A 21-year old Andrea Bargnani averaged 11.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in his rookie season while playing 25 minutes a game. He had a PER of 12.8. By all accounts, that was pretty good season which even netted him one very homerish first place ROY vote over Brandon Roy. If a 20-year Jonas can match that sort of production it’ll be a massive success. The question becomes whether he’s in a position to replicate that sort of production. Bargnani came over after a summer the Raptors completely retooled their roster, for once getting it right. T.J Ford, Jose Calderon, Rasho Nesterovic, and Jorge Garbajosa were newcomers to the scene, and combined with an in-form Chris Bosh, cushioned the roster for Andrea Bargnani who was able to surprise many.
Even if Lowry, Bargnani, and DeRozan provide the same padding delivered by the 2006-07 squad for their incoming rookie, realistically, it’ll be difficult for Jonas to match Bargnani’s output. Valanciunas comes in with far inferior offensive skill than what Bargnani had, and his offense will depend on others looking for him, unlike Bargnani who had enough skill to find his offense. It can’t be overstated that we’ll have to look outside the box score to measure the rookie’s production, and Casey’s already doing that:
He’s one of the best rollers in the league…he’s causing all kinds of havoc with his rolls to the basket…he does a good job of rolling, taking up space…we got to reward him for running the floor, setting the screen and rolling to the bucket.
As unexciting as that sounds, it’s the truth. You don’t get on ESPN by rolling to the rim and creating space for a missed three-pointer on ESPN, and you certainly don’t do it for deflecting a pass because the wing couldn’t see over your outstretched arms when making a skip pass. Even with only two games played, it’s easy enough to see what Valaniuncas is all about – movement, paint protection and rebounding. Hardly glamorous but vital tasks. I don’t view him as a rookie who’s coming into save the world, he’s akin to the low-touch demanding veteran you sign to add some beef to the paint. Think of him as when we first signed Rasho Nesterovic, or what Jamaal Magloire was supposed to be last year. Basically, he’s here to add muscle, do the dirty work, with an added bonus being functional in an offensive set.
I’d say his first year NBA projection is something like DeJuan Blair, who had a first year production of 7.8 points, 6.4 rebounds in 18 minutes. He had a crazy PER of 17.7. This is the path that I expect Jonas to take, maybe not to the degree of efficiency that Blair showed (he shot 56% his rookie year playing on a good Spurs team). Jonas is a much better FT shooter than Blair so his TS% should be above Blair’s 56.4%. We can agree that the effort level of these two players looks to be quite consistent, both put a heavy emphasis on making their presence count in the paint and have limited offensive games which they try to compensate for by offensive rebounding, positioning and sheer hustle.
SO! If I told you that you’d get a DeJuan Blair type guy on the roster this year and who, by all accounts, has a much higher upside offensively and isn’t bounded by Blair’s lack of height and reach which cost him on defense, I’d say that’s a pretty good haul. Jonas may end up being a reliable defensive center his whole career or he could turn into Dwight Howard if everything plays out nice. Nobody should hold him to being a great player because let’s face it, the fifth pick is hit and miss. However, what fans will do is continually compare him to people we’ve passed to get him. That list includes Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Kawhi Lenard. And if you’re really cynical, you’ll blame him for the Raptors not picking a C like Andre Drummond in the 2012 draft.
It’s rarely that we blame a player for not living up to the hype constructed by others; it’s usually the “what could’ve been” when you realize what was out there. In this case, though, I’m confident Jonas won’t have us looking back. He might not be the best player that we could’ve taken at that spot, but he certainly won’t be a pick you regret.