Jonas Valanciunas Is Like Two Cookies (and Amir)

A friend recently told me about a show she was watching where scientists conducted an experiment with young children. They put them in a room and on a table was a cookie. The kids were told that if they didn’t eat the cookie, then after half an hour, they would get two cookies.

Despite knowing that they would get two cookies if only they wait a bit, the vast majority of the kids ate the cookie sitting on the table. Why? Because most young kids live completely in the present and can’t comprehend a future that is not directly in front of them.

So what does this have to do with the Raptor’s draft pick, Jonas Valanciunas?

Well, I have to say I was shocked to hear about all the negative reaction involving the Raptors pick. While I was disappointed that Kanter failed to fall to 5, I was thrilled when David Stern called out Valanciunas’ name. Thrilled and relieved. Part of me, like last year, was afraid Colangelo would turn his nose up at the gift sitting in front of him and stay with his plan. Maybe I’m still stinging from when the Raptors had Andre Iguodala fall into their laps only to politely hand him to the 76ers and instead opt for Rafael Araujo.

So how the hell does this have to do with kids and cookies? I’m getting to that.

As I said, I was a little taken aback by the reaction of the fans. Overwhelmingly negative, or so it seemed. The comments ranged from disappointment that Colangelo didn’t take an NCAA star like Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight, to puzzlement that they didn’t draft someone who would help immediately, to blatant and extremely ignorant xenophobia.

The strangest comments revolved around the fact that the Raptors desperately needed a point guard and didn’t draft one. Sorry? While most people don’t see Jose Calderon or Jerryd Bayless as the point guard of the future for the Raptors, I fail to see how they need to be desperately replaced. Calderon is a far better point guard than many give him credit for, and has been good enough to help the team be one of the best scoring teams over the last 5 years. And Bayless certainly showed he deserves a chance to build on the success he showed at the end of this past season.

To me, center is probably the position most in need of upgrading. While I don’t buy the line that Andrea Bargnani has been playing out of position and is really a 4, no one can argue the Raptors don’t need a new center that isn’t going to hand opposing players rebounds and show the way to the hoop. It’s pretty obvious to me that the center position was the greatest need for the Raptors.

But that’s not why drafting Valanciunas was a good idea.

There were many that felt that Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight were simply better players, having had success in the NCAA. Of course, that is a view not held by the majority of scouts and paid NBA people who probably know a little more than the average Raptor fan. A lot of these fans were the same ones that booed when Ed O’Bannon wasn’t drafted by the Raptors. Unfortunately a lot of North American basketball fans don’t have a very wide perspective. Most Raptor fans only watch Raptor games or the NCAA Tournament, so really have little idea what goes on in most of the basketball world. How many of them would have booed if the Raptors had drafted Robert “Tractor” Traylor and then traded him for that German guy no one had ever heard of? Or if they’d taken Pau Gasol ahead of Shane Battier or even Eddy Curry?

Just because you LIKE a player better, doesn’t actually make him a better player. Both Walker and Knight have their issues that caused them to drop. No one knows if Knight can even play PG, which would be a problem, especially considering that he’s VERY similar to Jerryd Bayless when he came out. Compare the two and see.

And Walker, while a very successful college player, has neither the length nor shot to suggest he can be anywhere near the player he was in college. And I can’t get Damon Stoudamire out of my head. A very good college player who put up good stats as the best player on a bad team, but couldn’t find a role on a better team when he wasn’t allowed to dominate the ball like he was used to.

But the fact that Walker and Knight were questions themselves, questions that lead to them both dropping on draft night, is not what made drafting Valanciunas at 5 a good idea.

A common complaint about drafting Valanciunas is that he won’t help the team immediately. In fact, CBSSports gave the Raptors an F for that very reason (Of course, many of the grades the guy gave are incredibly perplexing. For instance he apparently thought Utah should have drafted Jimmer Fredette instead of Enes Kanter. Wow, just wow.). This would make sense if the Raptors weren’t in the position they are right now. The team won 22 games and, barring an unexpected free agent bounty, don’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs next year. Plus, there wasn’t a player available that would have changed that. Are people really getting worked up about the fact that the team might win 30 games instead of 35? Really?

How many rookies make much of a positive impact in their first year, anyway? John Wall didn’t, and he was the consensus #1 pick last year. You think Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker would have turned the Raptors into a playoff team next year?

Probably the most ignorant complaints I’ve heard about the Raptors drafting Valanciunas is that he’s European, like Bargnani, so he must be soft. My question: Have you watched the guy play before making that rather massive assumption? Obviously not, because he’s basically the complete opposite of Bargnani. Valanciunas is all defense and rebounding, at this point, with a strong motor and gets all his points around the rim. That doesn’t sound at all like Bargnani, does it?

I actually heard a lot of strange comparisons, like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. Peculiar, since none of those guys were known for their defense when they were drafted and had pretty advanced offensive skills. In fact, other than them being European and white, I fail to see the similarities.

The guy that Valanciunas actually reminds me of the most is Amir Johnson, and I’m actually surprised I haven’t heard this before.

While Valanciunas obviously has a lot more length than Amir, the two have strikingly similar games, at this point. Both are high energy, hustle players who rebound and defend well. Both are good, although not great, shotblockers. Both are better team defenders than man-to-man defenders, at this point, due to their slight builds. Both have (apparently) exceptionally good hands and are excellent pick and roll players. Both have a great touch around the basket, despite not being great offensive players, which results in a very high field goal percentage. Even their free throw percentages are similar, very good for big men.

Unfortunately, they even share the same penchant for fouling.

Now, before you start complaining that the Raptors drafted a taller version of a bench player, remember two things. The first is those few inches that Valanciunas is taller can’t be overstated. It’s the difference between Ed Davis and Dikembe Mutombo. It’s the difference between Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal.

