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Raptors Jonas Valanciunas: Beyond The Hype

The Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas is developing into a very good center a year and a half into his NBA career.  His progress hasn’t been in a straight line, but from day one, there has been some hype surrounding the big Lithuanian as he dominated his age group in Europe, starred during international competitions and beat up on young players, prospects and hopefuls during NBA Summer League.  However, Head Coach Dwane Casey continues to be careful with him, often limiting his minutes when he gets in trouble against veteran NBA centers and letting Amir Johnson and more recently Chuck Hayes show him how it’s done when necessary.

“It is harder to go up against a veteran team because they know all the tricks and they are veterans and that is something we want to reach,” Valanciunas said.  “Every player wants to reach that one day – to be a veteran player.”

Valanciunas has earned some of his accolades this season.  He leads the Raptors with 16 double-doubles and is averaging 10.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in just 28 minutes per game.  As Casey continues to increase his minutes, the Raptors will have a rim protecting center that averages a significant double-double and that’s not hype.  He just isn’t a finished product yet.

“I have learned a lot and I’ve had good times and bad times, but everything – I am taking like a lesson and trying to get positive things from every situation,” Valanciunas said.  “I think I have learned a lot and still have a long ways to go.  A lot to learn and I don’t know a lot of things – I am still learning.  I am still a young player.”

By becoming a student of the game and accepting help from his teammates and coaches, Valanciunas is earning the respect of the veterans in the Raptors locker room.  Coach Casey is also taking more chances with him at the end of games, putting him back in after poor starts and solid play by the veterans off the bench and Valanciunas has been rewarding Casey’s confidence in him.

“Not only do I and other veterans talk to (Valanciunas), but the coaching staff and he is always watching film – watching with a teammate or a coach,” Chuck Hayes said.  “He is a student.  He wants to learn more and with a young guy, that is all you can ask.”

One of the big lessons Valanciunas has come to grips with this season is how he needs to play.  Valanciunas doesn’t ride a pogo-stick like a JaVale McGee or a DeAndre Jordan, his skills require him to read the game and be in the right spots to be effective.

“I am not athletic like they are,” Valanciunas said.  “I am not that athletic.  I have to use my other weapons – timing, reading the game.  The stuff under the basket when I am circling around trying to find an empty spot – that works, so I got to keep doing that.  That is something you have all your life, if you have that.”

It will take Valanciunas a little longer to establish his game and become a finished product in the NBA than a big man that relies on superior athleticism to get the job done, but his ceiling is higher because of it.  The propaganda he came to the NBA with from Europe probably set expectations too high initially, but Valanciunas is beginning to live up the hype and he has the potential to be better than forecast.  It will likely come down to just how good a student of the game he really is.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
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Raptors Jamaal Magloire On Jonas Valanciunas
“Obviously in the two seasons that we have seen (Valanciunas) he has improved from last year,” Magloire said.  “He has great work ethic.  I think he is 265 lbs and under 9 percent body fat.  There is a lot to be said about that.  I think that he has a world of talent and if he continues to work day-in and day-out, he will be an All-Star in this league.”