When the Toronto Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall in 2011 then assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini described him as, “Tyson Chandler with good feet.” He may as well painted him as a traditional big man, but in Valanciunas’ phone call to the media in Toronto, he described his game as being like the Raptors recently departed jump shooting power forward Chris Bosh. In addition to being a big young center with potential to thrive inside, Valanciunas could shoot, but his play outside of the paint is something that has often been overlooked early in his NBA career.
However, since his arrival in Toronto, the NBA game has been undergoing what can only be described as dramatic change. Traditional centers that are mired in the paint have been disappearing and replaced by guys who can stretch the floor, make plays for others and/or leap high for an alley-oop and run like a deer.
Plays based on pound, pound, pound and backing down your defender in the paint with sheer power are getting less common. It’s become obvious as this season has moved along that Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.
“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done, so it’s a great shot for him, elbow free throw line and maybe a step or two higher where he can see everything, make passes, make plays because the floor is open now.
“In his career he is going to move out further and further with that shot and he’s got a good rhythm out there. He’s one of our best free throw shooters.”
In the New Year, there was Valanciunas before each game standing above the arc and tossing three-pointers and in the new NBA, this hasn’t looked out of place. Yes, it’s one thing to shoot jump shots in a gym by yourself before the crowd shows up and no one is defending you, but the process has to start somewhere.
“That’s the next evolution of centers,” Casey said. “Guys migrate out there. Lucas (Nogueira) is migrating out there and JV is migrating out there and I think that’s going to be the new wave. Ibaka is knocking down shots (from three-point range), so that’s the new thing in the NBA now.”
“We’re practicing,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report about his three-point shooting in the pregame warm-up. “Practicing to add this to my game. This is something new. Probably coach Nurse can talk about this more. Just slowly getting that developed, slowly getting that in my game.
“It’s not usual. Most of the time I’m not there to shoot it, my job is to go inside, but I find myself liking that shot, (so) why not?”
While Valanciunas has yet to attempt a three-point shot this season and has only lofted two in 338 regular season games, he is taking more jump shots than ever before. Two years ago, he took 88.5 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim. Last year that dipped to 85.5 percent, but this season it’s down to 75.9 percent. The number of shot attempts from the foul line area is actually getting noticeable during games.
“These days all the bigs are doing that,” Valanciunas explained. “The more weapons you have, the more I can do on offense. It’s harder to defend, so trying to add that in my game and have myself shooting those 15-footers.”
The number of attempts aren’t overwhelming yet and on occasion he is still turning down open shots even after making the same shot only moments before, so deliberating adding a jump shot to his regular offense is something that will take time to get comfortable with.
“Slowly getting there, slowly developing myself into that 15 foot shooter,” Valanciunas said. “Still I have a lot of work to go. A lot of practice, a lot of work to put in and that’s probably summertime work to add something new in your game.
“(Fortunately) we still got time in pregame warmups, after the practice. It’s been my work since a couple of months ago.”
Valanciunas is going to keep working on his jump shot and extending his range. As Casey pointed out, “That’s the next evolution of centers” and there are more than a few that have already evolved.
“I am not on the three-point line, not yet, but it is definitely harder to defend a shooting big than a non-shooting big, so I guess all the league is going to the shooting bigs,” Valanciunas said. “I still think that we need power inside and muscle inside, what I am trying to do (currently).”
This is an evolution not a revolution as far as Valanciunas is concerned. He wants to add an effective jump shot and extend his range, but he doesn’t see a day when being effective in the paint isn’t important.
“I hope I am never going to get allergic to the paint,” Valanciunas said. “That’s my bread. That’s where I get my everything. I still believe the game needs the big guys inside to rebound and do good things in the paint, but shooting is something that (adds to) a big man.
“Maybe in the last year of my career you are going to see me take more threes than twos.”