H: 6' 11"|
W: 240 lbs
(24 Years Old)
|Agent: Sarunas Broga |
Hometown: Utena, Lithuania
Drafted: Pick 5 in 2011 by Raptors
Best Case: Andris Biedrins Meets Joakim Noah
Worst Case: Omer Asik
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Jonas Valanciunas is an extremely intriguing prospect at 18-years old, but one of the reasons scouts like him so much is how efficient he was in the role he played for Rytas this season. In many ways, he's a clean slate, with some good habits that could serve him well in his development.
The young center played with a proficiency that belied his age, ranking amongst the top players in this group of bigmen in a number of different categories, including overall points per-possession (1.178, #1). Though it is important to note that he posted that mark in fairly small role (7.9 Pos/G), it ranks him well ahead of every prospect in this study, and 7th overall amongst all players in Europe.
Though it would be easy to point to Valanciunas's size, length and touch as the driving factors behind his efficiency, the young Lithuanian excels in a few key areas. His terrific effort level and hands made him a terrific pick and roll finisher. When Valanciunas was on the court for Rytas, he was asked to play hard and spend a considerable amount of time setting screens out on the perimeter. Roll man situations accounted for nearly a quarter of his touches (2nd) and he scored on an absurd 73% of his possessions when catching the ball rolling to the rim. This ranked him 3rd in this category behind Tristan Thompson and Kenneth Faried, who saw less than 2% of their offensive possessions in this manner, a far cry from Valanaciunas' 23.2%. Cuts also played a substantial part of his offense (20%), and he converted nearly a point and a half per opportunity (3rd) here as well.
Breaking down Valanciunas in the halfcourt, his ability to finish the touches he sees around the rim is a big part of his overall efficiency. Nearly 82.2% of Valanciunas's shots come around the basket in finishing situations, the most among all the big men in our sample, and he made 68% of those attempts last season (5th). A big target moving off the ball and a threat to score on the offensive glass, it is safe to say that Valanciunas thrived on catch and finish chances.
In terms of his ability to score one-on-one, Valanciunas has plenty of room for growth on paper. Seeing a meager 1.3 possessions per-game in the post (3rd last), and zero in isolation situations, Valanciunas wasn't asked to score with his back to the basket last season, especially in EuroLeague play. Part of the reason for that was his propensity to turn the ball over after receiving an entry pass, which he did at a 29% rate (1st). He flashed some basic post-moves in junior play, but still needs to develop a go-to-move and improve his physical strength. Additionally, Valanciunas attempted only 8 (of 427 total possessions) jumpers all season, although the fact that he did convert on 5 of those and shot 80% from the free throw line leaves some room for optimism.
An interview we conducted with Jonas Valanciunas at the adidas EuroCamp in Treviso in June.
Another previously unreleased interview we did with Valanciunas at a restaurant in Vilnius in December
The first time Jonas Valanciunas showed his face on the international level, he was nothing more than skin and bones – a raw, timid 16-year-old star struck by the bright lights of Madison Square Garden at the Jordan Brand Classic international game in April, 2008.
That was the first of many epic showdowns Valanciunas would have with Turkish phenom Enes Kanter, and while the future Kentucky student had his way in New York City en route to 22 points, 17 rebounds and a well-deserved MVP award, the Lithuanian did little to hint that he would develop into arguably the most talented prospect in European basketball just a few years later.
These were the first baby steps Valanciunas would take on the international level, but the talented youngster would progress quickly. First came the NBA Basketball without Borders camp in Istanbul in June, where Valanciunas began to show real potential. Then the Under-16 European Championships in Italy in July, where he led the tournament in rebounding and blocks, and most importantly, helped his team win the championship.
The following May, we were able to see Valanciunas once again, this time in a more natural environment at the Euroleague's Nike International Junior Tournament in Berlin. He had an eye-opening performance under the watchful eye of some key NBA decision makers, helping his team make the finals and making the tournament's all-first team along the way. Valanciunas' body was slowly but surely filling out and he was a much more confident and intense player than he was a year before. His work was starting to pay off.
Likely the prospect with the most overall upside as far as the NBA is concerned, the Lithuanian national team frontcourt appears to be in excellent hands for the future with the emergence of Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas—two big men that appear to complement each other extremely well.
Only born in 1992, Valanciunas is still a somewhat raw player, mostly due to his lack of strength, but he possesses a frame that should fill out and an incredible wingspan that allows him to make a huge impact in the paint at this level on both ends of the floor. He’s a fairly mobile big man who runs the court well and can get off the floor with ease, particularly for impressive dunks around the basket. His hands are both soft and extremely big, making him a very reliable presence as a pick and roll finisher, and the extension he gets around the rim allows him to finish everything.
Although he’s clearly an inside oriented player, Valanciunas can face up from 8-10 feet and put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two, possibly mixing in a shot-fake and then a crafty pivot move. His lack of strength makes it difficult for him to finish every play that’s created for him, and he may lack just a degree of toughness and feistiness that hopefully he’ll develop further down the road. Valanciunas is an unselfish player who operates fairly impressively on the court, although he clearly lacks experience and a great feel for the game, which is not a shock considering that he’s still only 16 years old. He seemed to disappear for stretches, and clearly needs to work on his conditioning level.
While possessing nice touch from the free throw line, Valanciunas didn’t show anything resembling a mid-range jumper, something he’ll probably be working on in the future considering the gene pool he comes from.
Defensively, Valanciunas can be a presence as a shot-blocker coming from the weak-side, as he possesses solid timing and terrific length as mentioned, but he tends to struggle in man to man defense in the half-court due to his lack of strength. He got moved around in the post quite a bit and was outmuscled trying to crash the defensive glass, although he was quite a force as an offensive rebounder.
While it’s probably too early to make any definitive statements, Valanciunas is clearly one of the most talented players in his age group, and will generate quite a bit of interest from NBA scouts over the next few years depending on what route he decides to take.
The MVP of the last U-16 European Championship provided ingredients for the intrigue with his performance. A 6-10 center with the potential to evolve into a power forward, and perhaps a growth spurt still in his future, he's a nicely built player with long arms, solid athleticism, good coordination and a notable understanding of the game.
His game still spells raw for the most part, but there's some stuff to work with. Offensively, he's a low-post player. His footwork is pretty limited, and he can barely perform anything more than a spin move looking for contact to try to seal his opponent, although executed with nice footspeed. Not a great finisher around the basket, he doesn't look comfortable at all using his left hand.
Valanciunas shows excellent shooting mechanics from the free-throw line, especially considering the kind of player he is. On the other hand, he barely took advantage of them in other situations, looking extremely inconsistent the few times he attempted a mid-range jumper.
The strongest part of his game right now revolves around his rebounding and defensive skills. Showing remarkable positioning, he usually finds himself in the right spot to challenge shots or clean the glass, while he rarely risks his defensive position. Jonas not only enjoys excellent hands, but the athleticism and length to make things easier.
Only born in 1992, it's a bit early to draw any long-term conclusions, but the Lithuanian has some serious potential and he's a player to closely monitor in the coming years.