We Need To Talk About Jonas...
Jay Satur - Raptors.com
The last week has provided Raptors fans with their first look at Jonas Valanciunas this offseason and while we're only really getting a one-sided view via highlights (mostly his offensive game, totally all positive), there's been a lot to like.
Since joining the Lithuanian national team on August 9th (the team had played five tuneup games before then), Valanciunas has been a force on the interior -- averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest over four games.
He's looked bigger yet somehow quicker and much more decisive in the post as a focal point for a strong Lithuanian squad that has medal aspirations at the upcoming World Cup in Spain. Look no further than the fourth quarter of his most recent performance, a 19-point, five-rebound effort against New Zealand for proof that the big man is perhaps poised for a breakout season.
It's the score bug that you should really take note of here. With Lithuania down 66-61 to New Zealand, there's about five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. From there:
- Jonas tracks down a tough offensive rebound, hits a put back jumper, gets fouled and makes the free throw. Lithuania 64, New Zealand 66. 4:51 to go.
- After a NZ turnover the other way, Valanciunas gets deep post position and throws down the one-handed slam. Game tied. 4:29 to go.
- Next trip down, more deep post-position for Valanciunas, who sends a New Zealand defender sprawling, but still gets the hoop, draws the foul and makes the free throw. Lithuania 69, New Zealand 66. 3:39 to play.
- We've entered "Just Pass It To Jonas" time at this point as an entry pass gets lobbed to into him in the lane, he then uses a solid back-to-the-basket shoulder fake (lessons with Hakeem paying off?) and then drops a jump hook. Lithuania 71, New Zealand 66. 3:13 to play.
That's 10 points in about 1:50 to help swing his team's five-point deficit to a five-point lead. Lithuania goes on to win 85-79, with Valanciunas adding a couple more slams before game's end.
Yes, it's an unbelievably small sample size against a team that's not exactly a global heavyweight (New Zealand sits 19th in FIBA's rankings). But for a Raptors team that's relying heavily on internal improvement in order to take a step forward this season, any strides with Valanciunas are going to be noteworthy.
Valanciunas and Lithuania are back in action today against Slovenia and will play an additional four friendlies in preparation for its World Cup opener against Mexico on August 30th.