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Q&A: Jonas Valanciunas on shooting 3s, playing alongside Zion and more

Center Jonas Valanciunas knows he 'can't just be a post-up player' if New Orleans hopes to reach its lofty goals.

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas is averaging 15.6 ppg this season.

After challenging the Phoenix Suns to six games in the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs, the New Orleans Pelicans have higher aspirations for the 2022-23 campaign.

“It’s not just the first round. It’s about going deeper,” Pelicans center Jonas Valančiūnas told “We don’t want to limit ourselves.”

With the Pelicans (4-3) hosting the Golden State Warriors (3-6) on Friday (8:30 ET, NBA League Pass), New Orleans’ success this season depends on more than Zion Williamson’s return, Brandon Ingram’s scoring and CJ McCollum’s leadership. It also depends on Valančiūnas, whom Pelicans coach Willie Green called a “pro” for his teamwork and positional versatility. In his 12th NBA season, Valančiūnas has averaged 15.6 points while shooting efficiently from the field (50.6%) and from 3-point range (36.4%) along with 10.4 rebounds per game.

Valančiūnas spoke to about how he has adapted to the modern game, chemistry with Williamson and his native Lithuania winning the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Editor’s note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been edited and condensed.  

What has the dynamic been like with handling overlapping absences with Brandon and Zion?

You have to figure it out. We miss BI, and we missed Zion when he was out for a couple of games. But we have a deep roster. Every guy can be productive. There’s no gap. Zion didn’t play last season, but he’s a big part of this season. He’s maybe the biggest part of this season. If we stay together and healthy throughout the season, then big things can happen.

You’ve always been a versatile player. But what has enabled you to be versatile with your role as well?

You’ve got to adjust. We got firepower on the inside with Zion. There’s not going to be enough space for both of us posting up every time. You have to adjust so you can play on the 3-point line, be a spacer and be a passer. You can’t just be a post-up player. It takes some time to adjust. But as long as we’re winning, we’re good.

How has the chemistry been with you and Zion?

We have good chemistry. We’re just finding the spacing. I’m able to play and be a threat on the 3-point line. It’s not just about being inside. It’s about being able to space the floor and shoot the 3. I work on that a lot. In today’s NBA, there are no more positions. You have to be able to do everything. Big guys are shooting, passing and handling the ball and pushing in transition. There are no positions like there used to be 10-15 years ago. You have to adjust. If you’re able to adjust, then you’ll stay in the league.

Back in the day, it was just battling inside with a big guy. But if you want to be successful and stay in this league for a long time, then you got to adapt.”

— Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas

Were you building those skills before the game became what it is today?

I was not. I was playing like a traditional big guy. I remember when I got to the league, every team had a heavy big guy who was just inside, played strong ball and pushed everybody. I was matching up with those guys. I wanted to be one of them. I was lifting a lot, gaining weight and being the big guy inside. I was not that quick and I was not running that much. Everything started changing then toward big guys being athletic in transition and with shooting 3s. I had to slim down, start running and start shooting.

Jonas Valanciunas (right) and Zion Williamson are finding a rhythm in the New Orleans frontcourt.

When did you change?

I always remember working during the summers on my shot. But in game situations, it never came to that shot. I remember making my first 3 [in 2016-17]. Next season, everything became about shooting the 3. You have to start somewhere.

How have you adjusted with defending both traditional and modern-day bigs?

In this league, the hardest thing is guarding. Everybody is so skillful. The skill level has gone to another level. You see different looks every night with bigs being able to shoot and put the ball on the ground. You can see many different matchups. Back in the day, it was just battling inside with a big guy. But if you want to be successful and stay in this league for a long time, then you got to adapt. There are bigs that are playing on the 3-point line, spacing and popping out all the time. You have to do a lot. It’s not just running up and down the court. It’s going side-to-side as well. It’s tough defending a versatile big.

In today’s NBA, there are no more positions. You have to be able to do everything.”

— Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas

You participated in “The Other Dream Team” documentary. In what ways did Lithuania’s Bronze-medal finish in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics impact you?

Basketball is really big in Lithuania. “The Other Dream Team” was not just a basketball story. It’s an independent story. We were occupied by the Russians [until 1990], and we were going through tough times. It was a political story and a basketball story. With basketball, we showed we can be an independent country. The documentary shows the story where all of these basketball players — Arvydas [Sabonis], [Šarūnas] Marčiulionis, [Rimas] Kurtinaitis — they fought that independent war on a basketball court. They competed against the Russians for the Bronze medal, and they won. It was like freeing the country from Russia’s occupation.

What perspective can you share about living in Lithuania after it gained its independence?

At the time [of the ’92 Olympics], I was probably three months old. But afterwards, we all wanted to live in a free country and enjoy the freedom. That’s what’s going on in the world right now. It’s sad, terrifying and hard to watch. Thatmoment affected my future. I can be a free man now. I can live in a free country. Back in the day, it wasn’t that free.

Do you know any people in Ukraine that have been affected obviously with Russia’s invasion?

I have some friends and friends’ friends who are being affected big time. They’re losing their homes and everything else that they have. It’s sad and it’s terrifying. Thankfully it hasn’t affected my family. My family is still with me. I’m trying to support that side of the world as much as I can. So far, my family has been good. But this isn’t just one country’s fight. After the invasion of Ukraine, that can happen to another country. We all have to support Ukraine. They are fighting our war, not just their war.

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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