Player Analysis

2017-2018 Player Preview: Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors

This won’t rile people up at all.

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Greetings and salutations, #JVHive.

Jonas Valanciunas. The man, the myth, the legend. Easily the most polarizing figure on the Toronto Raptors roster. Within the local fanbase, supporters frequently fall on one of two extreme sides:

You’re either a big-time Valanciunas critic or part of the well-known group of rabid crusaders known as the ‘JV Hive’.

Before we get into what type of player JV is (and how he can help and hurt this roster), let’s quickly touch base on the upbringing of this supporter group.

THE HISTORY OF #JVHIVE

For some of the readers who have never once heard of this group, JV Hive is a often used term for a considerably large group of die-hard Jonas Valanciunas fans.

This group is known to defend Valanciunas at all costs, even sometimes throwing logic completely out of the window.

For those looking for a real life example, when JV was getting absolutely roasted during last season’s playoffs versus a plethora of small-ball lineups, JV Hive pleaded that “he wasn’t getting enough looks” rather than “he needs to get the %^&* off the court”.

At this point in Valanciunas’ career, rashly anointing someone a member of JV Hive can inflame and instigate without a necessary burden of proof (like given above).

The actual term, ‘JV Hive’ was coined by a man quite popular in ‘Raptors Twitter’ by the name of Harsh Dave (although, he also enjoys being referred to as “5’6 Vijay Singh”) .

https://twitter.com/IamHarshDave/status/861005579531190273

Since earlier this year, the term itself has taken on completely new life. Accordingly, fans of Valanciunas within social media have been (fairly or unfairly) dubbed members of JV Hive.

Putting all lies aside, I myself have taken part in this playful banter amongst the Raptors community. I also have zero regrets.

Whichever side of assessing Valanciunas you fall on (even you logical individuals somewhere in the middle), just know that you’re not alone.

Trust me on that.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Objective viewers of this 7-foot Lithuanian giant can see both the catastrophic deficiencies Valanciunas holds as well as the wildly effective post-player he can be.

It’s unanimously recognized amongst NBA fans, casual or not, that Jonas Valanciunas is a crafty offensive player with defensive limitations.

FURTHER READING: Patreon mailbag: An offseason review of sorts

To set a foundation for those not familiar, the usual questions that follow JV around are:

  • Does he have a higher ceiling, or is this ’12 & 9′ it?
  • What happens when we see Valanciunas play in a system that isn’t dominated by guard-play?
  • Should he play those elusive 4th quarter minutes he seemingly never gets?
  • Should his total minutes on the floor increase heavily, stall or be minimized at all costs?
  • Should he start or come off the bench in a ‘Greg Monroe’ type role?
  • To trade him or to keep him?

STRENGTHS:

  • Crafty, efficient offensive scorer
  • Deft touch in the paint
  • Dominant offensive rebounder
  • Exceptional screen-setter (yes, this is a skill if you do it enough)
  • Above-average deep-post defender
  • Fantastic free throw shooter for his position (career – 78%)

Jonas Valanciunas, at times can be an offensive juggernaut who gobbles up rebounds like leftover Thanksgiving dinner.

At times.

Ranked number 80 on Sports Illustrated’s annual list of top 100 NBA players, JV is sitting pretty in some very solid company.

An indisputable fact is that JV remains an efficient and productive player within the role Dwane Casey has given him. He’s asked to crash the boards, set a billion screens to help kickstart the offensive set and quite frankly, be a nuisance down-low for the Raptors.

With star guards like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on the roster, Valanciunas isn’t given much opportunity to showcase his offensive skills.

In his 5 seasons with Toronto, his usage percentage has hovered between 17 and 20 percent. For comparisons sake, DeRozan had a usage percentage of 34.2% last season while Lowry clocked in at 25%. Thus, Valanciunas has essentially been the 3rd, but sometimes 4th offensive option for Toronto in the prime seasons of his career.

WEAKNESSES:

  • Defensive mobility
  • Wild inconsistency
  • Can’t create on his own, needs teammates who can set him up
  • Easily gets into foul trouble
  • Very little perimeter game (although, he is apparently working on it)
  • Playmaking ability is completely absent
  • Severe lack of offensive post-moves
  • I’m sorry, but JV is Berenstain Bear soft

The foremost reason why Dwane Casey persistently keeps Valanciunas out of the 4th quarter is simply due to his defensive ineptness. The NBA has shifted into a guard’s league. More than ever are we seeing small-ball lineups dominate the NBA where 2’s (SG’s) have becomes 3’s (SF’s) and 4’s (PF’s) have become 5’s (C’s). The emphasis on ball movement and spacing has caused this revolutionary change in how basketball is played in the NBA.

Now, JV is dealing with the consequences.

This upcoming season, Dwane Casey’s small-ball lineup will undoubtedly push Serge Ibaka to the 5 while subbing on a player like Norman Powell or OG Anunoby and ultimately moving everyone ‘up’ a position. That leaves JV out of the mix once again, naturally forcing him to give it his all for the first 3 quarters.

JV is inconsistent in his play (like mentioned above) but also lacks abilities which some big men across the league are beginning to embrace. Valanciunas’ perimeter shooting leaves a lot to be desired as well as his playmaking ability.

Let’s be serious for a second.

When are we going to see JV set a screen, roll to the basket, catch the incoming ball and dish it out to an open man all in one fluid motion?

Will it be this season?

Never?

Gotcha.

This offseason, the Raptors coaching staff has been working with Valanciunas extensively on his ‘third eye’ by trying to improve his passing ability. It’s not that Valanciunas is selfish or doesn’t want to give the ball up, but rather he just isn’t making that defense-unlocking pass that can be the difference between a B+ and an A+ shot attempt.

Also Jonas, please for the sake of all Raptors fans, can we see something other than the triple-pumpfake, aggressive drive right, running hook shot? We beg of you, please.

If the last weakness threw you off, it wasn’t meant to. I was being dead serious. JV is the definition of Charmin Extra Strength soft.

Just follow me here.

Don’t get me wrong, Valanciunas can occasionally be a reckless and violent player on the court (hence, the Charmin ‘Extra Strength’). The problem some have with JV is his penchant to shrivel up when things get real. I’ll keep it short and sweet but this video from a USA-Lithuania FIBA game a few years ago says it all.

Valanciunas has undeniably been an important figure in the Raptors last few playoff runs. In 2016, he absolutely dominated the Indiana Pacers and shortly before injury, the Miami Heat (mostly Hassan Whiteside). In 2017, Valanciunas was exposed as a clear defensive mismatch and was nearly unplayable at times.

For the most part, Toronto knows what it has in JV. Now, it’s just fine-tuning the rest of his game to fully maximize his potential.

From here on, it’s on Dwane Casey and the Raptors staff to use Valanciunas in the most effective, safe way as humanly possible.

That means even if JV might have added a 25+ footer to his game, is it safe to allow him to shoot it when left wide-open? Should he maybe just stick to corner threes instead? Will that affect the Raptors spacing positively (the more 3P threats, the better) or negatively (we aren’t really used to this so let’s stop trying this)?

Even approaching his 6th NBA season, with Jonas Valanciunas comes many unanswered questions.

One thing’s for sure. If anyone can successfully split the Raptors fanbase into two diametrically opposed sides, it’s this 7-foot, 255 pound Lithuanian man whose catchphrase we’ll never forget (thanks NBA TV Canada) is “Wictory, baby!”.

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