Almost since Jonas Valanciunas arrived in Toronto, there has been overt questioning about how he’s been used, his playing time and there have even been suggestions (from less than reliable sources) that the big Lithuanian isn’t happy with the Raptors. However, when given the opportunity, Valanciunas has never complained. To the contrary, Valanciunas insists he is happy and comfortable with his role and his team.
Valanciunas has always come across as a happy, outgoing and somewhat mischievous individual in casual conversation – something that has only become more evident as his English has improved. He likes to have fun, keep things light and joke around with his teammates, coaches, team staff and the media at every opportunity.
Since his rookie season there has been a lot of changes to the Raptors roster and it is a very different locker room from the one that won 34 games two seasons ago. In this case, change has been very, very good.
“We had a lot of changes in this room. I am happy right now,” Valanciunas said. “I am happy with where we are. Everybody is doing a good job. It is a different locker room, different faces, but I am happy with where we are now and I hope we are going to keep doing the same thing.”
While the team is still relatively young, they now have 11 players over 25-years old and 10 players with at least 4 years experience. The only players in Head Coach Dwane Casey’s rotation with less than 4 years in the league are Valanciunas and Terrence Ross and they grew up a lot in last year’s franchise record setting season and seven game playoff series with the Nets.
“We build that experience right now, by last season, this season,” Valanciunas said. “Last season was really good for us because for a lot of guys it was the first time in the playoffs. Especially for me, that was good experience and now I feel much more comfortable.”
That comfort level or chemistry started showing in last season’s never-say-die attitude and has been a big part of the Raptors 7-2 start to the 2014-2015 season. The Raptors starting unit has been scoring a lot of points and the new additions are starting to blend in, but he insists they are all just trying to play their game and Valanciunas’ role might not be what everyone else is expecting.
“We are just playing our game,” Valanciunas said. “We are not trying to outscore somebody, we still have defense and are trying to stop guys, trying to set good screens.
“My job personally is not just scoring. I am not a big scorer – more of a helper for DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry) to get them wide-open, set a screen, rebound the ball, that’s my job. Everybody on the team has their own role.”
Acceptance of roles was a huge part of the Raptors success last season and it will drive any success the team enjoys this year. Valanciunas is happy and comfortable in his role on a winning team that is getting better and that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
photo credit Paul Saini, Fylmm.com