Jonas Valanciunas grabs a defensive rebound vs. New Orleans last season

Five things to know about Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

1)      Now nine years into his NBA career, the 29-year-old continues to get better, averaging career highs last season in scoring average (17.1), rebounding average (12.5) and field-goal percentage (59.2). He ranked third in the NBA in rebounds, behind only Atlanta’s Clint Capela (14.3 rpg) and Utah’s Rudy Gobert (13.5). Valanciunas averaged 15.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, fourth in the league (trailing only Philadelphia’s Dwight Howard, Capela and Portland’s Enes Kanter).

2)      He was an underrated yet vital contributor for Memphis’ two straight postseason-contending teams, helping the Grizzlies reach the play-in round in 2020, then helping to spark them to a Western Conference playoff berth in 2021. During the 9-10 play-in game at FedEx Forum this May, Valanciunas punished San Antonio in the paint, to the tune of 23 points and 23 rebounds. In the West quarterfinal round vs. No. 1 seed Utah, he averaged 15.0 points and 9.8 rebounds.

3)      At 6-foot-11, 265 pounds, he frequently uses his frame to post up in the paint and score over his defender, relying on footwork and skill around the rim. In recent years, he’s also begun to expand his shooting range, attempting just over one three-pointer per game in his two-plus seasons with Memphis. Valanciunas only fired a total of four treys in his first five NBA seasons, but since then he’s made 97, including going 53/148 the past two campaigns, or 36 percent.

4)      Born in Lithuania, Valanciunas is one of 13 players in NBA history who are natives of that nation (the first was Sarunas Marciulionis in 1990). There were three Lithuanians who played at least one game during the 2020-21 season, a list that includes Valanciunas, Ignas Brazdeikis (last with Orlando) and Deividas Sirvydis (Detroit). Previous natives of Lithuania in New Orleans franchise history are Donatas Motiejunas, Darius Songaila and Arvydas Macijauskas. The all-time NBA career leader from that country in various statistical categories is retired center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

5)      The fifth overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Valanciunas remained in Europe for one season before debuting with Toronto in 2012-13. His first official NBA game was a sign of things to come, as he posted a double-double vs. Indiana. Valanciunas spent six-plus seasons with the Raptors, part of five straight playoff teams, including reaching the 2018 Eastern Conference finals. He’s played in a total of 48 career postseason contests, including five with Memphis this spring. His career playoff averages are 12.9 points and 9.5 rebounds.

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