Toronto Raptors: Is Jonas Valanciunas Set to Breakout This Year?


Toronto Raptors: Is Set Jonas Valanciunas to Breakout This Year?

While Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have developed into franchise players for the Toronto Raptors, the possible emergence of a third franchise player this season should have the Raptors faithful very excited.

Oct 5, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) pressures the Toronto Raptors during the first half at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, I am talking about the possible emergence of 6-11 centre Jonas Valanciunas, whose play at the 2014 FIBA World Cup gave Raptors fans a first-hand look at just how much the powerful Lithuanian has developed this off-season.

After spending his summer doing a variety of things to improve his game, such as working with a running and conditioning coach, to learning post moves with NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, Valanciunas looks to be taking all the right steps towards a breakout season.

Although all of the off-season improvements listed above might sound like a potential offensive increase is in store for Valanciunas, according to Eric Koreen of the National Post, the Raptors coaching staff actually wants to see him improve his defence this season, as opposed to his offence.

Last season the Raptors ranked 29th in defending shots attempted at the rim, 24th in blocks, and 17th in opponents points in the paint per game (42.9 points per game). When you consider that the Raptors ranked 9th in defensive efficiency last season, the need to improve their defence underneath the basket becomes more glaring.

According to, the Raptors allowed 103.7 points per 100 possessions last year when Valanciunas was on the floor, and only 100.5 when he was off the floor. The point difference does not solely rest on Valanciunas’ shoulders, but it is an interesting metric that once again shows the room for growth in his defensive game.

Working with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer, one would assume that they did more than just offensive work in the low post. Meaning that Valanciunas should have a much better understanding of how to defend North American players underneath the basket.

Remember, this only his third season playing basketball in North America.

Most big men transitioning from Europe see an increase in their defensive game during their third season. Take Marc Gasol for example; in his first two NBA seasons, he posted a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 108 in back-to-back seasons. But in his third year, his numbers dropped to 103, followed by 99 in his fourth year and 98 in his fifth year. Along with his defensive rating, Gasol saw his blocks increase by one. Once Gasol became more comfortable to the North American game, he quickly became a standout defensive player. Could Valanciunas follow the same path of development?

More from Toronto Raptors

While the coaching staff might want to see an improvement on the defensive end, their is actually tons of room for growth on the offensive side, too. According to John Schuhmann of, last season the Raptors attempted only 27.6 percent of their shots from the restricted area, the lowest rate in the league.

With aggressive dribble-and-drive ball handlers like Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams, Valanciunas’ ability to establish the low post for the Raptors will be a key part of the team’s offensive success this year. By the looks of things in training camp, the Raptors coaching staff shares the same outlook.

Although the league is shifting more and more away from low post-oriented offences, the Raptors ranked 23rd for points in the paint last season, as well as 26th in fast-break points per game. While both areas could use improvement, Valanciunas’ ability to establish his presence underneath the basket could go a long way to helping the Raptors’ offence.

With improved footwork, positioning and understanding of the NBA, Valanciunas’ offensive game should see an improvement this season. Add in the fact that point guard Kyle Lowry has publicly said the team would like to get Valanciunas more involved with the offence, and you can quickly see why his offensive game could blossom this season.

I guess it’s fitting that Valanciunas added muscle and improved his conditioning over the summer, because by the looks of things, he will be heavily involved in the Raptors’ game plan this year.

With a potential breakout season on the horizon, who knows, perhaps even Charles Barkley might be forced to finally learn how to pronounce Valanciunas’ name correctly. Although we are still a ways away from that point, Valanciunas looks primed to reap the benefits of his hard work this summer and should evolve into a more reliable player for the Raptors.

What do you think, Raptors fans? Is Jonas Valanciunas set to have a breakout season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.