Tired or not, Valanciunas’ averages of 21 points and 10 rebounds per game have been impressive. And while it may only be summer league, Valanciunas views this as another opportunity to get better. “I want to be better, like always. Every game, every practice, every minute on-court– you got get better,” he added postgame.
Jonas Valanciunas came to the Raptors in the 2011 draft, however, the promising 19 year old Lithuanian center was still a year away, meaning Raptors fans would have to wait at least one season to see the payoff. When Valanciunas finally arrived in 2012 he immediately showed some of his promise. Despite hitting his rookie wall during the winter months, Valanciunas pushed through, finishing the last 21 days of his debut campaign strongly. As his minutes increased in March and April, so did Valanciunas’ production, finishing with 8.9 points per game on .557 percent shooting while grabbing 6.9 rebounds in just under 24 minutes per game.
Up until this point during Las Vegas Summer League, Valanciunas has carried on the momentum of his strong finish over from the end of last season. The 21-year old center looks noticeably bulked up from last season and his combination of size and athleticism has proven to be too much for opposing frontcourts at times. Saturday night against the Miami Heat’s summer team proved to be no different as Valanciunas bullied the opposition around the paint on both ends, looking like a man among boys. Jonas felt similarly after the game, telling the media during availability, “At first I [felt fresh], but then I felt kind of tired.”
Rarely has Valanciunas looked the part of a player coming off of his rookie year during these summer games. His footwork is more polished, his on-court awareness has been sharp, and he has carried the Raptors many times. In fact, Valanciunas mentioned that he spent much of his offseason focused on adding to his repertoire of post moves as well as weight lifting to add muscle to more effectively play his position.
And despite the offseason turnover in the front office, Valanciunas keeps his focus on the basketball court, saying “My job is to play. Whoever is manager, you know, front office—not my deal. I have to play on the court and not in the front office.”
There’s no doubt Valanciunas’ work during the offseason appears to have him and the Raptors in a position to succeed for next season. Should he also carry over his performance in Las Vegas over to the 2013-’14 season as he did from last season to summer league, he will emerge as one of the league’s most entertaining young players. As for Jonas, we know where we will be able to find him—the gym – where he’ll look to build further off of the positive strides he has made in the past few months.