Which player was the sensation of this year’s U19 European Championship (and the guy whose arrival Toronto Raptors fans should be anticipating with optimism)? Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania, of course! Today, Sam Chadwick takes a look at this rising star and his recent successes in youth tourney play.
Name: Jonas Valanciunas
Club: Lietuvos Rytas
Height: 6’11” (2.10 meters)
Age: 19 (born May 1992)
Last year’s U18 European Championship had one dominating force, a player literally and figuratively head and shoulders above the pack. Jonas Valanciunas became the overall no. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, going to the Toronto Raptors in the 2011 NBA Draft; some see him as a potential bust and some see him as the best thing to come out of Europe since Dirk Nowitzki.
Well, it seems that Jonas has heard the criticism and taken it on board, using it as motivation to go and destroy the competition at an even higher level, the Under-19 World Championships, and bring yet another gold medal back to Lithuania.
Jonas averaged 23 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and one assist per game, despite playing and beating highly-ranked USA players from the NCAA such as Jeremy Lamb and Patrick Young, while also playing against fellow European draft pick Davis Bertans and Bogdan Bogdanovic. A statistical comparison:
Valaciunas: 23.0 points 13.9 rebounds; 1.0 assists per game; 59.8% overall FG shooting; 59.5% two-point shooting; 100% three-point shooting; 81.1% free-throw shooting; 3.2 blocks per game.
Davis Bertans: 15.2 ppg; 6.2 rbg; 1.6 apg; 36.7%, 46.7%, 26.7%, 75.0% shooting; 0.5 bpg.
Bogdan Bogdanovic: 8.9 ppg; 5.0 rpg; 1.7 apg; 42.3%, 45.2%, 38.1%, 58.8% shooting; 0.9 bpg.
Jeremy Lamb: 16.2 ppg; 4.3 rpg; 2.0 apg; 42.1%, 46.2%, 29.4%, 78.3% shooting; 0.3 bpg.
Patrick Young: 9.7 ppg; 6.8 rpg; 0.6 apg; 72.0%, 72.0%, 0.0%, 44.1% shooting; 0.8 bpg.
As you can see from the above, Valanciunas dominated the majority of statistical categories and, other than Young, Jonas contibuted a better field goal percentage than any other player compared by over 10%. His free throw percentage was unmatched — especially for a player of his size — and his 13.9 boards was double that of any other player’s, including 6’10” Bertans.
So what does all this mean?
For all you Toronto fans out there, you have BIG things to look forward to. For the lack of a rebounding presence given by 7-footer Andrea Bargnani, Jonas more than makes up for it and a potential front line of Bargnani, Valanciunas and Ed Davis is both huge and formidable. If Ed Davis can slide over to SF, then this team is huge; add in SG Demar DeRozan and PG Jerryd Bayless and you have a team that can definitely put the ball in the bucket.
The only weakness of this theoretical Raptors team is defence: Will Ed Davis be able to defend quick small forwards like Lebron James? If not, Toronto will need to start the likes of Leonardo Barbosa at the 3 and move Davis to the bench (as a potential a sixth man of the year competitor). Bargnani is already known for his lack of defensive capabilities and Valanciunas’ 3.4 fouls per game during the U19s is also a little unsettling; I wouldn’t be worried about Bayless or DeRozan on the defensive end, as they are pretty quick and can keep their men on the perimeter.
The only question now is whether the Toronto offense will score more than their defensive liabilities give up. Will they be the new Golden State Warriors or will they become a contender like Oklahoma City? For now, only time will tell…
Sam Chadwick is a university student, part-time sportswriter and a coach in the Solent Kestrels organization.