Jonas Valanciunas is so polished and so effective offensively that there’s been a bubbling sense for a year or two now that he should be further along than he is. The breakthrough didn’t happen last season, as a hand injury combined with a strong contract year from defensive-minded backup Bismack Biyombo suppressed his playing time and overall output (12.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG). At 24, though, there’s enough evidence to suggest that giving up now would be a mistake, especially with Biyombo out of the picture and Toronto’s roster wholly lacking in experienced back-up centers. Valanciunas is a scoring factory around the basket, feasting on close-range shots he creates with his bulk, second-chance opportunities he generates by pounding the glass and free throws he earns by being too much to handle for non-traditional centers. Toronto’s offense ranked in the top five last year so it’s hardly broken, but the timing seems right to feature Valanciunas in greater doses. While Valanciunas must take a step forward as a rim-protector and in pick-and-roll situations, Toronto’s thin frontcourt rotation suggests that this year will be sink-or-swim time for the Lithuanian 7-footer. (Last year: No. 77)
+ Feed him! Per NBA.com, he shot 68.1% on attempts that originated from a post touch last season
+ He’s almost certainly the NBA’s most committed and elaborate pump-faker
– The best recent age-23 comparison points for his production last season (13/9, 6.9 Win Shares) are a somewhat uninspiring mixed bag: Greg Monroe (15/9, 5.9 WS), Kenneth Faried (12/9, 7.8 WS), Andrew Bynum (11/9, 6.6 WS) and Chris Kaman (12/10, 6.1 WS).
– Through four seasons, he’s averaged one assist per every 41 minutes of playing time. He’s also never registered more than three assists in a regular-season game.