Despite this Jonas Valanciunas and the Lithuanian National Team won the semifinals in Caracas and will be in the Olympics.
Much has been said about the need for Jonas to play in the Summer League in order to adapt the NBA style. Of course, it’ll be a difficult transition for him after spending his entire career playing in Europe, but the Olympic Games are a huge experience for a young player. It’s the biggest international stage where Valanciunas will have to defend top players like Scola, the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Love, among others. For what was seen in Caracas, Jonas will play 15 to 20 minutes if he stays out of foul trouble, he’s not there to be a third stringer. Also, He will have a great point guard who could feed him the way he needs at this stage of his career.
Obviously, he needs to adapt to the NBA game but the Summer League is not the answer. The ‘now or never’ individual attitude of most summer league players is not what Jonas needs to develop his game. Most of the players are looking for a last opportunity to make a NBA roster or a good contract. At this point, Valanciunas can’t create his own shot, he needs a PG to pass him the ball near the basket and that’s not going to happen in Las Vegas. The Summer League is for athletic scorers and offensive minded bigs, he doesn’t fit in this mold. In terms of Valanciunas’ development, there’s no comparison between the inferior competition of the Summer League team and an Olympic experience.
Lithuania is going to London after the Olympic qualifier in Caracas. They beat the best American teams in the tournaments as Jonas struggled against Daniel Santiago and Peter John Ramos from Puerto Rico in quarterfinals, but shined against Al Horford and Yack Michael Martínez from the Dominican Republic in the semis.
Jonas battled foul trouble that kept him on the floor for only 6 minutes against Puerto Rico. His third foul was a bad call and after that Jonas seemed frustrated. His coach put him twice in the fourth quarter and he was instantly called again. He fouled out in six minutes with no field goals attempted and three rebounds. His assignment was 7’3″ Peter John Ramos, a former 275 lbs Wizard with almost no mobility. Robertas Javtokas did better because he’s much stronger than Jonas.
The next day, Lithuania played against Republica Dominicana expecting a win that send them directly to London. Jonas battled with the best interior presence of the tournament: Al Horford and rebounding leader Yack Michael Martínez. Against a more agile center, Jonas displayed his best version. He finished with 17 points in nine shots and 5/6 from the FT line. He added 7 rebounds, 1 block and a steal before fouling out with 20 seconds remaining in a game won by 26 points. He was a tournament-high 26 minutes on the floor and looked terrifically active on both ends. He controlled the defensive boards, thus limiting the offensive rebounding, which is the Dominicans’ best threat. On the offensive side, he spendt most of his time setting picks for his teammates, especially Sarunas Jasikevicius and Mantas Kalinetis. He often gets overlooked by his teammates despite getting a good position inside. He lacks a reliable offensive arsenal but he’s very effective with the ball in his hands. Not a great passer but an extraordinary finisher.
Coach Kemzura rarely uses two interior players at the same time. Lithuania’s starting PF is Linas Kleiza and we all know about Kleiza’s tendency to work in the perimeter. The three bigs in the team (Jonas, Darius Songaila and Robertas Javtokas) rarely shared the court. In the perimeter-oriented offense of Lithuania , Jonas has a residual offensive role besides setting multiple picks, but he still managed to average 8 points per game on 70% FG.
Lithuania will be playing in Group A against USA, Argentina, France, Nigeria and Tunisia. The Olympics start in fifteen days but the basketball opener is schedule for July 29th. The four best records in the group advance to the second round where they’ll face the four best records in Group B.