The 19-year-old European prospect the Toronto Raptors took fifth overall way back in 2011 as the gregarious future leader of the Lithuanian National team isn’t a kid any more. Now 25, Jonas Valanciunas is a young veteran on a team with few veterans of any age and he’s finally got something to say.
Six years ago he had to take a back seat to the veterans on his National Team and when he arrived in Toronto a year later, he was one of three rookies on a not very good Raptors squad loaded with veterans with about the same amount of experience as he has now. With English as a (not all that good) second language, he wasn’t about to take over a locker room or a media scrum.
“You got to have something to say before you say (something),” Jonas Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report at training camp in Victoria. “You can’t just be saying nonsense. You got to collect the news first, then you can say something.”
Valanciunas has been “collecting the news” for five seasons and despite an obvious lack of quicks and rather plodding speed on the fast break, he has been a very productive player on the glass and even putting up points. For the past three seasons Valanciunas has been a top 10 NBA player in field goal and total rebound percentage.
Head coach Dwane Casey may still not completely trust his big man to defend other teams when they go small, but Valanciunas has figured out how to be a very effective player against conventional lineups and he has earned a level of confidence in his abilities.
“It’s my sixth year,” Valanciunas said. “I don’t feel like an old man, but I feel like I can give guys advice, I can bring guys together, I can say something. I am not a young guy no more.”
The Raptors got young this summer. They are going to need the leadership and experience Valanciunas can offer. Two-thirds of the roster is still playing on their rookie contracts and the team is counting on contributions from some very young big men like Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Lucas Nogueira. Now in his sixth NBA season with 33 playoff games under his belt, Valanciunas really does know something.
“This is the time in your career when you are turning from a young guy into a mature player,” Valanciunas said. “You can’t get here without being a young guy. You got to have a couple of years, four, five years, being a rook, being a guy who is listening, being a guy who is getting everything into his head.”
Now it’s Valanciunas turn to be the guy younger players listen to. His game is still developing, but he has real experience under his belt the Raptors other young big men can benefit from.
“Playing basketball is fun,” Valanciunas explained. “It’s a job, but it’s a fun job. The biggest part of the job is maintaining your body, diet, practicing, but when it comes to the game, it’s enjoyment. That’s the fun part. Before the fun part, it’s a job.
“It’s hard to be good, but by working hard, doing what you are supposed to do, by listening to other guys, listening to the coaches, everything is in (your) hands.”
After five years in the NBA, Valanciunas has done enough to have something say.