Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
With Andrea Bargnani struggling, Valanciunas is the Raptorsí one true frontcourt hope. Valanciunas is so many things that Bargnani is simply not ó a competent rebounder, a good finisher, a patient participant in Torontoís offense ó and itís in that separation that he gives the Raptors a much-needed relief. Even on a team hit hard by injuries at already weak positions, Bargnaniís chucking act has grown stale, and his defensive devolution has mitigated much of promise born from an incredible start to the 2011-12 season. Heís worn out his welcome and shows no sign of changing his game in a way that would make him more amenable to a team still establishing its defense-first identity.
That makes everything Valanciunas does looks rather rosy by comparison. Thereís a certain glow surrounding Valanciunas these days, built in part by his game and personality, but also due to the fact that he gives coach Dwane Casey a theoretical Bargnani alternative and a promising prospect. Casey clearly has his reservations about playing Valanciunas heavy minutes (heís averaging just over 24 minutes a game), but thereís no question that the Rapsí future rests with the 20-year-old Lithuanian and his eventual development.
The early returns have been rather mixed, as is typically the case with rookies. His ability to convert dunks and layups is somewhat offset by the trouble he has navigating the lane while rolling toward the rim. His shot-blocking ability is mitigated by the fact that he gets completely crossed up in his defensive rotations at times and has been frequently caught out of position. Heís experimenting with a mid-range set shot that would be a valuable expansion to his game, but hasnít yet had much success. Heís a useful player with a bright future, but letís not let Bargnaniís struggles paint Valanciunas as anything more than he is ó a talented, developing big man deserving of more minutes and a slightly longer leash.