Playing with the cards you’ve been dealt is easier said than done. Some get dealt an easy hand that leads to instant success, while others are get a crappy hand that can create a situation beyond their control.
Since being drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Jonas Valanciunas has so far played for three teams in nearly a decade of playing in the NBA. Six of those seasons have also included postseason appearances, with the most recent one coming with the Memphis Grizzlies.
After being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans back in August, Valanciunas went from playing with a burgeoning playoff contender to a team seeking both an identity and overall stability. This has come with Willie Green in his first season as the Pelicans head coach, the third one for New Orleans in the last three years.
Valanciunas’ 2021-2022 averages of 19.5 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists through 11 games are well above his career averages of 13.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. His current season numbers have been buoyed by the absences of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, with the latter having yet to play a minute this season. The Lithuanian center’s 3-point shooting has also been an added bonus this season, as he is currently shooting 57.9 percent from behind the 3-point line, which would easily be his career-best.
His averages of 20.9 points (on 56.9 percent shooting from the field), 13.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists over the past two weeks come as no surprise as his usage rate on the season has gone up to 23.5 percent, good for 53rd in the NBA and the highest he’s had since 2018-2019. The extra touches and the added attention have done little to affect his production and overall efficiency.
There are also indications that Valanciunas’ presence has had an influence on the Pelicans. New Orleans is currently fourth in the league in offensive rebounding at 11.9 per game, higher than the 11.7 offensive rebounds per game from last season. Of those 11.9 offensive boards per game, the 2013 NBA All-Rookie Second Team selection accounted for more than 30 percent of it (3.8). The Pelicans also remain in the top-10 in terms of rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor, numbers that run parallel to that of Valanciunas’.
Unfortunately, it has not translated to wins as they are currently on a seven-game losing streak, with their only win this season coming against the Minnesota Timberwolves last October 25.
Beyond the numbers, his physical presence and imposing demeanor have added a certain toughness to a young squad that currently has an average age of 25.1 years, which is the ninth-youngest in the NBA. In fact, notorious instigator Patrick Beverley may have been lucky that the referees stepped in between him and Valanciunas.
In the 108-92 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Valanciunas scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but he and the rest of the team could not make the most out of the Mavericks’ slow start.
New Orleans’ lack of depth was on display as Josh Hart started his fifth straight game and did his best Ingram impression (22 points, six rebounds, and five assists). Jaxson was the only bench scorer for the Pelicans with 10 points, while Dallas got more than quadruple that number off the bench. Try as they might, trying to stop Luka Doncic, who was coming off knocking down a buzzer-beater to beat the Boston Celtics, proved futile.
The two-time EuroBasket silver medalist will have a couple of days rest before New Orleans faces the 3-6 Oklahoma City Thunder. After that, it will be an uphill climb as he and the Pelicans take on the Brooklyn Nets and Valanciunas’ former team in the Grizzlies.
Jonas Valanciunas has seemingly been dealt with a tough hand as he joins a New Orleans Pelicans squad that not only is trying to get out of the cellar, but one that is also missing its young stars at the moment. Wins have been hard to come by so far, but count on the four-time Lithuanian Player of the Year to be a steady presence for the Pelicans, win or lose, and whether it’s a blowout or a close game.
The New Orleans Pelicans will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, November 11, at 9:00 AM Philippine Standard Time.