07-16-2013, 12:40 PM
Birds of a Feather
Join Date: Jun 2011
Bulked-up Jonas Valanciunas is dominating Summer League
LAS VEGAS - One game into the first NBA summer league action he has ever experienced and already Jonas Valanciunas is the story of the tournament.
From Sports Illustrated to ESPN to CBS, all the major U.S. media players were left in awe of the Raptors big man who made his debut in the final game of Day 2 at the Las Vegas Summer League.
That it came in a loss to a Miami Heat squad that likely doesn’t have a player who will make an NBA squad this year is beside the point.
What everyone in attendance saw was a player who has taken a solid rookie season and is already giving every indication his sophomore season will dwarf it.
The more astute critics were careful to point out that Valanciunas’ dominance is coming against players who for the most part are a couple of years behind him in their development. Normally Valanciunas would have played at least once in the summer league already considering he was drafted in 2011. But playing another year in Lithuania before his buyout was complete (the 2011 summer league was cancelled anyway, a victim of the lockout) and then helping Lithuania to qualify for the Olympics and play in them last summer kept him away.
So unlike many others, Valanciunas isn’t here to open eyes or audition for a job. He has got the job already based on that solid rookie season.
What Valanciunas is here to do is take the next step and — as harsh as this may sound — that means crushing the competition that stands opposed.
Game 1, at least the first half, was just that. A veritable crushing of the Miami Heat summer league team by a player hell bent on taking full advantage of the extra muscle he has put on.
In just over 25˝ minutes on the court, Valanciunas scored 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. That 20 of those 23 points came in the first half was telling.
At times on Saturday night, particularly in the first half when Valanciunas was fresh and not yet being doubled by the Heat at every touch, you actually feared for the poor defender who tried to put his body between Valanciunas and the basket.
A large part of it was sheer size. Valanciunas, listed at 7-feet and 240 pounds although appearing heavier, towered and dwarfed every player on the court. But the other part was will and where players would go into the paint full of intent, Valanciunas was driving to the hoop like a man possessed. Anyone that got in his way did so at their own peril.
If you’ve every seen the Seinfeld episode where Kramer dominates at the kiddie dojo, you will have a pretty good idea of what went on Saturday night.
The one-man Valanciunas show lasted just the first half however. This Heat squad, which saw a similar horror show just two days earlier in Orlando when they took on Andre Drummond made the proper halftime adjustment and sent two bodies to Valanciunas every time he touched the ball for the rest of the night.
That combined with what Valanciunas admitted was some heavy legs in the second half meant the domination was limited to 20 minutes rather than the full game.
That was true of every one of the Raptors who seemed gassed in the second half while the conditioned Heat team, courtesy of a week together in Orlando, already owned the second half.
But in the end no player in the game, or as some pointed out no player thus far in the tournament, stood out like Valanciunas.
He is noticeably thicker through the chest and that added strength was obvious as defenders would try to impede his progress only to be brushed past like they were pylons.
Predictably, Valanciunas took no delight in the performance. One of a rare breed of humble players in the NBA, Valanciunas is more Jose Calderon than, say, TJ Ford in his approach to the game.
It’s all about the team and when the team loses, even in an insignificant game like a Summer League game, there is little to be happy about.
Asked specifically what he is looking to get from this 11-day tournament, Valanciunas gave a similar answer to pretty much the same question when he first arrived in Toronto.
“I want to get better like always,” he said. “Every game, every practice, every minute on the court I want to get better. This is the same way.”
It was one hell of a start.