Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is still getting accustomed to the NBA game. The 6'11 center from Lithuania is just in his second year in the league, but has shown flashes of things to come. He is one of the rare true centers in the NBA, which is an asset to the Raptors. In Friday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Valanciunas showed a different side to him. After starting the game off slow, he came out in the third quarter all fired up. He was showing emotion and he was dominating on both ends of the court. Valanciunas scored 10 points in the quarter and looked like a man possessed as he was going after every rebound and loose ball. It was definitely exciting to see that from Valanciunas. Now it just needs to happen every night.
Valanciunas is averaging 10.6 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game this season. Both numbers are up from last season's totals of 8.9 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game. He shoots the ball over 50% from the field and makes 74% of his free throws.
At just 21 years old, he has several tools that can help him develop into one of the best centers in the league. He is fast and mobile, he runs the floor well, he has good hands, and he has a big wingspan. Valanciunas is starting to develop a solid post game as well as add a mid-range jumper. There are times were he hesitates too much and doesn't know what he should do. The confidence will come eventually and Valanciunas won't be hesitating on taking mid-range jumpers anymore.
Considering that he didn't have a training camp in his first year in the league and then missed some time in his rookie season due to injury, one can say that Valanciunas is farther along than expected. Yes, he still is raw and inconsistent, but he is a young kid coming from oversees who is not only trying to get used to the NBA, but also get used to the English language and all the terminology. Some of the rules are different here and every now and then he forgets that.
What does Jonas Valanciunas need to do to become a dominant force?
- Impose his will: Too often he shies away from contact or from getting the ball. He must demand the ball and go to work in the post.
- Become more disciplined: He still leaves his feet on shot fakes and he doesn't always keep his hands straight up in the air when defending an opponent. He needs to hold his ground and force his opponent to make a tough shot over him.
- Get Stronger: He still gets pushed around from time to time and doesn't always box out on the glass. Being a 6'11 center with long arms, Valanciunas has to do a better job grabbing rebounds, as well as gaining strong post position.
- Develop confidence in his jump shot: He has the ability to knock down a 10-15 foot jumper, but often hesitates and doesn't know if he should take the shot or not. He needs to be confident in his shot and work on it so it is almost automatic. You look at players like Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Brad Miller who were able to step out and make a jump shot. The ability to score in a variety of ways will help Valanciunas become a better player on the offensive end.
- Buy into the defensive end: He is averaging 0.9 blocks per game this season and often gets frustrated while on defense. He must buy into the fact that a lot of games are won on the defensive end. He has the height, the wingspan and the athleticism to be a solid defender. As he gains more confidence and becomes more familiar with defensive sets in the NBA, he should average close to two blocks per game and make players think twice before entering the lane against him.
Those are the main things that Valanciunas needs in order to become a dominant force in the NBA. He has a lot of potential and in five years from now we could be talking about him being one of the best centers in the league. He has a lot of improvement to make, but his progress so far has been promising. We must remain patient with him and remind ourselves that he is only 21 years old and still learning the language and the terminology. It will all come together soon, and when it does, Valanciunas will make the Raptors a huge threat.
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