We’re going to handle preseason player profiles differently this year on RaptorBlog. For each player on the 2012-13 Raptors’ active roster, Joseph Casciaro and I are going to email our thoughts back and forth and then post the resulting conversation on the blog. It’s an edgy new form of journalism! Or something…

Jonas Valanciunas, C, 6’11″, 250 lbs.
2011-12 Eurocup Stats: 16 Games, 23.3 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.6 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 63.4 FG%, 0.0 3P%, 80.0 FT%, 26.7 PER

Scott: The narrative going into this season was that Jonas Valanciunas was a raw prospect and that we needed to give him time to adjust to the NBA level of play. Maybe Aaron Gray would be the Raptors’ starting center at the start of the season while Jonas learned to stay out of foul trouble and acclimated to the differences between NBA and FIBA rules. After three preseason games, I’m not buying into that narrative. Jonas is the best center on this team, and I expect him to be in the starting lineup when the Raptors open the regular season on October 31.

I want to give Raptors fans permission to get excited about Jonas Valanciunas. He’s smart, disciplined and agile with great hands and tremendous instincts on the court. This isn’t a guy who plays basketball because he’s tall, he has a true passion for the sport and a hunger for victory — and he just happens to be 6-foot-11. He’s going to make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor, and I think he’s going to complement Andrea Bargnani in the frontcourt as well as he’ll form a deadly pick-and-roll combo with Kyle Lowry.

Am I gushing a little? No, I’m gushing a lot. For the first time in years, I feel like I have a reason to be legitimately excited going into a Raptors season. Deliver us from putrescence, Jonas!

Joseph: Precisely how I feel, Scott.

As our readers know, I’ve been as hyped as anybody (and have been trying to spread the hype) while waiting for Valanciunas to finally get here, but even I thought there would be an adjustment period where he either ran into foul trouble or just looked a little lost out there before things started to click. Now obviously, there will almost definitely be some stretches where he struggles, which has to be expected as a rookie big man, but from the way he plays the game and everything I’ve seen in three pre-season games so far, he definitely deserves to start on opening night and should be more immune to rookie setbacks than most young bigs.

The Raptors have a 20-year-old legitimate seven-footer (I think he added an inch over the last year) that plays like a true centre, can eventually be a dominant force in the post on both ends of the floor, is stunningly fundamentally sound, rolls to the basket insanely hard and runs the floor as well as any seven-footer in the league right now.

I understand the need to temper expectations to a certain extent, but if anybody thinks we’re a little too excited about JV, then I think it’s them who doesn’t truly understand the potential talent the Raptors have landed here. With all the talk of whether Terrence Ross was a reach at No. 8 in 2012 or whether the Raptors passed on a gem in Andre Drummond, I think a lot of people have forgotten that Valanciunas at No. 5 in 2011 was a goddamn STEAL (Thanks, Cleveland!).

I’m not sure if our readers have checked out Basketball Prospectus’ Raptors preview yet, and I won’t spoil it since it is a pay service, but if they want proof that it’s not just fellow Raptors fans getting excited about Jonas, they should give it a read. Also, before he left twitter, Sebastian Pruiti picked JV to win Rookie of the Year.

If there is one thing I’d like to see Valanciunas improve, it’s his taking care of the ball in the post. He generally has good hands and keeps them high (perfectly) when he rolls to the basket, but I’ve noticed that he has a propensity to turn the ball over if he’s fed the ball below his chest. Am I just trying to find one thing to critique now?

Scott: No, I noticed he was a little turnover prone when I watched him during the FIBA Under-19 tournament and the Olympics. It’s weird to say that he has good hands AND that he’s turnover-prone, but there you have it. Luckily, that’s one of those flaws that often dissipates as a player matures.

For all of our fawning, there are definitely some areas of his game that need development. It seems like most of his points are going to come off pick-and-rolls, put-backs and fast breaks because I don’t see much of a post game OR a face-up game yet. I know he can hit 17-footers because I’ve seen him do it, but whether he has the confidence (or even the green light) to take them is another story.

Defensively, he’s been a lot better than I expected. He seems pretty smart about not biting on pump fakes, he’s appears pretty savvy about when to leave his man for a help situation, and I’m really impressed by the way he doesn’t leave his feet on block attempts, Tim Duncan style. With that kind of control, he might not run into the fouling problems that he was widely predicted to have in his rookie season.

Joseph: It sounds a little ridiculous since he hasn’t played an official NBA game yet, but considering that many assumed he’d be battling foul trouble for at least the first portion of his rookie season, I actually think he’s already an above average defender.

As for his offence, I only expected about six to eight points per game if he could stay on the floor, largely for the same reasons you mentioned, that his offensive production is going to depend mainly on pick-and-rolls, dunks and put-backs. Having said that, I’d caution opponents not to sleep on his face-up game or how his quickness can expose slower (lazier) big man defenders.

What I’m actually looking forward to is how Valanciunas’ mere presence will benefit the offence of other Raptors. He’s constantly pulling a defender with him when he rolls to the basket, opening up some space for the team’s shooters. In addition his lane clearing ability will open up space for slashers like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and even Landry Fields. The big guy might not be able to get his own that much this season, but his presence can and should have a positive effect on the team’s offence.

Alright, Scott, what do you think? Have we raved about Valanciunas enough to close out our player preview series with this post?

Scott: I’m spent. Let’s ball.

Comments (7)

  1. The Jonas/Davis/Fields/Lucas/Lowry lineup to finish the last (Wed) preseason game was a bit startling for anyone who’s suffered through the always interesting but rarely good semi-athletic Raptors teams of the past 10 years. Even during the theoretically athletic Bosh era you had what looked looked like a wounded gazelle and old or clumsy men running up and down the floor. That lineup last night was FAST and more or less frightening to the opposition. Washington looked a bit freaked out. I think even the broadcast booth was a bit giddy watching Lucas and Lowry in the backcourt.

    It’s was a preseason game against possibly the worst team in the league missing their best player and I can’t exactly say Toronto had anything resembling poise; but I think this is the first time a closing Toronto lineup could be described as astonishingly athletic in ages. If Ed Davis can learn to inbounds the ball (and Bargnani and DeRozan can stay injured) they can be expected to win close games. Which is new. How many 2-4 point losses have we witnessed?

    • “‘…what looked looked like a wounded gazelle”’

      also nice one scott with putrescence, learned a new word there.

      as for JV… i’m not sure if i’m in the minority here but i’d rather see the guy string together a decent, relatively injury free season before drafting up his max money extension. but, hoping for the best!

  2. Yeah my Jonas Kool-Aid glass has a few drops left, but mostly drunk.

  3. I’m starting to worry for Joseph, he’s going to drive himself and RaptorBlog readers mad with the constant Jonas/Drummond comparisons all season.

    I like what I’ve seen from Jonas. He’s looked more comfortable than I thought he would but again, it’s the preseason and as much as you want to pick and choose when (Jonas) or when not (Drummond) to take it into account, it means less than nothing.

    • Jonas vs Drummond is just a red herring issue. There is no reason to compare Drummond to Jonas – they were in 2 completely different drafts. If anything it should be Ross vs Drummond, as Ross was the guy Colangelo reached in front of Drummond to take.

  4. I agree with Scott in terms of letting Jonas start – lets see how JV responds to baptism by fire. It worked with Bosh.

  5. You guys are too much. He looks great, but it’s preseason. He’s still a string bean. Almost all rookie big men struggle. You’re setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

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