Toronto Raptors v Minnesota Timberwolves

Seeing Jonas Valanciunas in a neck brace and on a stretcher at the end of Tuesday night’s game in Chicago was certainly concerning, but thankfully, the injury doesn’t sound to be too serious and Valanciunas is a gametime decision for Friday’s game against the Bulls.

Nonetheless, even if an overly cautious approach saw the flexion extension injury end Valanciunas’ rookie season, we’ve seen more than enough from Jonas to continue to favourably project the big man’s development going forward.

If you recall, back in September I wrote about realistic statistical expectations for Valanciunas’ rookie season based on the rookie seasons of some other big name true centres. Almost to a tee, JV has met the expectations of roughly eight points, six rebounds, one block, a PER of 15 and 20 minutes per night that I set for him coming into the year.

I also mentioned way back then that those modest statistical measures “seem to be the rookie bench mark of a future All Star caliber NBA centre.” Given that Valanciunas has met and slightly surpassed those expectations as a 20-year-old rookie big man from overseas, Raptors fans should remain excited about the Lithuanian’s future in Toronto.

To further examine Valanciunas’ potential going forward, here’s a comparison of his rookie season and the rookie seasons of Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah, two All-Star centres that Jonas was most often compared to before he stepped foot on an NBA floor.

Player Age MPG PPG RPG BPG PER TS% Fouls per 36
Jonas Valanciunas 20 23.7 8.7 6.0 1.2 15.5 .612 4.6
Tyson Chandler 19 19.6 6.1 4.8 1.3 13.0 .543 4.6
Joakim Noah 22 20.7 6.6 5.6 0.9 15.7 .539 4.1

The one knock you can use is that both Chandler and Noah played more than 70 games as rookies whereas Valanciunas has only played 60, but the injuries JV sustained this year are not the kinds of injuries that should worry anyone about his future durability.

Offensively, Valanciunas is miles ahead of where Chandler and Noah were as rookies and projects as a more effective offensive option than those two going forward, but Noah is an excellent passer out of the post and there are no guarantees that JV will achieve that kind of court vision. On the defensive end, Chandler and Noah are as good as they come in today’s NBA and Jonas had some defensive issues earlier this season, but no one will argue against the Raptors rookie’s defensive upside.

Another thing to note is that Chandler’s and Noah’s numbers didn’t exactly skyrocket in their sophomore seasons, but there is evidence in Valanciunas’ game over the last couple of months to suggest that he might be able to flirt with averaging a double-double next season given more minutes. For a 21-year-old sophomore big man in the NBA, that would be the mark of a pretty special player.

All in all, whether you look at his own numbers in a vacuum or compare them to the statistics posted by other star centres in the NBA, Jonas Valanciunas continues to project as a future All-Star at the position. And in this dark, lonely abyss Raptors fans currently wander, that potential in Valanciunas serves as a glimmer of light – a way out.

Not much is certain with this franchise right now, but Valanciunas’ status as a beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation is. After a year of hype without him actually playing a game, his rookie season has assured us of that.