Is Jonas Valanciunas Ready to Become a Fantasy Hoops Stud?
Jonas Valanciunas has reportedly signed an extension with the Toronto Raptors.
Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas has agreed to a four-year, $64M extension, league sources tell Yahoo. Deal could escalate to $70M
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 20, 2015
That $16 million average annual salary -- if it turns out to be accurate -- would move the former fifth overall pick slightly ahead of newly acquired free agent DeMarre Carroll as the highest-paid player on the Raptors next season.
At the still incredibly young age of 23, JV has been a solid contributor for his three NBA seasons, but he has yet to become the big impact center (fantasy or otherwise) that many thought he would be by now.
Even so, the Raptors obviously looked at the body of work, the tantalizing upside that comes with his combination of youth and experience, and the soon-to-skyrocket salary cap, and decided it would be best to lock up the young Lithuanian before anyone else could get their grubby paws on him in restricted free agency next summer.
Just because he's not an All-Star yet, though, doesn't mean that he hasn't regularly shown signs that bigger and better things are to come.
During the 2014-15 season -- his third in the league -- Valanciunas averaged a solid 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks over 80 games (all starts), while shooting 57.2% from the field and 78.6% from the free throw line.
If anything, those numbers were subtly understated, considering they came in a mere 26.2 minutes per game. Of guys that played in at least 50 contests last year and started in every game they played, that's the fourth lowest average for playing time (and the guys with less floor time ranged in age from 29 to 37).
Raptors' coach Dwane Casey simply didn't showcase trust in the big man, often pulling him early when it came to mental errors and keeping his fourth quarter minutes down to a very low average of 5.1 in the 57 contests that he actually made it onto the floor in the game's final frame. Again, that was the fourth lowest average of anyone starting in at least 50 games last year.
Whether or not it was right for Casey to use such a short leash with Valanciunas is an interesting debate in and of itself, but if you're wondering if JV has shown enough in what time he has been afforded to earn this lucrative new extension, the answer is absolutely.
Prorating his averages to their per-36-minute equivalents would yield 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. For context, JV's numbers in his third season at 22 years of age -- when converted to per-36 -- look eerily similar to Dwight Howard's third year at age 21 in 2006-07, when he posted averages of 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 36.9 minutes per game, while shooting 60.3% from the floor.
For the record, that was Dwight's first All-Star season and he certainly didn't come anywhere close to JV's accuracy from the line. Never has. In fact, Jonas was the only player in the whole NBA last year to shoot at least his 57.2% from the floor and 78.6% from the line.
Per-36 numbers are far from an exact science, by any means, but Valanciunas' putting up per-minute numbers in the same ballpark as one of the most dominant centers in the NBA's current generation (with better free throw accuracy to boot) certainly flew under the radar last season.
Even in limited minutes, Valanciunas ended 2014-15 as a solid mid-round fantasy asset in standard leagues. He finished 61st in nine-category formats and 76th in eight-category, according to RotoMonster.com. If he gets more minutes and touches this year, he could easily creep into early-round value just by continuing to do what he's been doing.
Without even being a big part of the game plan, he has shown that he can be a beast on the offensive end. He's equal parts brutish and soft in his touch and footwork in the paint, and scores at a high rate in both post-up and pick-and-roll situations.
In 306 post-ups in 2014-15, JV scored 1.02 points per possession (PPP), placing him in the 88th percentile. For an idea of how great that is, he's the only player in the top-70 in post-up possessions to score more than a point per possession. He's great in the pick-and-roll too, scoring 1.12 PPP in his 76 attempts, good enough for the 78th percentile. Just imagine what he could do if he was put in those situations more than 8.5% of the time he's on the floor.
As for the defensive end, JV was among the best bigs in the league at protecting the rim last season. On the 8.1 attempts he faced per game in that area, he held opponents to a stingy 46.5% shooting. In the interest of driving the comparison we've already made into the ground, our buddy Dwight Howard held opponents to a comparable 45.7% on 7.3 attempts per contest in 2014-15, and he's still considered one of the best defensive centers in the league.
Casey might continue to use tough love with Valanciunas this upcoming season, but this new iteration of the Raptors should have a lot of room for JV on the offensive end. They swapped out offensive-minded players for defensive specialists this offseason and got a bit thinner on big bodies with the departure of Amir Johnson, so it's not a stretch to think that Valanciunas might have to eat up more than the 19.1% of his team's possessions that he did last season.
Not to mention, management might start subtly reminding Casey that the team now has over 64,000,000 reasons to feed and develop the budding big man more as their potential franchise cornerstone.
If you're drafting Jonas Valanciunas in the middle rounds this year, you're taking the risk of another season of his suffering under the wrath of Casey's unforgiving thumb. If the shackles get taken off (or even loosened ever so slightly), however, his early-round upside could finally be realized, and you could very well end up with one of the most dominant centers in fantasy basketball.
The Toronto Raptors seem ready to invest in him. Are you?