The Raptor fan base has done a complete 180 degree turn on Jonas Valanciunas from draft night in 2011.
The booing has turned to cheers of anticipation for the big Lithuanian’s debut in the NBA. What are they excited about, and how did this change of opinion happen?
Bryan Colangelo took a big gamble with his own future when he selected Jonas with the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He was left with this choice based on Jonas’ contract situation in Europe.
The fact that he was not going to be available last year and maybe even beyond that was enough to scare off the Cleveland Cavaliers who selected Tristan Thompson with the No.4 pick in that draft.
Thompson would have been a pick for the Raptors that would have brought loud cheers, considering he's a Toronto native. The Raptors never had to decide on that, just on the fact that Valancuinas was still on the board. The fan base was talking more about something else.
The Raptors could have drafted Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight as the future point guard for the franchise since both slipped in the draft until well after the Raptors' pick.
The Raptors went on the offensive, promoting the pick of Valanciunas as a potential future star that the franchise could not pass up on. They had all kinds of reminders of the coming of Jonas throughout the season.
It was a great sales pitch, and it worked for the most part. Perhaps, it even worked too well. Now people expect a lot and have some lofty expectations.
Even here in the Bleacher Report community there has been "Jonas Fever" this week. You might have caught this piece on not having concern over Jonas’ calf injury suffered in player workouts prior to training camp. It must have concerned a lot of people though, as the Raptors released a statement about the injury this past Tuesday.
Also, there was a piece on how Jonas will impact the Raptors. This has been a theme not just here, but everywhere throughout the summer and even dating back to last season.
The Olympics was likely the first chance for a lot of people to see Jonas Valanciunas play in full games and not just videos from YouTube and elsewhere. He, in the end, had a bit of a disappointing time at the Olympics. The other Raptor that hails from Lithuania, Linas Kleiza, stole the spotlight for Jonas' coming out party.
In an interview with Raptors Broadcaster Jack Armstrong I conducted he offers a more realistic outlook for Jonas Valanciunas. “Short term, right now, I am concerned how many minutes he can play in his rookie year,” Armstrong said. “Can he figure out how to play with that enthusiasm, grit and toughness without getting into foul trouble early in games.”
It will be a big question to be answered. Jonas while playing in the Olympics had to forego playing in the Las Vegas Summer League. That would have given him a head start in learning those rules and adapting. The Olympics—while a higher level of competition—are contested under international rules.
Looking at the bigger picture Armstrong is optimistic. “Long term, I think he could end up being a very good player in the NBA.” It is not a case of people questioning his ability, for those that are not part of the Jonas parade just yet. It is a case of seeing this as a rather slow development process.
You only need to look at Andrea Bargnani as evidence of that fact. Bargnani is set to enter year seven of his NBA career. Even now, you have an element of fans that question if his noted improved play prior to injury last season was real or not. It might have just been a mirage of greatness.
So, to expect Jonas Valanciunas to have an instant impact for the Raptors may just be asking too much too soon. I have read and talked to enough people that I personally believe in this young man and his ability and potential. We just need to have some patience and see what he is capable of doing.
Why are fans excited about him? Well, part of that is the hype that surrounds his arrival. There is a buzz in the air about him. Not to the same level, but like when Ricky Rubio finally arrived in Minnesota.
A rookie that is a pick in the lottery is a sign of hope and a means to change.
In terms of a basketball talent, Jonas is all the things that Raptors fans thought Andrea Bargnani would be and isn’t. He is a tough and aggressive player that will play in post and rebound and scrap. At least this is what the Raptors hope and expect him to be.
This calf injury and a less-than-impressive outing at the Olympics might just be a message for all of us to temper our expectations. That is not to say that he will be a bust or anything like that. It is saying that he is a player that will take time to grow and develop.
The fan base in Toronto will need to show patience and hope it will be rewarded. Jonas is in a much different position from the Raptors’ draft choice this season, Terrence Ross. No one expects Ross to walk in and start for the Raptors this season.
In terms of Jonas, many do expect that and much more.
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