Valanciunas Shows Rookies How It's Done

09 November 2012

Jonas Valanciunas - Lietuvos Rytas
Jonas Valanciunas played for Lietuvos Rytas before crossing the ocean and joining the Toronto Raptors

Ten days into the 2012/13 season, Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania is the early frontrunner in the race for the unofficial 'European NBA Rookie of the Year' title.

The 2.11 m center introduced himself to the rest of Europe in 2008, when he led his country to the U16 European Championship and walked away with tournament MVP honours in the process.

He did even better two years later, when he dominated the U18 European Championship with a tournament double-double of 19.4 points and 13.4 rebounds to collect another gold medal-and-MVP combo.

Having wowed Europe, it was time to go global.

Valanciunas was chosen by the Toronto Raptors with the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft in June 2011 and just days later, his 23.0 points and 13.9 rebounds per game brought Lithuania to the top of the podium at the U19 World Championship.

Later that summer, he made his debut with the senior national team at EuroBasket 2011, aged just 19.

He played one more season at Lietuvos Rytas and crossed the Atlantic after the London Olympics.

For many observers in both Europe and the US, Valanciunas landing in Toronto is, either by accident or by design, a match made in heaven.

The Raptors are considered the most 'European-like' organisation in the NBA and the young center had fellow Lithuania international Linas Kleiza, with six years of experience in the league under his belt, to show him the ropes.

Furthermore, Valanciunas paired up with Italian Andrea Bargnani in the frontcourt while Spanish point guard Jose Calderon is also on the team.

The NBA season tipped off on 31 October with the Lithuanian rookie playing 23 minutes in Toronto's season opener against the Indiana Pacers.

The Raptors fell, 90-88, but the young center registered a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The talented 20-year-old has started in all five of Toronto's games and averages eight points and five rebounds so far, his best game an 18-point, six-rebound showing against Oklahoma City Thunder.

Another European rookie who has every reason to smile ten days into the new NBA season is Alexey Shved.

The Russia international, who joined the Minnesota Timberwolves from CSKA Moscow after the Olympics, came off the bench in four of Minnesota's games and in 18 minutes on the court on average contributed 6.3 points and 2.8 assists per contest.

When Spain international Ricky Rubio returns from injury later in the season the Timberwolves are expected to take their high-tempo offence further up a notch, something that should make Shved, who thrives in the open court, feel even more comfortable.


11. Joel Freeland (Great Britain)
Great Britain international Joel Freeland has signed a three-year deal with the Portland Trailblazers


Joel Freeland and Victor Claver also crossed the Atlantic in the summer, and signed with the Portland Trailblazers.

The move to the NBA was long-time coming for both the Brit and the Spaniard, who were drafted by the Oregon franchise in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

At Portland they joined France's Nicolas Batum, already established as a linchpin in the team, and Montenegrin Aleksandar Pavlovic, an NBA veteran who has played in the league for nine years.

The Trailblazers had lured the late Fernando Martin to join them in 1986, at a time when non-American players where a rarity in the NBA.

Later, Drazen Petrovic and then Arvydas Sabonis, for many the two biggest players in the history of European basketball, made their debut in the NBA wearing Portland's trademark black-red jersey with the stripes across the torso.

Despite this long-standing European connection, Freeland and Claver have struggled for minutes in the first ten days of their NBA career.

Freeland has played a total of 17 minutes over three games, scoring six points and collecting eight rebounds.

Claver meanwhile, the fourth Spanish player in Portland's history after Martin, Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez, has only made a four-minute cameo against the Houston Rockets.

A team-mate of Claver at Valencia during the previous three seasons, Nando De Colo, is having a similar experience at the start of his American adventure.

The France international joined the San Antonio Spurs of his star compatriot Tony Parker and has so far had testimonial presence in three games, scoring all his four points in a loss against the Clippers.

Fellow Frenchman Evan Fournier is going through a similar situation. The 20-year-old guard, who took bronze with France at the U20 European Championship in 2011, has so far suited up in two games for the Denver Nuggets, scoring a total of five points.

Mirza Teletovic, the star of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also has to undergo an adaptation process and perhaps make some adjustments to his playing style.

The charismatic forward has so far played in two games with the Brooklyn Nets, scoring a total of eight points.

Two Europeans that have yet to make their NBA debut are Ukraine 2.11 m center Viacheslav Kravtsov of the Detroit Pistons and 22-year-old Lithuanian center Donatas Motiejunas, who is on the books of the Houston Rockets.

Sweden's Jeff Taylor meanwhile has made two -very discreet- appearances with the Charlotte Bobcats.



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