While DeMar DeRozan even making the Team USA squad for the FIBA World Cup was a surprise, Jonas Valanciunas is now the key cog in the middle of the Lithuanian line up. Ian Levy does a nice job of summarizing Jonas's tantalizing potential. After years of being buried on the bench behind Robertas Javtokas at the 5, Valanciunas was finally handed a starting role at the ripe old age of 22. Partnered with fellow NBA-er Donatas Motiejunas in Lithuania's promising young front court, Valanciunas is expected to carry a heavy load on both ends of the floor for the fringe-contending Lithuanians.
Through three games, he's looked good where he can reasonably be expected to. Still, he has some growing left to do, as he tends to get exposed in certain situations. Here are my game notes from Lithuania's first three games at the World Cup (still sounds weird).
Lithuania 87 - 74 Mexico
JV Stats: 17 pts, 8-8 FGs, 5 rebs, 1 blk, -2. Full boxscore
Admittedly, I didn't get too catch much of this game, but I did look into Valanciunas's head to head matchup against Gustavo Ayon. The problem with using FIBA as a barometer for a player's performance is that NBA players will almost definitely have a field day against inferior opposition. With that in mind, I was interested to see how JV would look against another NBA big in Ayon, a guy who shines in international competition. Ayon carried the Mexican team to an unlikely FIBA Americas win last summer. Against LTU, Ayon had himself a nice game in a losing effort, registering 12 points and 6 rebounds on 6/10 shooting.
While Valanciunas was extremely efficient in the paint -- 100 percent efficient, in fact -- against the Mexicans, his defence was still somewhat of a weakness. Ayon had his way for the most part, and Mexico shot 68% on two-pointers. JV's help defence still needs some fine-tuning, and hopefully playing with NBA athletes at the guard spots mitigates his weaknesses. Offensively, he looked as good as he possibly could. We know he has great touch near the basket, and today was no different, with all but two of his shots coming from around the rim (layups, dunks, baby hooks).
Lithuania 75 - 62 Angola
JV Stats: 11 pts, 4-7 FGs, 13 rebs, 1 blk, +9. Full boxscore
A game against the African minnows should have been a walk in the park for Lithuania, but to their credit Angola hung around and kept punching back until the fourth quarter. Angola unfortunately doesn't have a single player with NBA experience. In fact, Carlos Morais -- he of the famed training camp invite last year -- is the only Angolan player to have gotten close to an NBA roster, and he isn't even on this squad. With no size to speak of to match Valanciunas and Donatas, the African Champions were a long shot to stay in this one. How did they do it? Reggie Moore, once of Oral Roberts, did his best Pero Antic impersonation (in both looks and playing style) and Eduardo Mingas got hot from three-point range to keep their country in it.
Angola stretched the game out and understandably sped up their tempo in order to keep the Lithuanian big men off balance. A whopping 45 three-pointers were attempted cumulatively by both teams, and all but one Angolan rotation player attempted a three. JV simply doesn't have the quickness and mobility to guard smaller players out to the perimeter as he was sometimes asked to do in this game. He did a commendable job of challenging shots in the paint however and limited Angola to only take perimeter jump shots. With no one to match his size, he snared 13 rebounds. Offensively, he was efficient once again. He took advantage of his limited opportunities in a fast paced game to still register a double-double.
Australia 82 - 75 Lithuania
JV Stats: 4 pts, 2-3 FGs, 6 rebs, 5 TOs, -15. Full boxscore
A game against an emerging Australia team promised to be a much stiffer contest than the previous two match-ups for the Lithuanians. This game was bound to be interesting not just because the teams were set to put on a competitive show, but also for the Aron Baynes - Jonas Valanciunas Las Vegas Summer League rematch from last year. Baynes looks to have a much more toned physique after this summer; do the Spurs have another rotation player in him this year? If you recall in the aforementioned summer league match-up, JV had a lot of trouble dealing with Baynes' size, even though he'd absolutely dominated the competition coming into the game. That narrative appeared to rear its ugly head once again, as Valanciunas simply had nothing to offer against the Aussies.
Offensively, Valanciunas was hounded by Australian defenders before he could get set and post up, which resulted in five turnovers. When he did manage to get the ball in decent post position he wasn't able to get his shots off around or over Baynes, and often meekly passed it back out to the perimeter. He also struggled defensively (biting on pump fakes, getting bullied in the post) against Baynes, who registered 14 points on 5/12 shooting, with 6 rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Valanciunas was mired in foul trouble in the first half as well, picking up two quick ones. He ended up playing only 18 minutes. As for the game itself, the Aussies hung on after a brief 4th quarter scare, riding a strong 2nd quarter for the W. Not so coincidentally, it was also the specific period of time when Valanciunas was having most of his trouble.
So, after these 3 games, what's different in JV's game?
- Physique - he certainly looks bigger and stronger. He might still be rounding into shape, but he's continuing to work on his body and looks the part of an NBA big. A large contingent of Raptors fans feel like he's sacrificing agility in order to do so, but it looks like it's all a part of the plan.
- Post Game - He looks marginally more comfortable in the post. That might be because he's facing inferior competition for the most part, but aside from the Australia game he's been very solid posting up and generally making good decisions.
- Defense - He should be able to deal with brutes in the low post a little bit better. I still wish he would show a little more on pick and rolls, especially since it's such a huge part of the international game.
- Unfortunately, that horrendous pump fake is still there.