Finishing with a career-high 32 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 11 rebounds, the Raptors centre looks to be picking up right where he left off from the 2016 post-season when he was seen dominating on the floor with averages of 13.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
Only a sprained ankle could slow down Valanciunas in that playoff run, but now in his fifth season in the NBA and still only 24 years old, the seven-foot Lithuanian looks primed for a breakout year with that opening-night performance as proof.
More specifically, Valanciunas’ monstrous dunk on 7-foot-3 Pistons centre Boban Marjanovic in Wednesday’s game should be considered a very encouraging indicator that the stars are aligned this season for a big year for the Raptors big man.
Here’s the situation: It’s the second quarter and Valanciunas was coming off a huge 10-point first frame and with his confidence sky-high. On the last Raptors’ possession he drilled a 17-foot jimmy with Marjanovic sagging back on him. Now, with that last shot in the Pistons’ big man’s mind, Valanciunas comes up as a trailer on the break, receives a pass from Patrick Patterson after he gets a little penetration, makes a little pump fake, gets Marjanovic to bite, one dribble, two steps, boom!
The force of the slam ended up knocking Marjanovic to the ground and also earned Valanciunas an and-one opportunity
This highlight is significant not only because it was awesome, but because of the context around it. Valanciunas is somewhat notorious for pump-faking his own offensive opportunities to death. A lot of the times defenders will just stay down on his pump-fake because he isn’t going to pop the jumper. However, in this case, his pump fake was effective because on just the last Raptors possession he put up a shot and drilled it.
A fake will never be effective unless you actually follow through with the action you’re faking sometimes. Should Valanciunas learn to trust his own shot a little more this season that often-mocked pump fake could become a serious weapon for the big fella, opening up the possibility of more Jurassic slams like this one from him more often.