Jonas Valanciunas’ well documented Summer League dominance and the tournament’s MVP award that followed has Raptors fans understandably optimistic about his role as a legitimate building block for the future.
As I’ve mentioned countless times over the last couple of weeks, for me, it wasn’t about the numbers Valanciunas posted in Las Vegas (where numbers often lie), but rather about the progress being made in his rapidly developing game.
Jonas is a 21-year-old seven-footer with an actual post game, which is more than you can say about a lot of veteran NBA big men today, let alone rookie and sophomore big men. He’s already at a point where he’s finishing with both hands around the rim, effectively uses a hook shot, he runs the floor about as well as you can ask a seven-footer to, he alters shots and protects the rim on defence and he rebounds.
He’s far from a finished product and he still has plenty of room for improvement on both ends of the floor, but at 21, you can make the argument that Valanciunas is already the most valuable piece of the Raptors’ potential success, both in the short term and the long term.
But just what exactly is the 21-year-old’s value?
Before his rookie season got underway, I wrote a post about how untouchable I considered Valanciunas to be. In hindsight, that extremely short list was probably too selective, but at the time, I couldn’t bring myself to fake-trade the youngster before even getting glimpse of him in the NBA.
A year later, with an NBA season under his belt, Valanciunas looking like a star big man in the making and some other young players rising up in the Association, I thought I’d revisit the list.
Here’s the deal. I ask myself, in some alternate reality universe where contracts and salary matching under the CBA are not taken into account during trades and if in some alternate universe every single player in the NBA was available in a one-for-one trade involving Valanciuans, would I pull the trigger on that trade at this stage in each player’s career?
The “this stage of his career” component is a big part of this. There are plenty of guys playing right now who are still stars and whose careers Valanciunas will likely never match, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would trade Valanciunas for a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant. I’d trade him for a 25-year-old Chris Bosh, for example, but not for 29-year-old Chris Bosh. Keep that it mind when you’re wondering where guys like Kobe, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade are on this list.
Now without further ado, here’s the still very selective list of NBA players I would trade Jonas Valanciunas for in 2013…
(age in parentheses)
- LeBron James (28)
- Kevin Durant (24)
- Chris Paul (28)
- Derrick Rose (24)
- Dwight Howard (27)
- Russell Westbrook (24)
- James Harden (23)
- Kyrie Irving (21)
- Stephen Curry (25)
- Paul George (23)
- Anthony Davis (20)
- Bonus: No. 1 overall pick in 2014
Then there are a couple of young superstar big men that you would think should be no-brainers, but whether it’s injuries or a glaring hole in their games, I’d take longer to accept the offer than the average NBA fan would, if I even accepted the offer at all…
- Kevin Love (24 – Has missed 106 games over the last four seasons)
- Blake Griffin (24- History of left knee issues and a defensive albatross)
While there will surely be some that ridicule this list for who isn’t on it, there are probably others who might not be sold on Davis yet, who might be troubled by Dwight Howard’s back or Stephen Curry’s ankles or about the two names listed above and who actually believe the list should be shorter.
In addition to the names above, there are potential young stars and some established stars around the league whose fans would probably not be willing to trade for Valanciunas, but that I wouldn’t trade Valanciunas for either.
For example, I wouldn’t trade Jonas for Kenneth Faried, but Nuggets fans probably wouldn’t trade Faried for Valanciunas. They’re just both so early in their careers, and both look so promising that it would be hard for either team and fan base to give up on one for the other. That list of debatable young stars is as follows:
- Damian Lillard (23)
- John Wall (22)
- Kawhi Leonard (22)
- Kenneth Faried (23)
- DeMarcus Cousins (22)
- Ricky Rubio (22)
- Andre Drummond (19)
As for the already established stars, it would make sense for a contending team built to win now and in need of a centre to trade Valanciunas for Marc Gasol, for example, but I don’t see it making sense for the young, rebuilding Raptors, and remember that I’m doing this from the vantage point of if I was running the Raps in 2013.
On that note, these next names are guys I could understand a contending team or a non-Raptors fan considering trading Valanciunas for, but names that I personally wouldn’t flip JV for in 2013.
- Rajon Rondo (27 – I’ve gone back and forth on having Rondo in my list of 12 that I would trade JV for)
- Marc Gasol (28)
- Al Horford (27)
- Joakim Noah (28)
- LaMarcus Aldridge (28)
So there you have it. Eleven players and a pick I would trade Valanciunas for straight up, a couple of players I would add if not for injuries and defensive deficiencies, and 12 more names that I think would make for an interesting debate and discussion despite the fact that I wouldn’t trade Valanciunas for them today.
My mind changes on a day-to-day basis, but for the most part I fluctuate between 10-15 players that I would actually trade Valanciunas for, a testament to just how high I think his ceiling can be and how bright his future looks.
If you’re skeptical, as some coworkers of mine have been in these discussions, I’ll give you the same challenge I gave them – try to come up with a list of 20 players you would absolutely trade Valanciunas for right now, in Toronto’s position, without question. Unless you underrate age in the discussion, I don’t think you can do it.