It was a brief glimpse of the Toronto Raptors’ future and a not-successful one at that.
But shortly after Jonas Valanciunas and the Lithuanian men’s basketball team were crushed by 102-79 by Argentina in their first preliminary round game, Luis Scola cautioned against reading anything at all into Valanciunas’s modest game.
“He has a lot of potential,” said Scola, a five-year NBA veteran and current member of the Phoenix Suns – repeating it for added emphasis. “I don’t think you can look at this game and say it was a good test for him, or that you can judge him on this one game. They didn’t play well. We did.”
Valanciunas, chosen fifth overall in the 2011 NBA draft, is expected to play a significant role for Lithuania in this tournament, which continues Tuesday with a game against Nigeria.
The selection of the 2011 FIBA European young men’s player of the year was derided by some in Toronto, who look at the inconsistency of Italian forward (and No. 1 pick in 2006) Andrea Bargnani and wonder if Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo doesn’t have too much of an affinity for Europeans.
But even in a losing effort – on a night when he played just 14 minutes 16 seconds, going 3-for-4 with five rebounds and three fouls – he showed himself to be no Bargnani.
There is none of the sleepy-eyed sauntering back on defence. Valanciunas, who will join the Raptors at training camp, powers down the floor. And as he showed on a quick little jumper in the lane off a long pass – he charged into the lane, stopped dead in his track and flicked the ball over defender Andres Nocioni – he has good body control.
He is sturdy on his legs, and showed little fear of the muck and mire under the boards. But he was effectively benched by head coach Kestutis Kemzura after a couple of sequences where Scola, who scored 32 for Argentina, slipped by him.
“We failed defensively,” Kemzura said without pointing the finger directly at Valanciunas. “We did not do a good job of communicating.”
Kemzura’s decision not to use his big seven-footer was much-discussed by Lithuanian fans and the press online. It was an odd move, considering Valanciunas’s size created a matchup challenge for an Argentine team without a true centre. But a couple of fouls seemed to sour Kemzura on the 20-year-old. “I didn’t play well,” Valanciunas said with a frown. “I played not my best game, and our coach is coaching to win, not give me [playing] time.”