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The Right Pick is Not Always the Popular One - Raptors Draft Valanciunas Fifth Overall

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The HQ discusses last night's pick, and voices its frustration with the fan reaction to the selection of Jonas Valanciunas.

You could hear the explosion from fans, the moment the pick was announced.

On Twitter, on Facebook, online via various Raptors' forums it was everywhere, and the resounding cry was a collective "nooooooooooooo."

It was as if Bryan Colangelo had selected Andrea Bargnani all over again.

Yes, the Toronto Raptors passed on college studs Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker, as well as top upside athletes like Kawhi Leonard and Bismack Biyombo to take a relatively unknown Lithuanian big man, Jonas Valanciunas.

At face value as a fan, it's pretty hard to stomach the pick.

Not only are we talking about a player who has proven very little basketball-wise at this stage of his career (especially compared to the Jimmer Fredette's and Kemba Walker's of the draft), but also one who may not be able to join the Dinos for at least a season.

Coming off a 22 win season, and a team desperate for an influx of top talent, that's indeed a tough pill to swallow so to speak.

For many fans in fact, this pick may have been the last straw, and some of my closest friends last night even admitted that the sliver of interest they had in this club had been extinguished for good.

And I get that.

Hell, I've been one of the most critical voices of Bryan Colangelo the past few seasons, so it's not like I was ready to sound the victory parade after this selection.

That being said, I love this pick.

We're talking about a player who is a consensus top option across the boards of people I trust in this process, and one that actually fits the needs of this team.

Sure, I would have been happy with Kawhi Leonard or Brandon Knight, but can you really say they were better options?  

Safer perhaps, but I'd say even that's debatable.

In a draft like this, after the top two guys, there just wasn't a lot in terms of sure-fire solutions (and I'm not even sold on Derrick Williams for that matter) and I think Toronto got a top talent with their choice.

The "Euro-backlash" that's now underway amongst Raptors' fans is frankly ridiculous, because it has nothing to do with the quality of the pick last night.

If Valanciunas had gone to UCONN or Kentucky, would everyone have felt better about the pick?

We did extensive previews on Jonas pre-draft and we're not talking about another Andrea Bargnani here.

We're talking about a talent that Draftexpress compared to "Andris Biedrins meets Joakim Noah," and who excels in finishing at the rim.  In fact from a recent Draftexpress breakdown:

When Valanciunas was on the court for Rytas, he was asked to play hard and spend a considerable amount of time setting screens out on the perimeter. Roll man situations accounted for nearly a quarter of his touches (2nd) and he scored on an absurd 73% of his possessions when catching the ball rolling to the rim. This ranked him 3rd in this category behind Tristan Thompson and Kenneth Faried, who saw less than 2% of their offensive possessions in this manner, a far cry from Valanaciunas' 23.2%. 

Sound like something the Raptors could use?

On top of this I love the pick on a macro level.

Let's face it.  Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Kyle Singler, whoever...none of these guys were making a the Raptors a 40 win team next year.  John Wall couldn't turn the Wizards around last season, and there were no John Wall's available at 5 for Toronto.

Now the team can let Jonas develop overseas for a year, return to the lottery next spring in a much stronger draft, and then make a big leap in the standings the year after next.

And if there is no lottery or season?

Even better.

The Raps get a free season of development from Jonas while the lock-out is on, and when things return to normal, they'll be better off for it.

Now that being said, there's no guarantee this pick works out.  

However I'm much less concerned about Jonas not coming over and being the next Fran Vasquez, then the fact that like any prospect picked last night, he simply doesn't develop as expected.  That happens.

All the advanced metrics in the world can compare him to Tyson Chandler, or rate him as the fourth best prospect in this bunch (as John Hollinger of ESPN.com did recently), but it's up to Jonas now to show and prove.  For every Pau Gasol, there are two or three Skitta's and Darko's.

In fact Pau Gasol is an interesting name to use in this analysis.

Some have used the Spaniard as a comparison for Valanciunas, but to me, the manner in which Gasol was selected is the better compare.

In the 2001 draft, players who were viewed as sure-fire future studs like Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry went off the board early and cluttered amongst this trio was Mr. Gasol.  The Gasol pick was met with much head-scratching and generally panned by most NBA fans as a waste of a selection.

"Why take some unknown European player when college standouts like Shane Battier and Eddie Griffin were available?", cried the general public.

"Or better yet, high school studs like Kedrick Brown and Saga Diop?"

And it's the same thing this morning.

As Michael Grange put it, Raptors fans have decided that "this is the year they've just said 'yes' to xenophobia."

I'm not buying into this line of thought, and I hope that our readers aren't either.

I hated the Hedo Turkoglu signing because I thought he was a terribly overrated player and a bad fit, not because he was European.

I wasn't a fan of the Andrea Bargnani selection in 2006 because I didn't see his potential as a 5, and Chris Bosh was already the franchise 4.  It had little to do with his nationality or any stigma that was attached.

There were other "European" options in this draft that I didn't like for various reasons, and had they been the choice at 5, I would have expressed my frustration.

But not simply because they didn't attend a D1 school.

Really, for me last night wasn't even about who the Raptors picked per se, but more the manner in which it was done.

It would have been easy for Bryan Colangelo to take a Knight or a Walker, but he took the player who he felt long-term was indeed the best choice for the team.  Considering the tighter leash that he's currently on contractually, that takes a lot of guts, and frankly that's something I want from my team's management.

In addition, this draft is really a minute piece in terms of next season.

For this team to improve, it's going to have to come via free-agency, the youngsters on the current roster, and whatever changes tactically the new coaching staff implement.

So before we all get too bent out of shape about this pick, let's put things in perspective a bit.

After all, as Bryan Colangelo said post-draft, at one point the selection of Kevin Johnson was booed, and we know how that turned out.