Raptors Roundtable: Is Jonas Valanciunas poised to break out?

Get to know Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, and see why he chose to play basketball instead of becoming a Lithuanian folk dancer.

With the regular season fast approaching, Sportsnet’s panel of Raptors & NBA experts will be answering the burning questions heading into the 2015-16 campaign. In this edition of the Raptors Roundtable:

Jonas Valanciunas signed a long-term extension in the off-season based on expected growth. Do we see him take that next step this season? Or will we have to wait a little longer. (Bonus: will JV’s role in the offense change at all? Will he make enough strides on D to stay on the court in crunch time?)

Donnovan Bennett, staff writer: Valanciunas got paid more due to the lack of depth in competent offensive big men than for his prior production. I think he’ll take great strides on offence becoming an outlet when Lowry and DeRozan are blitzed by opposing defences. You could make the argument that since he shoots free throws at such a high clip for a big he deserves more crunch-time minutes, but when the Raptors need a stop Biyombo will be Casey’s first choice. When they need a basket a small front court with Patterson stretching the floor and Scola as a facilitator inside could be utilized.

Paul Jones, analyst & radio voice: Valanciunas will take a small step this season particularly if the team’s offensive system runs well. He will be a key in slower paced offensive game that helps the defensive attitude. The new defensive approach will help keep him closer to the basket and may help keep him on the floor more late in games, then again, it depends on the matchup with the opposition’s personnel and the situation in the game.

Dave Zarum, NBA editor: Nobody will benefit more from Amir Johnson’s departure than Valanciunas. Yes, Johnson helped cover for Valanciunas on the defensive end, but without him on the roster there is now a bigger drop-off between JV and the next-best option at centre than last season, which could help the Raptors starting centre see an increase in playing time. We know he’s going to be solid offensively, where he’s already one of the most efficient big men scorers in the NBA (and, as Bennett mentioned, a terrific free throw shooter for his position). If he can hold his own and be asked simply to protect the paint and not have to stretch out to far to guard mobile bigs, Valanciunas should have every opportunity to register a career year. The more I think about it, the more I expect big things from him this season.

Steven Loung, associate editor: Considering the alternative to having him outthere in crunch time at centre is Biyombo I think Casey has no choice but to ride with the team’s new big money big man. This should give him the confidence he’s always been lacking it seems and will further his development. It might not be this season, but JV will come around with big production eventually.

JD Bunkis, SN590 the FAN producer: When it comes to late in games the team lost Amir Johnson so they’ll have to trust JV in crunch time since their options are few and far between. Don’t anticipate him to take a massive leap in his pick and roll defence, but his role in the offence has to be expanded. Expect his FGA’s per game to creep over 10. The franchise needs him to continue to evolve so he should get plenty of opportunity.

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