Jonas Valanciunas remains to be one of the most underrated players in the NBA. His solid post contributions are often overshadowed by the dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Next season will be make-or-break year for the 7-foot Lithuanian. His value to the Toronto Raptors is never in question, but the team has also found success in fielding low usage big men such as Bismack Biyombo.
Justin Rowan of Hoops Habit indicated that Valanciunas should strive to be more assertive and impactful on the court next season. If not, the Raptors may be forced to trade him.
Playing with Lowry and DeRozan has been both a blessing and a curse for Valanciunas. He is often the proud benefactor of lobs and kick-out passes. However, his skills go beyond that of centers DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. He can score from anywhere on the court and commands double teams down the low block.
The Raptors’ back court-heavy offense has prevented Valanciunas from becoming an elite NBA center. He has been reduced to being a defensive stopper who sometimes gets open looks in the perimeter.
During the second round of last season’s playoffs, Valanciunas suffered a sprained ankle, which sidelined him for eight straight games. The Raptors were able to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals while relying on Bismack Biyombo and Patrick Patterson in the front court.
The Raptors ultimately lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the series. The loss wasn’t all bad as the team discovered a blueprint to build around in the future.
Much like the Golden State Warriors, albeit to a lesser degree, the Raptors starting unit doesn’t necessarily require a topnotch center. It simply needs a dependable utility man who could rebound and defend. Someone who could be effective off the ball and have no qualms playing fourth fiddle to Lowry, DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll.
Valanciunas’ numbers have improved each year he has been in the league. Last season, he averaged 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, as per Basketball Reference.
Teams have yet to expressed interest in Valanciunas, but expect the trade talks to intensify next season as the arrival of rookie center Jakob Poeltl has added more pressure for Valanciunas to perform. Despite his all-around game, he is often criticized for his lackluster effort on the court.