The 6’11” Lithuanian is a guy who G.M.’s will take because of who he could be, not who he is today. He finishes really well around the rim and has great hands, but he operates almost exclusively via the pick-and-roll and has a very limited offensive skill-set with the ball in his hands. Valanciunas displayed virtually no jump shot and few one-on-one post moves with his club team this season and his turnover rate has to improve. He rebounds the ball at a very efficient rate and is great at putting his body in the right place at the right time, but he will have to get significantly bigger to hold his own in the NBA. But, the foundation is there for a coaching staff to develop Valanciunas into a really nice center.
Valanciunas plays for Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania where he sees about 15 minutes per game. Despite limited minute at his club, he has excelled when given the opportunity. Valanciunas led Lithuania to the gold medal in the U-16 and U-18 European Championships and averaged a double-double at both. Despite being just 18 at the time, he notched 18 points and 10 boards and was named MVP of his league’s All-Star Game this year.
The biggest question regarding Valanciunas is his contract situation with Rytas, an issue that teams were hoping would be resolved by draft day. It appears now that teams would have to shell out over $3 million dollars to buyout his contract, so another season or two in Lithuania seems likely. Clubs picking in the top four or five may now be considerably less likely to take the big man on Thursday night knowing that they could end up in Ricky Rubio-situation. Expect Valanciunas to get taken in the latter half of the lottery as a result.
Strengths- Very good finisher around the rim. Good pick and roll player. Active rebounder who plays with high energy. Has the size and length to be an elite shot-blocker. Has added a lot of muscle in the past year. Dominated U-18 and U-16 competitions and succeeded Enes Kanter as FIBA U-18 Championship MVP. Plays with tons of energy on offense and defense. Developing a decent mid-range shot. Elite free throw shooter (nearly 90% in Lithuania). Soft touch and great hands, especially around the rim. Plays with toughness and physicality. A good passer, moves the ball well within the offense. Good defensive position.
Weaknesses- His club contract presents a roadblock for teams that need help now. His offensive game has been limited almost exclusively to finishing around the basket. Rarely posts up his man, never shoots the ball from farther than 10 feet out. Turns the ball over nearly a third of the time when he receives an entry pass in the low post. Has a tendency to get in foul trouble. Needs to add a lot more bulk to be a top-flight center in the league. He excels in pick and rolls; however his picks would be called fouls in the NBA. Rarely ever puts the ball on the floor to beat his man, if he doesn’t have a shot he gives the ball up quickly. Not strong enough to impact shots on defense, despite good positioning. Not particularly athletic and could get become worse as he adds weight to his frame. Not a good shot-blocker yet.
Overall- Valanciunas’ contact situation has changed the way he is being evaluated for this draft. His expensive buyout options means he will likely stay overseas for one or two more years, an endeavor that some G.M.’s, especially the ones who need to win now to keep their jobs, are not willing to undertake. Even still, rumor has it that the Bucks at #10 and Warriors at #11 are willing to wait, which makes sense considering next season could very well be shortened due to a lockout. While Valanciunas has a lot of areas that need improvement, he has good experience under his belt for a 19-year old and has proven that he can be an elite player. If he can add size and develop a low post game, he could be a Tyson Chandler or even Pau Gasol-level center. Another year or two overseas could do him well, especially for a team that is willing to wait. Don’t be surprised at all if the Spurs trade Tony Parker and the 29th pick to the Kings for Omri Casspi and the #7 pick and use it to take Valanciunas.