A Close Look at the Post Game of Jonas Valanciunas
Deemed by many to be the breakout star of the Las Vegas Summer League, Jonas Valanciunas seems to be on the doorstep of a breakout sophomore season with the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are in the unenviable position of being a middling Eastern Conference team, not good enough to win a playoff series but likely not bad enough to secure a high draft pick. Regardless of which direction they choose to go as a team, they need to focus on the development of Valanciunas, as the former 5th overall pick still seems to focus in the future plans of the franchise.
This post will hone in on one area of his overall game, which is how he fares in the post. As a 6’11”, 230 pound center, it’s clear his future is rooted on the block and he will need to become an elite back to the basket player to carve out his status as a top center. While he did show some promise in his rookie season, it is also clear he has plenty to work on to be a feared post player.
According to Synergy Sports, the amount of offensive possessions used by Valanciunas that ended in a post-up were 26.7%, where we scored 0.88 points per possessions on 48.4% field goal shooting (good for 48th in the league). He has a solid fundamental footwork basis but he needs to work on staying under control while making his moves. He does not have a variety of moves and relies on the hook shot for most of his shots.
His go to move starts on the left block and leads to a sweeping hook shot through the lane. When it works, Valanciunas is under control and taking measured steps before releasing the shot. When he rushes, his footwork falters and he ends up throwing the ball off the back of the rim. The examples below show Valanciunas in his element, shuffling through the lane and ending with a hook shot over the defender.
Later in the season, Valanciunas began to develop a second strong post move which countered the move shown above. He would take one step into the lane, setting the defense up for his standard hook move before a drop step over his right shoulder, finishing with a left handed hook shot. This is successful because the defense expects Valanciunas to go into the lane so the drop step catches the defender moving the wrong way and he has an easy hook shot.
Valanciunas did not show many other moves successfully on a regular basis in his first season. He consistently went back to the hook shot before developing the drop step hook step as a counter later in the season. To become a more effective post player, he will need to expand both his arsenal of moves and the areas from which he starts his attack.
Valanciunas had a high turnover rate in his rookie season, 17.4%, many of which came when he was in the post. According to Synergy Sports, he turned the ball over 21.4% of the time in post up situations. This is due to two main reasons that Valanciunas can improve on in his second season which are his over-reliance on a single move and too much use of his off hand.
As shown above, Valanciunas is a very predictable player in the post and the defense knows that he favors the hook shot time and time again. The guards are able to cheat into the lane and dig down on Valanciunas and strip the ball as he goes up for his hook shot. Once Valanciunas takes a step toward the lane, it’s a safe bet that he was going to the hook shot and the defense could sag off their man and go for the steal. Valanciunas showed a tendency to hold the ball away from his body as he was gathering it which gave the defense the perfect opportunity for the strip.
Valanciunas also struggled when trying a move other than the hook shot, which regularly resulted in a turnover or at times, an offensive foul. In the following clips, watch Valanciunas use his off arm to try to use his strength to get to the rim instead of footwork. He needs to rely more on his footwork instead of just his strength to avoid picking up fouls. He can use his strength to establish position on the block but then use better footwork to get around the defender.
Valanciunas needs some work to become a feared post player, especially against the best defenders. He is vulnerable to getting the ball stolen and uses his off hand too often, resulting in offensive fouls. The good news is he entering only his second season and has perfected one great move with a decent variation. If he is a little more careful with the ball in his primary move while improving his footwork to give him more options when playing with his back to the basket, he will become one of the better post players in the league.