One week ago, the Toronto Raptors finalized a two-year deal to bring highly touted center Jonas Valanciunas over to North America full-time. Raps fans have eagerly awaited the Lithuanian big man's arrival ever since the team selected with the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, excited to see what the 7-footer — whose closest age/size/skill/production comparison at draft time was Dwight Howard, according to one projection system, who won a 2011 world championship with Lithuania's under-19 national team and who was named FIBA's European Young Men's Player of the Year for 2011 — can do for a Toronto team in need of an exciting centerpiece.
Well, for one thing, he can do this.
During Lithuania's exhibition game against Iceland on Tuesday — the Lithuanian national team's final tune-up affair before beginning pool play at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on Sunday against Argentina — Lietuva pushed the ball down the court on the break. An outlet pass found guard Mantas Kalnietis streaking ahead of the pack on the right-hand side of the lane, but with one Iceland defender behind him, Kalneitis decided to put the ball off the glass and leave it for Valanciunas, barreling down the middle of the floor like a freight train. The 20-year-old promptly jumped off two feet from the midpoint of the lane, reached back to corral the carom and crushed it all over the back of that same, poor Iceland defender.
The finish — which pretty accurately summed up the run of play in Lithuania's 101-51 victory — looked positively Shaq-ian. Even more fun, though? How he got there. A legitimate 7-footer who not only can run the floor like that, but actually does it, going full-out sprint from the defensive paint to the rim even in a relatively meaningless "don't get hurt" friendly on the eve of an actual global showcase competition? That's pretty awesome.
Add the athletic gifts and motor to the "dresses up like a wizard in all-star games" panache, and I think Raptors fans are really going to like Valanciunas. If he can hook up with Kyle Lowry on a few of these, they might even love him to a "get his autograph tattooed on your body" level, which we can all agree is a pretty great level.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jonas Valanciunas
- Toronto Raptors