Jonas Valanciunas Update: How the Future Toronto Raptor is Faring Overseas

By Dan Levine

Since pretty much nobody in the local or national media has paid any attention to Jonas Valanciunas since the end of Eurobasket, I thought I’d give Google Translate a try and interpret JV’s current stats/future schedule for the good of those who still care about basketball in Toronto. I figure it’s more fun than another day of lockout talk.

Remember that Valanciunas captured plenty of headlines by destroying his competition at the Under-19 World Championships this summer, before holding his own against the Gasol brothers and plenty of other NBA talent at the European Championships. Now, completely under the radar, he’s been playing in various league games with his Lithuanian squad, Lietuvos Rytas.

So, here is my best explanation of his current situation and his play to date. And feel free to correct any mistakes made in this interpretation of the data at hand.

First, like European soccer, Rytas is competing in multiple leagues across Europe. Three, to be exact.

One such league is Eurocup, which is Europe’s second-tier transnational league. So, while most North American fans are familiar with the first-tier Euroleague, Rytas failed to qualify for a third-straight campaign with the big boys. Instead, they will compete in the second division, where the quality of competition is still very good, but not elite. Clearly, this isn’t an ideal situation for Valanciunas’ development, but it sure beats playing in charity games like the majority of current NBA rookies.

The Eurocup schedule is released and Rytas plays its first game on Nov. 15. Their Group F schedule can be found here (in English!).

While Eurocup hasn’t started yet, Rytas has already begun play in each of their other leagues, VTB and LKL.

VTB is a league consisting of the most competitive club teams from Eastern Europe and Northern Europe. Those familiar with overseas basketball will recognize traditional Russian powers CSKA Moscow and BC Khimki among the squads competing this season. I took a while trying to figure out what VTB stands for, before realizing the league is simply sponsored by VTB Bank. It also appears the quality of play is strong here, especially between the top teams.

Lietuvos Rytas is off to a solid 4-1 start this season, despite their status as a relatively new team with many new players. Valanciunas has competed in all five contests, and has been solid, averaging 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17 minutes/game. Sure, the numbers might seem underwhelming at first glance, but remember that JV is still just a boy playing with men, and that he has also been incredibly efficient on the court. Those numbers have come with Valanciunas shooting 68% from the floor and 77% from the line. He has also averaged a block and a steal per game, while getting stronger as the year has progressed (a recent 13-point, 7-rebound effort in 18 minutes is one example).

Rytas now has an extended break from VTB league games, playing next on December 3 against CSKA. It will be interesting to see how much burn JV gets against one of the team’s premier opponents.

Finally, the LKL is Lithuania’s domestic league, and the lowest competition Valanciunas will face, for the most part. Here, Lietovos Rytas is off to a 5-0 start, though JV has only competed in two most recent games.

For his part, Valanciunas is averaging 12 points and 4 rebounds in just under 20 minutes/game, and again, he’s largely been the most efficient player on his team (shooting 72%!). Both of his LKL games have come in the past couple weeks, with his biggest statline being an 18-point, 8-rebound, 2-block effort in just 22 minutes, shooting 6/8 from the floor and 6/6 from the line. Rytas plays another LKL game today against first-place Siaullai (6-0), before their next game on Saturday.

So, what do we know about Jonas Valanciunas after ten overseas games to begin his season? First, that not much has changed. He’s young, inexperienced and prone to ups and downs.

At the same time, he’s usually uber-efficient and brings skills to the table that should translate well to the NBA game (efficient, strong with the pick-and-roll, strong foul shooter, shot blocker). As the Rytas season moves on, expect Valanciunas to get more minutes and to continue to develop his game. It will be interesting to see how much burn he gets, since his squad is well aware that he’ll be bolting at the end of the season. At the same time, Rytas will likely need Valanciunas to win, while he should continue to serve as a marketing icon following his performances for Lithuania this summer.

Hopefully, I’ve managed to convey JV’s progress to those out there who still care. Full schedules for the LKL and VTB are linked to here, and if you can often find ways to stream Rytas games online (if it were legal, of course). Have any thoughts or questions on JV? I’ll do my best to help, and I look forwards to comments.

Oh, and based on both JV’s play and the current NBA lockout, it would appear to me that Bryan Colangelo made the correct pick, regardless of how things work out long term. Where would Jonas go if the draft was held today? I’m guessing higher than #5.

Update from Wednesday’s game: Valanciunas with his first start of the season, playing 33 minutes and leading his squad to a 103-74 win and sole possession of first place. His statline: 22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks on 8/9 shooting from the floor and 6/6 shooting from the line. Thanks to commenter Nick for highlighting this as well.


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