The Value of Valanciunas

Feb 20, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) tries to dunk over Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Raptors defeated the Hawks 105-80. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto’s annual tradition of pontificating possible power forwards (try saying that three times fast) has begun in the face of the oncoming trade deadline. Despite the day of reckoning more than a month off, the NBA finds itself in the perennial lull of teams jockeying for position in preparation for the All-Star break, and thus the rumours begin to take shape.

The first spin of the rumour mill, though not for the first time is the possibility of Paul Millsap trading in his Hawk’s talons for a set of Raptor’s claws. We’ve dreamed this dream before, and yet this year something about it feels more real. Blake Murphy already covered why the Raptors should, and are chasing Millsap, and discussed the perceived value of Jonas Valancius as the great variable.

That perceived value is difficult to knock down, but it’s important to try. Valanciunas has been as frustrating to watch as a Raptor as anyone, but not simply because he’s under-performing. He’s constantly described as having either “untapped potential” or a “glass ceiling”. He either is what he is, or isn’t what he should be. To put it simply, JV’s value is hard to quantify, so obviously we’re going to try.

Before describing his subjective intangibles, let’s present just the facts and see where he ranks in comparison to other NBA Centers.

  • PTS – 12.1 Rank – 17th
  • REB – 9.6 Rank – 14th
  • AST – 0.7 Rank – 56th
  • STL – 0.5 Rank – 37th
  • BLK – 0.7 Rank – 41st
  • TOV – 1.5 Rank – 24th
  • FG% – 54.2 Rank – 14th (Among starters with at least games)
  • MIN – 26.8 Rank -21st

Two things jump out from that list. The first is that JV does not rank in the top 10 in a single traditional category either offensively or defensively among starters at his position in the NBA. That wouldn’t be as much of a concern for his scoring and rebounding (which have both been decent) if he was contributing in other areas (he isn’t).

The second stat from that very basic list is his minutes per game. Despite starting for the Raptors, we all know where you can often find Valanciunas at the end of a close game, or seemingly any time for that matter. JV simply can’t find ways to stay on the floor and regardless of it being Coach Dwayne Casey’s decision making or Valanciunas’ production some responsibility has to fall on the big Lithuanian.

After showing flashes of brilliance last year and in the postseason before his injury, Valanciunas was expected to take a step forward this season, and we licked our chops when he dropped 32 on the Pistons on opening day. Since then he’s reached the 20 point plateau just twice with a 23 and 20 point effort and his recent play on this six game road trip has been downright unwatchable.

Stats aside, Valanciunas is a seven footer with a deft touch around the rim, good hands and a relatively high basketball IQ. He relies on passes into the post, a gimmicky but somewhat successful pump-fake and the ability to draw defenders towards him to free up space. He struggles in the open court, and his movement is never going to be elite, but he finds ways to remain efficient in his role. As a defender he struggles to guard elite centers, and is never going to be more than a tall body in the paint as opposed to an elite shot blocker.

He is just 24 years old, but is already in the middle of his fifth season in the NBA, and after his rookie campaign his stats have more or less plateaued across the board over his last four years in the league. The hardest thing to quantify is not what we see, but what could be. We can’t pin down exactly what Valanciunas is because neither his coach nor him seems to know. He plays with two of the most ball-dominant guards in the league and is rarely, if ever asked to carry the offense. He plays less minutes than most starting centers in the league and is at the very least half responsible for it.

In doing this futile exercise, the value of Valanciunas is not what we see on paper, or even the indescribable aspects of his game, but whether or not there’s more left for teams like the Hawks to take a gamble on. If Millsap or any other power forward is going to try and help this team make a run at the Cavs, JV is likely gone, or at the absolute least reduced to an even more inferior role.

If you think this is all we’re ever getting from number 17 than it’s time to sell, but are you sure this is his peak?

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