“If he plays minutes, he’s going to get rebounds, he’s going to block shots, he’s going to run the floor, he’s going to get easy put-backs, he’s going to suck the defence with him and create scoring opportunities for others. Those facts are undeniable if he plays the minutes.”
Colangelo has staked a considerable part of his reputation — and future — on Valanciunas becoming an elite big man. He could have taken a player who would have made an impact sooner or even traded Valanciunas since the GM has only a team option remaining on his contract (something he claims he is not worried about in the slightest), but chose not to.
Patience is still required, but many others share Colangelo’s optimism.
“He’s a great player, he’s still young, it’s going to take some time for him to grow into his skill-set and his body (but) the sky’s the limit for him, he’s got the skills, the physical ability, offensive talent,” countryman Linas Kleiza said.
“He has everything he needs and I think he’s going to be one of the top centres in the NBA in 3-4 years.”
DeMar DeRozan talked Monday of learning very quickly in scrimmages (before Valanciunas hurt his calf, which could cost him game action in Halifax this week) that scoring at the rim against the big Lithuanian is a formidable challenge.
“We played 5-on-5 and I had to maneuver at the rim away from him a couple of times. (He’s) so long. He changed shots in the paint, it’s kind of tough,” DeRozan said.
“He’s one of the most talented, athletic 7-footers I’ve seen,” added head coach Dwane Casey, who was counting down the days until he could get his hands on Valanciunas as far back as last season.
“We’ve got to be patient with him and bring him along the right way, but he’s got all the tools … He loves contact. He initiates it. (Some) young players have a hard time being the guy who hits first.
“He really has a knack for screen and roll. His roll is really as quick as anybody I’ve seen in a while (and) he has good hands around the basket.”
Valanciunas, already a star in his homeland, is adjusting well to being recognized on the streets of Toronto. Though a bit shy, his personality and good humour was on display when he unexpectedly channeled Borat before going in front of the microphones.
He then summed up what it was like to finally be a member of an NBA team.
“My dream came true, so I feel amazing,” he said simply, later saying he was most excited to face Los Angeles centre Dwight Howard because: “He’s the best centre in the league, I want to try (to match up with him).”
He also said a few more things, totally genuinely, that should warm Toronto up to him quite quickly.
“I’m hungry I want to win … I’m a high energy guy. I like running on the court, I like rebounding, blocking shots.
“We’re going to be a good team. Since I was a kid I liked to play hard. I like the taste of victories.”
So does Colangelo, especially since they haven’t happened too frequently for the Raptors in recent years.
The play of Valanciunas could go a long way towards changing that.
‘THIS YEAR IS ABOUT WINNING’: COLANGELO
Bryan Colangelo wasn’t eagerly anticipating the 2011-12 campaign.
“I cannot say I went into last season excited about what the prospects were knowing that Jonas (Valanciunas) wasn’t coming over. Knowing that it was going to be a struggle to win games. Knowing that it was part of the long grind of letting the young players develop,” said Toronto’s president and general manager.
But better days are here.
“If last year was about developing, this year is about winning, moreso than ever,” he maintained.
Members of the Raptors agree.
“My rookie year and my second year, we said it but, I don’t think everyone bought into it, but this year, that’s what we want to do and this year, it’s no B.S., we really think that we can make the playoffs,” Ed Davis said.
Added DeMar DeRozan: “Not to take away from the guys that were here last year, but we have a lot more talent from younger guys like Terrence (Ross), to Kyle (Lowry),” he said.
“That losing puts a sour taste in your mouth,” Davis said.
“All those (newcomers) are just going to make us that much better. We just have the depth and all the pieces to win in the NBA.”