Much like Utah’s Enes Kanter, Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas was an underrated European big man coming into last season. Also like Kanter, who I profiled here, the big Lithuanian failed to deliver on his considerable hype and potential, disappointing scores of fantasy owners across the world.
In another similarity to Kanter, Valanciunas ramped up his level of play as the season drew to a close, except that the Toronto centre was able to do it for a sustained period, over the season’s last four weeks.
Things in Toronto were fairly rosy last season. Dwayne Casey’s squad made it to the postseason for the first time in almost a decade and with all the pieces coming back for another run, things are very stable up north. GM Masai Ujiri did bring in a backup centre in the offseason, the Hawks’ Lucas Nogueira, but he won’t be challenging Valanciunas’ minutes any time soon, as the Raptors still haven’t finished negotiating a buyout with his Spanish team, Estudiantes.
Valanciunas is heading into his third NBA season this coming campaign and we’ve all heard about how big men take a little longer to start being impactful contributors. Valanciunas wasn’t horrible last season, but his output didn’t equal his preseason ADP of 75, as you can see below.
Over the last month though, Valanciunas ramped things up, averaging 14.8 points and 10.2 rebounds on 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 83.1 percent from the charity stripe. Those numbers ranked him 39th over the last four weeks of the season, clearly an improvement on the type of numbers he was putting up early on. Also importantly, Valanciunas played over 31 minutes a game in that stretch run.
In the playoffs, his minutes dropped off slightly, down to 29 per game, but his numbers were still impressive. In the seven-game series against the Nets, Valanciunas averaged 10.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game on 63.3 percent shooting.
With only Chuck Hayes, Tyler Hansbrough and Nogueira behind him on the depth chart, there’s no reason he shouldn’t play over 30 minutes this season. As he gets older and more experienced, we should see an uptick in minutes and usage and I predict this is the season we see a bit of a breakout from Valanciunas. He should play around 32 minutes and we’ll see a lot of fantasy production this coming season.
Without concrete ADP numbers yet, I’d guess that Valanciunas will still be undervalued this coming season. If he projects out as above, that’s about top 50 type of production and I highly doubt he will be ranked in the top 50 on most league hosting sites.
He’s going to be a big target of mine in drafts this season and I’m confident the big man won’t let us down.