The HQ's Chris Walder has become a Jonas Valanciunas believer...
"Who in the blue hell is Jonas Valanciunas?!!!"
That question immediately crossed my mind when the Toronto Raptors selected Valanciunas with the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
"How could Bryan Colangelo possibly pick another European prospect?!!!"
My patience had been running thin with core Raptors Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon in recent years. While both offensively gifted players, their lack of credibility on the defensive end has led many fans to believe that "A majority of European players are soft".
Call it shear ignorance on my part, but I was starting to buy into that mindset as well. It's not like Andrea and Jose were making a strong case against it anyways. It's hard to think otherwise when that's all we're accustomed to seeing here in Raptor land.
So why on earth would B.C torment the fan base yet again by selecting another European player for this roster? Did he not realize the backlash that would come of it?
As expected, their was originally some heavy animosity from fans and even some media towards the pick. Not only did Toronto select yet another relatively unknown prospect from halfway across the world, but they also selected a man who more than likely wouldn't be able to compete for the franchise for another year or two because of his contract with his club team in Lithuania.
Fast forward 1 year later....
Jonas Valanciunas is officially a member of the Toronto Raptors. He will compete for the team in 2012/13 after officially signing his rookie contract.
My feelings towards J.V have taken a drastic 180 degree turn from what they were a year ago.
I'm excited. I'm thrilled to have him aboard.
Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Marion and Hedo Turkoglu were all nice "immediate help" pick-ups by Toronto, but Valanciunas has the potential to have a substantial impact on this team for the next 10-12 years if need be.
I've done my research. After not knowing a lick of information on Valanciunas around the time the 2011 draft originally took place, I can safely say that I have a strong grasp of who Jonas is and the type of player he could possibly become in the NBA after watching tapes, studying his game and following him this past season with Lietuvos Rytas.
I have jumped on the bandwagon. I am a Jonas backer.
While the stereotype that Europeans are soft basketball players remains true for some, in my opinion, that doesn't pertain to Valanciunas at all.
If anything, you can call Valanciunas the "Anti-Bargnani". He loves playing "back to the basket" basketball, has amazing hands for a player of his size and doesn't shy away from taking the ball strong to the hoop if need be. Jonas has also shown a knack and enthusiasm for rebounding and blocking shots around the rim, traits that wouldn't necessarily be used to describe Andrea Bargnani's game.
This kid is the real deal. He was the MVP of the Under-16 and Under-18 FIBA European championship as well as the MVP of the Under-19 FIBA World championship. He was named the 2011 Lithuanian basketball player of the year and the FIBA European Young player of the year. His averages of 10.8 points on 63.4% shooting, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks helped lead Lietuvos Rytas to third place in the LKL
He's only 20 years old by the way.
The one thing I worry about with his arrival to Toronto is the high expectations placed on him now after garnering so many accolades not only at home in Lithuania, but in international competition as well. He's still very young and very raw skill wise. He may have found tremendous success overseas, but the NBA game and style-of-play is far different from anything he's come up against before. There is going to be an adjustment period.
Valanciunas isn't a Kyrie Irving or Derrick Rose in the respect that he's going to come over and immediately make the Raptors relevant in the Eastern Conference. I wouldn't even be surprised to see his first year in the league be somewhat of a letdown.
This is going to be a process. I'd love for Jonas to be an overnight success and just waltz into the city and be the huge star that he clearly has the potential to be.
Realistically, that's probably not going to happen. Does that mean Raptors fans should be any less excited about the guy?
Of course not.
Don't let the fact that he's another European big man cloud your judgement and overall perception of Jonas. We now have ourselves a diamond in the rough ladies in gentleman.
Valanciunas is no bust. I assure you of that.
Toronto FINALLY has their center of the future.
And it's about damn time.