Jul 23, 2013, 11:22 AM EDT
Jonas Valanciunas showed up to Las Vegas NBA Summer League and the first thing you noticed was his physique — the 21-year-old had hit the gym and filled out his upper body considerably.
He then used that new strength to be the most dominant player in Las Vegas — he averaged 18.8 points per game on 56 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds a game. He was an intimidating defensive force and patient on offense when he got the ball in the block. He was a man among boys.
He deserved it and was named Summer League MVP on Monday.
Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick in 2011, still has a lot of European game in him — he has a midrange shot, he loves to face up then use pump fakes to get his defender off balance then move past them. It worked well in Las Vegas against the undisciplined defenders he often face.
But it was other parts of his game that showed improvement that will matter more. His footwork is improved and he developed a nice jump hook he can take with either hand. He also can pass well out of the post.
How Valanciunas’ development shakes out against the bigger, stronger, more disciplined players he will see in the NBA regular season is the looming question.
But he passed the first test, and the fact there was this much development bodes well for the future of the Raptors and Valanciunas.
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