Ed’s Note: This post is written by William Lou.
Coming off a rough game against the Serbians, Jonas Valanciunas and the Lithuanian men’s national basketball team looked for redemption in their match-up against the Macedonians.
Oddly enough, they elected to bring Jonas off the bench. This was an extension of the trend set in the game against Serbia. The Lithuanian head coach was desperate for some floor spacing, and he was willing to sacrifice rim-protection and rebounding to get it.
The game started off very slowly and both teams struggled to score. The Lithuanian wings were unable to create penetration which led to many missed jumpers. On the other end, the Macedonians made no qualms about their offensive strategy; they were going to prioritize the three-pointer. For every 9 shots they took, 4 of them were from beyond the arc (28 3PA/63 FGA).
The Lithuanian offense took off when Valanciunas and Motiejunas entered the game at around the 6 minute mark of the first quarter. This immediately gave the Lithuanians the advantage in the post. On the very first play, Lithuania ran a pick and roll with Valanciunas which resulted in a made basket.
Valanciunas would go on to dominate the rest of the first half. He scored 7 of Lithuania’s 20 points in the first quarter on 3/4 free throw shooting, a layup and a thunderous alley-oop on a pick and roll. He started off the second quarter with a layup near the rim and helped Lithuania build to a 26-17 lead before subbing out near the 7 minute mark.
He was rewarded for his stellar play as he started the second half for the Lithuanians. Unfortunately, he wasn’t nearly as successful. The Macedonian defense really keyed in on Valanciunas, and collapsed the paint every time he caught the ball. Jonas struggled against double (and sometimes triple) teams and he only managed to score once in the second half (on one of his patented hookshots from the left block). He missed two jumpshots and turned the ball over twice. However, despite his struggles, the Lithuanians ended up winning the game 75-67.
His boxscore line was impressive. In 26 minutes, he scored 11 points on 4/7 shooting from the floor and 3/4 on free throws. He grabbed a team-leading 7 rebounds, blocked two shots and picked up a steal. He also managed to stay out of foul trouble (2 fouls), while wrecking havoc on the Macedonians (5 fouls drawn; both starting bigs for Macedonia fouled out). He was a game-leading +23 for the game (next closest was Motiejunas with +14).
Jonas really excelled in the pick and roll. The Macedonian bigs were too slow and didn’t have neither the length, nor athleticism to seriously deter Valanciunas. He used his length to catch high passes and he did a great job keeping the ball above his head and finished nicely around the basket.
He also drew 5 fouls, which was also a plus. Oftentimes he would catch the ball in the post and his defenders would be overzealous in their attempts to stop him, which culminated in ill-advised fouls. Jonas looked calm at the line and sunk 3/4 line drive free throws.
However, Jonas really struggled with his jumper. There were three instances where he caught the ball while his defender simply sagged off and dared Valanciunas to shoot. Once, Valanciunas tried to go at the defender, and was met with a double-team, which resulted in a travel. He did elect to shoot on the two other instances, but he seemed very hesitant and his shot was flat. He missed from ~15 feet out each time.
His inability to knock down jumpers will really hold him back in Eurobasket. Almost every big in the tournament has a capable outside shot, and floor spacing is heavily prioritized. If Jonas cannot hit the 15 footer with some measure of consistency, his minutes will be limited.
Jonas was dominant on defense, as evidenced by his two highlight-worthy blocks. However, his defensive presence went beyond the boxscore. He was mobile enough to cover bigs at the three-point line (both his defensive assignments could, and did shoot threes), while also being strong enough to hold his ground in the post. He did however commit two fouls while jockeying for post-position with his player, although I can personally attest that they were both very weak calls.
More than anything else, Jonas was able to deter shots at the rim with his presence alone. He certainly set the tone with two emphatic blocks, and wing players rarely drove when Jonas was in the paint. In one instance, a Macedonian wing player had lost his defender in a pick, and was driving full speed towards the rim, only to stop and reset simply because Jonas had rotated over and was waiting at the rim.
One thing I noticed in particular was that Jonas seemed a little too eager on pick-and-rolls. He sets a pretty wide screen, and usually frees his ball-handler. However, he rolls a little too quickly, oftentimes before his teammate has turned the corner. This results in Valanciunas being out of position and not necessarily open for a pass. Then again, this could easily be explained by a lack of familiarity with his teammates, and it’s not necessarily an indictment on Jonas. I will certainly monitor the situation over the next couple of games.
Today was also the first time I’ve seen opposing defenses double-team Jonas. He handled the defense adequately, but he picks up his dribble too soon. Granted, the wing players on Lithuania did not do a good job of cutting to the basket, or getting open for a pass from JV, so he often had no choice but to attack the double-team, but he was not very successful in his efforts. The ability to handle double-teams is a must-have for dominant big men, and Jonas has a ways to go in this regard. Hopefully his time in this tournament will help him gain valuable experience.
Lithuania’s next opponent will be the Latvians. They will play at 11:45 AM EST on ESPN3 (or whichever illegal stream you find on atdhe.eu). I will be writing a recap for this game as well