Raptors make centre Valanciunas 5th pick
Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo feels he addressed one of his team's most glaring needs by selecting centre Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth overall pick of the NBA draft.
Just when the 19-year-old Lithuanian will step on an NBA court is another matter altogether.
Valanciunas, a six-foot-11, 231-pound centre, is considered one of the top players in Europe. However, he is signed to a three-year contract with Lietuvos Rytas and a buyout would have to be arranged with the Euroleague club in order to bring him to the NBA.
Colangelo was prepared to take that risk Thursday night.
"I can tell you that without question we have found a combination of the best talent and the best fit for this team," Colangelo said after the draft.
Valanciunas had a .681 field-goal percentage and averaged 11.7 points over 31 games in Lithuania's top league this past season. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
"I expect to play in the NBA as soon as possible," Valanciunas said from the draft in Newark, N.J. "I want to go and play in Toronto but I don't know what is happening with the [Lithuanian] club. But I think it will be done this year."
Colangelo said he's familiar with the parameters of a potential buyout and plans to meet with the player's agents soon. He added that there is a "good groundwork" in place.
The Raptors have some decent building blocks with a young nucleus that includes DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson. However, the selection of Valanciunas will likely have little — if any — impact on the team next season, when pressure will be high to bounce back from a dismal 22-60 campaign.
Colangelo said he discussed potential deals with a few clubs but that when the Lithuanian was still available at No. 5, he made the decision.
"The direction is clear," he said. "We needed to address the needs at the centre position. We've got a bright, young prospect in the mix now and this pick is going to be the one that people look back and say, 'That was the right guy."'
Valanciunas is considered a strong pick-and-roll player with great size and length, who has solid rebounding and shot-blocking skills. Colangelo said he'd like him to add some bulk so that he can bang with the big bodies under the basket.
"He's all arms and legs right now but you're talking about a solid athlete with a good frame," Colangelo said. "He's got a chance to become a very, very strong player. It's just going to take some time and take some work."
New head coach Dwane Casey — who was hired this week after serving as an assistant with Dallas — said Valanciunas appears to play a style similar to Tyson Chandler, who gave the NBA champion Mavericks a strong defensive presence.
"Tyson Chandler at the same age was not as good as this young man," Casey said. "So I know how important length, athleticism, speed and quickness is. [Valanciunas] is not a plodder, he's not robotic.
"So those things excited me as a coach."
The selection was the Raptors' highest draft pick since they took Andrea Bargnani first overall in 2006. Toronto did not have a second-round selection this year after trading the pick to the Detroit Pistons back in 2007.
Colangelo said his phone was "blowing up" with messages from people around the league who wanted to congratulate him for the selection.
"We said we'd set out to get the best talent and the best player and he clearly fit the bill for us at five," Colangelo said. "We're very, very pleased with the pick."