picketfence
In a season that has been mostly disappointing, there have been a couple of bright lights for the Raptors. The biggest one is probably the play of Jonas Valanciunas. While he did have a couple of bumps in the road, including a couple of injuries that have caused him to miss a total of 19 games so far, most Raptor fans have a lot of optimism regarding his future.

The question is whether or not it’s warranted.

Let’s compare his current numbers to some of his contemporaries.

Among Rookies:

- 8th in scoring
- 2nd in field goal percentage
- 4th in free throw attempts and made
- 8th in free throw percentage
- 3rd in rebounding
- 3rd in blocks
- 5th in blocks per minute
- 3rd in double doubles

Those are obviously very good numbers, in comparison to the rest of the league’s rookies. To me, he seems a very good bet to me the All Rookie 1st team, which would make him the first Raptor to make it since Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa (wouldn’t that make a great bookend to Colangelo’s tenure in Toronto- most importantly let’s just get rid of him already).

Of course, basic stats don’t tell the whole story, and can often be misleading, so let’s dig a little deeper.

His Advanced Stats are also good. While he’s only got the 11th highest PER, among all rookies, and 10th in Rebounding Percentage, he’s 3rd in True Shooting Percentage, 4th in Win Share and 5th in Block Percentage.

chris-bosh-3

Let’s see how he compares to a former Raptors big man who ended up becoming a perennial All Star, Chris Bosh:

Jonas Valanciunas Chris Bosh
Per 36 Minutes: Per 36 Minutes:
13.3 ppg 12.3 ppg
9.1 rpg 8 rpg
Advanced Stats: Advanced Stats:
PER: 15.4 PER: 15.1
TS%: .612 TS%: .513
REB%: 15 REB%: 12.8
Block%: 4.1 Block%: 3.1
Win Share/48: .126 Win Share/48: .119

 

Bosh was a year younger than Valanciunas, when he came into the league, but it’s interesting to see how Valanciunas has an advantage in nearly all of the numbers, more than can be accounted for simply him being a year older. There are some who have questioned whether Valanciunas will be an All Star, but I think it’s not only a good possibility, I think, depending on health etc, I think it’s a good probability.

Valanciunas has shown the makings of a very good post game and his ability to get to the line is a great indicator of whether he can become a good scorer. Free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted is the best indicator of how well a player can get to the line, and it’s not dependant on how many minutes a player plays and how involved in the offense he is.

Top top scorers in the league generally have a FTA-FGA ratio of, at least, .350. Big men tend to have a higher ratio, especially big men who score inside. In Chris Bosh’s rookie season, he had a .405 ratio.

Valanciunas has a rate of .486. That means for nearly every two shots he takes, he gets to the line once. That’s the best rate among all rookies this year and that’s a great sign that he’ll be able to manufacture points, as he develops his offensive game. Add the fact that he had the 12th highest free throw percentage of any rookie center in NBA history (6-10 and taller), and that that’s even more encouraging.

For your post up center able to hit free throws at a decent rate is so important, especially at the end of games. Interestingly, Brook Lopez, who was an All Star this year for the Nets, is 11th all time for rookie centers, in free throwpercentage (Lopez also had a FTA-FGA ratio of .484).

On a side note, if Shaquille O’Neal had hit even 70% of his free throws, over the course of his career, he would have scored nearly 2,000 more points, which is the equivalent of scoring 24 ppg over an entire 82 game season.

Back to Brook Lopez, he’d be another good player to compare Valanciunas to, not just because they play in the same era, but because Lopez was 20 when he came into the league, and was also a rare, back to the basket center.

Brooklyn Nets' Lopez shoots over Los Angeles Lakers' Gasol and Clark in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game in Brooklyn, New York

Jonas Valanciunas Brook Lopez
Per 36 Minutes: Per 36 Minutes:
13.3 ppg 15.4 ppg
9.1 rpg 9.6 rpg
Advanced Stats: Advanced Stats:
PER: 15.4 PER: 17.9
TS%: .612 TS%: .568
REB%: 15 REB%: 15.8
Block%: 4.1 Block%: 4.9
Win Share/48: .126 Win Share/48: .112

 

Now, Lopez had a little better stats, right across the board, including, interestingly enough, in rebounding, an area which he has been below average in the rest of his career. Lopez had the advantage of playing on a team with two All Stars (Vince Carter and Devin Harris-in his only All Star appearance), both of whom could shoot the three and space the floor better than most of Valanciunas’ teammates.

Still I think it does give an indication of what the future could hold for Valanciunas. Considering the scoring touch he’s shown, as well as his ability to rebound the ball and defend, as well as his renowned work ethic, I don’t see how you can argue he won’t one day make an All Star team.

To end things off, I thought I would see how Valanciunas compares, historically, with other 20 year old, or under, centers statistically.

Valanciunas is 1st all-time in true shooting percentage, 9th in ppg, 10th in rpg, 3rd in free throw percentage, 9th in PER, 9th in Block% and 6th in Win Share/48.

While the future may not be very bright for the Raptor franchise as a whole, at least we have Valanciunas. And that’s a lot better than a cookie.

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