Live from Eurobasket 2011 - A Look at the Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas

I have a dream.

No wait...I HAD a dream.

It was last night and no word of lie, in the dream, Jonas Valanciunas grabbed a rebound in international play, and crammed it on Andrea Bargnani.

Now this scenario is impossible this year of course, with Andrea's Italian team out of Eurobasket contention, however Jonas cramming on say a Marc Gasol?

We may yet see this.

After all, Lithuania is tied with Spain at the top of Group A with two wins and a loss, and could very well face each other when all is said and done.

That would present an interesting match-up between Gasol and Valanciunas, and perhaps a good indicator of Big Val's upside as he heads to the NBA in about a year's time.

How has Valanciunas fared so far this tourney?

His averages of 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds don't sound like much, but considering he's only played an average of 17 minutes a match, that's not too shabby.  Averaged over 28 minutes, it's likely we'd be talking about 15 points and 6 rebounds to go with a pretty surreal shooting percentage from the field.

He's currently shooting 75 per cent from two-point range (he's attempted no 3's, thankfully) and while the 66 per cent free-throw number could use some improvement, I'm sure Raptors' fans could live with such a number considering his other metrics.

Oh...and that includes averaging a block a game so far, in again, limited burn.

But enough about the stats, again we're lucky enough to have Zorgon from Welcome to Loud City give us his first-hand take on Mr. Valanciunas:

Before I begin this recap, I must preface it with a disclaimer. For me, at least, European basketball is a lot harder to follow than it's NBA counterpart. Many players on the floor play more or less the same role, and it's tougher to distinguish exactly how good each one is. This is especially true in the context of the system most European teams play in, which involves a lot of passing and a lot of open shots.

With that being said, I had no trouble in separating Joans Valanciunas from the crowd during this game. He was up against one of the top 5 Centers in the tournament, Nenad Krstic, and he found a way to shine offensively. His main weapon against Krstic was the speed he possessed. He could easily run around Krstic on any kind of roll or backdoor play, and make the score look easy. This lowered Krstic's effectiveness, as his scoring would be negated by Valanciunas on the other end.

At the same time, you could see Valanciunas do certain things that you would think were fitting of Chris Kaman or Ali Traore. He could battle with the best of them for boards and garbage points, always somehow muscling his way or finding the right place to put the ball. Thirdly, Valanciunas runs the floor much better than most big men. He was regularly involved in fast break plays, throwing the ball to the post from halfcourt or completing a play himself. Fourthly, he had a sweet touch around the basket. He was always in position to rebound his own shot if need be, but even his off-balance tips seemed to have come from a smartly placed hand. The best example of this skill was a sweet left-handed hook he hit from about 7 feet out.

I do have a few knocks on his play, though. He didn't really show a whole lot of ball handling or shooting skills in this game. I guess you could chalk that up as knowing how to take care of the ball or knowing when not to shoot. But he would elect not to dribble whenever possible, and he was hardly ever in position to shoot, so, chances are, those skills aren't the greatest. He also tried a bit too hard to find his way around his opponent, rather than just biting the bullet and receiving the pass in front of his defender. This led to a few too many turnovers on his part.

Situation-wise, Valanciunas had two excellent runs in the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth, he came in, scored, and had a block, continuing Lithuania's already strong lead. Later in the quarter, he did exactly the same thing, killing any chance Serbia had of a comeback. And, just for good measure, he faked out Nenad Krstic and forced him to commit his first foul of the game.

All in all, Valanciunas definitely isn't a finished product, but it will be interesting to see how he evolves over the next few years. With work, he could turn into a Luis Scola type of player, being a deadly scorer in the paint and scrappy defender. But, I could just as easily see him becoming an Anderson Varejao. A spot player that you use for energy in certain situations, but not somebody you can rely on consistently or build around. Either way, if I were a Raptor fan, I'd be excited for this foreign product, as he fits into the Raptor mold quite well.    

A big thanks again to Zorgon and a very positive review of the Raptors' top pick in this past draft.  Reading reports like this, it's extremely hard not to be excited about his future in the league.

We'll be keeping tabs on Valanciunas as he and the host Lithuanians take on Tony Parker and France today in what should be a very entertaining affair...

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