When Jonas Valanciunas was drafted back in 2011, the Toronto Raptors were a team in disarray. A look at their roster for that year reveals a lineup without many players with promise. Jack vs Calderon was replaced by Bayless vs Calderon in a never-ending merry-go-around to find an above average point guard. Ed Davis, who many believed a steal at his draft position, never found his groove. Andrea Bargnani, the supposed 7 foot tall European savior, had the highest Usage percentage on the team.
In Valanciunas, the Raptors once again had a player that fans could dream on. With efficient post moves and rock-solid defence, many saw Valanciunas as a pillar to build around for the future. While Trade Machine deals for stars inevitably begins and ends with the inclusion of Valanciunas, the big man has quietly progressed into an above average starting centre at the age of 23. While solid, he has yet to make that leap into stardom many envisioned for him. Going through the list of top centres in the game, it is hard to find comparables for big Val to aspire towards. Duncan, Gasol, Horford are all at the top of the mountain, but have passing vision that it’s tough to project onto the young centre. Howard, Jordan, Drummond, Whiteside, and Gobert are all defensive-minded players who offensively offer not much more as a roll man, which doesn’t leave many overlapping skills.
Finally, there’s Brook Lopez. A seven footer who has the free throw shooting of a guard, does work on the offensive glass, and punishes anyone who concedes deep post position. His weaknesses include a simplistic grasp of passing, slow-footedness on defence, and hilariously enough, teammates that don’t fully utilize his post-up abilities (Less than a quarter of his shots are off post ups, even with above average efficiency). As Lopez will never be the alpha dog on a contender, as the state of the Nets currently attests to, he can be a solid second banana who in his prime is a fringe-All Star. While it’s not a terribly exciting goal for Valanciunas, with him being now in his fourth year, it can only be seen as a realistic expectation.
With that being said, there’s still many improvements that Jonas will have to make to his game in order to lift it up to the 20 ppg level that Brook Lopez currently resides in. Firstly, if you break their shooting up into distances, you can see a disparity in how they get their points.
Notably, Valanciunas does a third more of his damage right beside the basket when compared to Lopez. The further out you go, the more that you can see the disparity. Lopez is very comfortable in the mid-range game, shooting above 46 % for the 6-19 foot range. You can also see it more clearly in the type of shots that the two big men take.
With everything else being relatively equal, it really comes down to Jump shots vs Layups. The types of shots that Valanciunas enjoys taking feel very safe. He gets it close to the basket, makes a move or two, and lays it in. As evidenced by his now infamous propensity to pump fake at invisible opponents, he doesn’t completely trust his jumper just yet. Which is a shame, considering that he has such a good stroke. I am a believer that any big man who makes his free throws like big V should be able to at least trust his pick and pop skills from the key. Valanciunas is no different, as he shoots a great 45% from the midrange.
Whether it falls on the coaches, the guards, or Valanciunas himself, there’s a clear opportunity for improvement that is not being taken. Offensively, the biggest hurdle right now into at least the conversation for All-Star selection is a dependable jump shot. My next article will touch on just how important that would be to this Raptors team in particular.