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Is this surprising new version of Jonas Valanciunas here to stay?

Jonas Valanciunas did things we’ve never seen him do before against Utah on Friday. Is he capable of making those flashes more regular parts of his game?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Jonas Valanciunas is just about the least surprising player in the world. Much like the exhausting conversation about his role and fit within the team, Valanciunas the player hasn’t really changed in half a decade. Great rebounding, deadly efficient interior scoring, stodgy pick-and-roll defense, and kicking the piss out of Andre Drummond are kind of his bag, and the contents have remained mostly stagnant since the early days of his career.

Until Friday’s game against the Jazz, that is. While you could argue that JV’s had better performances in his career (pick any game he’s played against Detroit or the Clippers, for example), none of Valanciunas’ previous 405 NBA games featured as many shocking thrills as Friday’s 28-point, 14-rebound, four-block outburst.

On multiple occasions over his 27 minutes of action, Valanciunas did things we’ve simply never seen him do. As much as the slumping late-game offense and sub-par effort from Kyle Lowry were the game’s prevailing story lines after the final buzzer, it would be a damned shame if we let JV’s exhilarating evening go unheralded.

Here are the three ways in which Jonas spiked his game with the extraordinary against Utah.

He Showed Defensive Confidence!

Jonas doesn’t seem like an unconfident person, per se. He seems aware of his immense strength and power and isn’t afraid to get riled up after a big bucket. You wouldn’t say JV has “swagger,” though. No one who does a Borat impersonation can truly possess it.

If there’s ever been a instance of JV being unquestionably cool, though, it happened against Utah, with Rudy Gobert bearing the brunt of JV’s brandished balls.

Adding to the perfection of JV’s middle finger to Gobert’s jump shot is that earlier this year, he was the victim of identical disrespect dished out by the same Andre Drummond he has roasted so completely over the course of their careers.

This Pistons visit Utah on March 13th. If the basketball gods are righteous we’ll see Gobert complete the large human pyramid of rudeness when Drummond gets the ball 18-feet from the rim.

Even more stunning is that Jonas’ defense against Utah wasn’t purely psychological. He actually protected the rim about as well as he ever has. With four swatted shots, Valanciunas picked up his tenth career game of four-plus blocks, and put an bow on one of the most effective defensive stretches he’s turned in as a pro. Over the last 15 games, the Raptors are allowing 103.8 points per 100 possessions with JV on the court — the lowest number of anyone not featured in the Raptors’ suffocating second unit. Since allowing a 112.5 Defensive Rating prior to the Norman Powell for OG Anunoby starting lineup shake-up, the starting front court of JV and Serge Ibaka has stiffened up, yielding just 103.4 points/100 as a two-man unit. Anunoby can’t be responsible for making up that whole discrepancy; Valanciunas and Ibaka have seemingly figured out how to co-exist. Jonas being a more capable and conservative defensive anchor, as we saw Friday night, has certainly helped.

He Hit Two (2) Threes!

Okay, so maybe it’s not entire fair to assert that Valanciunas has dodged evolution entirely over the last few seasons. After draining his first career three in the meaningless final game of the 2016-17 season, JV’s taking his delicate shooting touch out beyond the three-point line on a semi-nightly basis — he’s attempted 24 triples in 47 games this year, connecting on 10 of them as of Sunday morning.

Two of those makes came on Friday, giving Valanciunas his first ever multi-three game. Thus far most of his attempts have felt like oddities within the Raptors’ offense. Defenders don’t live in fear of him raining long-range death, so he tends to find himself with a Tony-Allen-against-the-Warriors amount of space any time he ventures 20-plus feet from the hoop. At that point, why the hell not try heaving one up?

With modest small-sample success is coming more confidence in his stroke — from both JV and the Raptors. Presenting, Jonas Valanciunas, pick-and-pop assassin:

Judging by Gobert’s hesitance to entertain the idea of a contest, JV’s still got some work to do in the league-wide respect department, but such is the journey for any fledgling shooter hoping to open up new breathing space within an offense.

“I put a lot work, you know. I put a lot of work, and that pays off,” said Valanciunas after the Jazz game. “I can shoot a ball, you know? The spacing is what matters. I can not be selfish with that, you’ve gotta find the spacing with that, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He Did This?!

If Valanciunas’ ultimate goal is to force defenders to think about him as a three-point threat, he may want to replicate this sequence — probably the coolest and most successful 32-second portion of Valanciunas’ 10,395 career minutes.

Whether in written or audio form, I have absolutely said the words “Jonas shouldn’t be asked to shoot threes because he can’t attack a closeout, in which case he isn’t really contributing to the health and spacing of the offense,” or some variation of them this season.

Valanciunas made that line of thinking seem idiotic while proving Jerebko to be the inferior Jonas with what has to be the first three-point line blow-by and yam of his career.

All of this bewilderment comes without even mentioning the Jakob Poeltl-like help defense and patented one-armed rebound JV offered up at the opposite end of the floor in the seconds preceding the dunk.

Whether or not his kind of swooping thunder becomes a regular part of Valanciunas’ game will depend on a few things — defenders will have to learn perimeter defense techniques from the Book of Jerebko, for one. More important will be JV’s continued growth as a shooter. In order to attract such aggressive close-outs, Valanciunas will have to evolve beyond being a mere curiosity from outside the arc.

Predicting “Jonas Valanciunas: Slasher” to become the most delightful aspect of a wonderfully fun basketball team is probably like picking the field to beat the Warriors in the Western Conference. That doesn’t mean he won’t stop working on expanding his reach to all corners of the half court.

“Yeah, but the sky’s the limit, you know,” said Valanciunas. “I still gotta work a lot and get my shot an even better percentage.”