Leandro Barbosa picked up his $7.6M option yesterday. Somewhat expected because you wouldn’t think he’d make that kind of money in Brazil, but you could be wrong. If Tiago Splitter can make $6.3 million in a European league and turn down a chance to play in the NBA, a player of Barbosa’s caliber who is a legend in his native land, could conceivably make more. The risk for him is that if there isn’t a season next year he’d be making zilch.

I got no problems with Barbosa other than the occasional chucking, and that is to be expected in the course of an 82-game season with the team going nowhere in particular. He’s not going to steal minutes from anyone the Raptors are developing and is known to be a good presence in the locker-room. He is the kind of veteran presence we often speak of when wishing upon the Raptors.

The Raptors picked up options on Ed Davis, DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson, all no-brainers and the only one which is debatable is James Johnson, but not really since, as I already said, we’re not going anywhere in particular. I’m not sold on Johnson offensively and I’m definitely not buying that he’s a good defender, he’s right now a body that will platoon at the three spot along with Linas Kleiza. Whether he starts or not doesn’t quite matter because – you guessed it – we’re not going anywhere in particular. He was unexpectedly productive last season but just like my RIM stocks, past performance is not an indication of future growth. He could turn out to be the next Sonny Weems or the next…um…hmm…let’s see…J.R Smith?

Moving along, it appears that Dwane Casey is seeing Jonas Valanciunas as playing the Tyson Chandler role in Toronto:

“He is 6′ 11.75″ tall with no shoes, you could almost list him as 7′ 1″ (in shoes), so he has Tyson Chandler size. He has a good body that he is filling in. His feet are good feet. He can jump, he can run well, he is an athlete. He turned 19 on May 6 and he is a guy who has been playing a couple of years in the Euroleague. The decision was made according to our roster, we have umpteen million guards and we were looking at the young men Walker, Knight, and Leonard, but we had a lot of players at their position. What we don’t have is rim protection, length, and athleticism in the middle. Amir is a good player but he doesn’t have the length of this player.

I watched a lot of tape and gave my opinion. I like the young man. He blocks shots, rolls the lane, can catch the ball. I just came from Tyson Chandler and Tyson Chandler at the same age was not as good as this young man.”

Over the last couple days I’ve had a chance to watch some Valanciunas tape and his main function has been the roller on pick ‘n rolls. I wouldn’t say he’s a great finisher or even a “physical finisher”, he is very good at presenting himself to his guards in pick ‘n rolls and is defensively aware. He’s quite frequently late in his help reactions but does always make an effort to help teammates. Guards can get the shot over him and even finish at the rim against him without too much trouble, but at least he’s there to contest the shot. The timing in his defense is lacking and that usually comes with age, as long as he’s making the proper effort – which he is – he could conceivably become a good defensive player.

Other than layup field-goal attempts he’s working on a short jump/hook shot which he shoots after receiving a pass in the lane

The competition he’s facing in Euro league isn’t as bad as people make it sound, it’s not even close to the NBA-level but that’s not the barometer to be used. The level is comparable to the NCAA as the European ranks are filled with players that will take you back down memory lane. The point is that his skill is being tested and no-one should assume that he’s dominating midgets and elves in Europe. He would have definitely encountered more physical centers in the NCAA, ones that would be able to counter his length with their strength. Of course, that is heavily dependent on which division of either league you play in. I haven’t watched enough Euroleague to comment on the overall intensity of play compared to NCAA, or whether the pressure to win is similar, so take what I say with a grain of salt. We’ll discuss those aspects in a Rapcast with somebody knowledgable very soon.

As to whether he can be a Tyson Chandler type player, the one thing that is quite glaringly missing from his game is the ability to come out and defend guards in pick ‘n roll and trap situations, maybe it’s not a popular strategy in Europe or maybe they just don’t ask it of him. That’s what makes Tyson Chandler so special, he is able to disrupt not just drives to the rims, but can pressurize point guards by making passes out of traps extremely difficult, and to top off, can recover quickly. On the flip side, Valanciunas will easily become the better finisher over time, if he isn’t already.

Video-wise, there’s David Locke breaking one of his games down and there are many plain old highlight compilations which only focus on the positives on YouTube. Have at it.