2011 Draft Prospect Profile - Jonas Valanciunas

Editor's note: I was able to purchase a season pass for EuroLeague.TV - The pass allows me to watch most EuroLeague games live, and I can watch highlights and recorded full games for selected match ups. One thing I've noticed about EuroLeague play is that the referees allow bit more physical play. The games seems to feature many fewer isolation plays and much more cutting and passing. The Pick and Roll play is a staple of many teams, but the pick-and-pop is not. Also, there is much less questioning of the referees, and never any outward reactions that would show up the referees at all... and a more deferential treatment of the referees in general by both players and Coaches. Players raise their hand when a foul is called. Generally speaking, the players themselves aren't nearly as athletic as NBA players - but they play a more "team" oriented brand of basketball.

Some other things I like about the European brand of my favorite game. The fans are absolutely nuts. Frequently chanting and swaying, or clapping in unison. I'm still not sure whether all the whistling is their equivalent of booing, or if they're acknowledging a good play. You don't see players tripping over photographers inches away from the court - because there's plenty of sideline and end line room for players to come down without falling into cameras, cords, microphones tables, TV equipment, computers and bodies - so as a result, the fans sit a bit farther away from the action on the court.

I will be taking a look at some of the more highly ranked International players, like Jan Vesely (6'11" SF/PF for KK Partizan Belgrade) , Donatas Motiejunas (7-foot Center playing for Benetton Treviso) and the subject of this draft profile:


Jonas Valanciunas, 18 years old, 6'11" 240 pounds
Team: Lietuvos Rytas in the Turkish League
Projected NBA Position: Center


 

Valandiunas is listed at 6'11", but I would be surprised if he doesn't measure out a bit less - perhaps 6'10". He also doesn't look anywhere near the listed 240 pounds. It's difficult to tell from the EuroLeague.TV camera shots (they seem to shoot their games from the cheap seats) - but he looks more like 225 pounds to me. He's got a good frame, and wide shoulders, so he should be able to add weight. He's got excellent length, with tremendously long arms. He's got really big hands that allow him to catch just about anything thrown his way. From reading other draft reports about him, I was expecting to see a superior athlete. But like Enes Kanter, Valanciunas is probably just a "good" athlete. He runs the floor, and is very fluid with his overall movements running up and down the court. He's quick enough to guard on the perimeter and has adequate jumping abilities. He can get off the floor and wow you in transition, or if he has a dribble or two towards the rim.... but from a stand still, he lacks the explosiveness that some of the elite NBA big men have. There were times when I expected him to explode to the rim for a dunk, but he instead he just rose up and laid the ball in the basket. That's probably the difference (athletically) between an Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas and say Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee; that explosive jumping ability. All of them run the floor. All look fluid and smooth in their movements. They're all fast, up and down the court; but Howard and McGee look like they take off from a trampoline when they jump - while Kanter and Valanciunas jump like regular human beings. Jonas Valanciunas reminds me, physically, like 6'10" 225 pound Cole Aldrich as a Freshman at Kansas.


I was able to watch 6 Lietuvos Rytas EuroLeague games; three regular season games and three Top-16 playoff games. Valanciunas only started one game (at Unicaja), and usually played between 15-20 minutes a game. He looks to be in the regular rotation for L-Rytas, and provides a lot of energy and some production while he's in. His per 40 minute number are very good: 20.4 points, 14.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. But probably the biggest reason he doesn't play more minutes for L-Rytas is his foul rate, which is an astronomically high 8.3 fouls per 40 minutes. Part of the problem is his aggressiveness on defense, and part is probably that the game is moving very fast for him. You'd hope that he can keep his aggressiveness, while still getting the game to slow down a bit.

On Offense, Valanciunas has little in the way of a post game. He lacks the lower body strength to establish and hold low post position. When he does get the ball down low, his only post move that I've seen is to try to turn and bank the ball off the glass. I haven't seen any indication of a drop step, turn to the middle, jump hook, fall away jumper, or any other post moves at all. He's got excellent footwork inside, but rarely does anything to merit using his feet. When he does make a move, it's always left - so he can use his right hand. He does draw his fair share of fouls inside, but since he lacks upper body strength, he rarely finishes through contact. Adding some upper body strength would turn those 2-shot fouls into And-Ones.

As for an outside shot, Valanciunas has one, but he rarely gets to feature it. When he does shoot, it's usually from 14-feet in - never from farther out. I've read interviews where he says he's a very good 3-point shooter, but I have yet to see him shoot even one 3-pointer in a game. He has good form on his jumper, with excellent mechanics and good lift from his legs. He hits a decent percentage of his outside shots. He is a terrific Free Throw shooter as well, shooting over 91% from the line.  Seeing as how he's got a pretty decent outside shot (and his Free Throw percentages confirm that fact), his jump shot could be a starting point for his offensive development.

As for other offensive capabilities, he's still very raw. His screens are terrible, so he rarely frees up the Guard for any pick-and-roll opportunities. It's a shame too, with his hands, his footwork, and the budding jump shot, he could be a very dangerous option in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game. But until someone teaches him how to set a proper screen, that part of his offensive capabilities will remain untapped. He moves well without the ball, and most of his points come in transition and from cuts to the basket.

 

He's a willing passer and extremely unselfish - I have seen him make some great passes from the high post, hitting cutters to the basket. He seems to know how to make the right play at the right time - indicating a high basketball IQ. At this point, his ball handling skills are very rudimentary. He can take a dribble in the post... or a dribble or two driving straight to the rim, but anything else and he's in trouble. Any time he has to dribble the basketball is the only time he looks awkward on the basketball court. He's also very active on the offensive boards, getting his hands on a decent number of balls, and able to tip others to teammates. But right now, Valanciunas is limited to scoring in transition, on cuts to the basket, Free Throws and the occasional (and I mean rare) jump shot.

Defensively, Valanciunas is a mixed bag. He playes with intensity and a high activity level. He's got decent lateral quickness, and can generally stay in front of big men on the perimeter. He boxes out on the defensive boards and plays a good fundamental brand of defense, showing a good stance, active hands and feet, and excellent awareness. As a rebounder, he is extremely active; able to rebound well outside his immediate area. He hustles and chases down balls that others give up on. He's a tremendous help defender, getting lots of blocks coming from the weak side. He shows the potential to be very, very good. On one possession in the game with Panathinaikos, against a bigger and much heavier opponent, he was (somehow) able to hold his ground in the post, and ended up blocking a fade away jump shot.

The problem is that Valanciunas is just not strong enough to hold his position down low in a half court situation. He is frequently pushed around in the paint, and although it's difficult to score OVER him, it's not so hard to score through him. A good example was against Panathinaikos on a free throw attempt; when the larger (read: heavier) opponent bumped Valanciunas twice, and was able to grab the missed free throw because Valanciunas had ended up underneath the rim. From there, Valanciunas was unable to stop the easy put-back.

Overall, Jonas Valanciunas looks like he's still a season or two away. He has some intriguing physical assets and skills. (High basketball IQ. Strong motor. Plays with a competitive chip on his shoulder. He plays with a lot of energy. Good rebounder. Active on defense). But the fact remains that he's still very raw, and needs to add strength before he will be able to really help an NBA team. Right now, he's all shoulder blades and elbows.  If there is a lock-out this Summer, and the high end draft prospects (Barnes, Jones, Sullinger, etc.) all decide to go back to school, Valanciunas could be a guy that a team could draft-and-stash for a year - to let him develop some more; but otherwise, I don't see him as a top-10 pick.

 

Some more video

 

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