USA — 9:30am

- August 6: Tunisia vs. Lithuania — 6:15am