Raptors Cage

Jonas Valanciunas is no stranger when it comes to the big stage

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Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the postseason, the expectations were high for the Toronto Raptors. After surviving round 1 for the first time since 2001, the Raptors look to earn their first Eastern Conference Finals berth. Through 8 games, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are shooting 31 per cent and 33 per cent from the field, respectively. As of right now, the series with the Miami Heat is 1-0 in Miami’s favour.

If the Raps are going to get past Miami, Lowry and DeRozan will need to produce at an elite level. While our All-Stars are not playing like it, one Raptor is playing like a man possessed: Jonas Valanciunas. While he’s only 23 years of age, the Lithuanian big man is no stranger to performing on basketball’s biggest stages.

NBA Playoffs

Throughout his first 2 trips to the playoffs, Valanciunas has logged in averages of 11 points on 58% shooting from the field and 9.5 boards. This postseason is a completely different story. JV has been a beast among men as the big Lithuanian is averaging a monstrous 15 points, 12 boards and 1.5 blocks in only 28 minutes. That is absolutely insane considering Dwane Casey‘s preference for a small-ball lineup.

With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shooting so poorly, somebody needed to step their game up and that is exactly what JV has done. What’s even more encouraging is that he’s playing with aggression and such physicality. He’s not waiting for the opportunity to shine, simply because he’s taking it. JV’s playing both ends of the floor and to see that determination from him is definitely an encouraging sign not just for the playoffs this year, but for years to come. JV’s highlights this postseason are among the best with that of other big men. He’s been showing remarkable improvement on his post moves. Just take a look at how he lost Hassan Whiteside:

EuroBasket 2015

The EuroBasket is one of the world’s stages for basketball. The talent isn’t as high as in the NBA, however, it serves as a platform for international players or unproven NBA players to hone their skills. Valanciunas, one of many NBA players to participate in the EuroBasket 2015, posted averages of 16 points, 8.4 boards, and 1.4 blocks on an impressive 59% shooting from the field and 86% shooting from the charity stripe. While those aren’t monster numbers, they are efficient and were enough to earn Lithuania a silver medal for the EuroBasket.

The pressure to perform overseas rivals the pressure of the big leagues. However, Valanciunas’ numbers all through the tournament are evident of his ability to deliver in big games. At just 23 years old, JV still has a lot of basketball in him and his potential is sky high. While it may seem as though he’s an average big man, he’s never averaged over 30 minutes a game throughout the regular season or the playoffs.

FIBA World Cup

Jonas Valanciunas has been a household name in FIBA since 2008, when he debuted as part of the Lithuanian Under-16 National team in Italy. During that first year he averaged 14.3 points, 11.1 boards and 2.3 blocks in only 23.5 minutes. While those are stat-stuffing numbers, this was when he was playing against boys who were 16 and under.

Fast forward to the 2011 FIBA Under-19 Championship. He absolutely manhandled the competition, averaging 23 points, 14 boards and 3.2 blocks in 31 minutes a game. As a result of JV’s great play, Lithuania won the gold medal and he was named tournament MVP. In the summer of 2014, Jonas once again represented his country on the world stage of FIBA. During this tournament he averaged 14.4 points, shooting a ridiculous 70 per cent from the field, conjuring up 8.4 boards and swatting one shot per game.

So while DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry may be slumping, the silver lining is the emergence of Jonas Valanciunas. It’s unfortunate that the league is moving toward small ball-type systems because JV has tons of potential. However, I’m not convinced that traditional big men such as JV will be gone anytime soon.

The Raptors dependence on Jonas throughout the 2016 playoffs is evidence that his involvement on the offense can be a vital factor in Toronto staying competitive, not just now, but for several more seasons. Above all else, one thing seems certain: Jonas Valanciunas is a star-in-the-making for the Toronto Raptors.

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