The only thing capable of stopping Jonas Valanciunas in his NBA Summer League debut might have been fatigue.
Valanciunas was a huge bright spot in an 81-72 Raptors loss to the Heat that didn’t really feel all that close when the final buzzer sounded at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The 21-year-old came out of the gates with a ton of aggression and dominated inside on his way to a game-high 23 points to go with seven rebounds (three offensive).
Raptors fans should be familiar with the only gear Valanciunas seems to have on the floor, but that motor is now housed by a new and improved chassis. He’s clearly filled out in his arms, back and shoulders since the end of the 2012-13 regular season and that provided him with a clear cut size advantage early on against the undersized Heat on Saturday.
But the 21-year-old pivot admitted he hit a wall in the third quarter of his first game action in months.
“The first two quarters I felt that (size advantage),” Valanciunas said post-game. “After (halftime), I felt kind of tired because of all those trips. I still need some time to get in a rhythm.”
The Heat deserve some credit for the disruption by adjusting in the second half and throwing a second defender at Valanciunas, which is something he’s going to see with increasing frequency in his career. He scored just three of his game-high 23 points in roughly 11 second-half minutes, while turnovers (five) and fouls (four) are other areas where he can improve in his remaining four games here in Las Vegas.
Overall however, Saturday’s effort was a clear sign of Valanciunas taking an enticing step forward. The question is; how many more can JV take?