It goes without saying that if the Toronto Raptors are to improve on last season, Jonas Valanciunas will be a key component. Along those lines, management, teammates and fans alike are confident the Lithuanian is ready to take the next step in his development.
From day one, the Raptors have expected big things from the fifth overall draft pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. To his credit, Valanciunas is doing everything possible to live up to those expectations.
This includes spending the summer training with Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the best centres in the history of the NBA. One of the key areas Valanciunas will work on is his low-post game, and there’s few players who have been more effective at this than “The Dream”.
Depending on what you believe, Valanciunas is 6′,11″, or 7′, but either way, he has a clear size advantage over the majority of his opponents. However, the 22-year old still needs to improve on his physical strength and if this photo is anything to go by, it appears he is doing just that.
— John Rallis (@john_rallis) July 30, 2014
The promising thing about the Raptors centre is he’s already shown glimpses of what he’s capable of in his first two seasons in the NBA. In his rookie year, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, before improving to 11.3 and 8.8 respectively during the 2013-14 campaign.
Another encouraging sign is how Valanciunas deals with controversy, scoring a career-high 26 points against the Philadelphia 76ers after being charged with drunk driving in Wasaga Beach. Just for good measures, he followed this up in his next game by grabbing a career-best 21 rebounds against the New York Knicks.
Even more impressive is how the two-time Lithuanian player of the year responds when the pressure is intensified. In his playoff debut against the Brooklyn Nets, Valanciunas snagged 18 rebounds (together with 17 points), which set a new franchise record for a single playoff game.
Valanciunas went on to became the first player since Ralph Sampson and Sam Perkins (in 1985), with 30 points and 30 rebounds in his first two career playoff games. Unable to sustain this level for the entire series, he still finished with averages of 10.9 points and 9.7 rebounds.
While the re-signing of Kyle Lowry was vital to the Raptors chances for the 2014-15 campaign, Valanciunas’ importance cannot be overlooked. This is going to be an exciting season and you can bet the two-time FIBA Young Player Of The Year will make his presence know. The NBA has been put on notice.