Often times, the evaluation of young talent in the NBA today is viewed through a shorter lens than ever before. Growing up in the NBA is still possible, but a player growing up in one or two years is not only preferred by teams, it’s now the expectation. NBA rookie contracts are structured on a four-year scale that allows a maximum possible control of a player of seven years for a team. Thing is, teams generally need to know by year three if the team is willing to make a commitment to a player long term.
The Raptors young Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas has been a pleasant development over the course of his first two years. His 6-foot-11, 230-pound frame is perfect for an NBA center today. He’s agile with his body control, soft and quick on his feet, and displays a nice soft touch. To go along with that, Valanciunas is a tenacious rebounder, dispelling the notion of European-born players being soft (I HATE that stereotype). He works the glass night-in-and-night-out, willingly using his body to bang in the paint and with purpose, too.
Thing is with Jonas, he’s a nice player. He doesn’t fall in the category of a guy who appears to be on track to be a lock for 20-10 every night, but then again, how many centers in the NBA do that consistently, anyway? Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins are the only two names that come to mind, and Cousins just signed a max-extension with the Kings this past summer. Jonas isn’t going to get a max-offer, obviously. His team option has already been picked up for his third season.
Moving forward, it becomes interesting to ponder what Raptors brass will consider with Jonas. Clearly, the team views him as an asset with some marketable value, but what are they willing to commit to him financially is the question? A question that likely remains in remission until the 2015 offseason, but an important question nonetheless. As it stands, a nucleus of Jonas, Terrence Ross, and DeMar Derozan looks promising. The long shot of all long shots would be if Carmelo Anthony does opt out of his contract with the New York Knicks and looks at the Raptors, and even the Phoenix Suns as the unlikely intriguing destinations. Add Melo to the Raptors nucleus, and Raptor basketball would never have looked so promising.
But back to Jonas, it’s hard not to buy into his potential when you watch him play. Yes, he’s limited and occasionally timid in his post move decisiveness on offense. Defensively he can over-extend on hedges in pick-and-roll, but he’s a serviceable rim protector at only 21 years old. The Raptors don’t and won’t need to depend on Jonas offensively throughout the remainder of this season, but come playoff time he could showcase his encouraging defensive habits.
As I started out saying, players in the NBA today have a shorter progression period. Jonas has progressed well enough to feel confident the team will continue to invest in him, but these next two seasons are going to be huge for Jonas. If he makes a leap or jump warranting a large payday, I’m sure that’s a problem the Raptors would embrace having. If he continues on his average growth rate, it will become a situation for the Raptors to attempt avoiding either: overpaying him (more likely), or underpaying him once the time comes for a contract extension. I’ll leave you with a highlight video from his rookie season last year displaying his nimbleness and force both offensively and defensively quite nicely.