So the Olympics didn’t show us what we wanted to see from Jonas Valnciunas. After a very strong year in Europe with Lietuvos Rytas and a stellar Under 19 World Championships, Jonas spent most of his London Olympics stuck to the Lithuanian bench. He finished the Olympic tournament averaging 4.2 Pts, 52.4 FG%, and 4 Reb. This isn’t bad for a guy who only averaged about 11 minutes, but a far cry from his numbers in Europe (11.7pts, 7.6 reb). And of what was hoped from his new NBA home.
Raptor fans were expecting more. Fans wanted to see him dominate the post, swat away competitors jump shots and show himself to be NBA ready.
Newsflash: He’s not quite there.
This is okay. Jonas is only 20 years old and isn’t expected to come in and be the savior of the franchise right away (at least not by fans with a sense of realism). Impatient Raptor fans need to give him some time to become familiar with the NBA and to work hard on becoming part of a system (under head coach Dwane Casey) that will maximize his strengths and minimize the weaknesses.
In London he seemed to have a problem with his interior defense and often got beaten to the rim by faster players. He wasn’t able to get proper positioning and often ended up accumulating fouls. This is something he is going to have to learn to do better in Toronto, but Casey is the coach who might be able to help him.
Jonas fouls a lot. Not a good habit to get into, but something that is not uncommon for young players. There are going to be many nights in Toronto where Jonas has brief stints on the floor because of poor positioning or being too active with his hands. He will learn. Raptor fans will have to be patient.
Jonas is not Alexander Radojevic, he’s not Rafael Arujo. Raptor fans have to give him some time to become more familiar with the NBA game and with Dwane Casey’s system before pushing the “bust button”.
If Casey can implement a system that minimizes the defensive inefficiencies of Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani then I’m sure he can create one that keeps Jonas on the floor. Especially when Jonas will now be surrounded with defensive stalwarts in Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields.
Jonas has shown that he is active on the boards. In Lithuania he averaged double digits in rebounding and showed himself to be very active on the glass. He’s got a big body and if he can bulk up and learn to position himself right, he’s gonna be active on the glass in Toronto.
Far too often Raptor fans over hype their own players and are also often quick to dismiss them completely after a couple of bad games. Jonas is going to require much more patience than that. The “hype-machine” in Toronto has not helped set realistic expectations for Jonas and as a result we are currently setting ourselves up to be disappointed.
He is not going to dunk over top of French centers. He won’t win defensive player of the year and he likely isn’t going to average double digits in anything.
Disappointed Raptor fans who were watching the olympics and focusing on his stats were not watching the right things. This kid showed he could hang with NBA calibre talent. He ran the pick and roll well which will be a staple of Dwane Casey’s offense and something he’ll likely be running a lot with Jose Calderon off the bench. He was frequently one of the fastest players up and down the court as well. For a big man he is going to cause issues for whoever is guarding him and if he plays with Kyle Lowry there might be some unexpected fast break opportunities.
He will learn the defensive game, learn that the referees do not give the benefit of the doubt to rookies and that the whole is almost always better than the sum of its parts. With a vastly improved perimeter defense in Toronto, he will be put into a position where he can be successful.
Raptor fans just need to chill. Jonas’s lack of Olympic dominance is not a sign that he is a bust. In fact, the Olympics showed us he has a great deal of skills that will benefit this young team and also reminded us that his progress will not happen overnight.
The fact that Jonas is developing his skills should be reason enough for Raptor fans to remain positive. He’s getting better and although he may not end up being the immediate saviour we all were wishing for, he has and will continue to show flashes of the player we want him to be. With every rebound, every alley-oop slam and every game he isn’t removed for foul trouble he gets closer to what we want him to be.
His performance and productivity will be heavily watched and appraised by Raptor fans, but in the end I think the city and its basketball fans are going to really like this kid.
He just isn’t there yet. And that’s okay.
Like McGrady, Carter and Bosh before him, he will take time to develop. But also, like those players, fans will enjoy watching Jonas grow and develop before their eyes.
The Zan Tabak Herald