When the Toronto Raptors used another first round pick on another European player, half of Toronto said “who?” and the other half just rolled their eyes.
But we tried to tell you at the time — Jonas Valanciunas was the pick to make.
And his performance for Lithuania at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships is turning heads — he earned tournament honors averaging MVP honors while averaging 23.0 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. He dropped 36 points on Serbia in the tournament finals to lead Lithuania to the win.
Yes, he did it against inferior talent — although Valanciunas completely outclassed Florida center Patric Young, who is considered a borderline lottery pick for next year.
They were watching in Toronto and Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun liked what he saw.
In addition to the gaudy numbers, Valanciunas displayed a genuine love for the game and an intensity and desire to get results at both ends. He showed good fluidity and bounce and kept his foul rate — one of his main weaknesses — mostly under control. He played every minute of the final and looked like he could have kept going, instead bolting around the gym and playing to the many Lithuanian fans in the building before accepting his MVP and championship trophies.
For an in depth breakdown of how Valanciunas plays, check out Sebastian Pruitti over at NBA Playbook, who looked closely at his game.
Now, this all needs to come with a lot of disclaimers because he is 19 and… well, do you remember yourself at 19? Picking the best pro at 19 is hard because people develop differently. But the early signs are good.
This is not Andrea Bargnani part two. The Raptors may have the steal of the draft.
The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.
The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.
Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.
On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.
The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.
The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.
18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:
That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.
LeBron James has always been an incredible passer. In the midst of the Cavs’ Game 2 beatdown of the Hawks, he zipped this one-handed beauty into the paint to Kyrie Irving, who kicked it out to Kevin Love for a corner three:
The three was just one of the 18 Cleveland hit in the first half, which set an NBA playoff record.
The Houston Rockets are still searching for a head coach — with Jeff Van Gundy believed to be their top target — but it won’t be J.B. Bickerstaff, who has served as the team’s interim coach since they fired Kevin McHale in November. According to The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Bickerstaff has informed Rockets management that he’s no longer in consideration for the job:
After a meeting with ownership and the front office on Tuesday, Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has informed team officials that he’s no longer a candidate for the head-coaching job, league sources told The Vertical.
Other NBA teams have started reaching out to Bickerstaff about lead assistant coaching positions, and that’s where he’s transitioned his focus, league sources said.
After the Rockets’ disappointing season and disastrous playoff performance — where they lost in five not-very-competitive games to a Stephen Curry-less Warriors —it makes sense that Bickerstaff would rather get a fresh start as an assistant somewhere else, where he could build up his credentials and be a more highly sought-after head coaching candidate in the future. He isn’t a big name, so he likely wouldn’t be able to command as much money as the Rockets’ head coach as a more established figure would be. Given the Rockets’ uncertain future with Dwight Howard almost certain to opt out and not a lot of long-term pieces around James Harden, it’s not the most stable job in the world.