Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 10/3/13
With Jonas Valanciunas the hype was never going to sustain itself. As he starts his second year in the NBA the mystery of “that kid from Lithuania” is gone replaced by a known quantity. That is not a slam on Valanciunas’s rookie season; his play ranged from fine to good getting better as the season went along. But Detroit rebounding wunderkind Andre Drummond leaped past him as the young centre most likely to devour the world and Valanciunas hit enough bumps particularly defensively to tame the fervor. While the hype has slowed however the hope still remains. “The ceiling is so high for him man” Aaron Gray the Raptors’ veteran centre said Wednesday. “He has a lot room for of growth. He has a lot left he needs to learn. He’s more than willing to do it which is amazing. I think you’re going to see steps from him even more this year. As far along as offensively as he is defensively he’s got to get a lot better for us to be a dominant team.” In reality Valanciunas enters his sophomore year exactly where the Raptors thought he would be. His statistics as a 20-year-old rookie — 8.9 points 6.0 rebounds 1.3 blocks 55% shooting — make him look like the more polished version of Joakim Noah that the Raptors were banking on. As a 21-year-old rookie Noah averaged 6.6 points 5.6 rebounds 0.9 blocks in 21 minutes. And while the tandem of Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani was a defensive catastrophe Valanciunas proved to be capable playing alongside Amir Johnson as the season progressed. His development should still be the foremost concern for fans thinking about the franchise’s long-term potential. The Raptors wanted him to put on some weight this off-season in order to better compete with the league’s beastly centres. But he will need to maintain his agility to be able to serve as a centre in the Raptors’ small lineups. Dwane Casey generally used Johnson as the Raptors’ lone big man in those situations last year. His coach with the Lithuanian national team expressed some concern that Valanciunas was too bulky at Eurobasket this summer. “His coach hadn’t coached against [Roy] Hibbert and Brook Lopez” Casey said. “I don’t think they have those guys. We’ve talked to JV about that … His gradual increase in his weight is going to be good for him. He doesn’t need to come in and add 20 pounds right away. Him getting older he’s going to … naturally get bigger.”
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