It hasn’t been lost on the Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas that his head coach and teams around the league have been going small and that means traditional centers like himself often find themselves anchored to the bench in the fourth quarter. Even in games where Valanciunas was putting up big numbers early on, Coach Casey would turn to the more mobile jump shooting power forward Amir Johnson at center in the crunch.
Valanciunas isn’t afraid to put in the extra work required to improve his game and he can currently be found at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas honing his craft while the rookies, sophomores and free agents practice for the the upcoming games.
“I was working on my shot selection,” Valanciunas said. “I was working on my quickness, bringing my game to be like a power forward – not like a slow center. I am trying to increase my speed and my ability to shoot a mid-range shot. To be like a quicker guy.”
The big Lithuanian isn’t out to lunch about improving his mid-range game. Valanciunas already has a solid jump shot. His mechanics are sound. The only thing holding him back over the past couple of seasons has been himself.
Valanciunas took about 89 percent of his shot attempts from within 10 feet of the basket last season and he hit on about 59.6 percent of them. From 10 feet out to the three-point line, he still hit a respectable 39 percent. The problem for a player trying to develop a mid-range game being, he only attempted about 11 percent of his shots from that range.
His hesitation to let the ball fly from mid-range has been obvious. It has made his jump shot less effective and better defenders have stopped paying attention to his shot fakes.
“I am going to keep my (current) game,” Valanciunas insisted. “I just want to add some jump shooting and be able to shoot from outside, not just backing people down.”
This isn’t something his coaches have been demanding. Valanciunas is doing this on his own and perhaps at the request of his agent. The young center is heading into his fourth NBA season and if he doesn’t negotiate a contract extension this summer, next July he’ll be on the market as a restricted free agent. Adding possible power forward to his resume will boost his market value.
“We had no conversations about (power forward),” Valanciunas said. “I feel like I can prove that I can be a center and a power forward too.”
The Raptors will undoubtedly play a lot of small ball again next season and if Valanciunas wants those minutes at center, he’ll have to show the quickness and mid-range skills that he says he’s working on. He has the jump shot already, if he can find the confidence to use it. Quickness is probably going to have to come from better court awareness and that could prove to be the real test. It’s unlikely his feet will get any faster over the summer.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com
“I gained 20 lbs in one year,” Caboclo explained. “I’ve been working all summer on defense and conditioning to prepare for the Summer League.”