After a first round of extremes, Jonas Valanciunas has stepped up big time for Lithuania in his last two outings.
When Jonas Valanciunas can stay on the court, Lithuania win. That’s been the story for the Toronto Raptors big man so far. In Lithuania’s two losses so far, to Serbia and Bosnia, Valanciunas totalled just 18 minutes of action. While the decision to start with him on the bench against France could be put down to a questionable coaching call, Valanciunas dug the hole on his own. In his last two games, the young big has shown he can climb out too.
Foul trouble, a recurrent issue for him in his young career, hindered Valanciunas in those defeats. When Valanciunas was on in the first round, he was really on. A pair of double-doubles saw him play a big part in wins over Latvia and Montenegro. When the games really started to count, Valanciunas stepped up and dominated.
The stat line of 13 points and 6 boards in 16 minutes against France, impressive as it was, barely scratches the surface of how beastly he looked in that game. Against a French team with no shortage of stars, Valanciunas looked like a monster. A win today over Belgium would almost certainly put Lithuania into the quarter finals and one win away from the FIBA World Cup next year. The Belgian’s didn’t know what was about to hit them.
An early hard foul on the Lithuanian, which required minor treatment, only made him angry. Valanciunas dominated inside in the second quarter as he finished the half with 12 points and closed out hard on defence. The wild strength he possesses was there to see but, just like in the NBA Summer League, that growing sense of control was too.
The fouls weren’t coming as quick. Valanciunas could impose his will without getting in trouble. This is what Lithuania and Toronto need. They know they’ve got an amazing talent in this big but they need him to become a smarter player. The progress was visible against France and moreso against the, admittedly weaker, Belgians. The double-double secured early in the fourth quarter, Valanciunas sat again. This time it wasn’t because of any mistake he’d made. Valanciunas had earned the rest. The job was done and the blowout complete. With that a spot in the quarter finals pretty much in the bag. If the Raptor can maintain this new found composure, Lithuania will be a tough out for anyone. That’s not as big an if as it was a year ago.