The NBA season is approaching what would be the halfway point in a non-lockout schedule. Many rookies have started to earn consistent minutes and we’re at the point where we can start to make early evaluations of how teams faired in the 2011 draft. This seasons is interesting in that the two most intriguing draftees, outside of Kyrie Irving, may still play in Europe.
Jonas Valančiūnas, 19, has emerged as a wonder beast and closet sorcerer for Lietuvos rytas over the past couple of months. The young Lithuanian, who slipped to Toronto at the 5th pick, has athleticism and length (7’0″, 7’4″ wingspan, 9′ 3″ standing reach) that are comparable to that of Demarus Cousins (6’10.75”, 7’5.75″, 9′ 5″.)
Now’s the part in a blog post where people usually toss around phrases like “help defense,” “finishing ability” and “nose for the ball” that fail to conjure up any depiction of what a player actually looks like. I’ll lean toward a story instead. It’s relatively common for players at the start of European basketball games to aim a couple of strong cheap shots at opposing stars to see if they can knock them out of their rhythm. A player is alloted more fouls per minute in European ball and the refs usually don’t call off-the-ball contact as closely so it’s usually sound strategy.
Well Valančiūnas hits back, and he hits back hard. Hard enough, so that you see opposing players curl up, go limp and lose their aggressiveness. Valančiūnas looks every bit like a franchise NBA center
and if there was redraft of the 2011 draft knowing what we know now, I anticipate that he would be the consensus selection for the 2nd pick. There may even be a couple of GMs who would make arguments about selecting him in front of Irving.