Following the 2011 NBA Draft, Toronto Raptors fans were visibly upset that the Raptors “wasted a pick on another European.” However, Jonas Valanciunas has a better chance to succeed than their recent overseas picks because he is not your typical soft, no-defense European player.
Instead, he is a player who likes to work inside, and should become a new favorite of defense-minded coach Dwane Casey.
Valanciunas excelled in the 2011 U-19 World Championship in July in Latvia. Not only did he lead his Lithuanian team to a gold medal, but he also took home MVP honors.
JV's stat line was very impressive, as he averaged 23 points to go along with 13.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. Against a USA loaded team with NCAA stars, he dropped 30 points and 15 boards with four blocked shots.
Although many Raptors fans hoped Toronto would pick a point guard, general manager Bryan Colangelo’s decision to pass on the two best point guards still available (Knight and Walker) appeared to be a good choice.
Although both are projected to be future starters in the NBA, a point guard-driven league, neither are expected to be All-Stars, or even top-15 player at their position. Since neither appeared to be a big upgrade over Jose Calderon and/or Jerryd Bayless, it made sense to wait until another year to draft a point guard with top-10 potential.
One thing we learned during the Dallas Mavericks' championship run this spring is how important a defensive-minded center was to their success. It was clear Casey and the Mavs' coaching staff leaned on Tyson Chandler to make stops throughout the game, especially in crunch time.
Casey will give Jonas Valanciunas a lot of playing time and a chance to develop early on because of his interior defense and ability to rebound the basketball. With Dwight Howard and the rest of the East's centers burning the Raptors, JV is the most likely candidate to stop them.
The main reason that Raptors fans were so upset with Colangelo’s pick was they thought they were going to get a player similar to Andrea Bargnani. While Bargnani is a talented player, he has become tough to watch for Raps fans, due to his poor defense, awful rebounding and lack of toughness.
Jonas Valanciunas is quite different than Bargnani. While Bargnani is a great shooter and likes to play out on the wing, Valanciunas prefers to work in the post. Also, JV’s biggest strengths might be his rebounding and interior defense.
One of the Raptors' biggest problems in their short history is their inability to keep their star players when they become unrestricted free agents. Many U.S.-born players don’t feel comfortable playing in a foreign country, and prefer to sign with an American team when they are given the opportunity.
Fortunately, because of Toronto’s diverse community, Valanciunas will feel more at home than in many of the other cities with NBA teams.