It’s been a long year of basketball for the Toronto Raptor’s Jonas Valanciunas. After a full NBA season, the lengthiest playoff run in Raptor history, a poorly-timed ankle injury, and an Olympic tournament, Jonas has got his minutes in to say the least.
It looked like the first three of those challenges took its toll on JV, culminating in a sluggish performance at Rio that saw JV tally averages of 6.7 points and 7 rebounds over the course of six games.
In their quarterfinal matchup against Australia, Valanciunas added a measly five points and eight rebounds as the Aussies bounced Lithuania out of competition with a 90-64 win. This compared to the career-best 12.8 and 9.1 rebounds JV averaged in the NBA.
Lithuania Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas was not impressed with Valanciunas’ effort at the Olympics, and vocalized his thoughts on the cornerstone of the country’s basketball program for the future.
“I wish him to understand, that if you live only by talent, this fairy tale can end one day,” Kazlauskas told 24Sek’s Donatas Urbonas.
Kazlauskas on Valanciunas: 'I wish him to understand, that if you live only by talent, this fairy-tale can end one day'
— Donatas Urbonas (@Urbodo) August 17, 2016
Kazlauskas on Valanciunas: 'I believe Lithuania will be his team in future and he'll be fine. But he has to dedicate himself to bball more'
— Donatas Urbonas (@Urbodo) August 18, 2016
He also noted the big man has to dedicate himself to basketball more, which is an interesting thing to say considering the man hasn’t stopped playing basketball this year, although not performing at the level expected internationally.
Obviously there is room for improvement with the big Lithuanian, but the answer may not be the one Kazlauskas wants to hear. Valanciunas has improved every season he’s been with the Raptors, using his size and strength to dominate around the rim offensively while doing a good job controlling the boards. But the issue that still remains with Jonas is his speed, particularly on the defensive side where he becomes a liability. His size works for him on the offensive side, but hampers him on defence.
Transitioning back to the FIBA game, where traditional centres like JV are rampant, does not help his professional development. In fact, getting attacked by burly big men exhausts the 24-year old, and makes him a liability on both ends of the court, as his international numbers show.
In the NBA, where the 5’s are longer and leaner, Valanciunas is able to throw his weight around and not get exhausted, while relying on help defence on the other end of the court to maintain his motor. Big men like Australia’s Andrew Bogut and Aaron Baynes are the type of guys JV can’t physically dominate and in turn tire him out.
If Kazlauskas truly wishes the fairy tale keeps going for Valanciunas, the answer might be sitting out for Lithuania in order to focus on recovery and personal development for the upcoming NBA season.
The break in between basketball would serve as an opportunity for the big man to let his body get back to full strength, while working on areas of his game that need improvement. The offseason is where good players become great, and with JV using it to play a style of basketball that doesn’t fit in the NBA he keeps himself at the plateau of a good player.
Steve Nash didn’t take home two MVP’s until after he decided to pass on Team Canada, and instead used that time to improve personally. Reports suggest that Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas had similar mentalities while opting out of International competition this year.
That being said, representing the country of Lithuania comes as a great honour, and isn’t something I see the big man backing out of quite yet. Time will tell how Valanciunas decides to split up his upcoming years of basketball, but one thing Raptors’ fans are hoping for is that this fairy tale never ends.