Lately there's been a lot of talk of building around certain players, and whether the Raptors currently have a talent worth building around. In those discussions, the topic of Jonas Valanciunas' offence came up. Obviously there is also plenty of discussion about his defence, but I thought we could focus just on the one end for now. It seems to me there are several criticisms of his offensive game.
First, his high efficiency is because of his low usage, and because of his high proportion of dump offs and put backs right at the basket. Second, that he does not have a workable jump shot to stretch the D, nor does he use it often enough. And finally, that he doesn't have a dominant enough inside game to forgive that lack of a jump shot.
First, let's consider Jonas' usage. It was 19%. Among all players with more than 16.5% usage and 40+ games played, only Steph Curry had a higher true shooting percentage. So clearly having a low usage in Jonas' range doesn't guarantee that sort of efficiency.
Only 20% of his offensive possessions were put backs. That's still good for the 4th most put backs in the league (which is great) but is a much lower proportion of his possessions than less versatile offensive players like DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond (all close to 30%). Another nice point is that among the top players in number of putbacks, JV is by far the most efficient (of the 9 players with more than 150 putbacks, none break 1.19 PPP except JV, at 1.24).
Meanwhile, only 8% of his possessions are finishing as the roll man. As a team, the bigs are ignored a lot on the pick and roll - league wide, the Raptors had the single lowest proportion of plays finished with the roll man on pick and rolls (looking only at PnR plays) and the highest where the guards finished it (obviously). But even within those low standards, JV was dramatically underused in the pick and roll. He had the highest FG% of the bigs on the pick and roll (or pop, Synergy doesn't differentiate) and yet Patterson, Amir and Hansbrough all got fed on the roll at least twice as often as JV. Point being, though, that this is another high percentage scenario that JV simply didn't get used in very often. Especially considering it was his strength when drafted, and has continued to be in international play.
As for those dump off passes in the lane, they seem to be collected under the "cut" category. Again, only 20% of JV's possessions were used in this fashion. This is in line with the number of possessions Amir Johnson got in this way, and of the top 15 players league wide in total cut plays, JV's 20% of plays ending that way ranks 4th lowest. Lots of players get more looks on easy cuts under the basket - and JV is a little below average converting there among that group - and yet JV remains much more efficient than them overall.
And so here come the two other big questions: first, why doesn't JV have a developed jumper just yet. Well, in terms of not taking them, yep, he doesn't. A full 2% of his possessions were spot up jump shots. 19 shots. That's... not a lot. The good news is he hit 10 of those. So when he doesn't hesitate, he hits those shots. But I recall more than 19 jumpers from JV.
So far as I can tell, when JV pump fakes, then shoots the jumper, those possessions get filtered into Isolation and Miscellaneous possessions. And between those two, he went 7 for 22. Not so nice. But that's after his pump fake (I'm pretty sure), so he's got to cut that out (or at least stop shooting after the pump fake). So that criticism seems warranted - he needs to develop a more consistent jumper, and he needs to be more fearless taking them.
But the follow up criticism was that JV is not dominant enough inside to lack a jumper. Now, setting aside his huge number of put back points, is he a good post player? Can he become one?
First, JV used 34% of his possessions in the post. This is very high. Of the top 50 players in points scored in the post, only 11 had a higher proportion of their possessions used that way than JV. Overall, JV finished 306 possessions in the post. That ranks 17th in the league, while his per-game post-ups would rank 25th in the league. So it's not like he was rarely used in the post, or wouldn't have been scouted for posting up.
So, if we set a baseline for "post" players, in terms of total possessions, what seems reasonable? At least two possessions per game, with lots of games played? At least 1.5 possessions per game? 1.5 possessions per game would work out to 123 possessions used in a full season. So let's filter the results to players with at least 123 possessions used in the post. Note that this is still about 1/3rd the number of possessions JV used, so we aren't cherry picking close to his usage, including a bunch of guys used a lot less than he was.
That filtered group contains 53 players. The top 53 post players in the NBA, in terms of how often their teams go to them in the post. They range from Al Jefferson and his 600+ possessions used to Shaun Livingston and his 128 possessions.
Among those 53 players, JV was:
17th, as noted, in possessions used.
1st (!) in points per possession (1.02, no other player broke 1.00)
3rd in FG% (51.3%, one of 4 players better than 50%)
18th in free throw rate (15%, just behind DeMar's 16%)
20th best in turnover rate (10.5%, nowhere near the 17-18% of the worst offenders)
1st (!) in score frequency (generates at least a point on 52% of his post plays, only 3 players were over 50%)
When I started looking into this, I was hoping to see some glimmer of optimism for Jonas' post game - maybe a decent foul rate to offset his unfortunate turnovers, or at least a middling efficiency to show how improved his running hook and counter spin move had become, even if they were the only two moves he had. I was astonished to find the above rankings.
The single most effective post scorer in the league. The single most reliable post scorer in the league. One of the top post shooters in the league (meaning he does not rely on fouls to score there, and just scores over people, which shocked me). Above average among post players for turnover rate in the post. Above average foul drawer but not reliant on it. Even the 17th rank in total possessions shocked me - but when a full third of your possessions (as scarce as they are) are in the post, and you play 80 games, I guess you get up there.
Now, yes, there are asterisks. Although he did rank far higher than I expected in total possessions, he still was a far cry from the top post possession guys, who had about twice as many. So defences probably didn't key on him entirely. That said, he did average close to 4 post ups a game (and remember, that's possessions finished in the post - pass out and it doesn't get counted), so opposing coaches shouldn't have been shocked by him posting up. In any case, the same is true of almost every player on the list, and none of them hit the efficiency marks that Jonas did. Obviously no guarantees, and there's a lot of upward room to go from 4 posts per game to the top end of 8-10 posts per game, but he's not starting from a tiny sample or just opportunistic post ups.
So can Jonas be a primary option as a post player? Obviously his passing out of the post needs work. But that can only come with repetition and opportunity. But the starting point, of being able to score efficiently in the post, forcing teams to double and thus opening passing opportunities and inside-out play for the team - that part seems to be there already. And the most promising bit is that watching him play, you can see he is not polished in the post yet - he has a move and a counter move, and that's it. If over the years he can develop a counter to his counter, and work on an up and under, and become even more consistent with his current options, that's a lot of reason for optimism.