NBA Draft 2011: Who is Jonas Valanciunas?
Jonas Valanciunas — a long-lost Jonas brother or a Lithuanian basketball prospect?
Every year at about this time there is a top-rated draft prospect that is a virtual unknown to hoops fans. SLAM regulars will know most of our projected top 10 prospects for the 2011 NBA Draft from the Punks section of the magazine since seven out of the 10 just finished high school a few weeks ago. And Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas were considered top prospects for the 2010 Draft, so if you’ve been reading Draft 365 regularly (which is always a wise thing to do) you know about those two guys also. That leaves one unknown — Jonas Valanciunas.
So who exactly is Jonas Valanciunas and where has he been our whole lives? While the 18-year-old might not be a household name here, he is well known in international basketball circles due to his performance for the Lithuanian U16 and U18 National Teams, which he led to gold medals at the European championships and was named MVP of each tournament. A professional in Lithuania since he was 16, Valanciunas played last year BC Lietuvos Rytas, where he led the team in blocks and played in the Lithuanian All-Star Game.
As for his vitals, his 6-11 and a very thin 210-lbs, which is one of his weaknesses — he needs to add strength. Scouts are wowed over his extremely long wingspan and large hands, which he uses to snag passes and block/alter shots. He’s also quite athletic for a big man, able to get up and down the floor and finish strong above the rim. His go-to move in the post is a nice righty jump hook, that he has no trouble getting off over the defender due to his freakish wingspan. He also has a nice looking shot that he can hit from mid-range, plus the ability to put the ball on the floor and blow by slow-footed defenders.
While Valnciunas is still more prospect than legitimate NBA player right now, his potential is through the roof. If he can add some weight/strength (which, considering he is only 18 and has a nice frame, is totally likely to happen) and improve his back to the basket game, Valanciunas could be a real good NBA pro and should be a top 10 (or maybe even a top five) pick come next June. Depending on his progress this year in Europe, a team drafting him might even decide to leave in overseas for another season so he can further develop (and not take a roster spot and precious salary cap room).
But don’t just take our word for it — check out this video of Valanciunas in action at the U18 Championships last summer versus France, where he had a so-so game of 37 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. (Especially check out his move at about the 6:20 mark of the video).