The Jonas Valanciunas hype machine can’t stop and won’t stop
Eric Koreen May 2, 2012 – 1:02 PM ET | Last Updated: May 2, 2012 1:25 PM
The fifth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, who turns 20 on Sunday, is the greatest hope for a long-term turnaround for the Toronto Raptors
It is possible that expectations might be getting a little out of hand for the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas.
The fifth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, who turns 20 on Sunday, is the greatest hope for a long-term turnaround for the Toronto Raptors. After sitting through rather hopeless seasons of 22 and 23 wins, everybody associated with the team is setting the bar at playoff berth next year. The arrival of Valanciunas is supposed to be a key reason why.
A problem: Rookies rarely blossom right away, especially rookie big men. (Some exceptions, to varying degrees: Tim Duncan, Amar’e Stoudemire and Pau Gasol.) Beyond Gasol, it has proven very difficult for European big men to get acclimated immediately to the NBA game, especially if they are expected to patrol the paint instead of operating on the perimeter.
And yet, the Raptors continue to hype up Valanciunas. For one, there is the half-hour television special on Valanciunas that is on a virtual loop on team-owned NBA TV Canada. As well, there are the quotes that continue to pile up in praise of the Lithuanian centre.
• “I don’t care if the guy is from outer space, because you can’t find a lot of big guys that can run the floor, are athletic with great hands, dives down the lane, finishes at the rim.” – Dwane Casey, June 23, 2011
• “This pick is going to be one where people look back and say that was the right guy.” – Bryan Colangelo, June 23, 2011
• “Clearly there were players on the board that would have yielded instant gratification, or more potential instant gratification. But this is about a long-term pick, and it clearly is the right long-term pick.” –Colangelo, December 2011
• “To have a 7-footer like that with that kind of personality is unusual. Usually 7-footers and big men are reserved. But this kid shows a lot of energy, is a great leader on the court. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm.” – Ed Stefanski, December 2011
• “Valanciunas is a different story. I truly believe his experience is going to have him a step ahead of any rookie we bring in. I really think he’s played against men in Europe. He’s going to be a step ahead.” –Casey, April 27, 2012
• “I saw him last summer with the Lithuanian national team and the Euro games in the championships — big-time energy, runs the floor, rebounds. At the worst, we’re getting a Joakim Noah from Chicago — a guy who mans the middle, challenged a little bit in terms of scoring in the paint but as far as of pick-and-rolling to the basket, he has great hands to roll and finish.” –Casey on Prime Time Sports, April 30, 2012
In fairness, the Raptors have been trying to counter the praise with some realism.
“Young players take time to figure it all out, what the nuances of the NBA are all about,” Colangelo said last week. “He’ll be fine. But we’re not going to force feed anything. I’m not going to tell coach he’s got to play him so many minutes, not going to say he’s got to start.”
If and when Valanciunas struggles to start his career, the Raptors are going to have to double down on such reminders. And if the Raptors complain about outsized expectations, do not forget to have a good, long laugh.