lit championship cover

It’s finally over. Thank goodness. Bring on NBA games to cleanse my palate. I’m tired of seeing fours launching threes, and twos missing layups. Come read more gripes in the final instalment of JonasBasket 2013.

Before I go on, I would like congratulate to the French National Team for winning Eurobasket 2013. They were nearly eliminated by Spain in the semifinals, but they clawed back to beat them in overtime. They rode that momentum into the final game and crushed Lithuania by a score of 80-66. I wasn’t able to catch the game myself, so that’s all I’ll say about that. Congratulations, France!

france celebrate

A FOND FAREWELL TO LITHUANIA

My first impressions of Lithuanian basketball were forged by the shot-happy hands of Linas Kleiza. I, like many of you, watched in horror as he launched jumper after jumper en route to an abysmal 49.4 TS% over his three year tenure with the Raptors.  He had forever besmirched the proud tradition of Baltic Giants basketball, or so I thought.

Therefore, as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I heard the news that Bryan Colangelo had opted to spend the fifth pick in the 2011 draft on an 18 year old Lithuanian big. I distinctly remember that moment; I was in my basement watching the draft with my girlfriend, and when the news dropped, I launched a litany of profanities at the television. I swore up and down to her that the Raptors would rue the day they passed over Brandon Knight. She turned to me and said “[about Jonas] he’s cute. I think he’ll be good.”

Two years later, these things happened to Brandon Knight, I’ve completely changed my mind about Valanciunas, and I spent the better part of three days watching and writing about the Lithuanian men’s basketball team. I am very happy about all three things.

I have learned that Lithuanian basketball, at its core, is predicated on hard work. Play until the last whistle, fight for every loose ball, hard fouls at the rim; it’s what makes them great. Yes, they didn’t exactly have a superstar player the way France and Spain did, and no, their offense was not pretty to watch, but what they showed above everything was a commitment to teamwork, and to defense. You can’t help but love this team after seeing the yeoman-like effort they put into each and every play.

Congratulations to Lithuania, a well-deserved second place in Eurobasket, and a hard-fought first place in my heart.

JONAS VALANCIUNAS, A PROSPECT

What is a prospect? A prospect, as defined by dictionary.com, is the possibility or likelihood of something happening in the future. That’s what Jonas Valanciunas is; he’s likely to develop into a great player, but this will take place in the future. What we are watching is his journey to greatness, and the road is beset on all sides by the tyranny of evil men (or in this case, hulking European bigs who are more than willing to commit a hard foul). We should not expect linearity in his development and we should certainly not expect everything all at once. It will take time, and it could all fall apart, but he’s shown enough flashes to justify your hopes.

I would like the reader to keep this in mind.

JONAS VALANCIUNAS – OFFENSE

Let’s first address macro; Jonas scored 6.5 points per game on 66% shooting in 16.5 minutes per game over the span of 11 games. At one point, he led all centres in points per possession. His scoring output was wildly inconsistent; he had five games of 11 points or more, and 5 games with 2 points or less.

The bulk of his points came on three types of plays; put-backs, pick and roll and post-ups. Every offensive set designed for Valanciunas involved Jonas setting the high screen. He would then either dart to the basket and ready himself for a pass at the rim, or he would slide across to the post and call for a post-entry pass.

His best post-move was his sweeping hook which he was able to consistently sink with either hand. He usually had the height advantage over his defenders so he was rarely blocked, especially because he keeps the ball high on his forays to the rim, so we should take his success with a grain of salt. However, this is a continuation of a promising trend from last season; he ranked 48th in the NBA on points per post-ups.

Unfortunately, despite his jaw-dropping efficiency (66% shooting!), he received very few touches. He only shot 3.7 field goals per game, and seldomly touched the ball. Part of that is on Jonas; he sometimes rolled too soon or did a poor job of establishing good post post-position, but a sizeable chunk of the fault should fall on his teammates. The Lithuanian wings rarely passed Jonas the ball and oftentimes looked him off in favor of other options. The Lithuanian coach should also bear some of the blame as his offense clearly didn’t prioritize its most efficient scorer.

JONAS VALANCIUNAS – DEFENSE

Again, let’s first look at his boxscore data first. Jonas collected 3.6 defensive rebound per game along with 1.4 blocks per game, which translates to per 36 averages of 7.85 and 3.05 respectively. He ranked 4th in the tournament in blocks per game.

The blocked shots were no fluke; Jonas was a legitimate threat in the paint. He routinely challenged and forced players to change their shots at the rim. For example in the game against Croatia, he was the designated rim defender in Lithuania’s small-ball 2/3 zone defense, and he managed to rack up 5(!!) blocks.

However, Jonas did show numerous defensive lapses. Sometimes, he would settle too far into the paint and be late to content shots on the perimeter. He also struggled to guard mobile bigs. At times he would be too eager to help and rotate, only to leave his man open for easy buckets. Again, many of these mistakes can be attributed to inexperience (rookie mistakes), and will hopefully be curtailed by accumulating more experience.

JONAS VALANCIUNAS – OVERALL

I know what you want. You want a prediction for his numbers in the upcoming NBA season. Did he show anything at Eurobasket that may foreshadow his future performance?

Well, call it a cop-out, but I don’t think Eurobasket (and summer league, for that matter) really shows you anything. First, the game is completely different. Almost every big is undersized (read: short) and can shoot the three. Second, there isn’t nearly as much attacking the rim off dribble-penetration and the players are just not on par with NBA players. Toss in the fact that Valanciunas had to learn and adjust on the fly with the team, which was extra difficult because  his coach kept yanking away his minutes at every turn, and what do you really have? I think you have apples and oranges; they’re both fruits, but it’s hard to compare the two.

That being said, I will leave you with this. Depicted below are the rookie season per-36 numbers of some the top centres in the league. I ask you this; does Jonas belong in this group?

per 36

If you answered yes to the previous question, you’ll probably find Jonas’ sophomore numbers somewhere below (per game numbers):

per game

More than anything else, I’m just glad that Jonas didn’t get injured. He played 11 games in 22 days, including 6 games in 7 days at one point. He’ll have a week off before coming back to Raptors training camp. Get excited, folks. Real basketball is less than 40 days away!

Thanks for reading, everyone.