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NBA / Oct 15, 2012 / 1:00 pm

Toronto’s NBA Future Begins With One Rookie: Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas

“Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman of you.” – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Toronto Raptors rookie center, Jonas Valanciunas, is, in the words of Charles Dickens, “a young fellow of great expectations.”

Valanciunas was selected fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 Draft, but his arrival was delayed last season by his Lithuanian club team, Lietuvos Rytas. Nevertheless, the 7-footer emerged as one of the best young bigs in basketball last year. He dominated the 2011 FIBA Under-19 World Championships two summers ago, where he led the tournament in points (23), rebounds (13.7) and blocks (3.2), and won a gold medal with Lithuania. While playing for Rytas, Valanciunas averaged 18.4 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 40 possessions, and shot 63.4 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line. His player efficiency rating (PER) last season was an impressive 26.7, up slightly from his 25.9 output the previous year. He also participated in the London Olympics as the youngest member of the Lithuania basketball team, recording modest numbers (4.4 points and four rebounds per game) in 10 minutes of action per game.

For some perspective, since being drafted, Valanciunas has been named 2011 FIBA Under-19 World Championship MVP, 2011 FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of Year (joining past winners like Ricky Rubio, Jan Vesely and Rudy Fernandez), 2011 Lithuanian Player of the Year, 2012 LKL All-Star MVP (his second), and 2012 Eurocup Rising Star.

It’s clear coming into the current NBA season that the big man is integral to Toronto’s long-term plans. He’s young, long, gifted, hard-working and surprisingly athletic for his size. Raptors fans accustomed to seeing fours and fives spotting up at the three-point line will be glad to know that the Lithuanian isn’t afraid to play in the painted area, either.

“He does so many things that don’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet that create opportunities for others. He’s the kind of guy that is a factor in so many ways,” GM Bryan Colangelo told The National Post at the team’s media day. “This kid is 20 years old and he represents a big chunk of the future of this organization.”

Again, great expectations.

Valanciunas made his NBA preseason debut in a home-and-home against the Detroit Pistons last week. He recorded two points (1-for-2 field goals), zero rebounds, two blocks, and a plus-8 rating in just 13 minutes (due to a left calf injury that forced him out of training camp and the team’s first preseason game) on Oct. 10; and 11 points (4-for-7 field goals), eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, and a minus-2 rating in 29 minutes on Oct. 12.

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