If Amir Johnson were 3 inches taller, he’d probably be considered potentially a top 10 center, in the league. And probably be paid a lot more.

Secondly, and more importantly, Valanciunas is only 19 years old and about at the same stage that Amir was a year ago, at 23. I think that Amir comparison is starting to look better.

So am I ever going to get back to the cookies?

The problem is that a lot of Raptor fans seem to have a lot in common with the kids who took the cookie off the table. They don’t want to wait and can’t comprehend a future that isn’t directly in front of them. When Boston drafted Larry Bird (at 6th), they were coming off a 29 win season. And they did it knowing they would have to wait a year before he could play on the team. If they had decided to draft a player that would have helped immediately, then Reggie Theus might have been a good choice. He certainly had a decent career. Sure, Boston wouldn’t have had the decade they did, but at least they wouldn’t have had to wait that year.

San Antonio, after winning 28 games in 1987, won the lottery and had to choose between Armen Gilliam, an All American coming off a 23 and 9 season with UNLV, or David Robinson, who they’d have to wait two years for while he served his time in the Navy. Gilliam made the All-Rookie team and Phoenix, who drafted him, eventually went on to the Conference Finals twice, albeit only once with Gilliam, who was traded after two and a half years to New Jersey. Still, that’s not bad.

Now, obviously Valanciunas isn’t a Larry Bird or David Robinson, but the fact is that you need to look at the big picture when drafting a player. And most fans don’t do that. According to most people who make a living having to know this stuff, Valanciunas was the best player available, and selecting someone else, who is more well known and would have helped immediately, would have been more popular with the fans, it would have also short changed them.

So if you want your cookie right now, then Knight or Walker, or even Biyombo would have made more sense. But if you want two cookies, then Valanciunas, who just about everyone with knowledge of the situation says was the best player available, was the way to go.

Unless of course, you’re happy with this.

25 thoughts on “Jonas Valanciunas Is Like Two Cookies (and Amir)

  1. Tim I gotta say your post is pretty insulting.

    What all this debate should come down to is:

    does one think Val was the best choice available at the time? Ofcourse no one can answer that without pure opinion as there is so little information available. You clearly do and thats fine, in fact I often see you as a reliable source of info. But if someone doesn’t, that hardly means they are like a child taking a cookie only living in the now.

    If you want to use the analogy though… what happens if the 2 cookies you get later turn out to be rock hard and unedible? You were probably better off with the one cookie than 2 no? And isn’t that the crux of the issue…no one knows what kind of cookies we are ending up with because no one has seen the cook at work. Atleast you have an idea of what the cookie infront of you is…. and the fanbase is starving.

    • Theswirsky,

      I agree that the analogy is a little contentious, and between you and me (and anyone else reading this), it was meant to be. I do understand that a good portion of the people who didn’t like the pick have very valid reasons for not liking it, including exactly what you said. Unfortunately you don’t reflect the majority opinion, it seems, and that’s what I am referring to.

      Am I certain that Valanciunas will end up being the best pick? Absolutely not. But the fact that the majority of basketball people, including Bryan Colangelo, who has a pretty damn good track record and the Spurs, who have the best drafting record of anyone in the NBA, and who tried to move up to grab him, believe Valanciunas is the best available pick, then it does give me some comfort knowing that.

  2. I think Valanciunas is similar to Chandler but better offensively. If you watch how Chandler plays it’s eerily similar to Valanciunas. If we get a Tyson Chandler clone out of this draft I’ll be really happy.

  3. Nice piece Tim…well written and apt metaphor. I actually saw that cookie piece (PBS I think) and was not surprised at the kids choices especially with the air of anonymity (thinking keyboard/nick) in the trial. I am looking forward to JV’s growth and tussles with Kanter (my first choice as a big)…they have met a few times in their journey so far and it shall be interesting to follow going forward because of the choices presented this draft. Wonder if Kanter was rated higher by BC.

  4. If you want to use the analogy though… what happens if the 2 cookies you get later turn out to be rock hard and unedible? You were probably better off with the one cookie than 2 no?

    What if the cookiee you decide to eat first turns out to be “rock hard and unedible”? Kids post-rationalize and fail this logic test all the time, so don’t feel bad.

  5. Since Swirsky already ravaged your poor analogy; I’ll just point out your absurd evaluations of this useless pick.

    JV averaged 15 minutes, 5 rebounds and not enough points in a league most Unranked NCAA teams would dismantle. Clearly you’ve got an ax to grind, a drum to beat on — atop your soap box here. All you’re missing is the controversy to draw attention.

    Racism isn’t going to fly. Find a new unsubstantiated absurdity to claim is the reason this pick is anything but failure.

    • Raptor Jesus,

      Apparently I struck a chord with you. And I’m guessing you didn’t actually read my post, since your comment doesn’t make much sense. Nice try, though. And thanks for commenting.

  6. Man, some Raptors fans are so cynical.

    Nice post, a great read, and totally agree with this pick, and I actually think Valanciunas will be a much better player than Kanter. Kanter isn’t a rim protecter like Val, at this point he’s a better scorer and has a better body, but he’s not as agile, not as effective in the pick and roll, and is not a shot blocker (or as good as Val will be). I wouldn’t be that happy at all actually if BC had opted for Kanter, but that’s just me.

    Anyways, would you say Marcus Camby minus the shot-blocking perhaps, is an accurate comparison for Jonas ? What kind of numbers do you think Valanciunas will put up when he reaches his ceiling?

  7. Pingback: Jonas Valanciunas Is Like Two Cookies (and Amir) – Toronto Update

  8. The problem is that Brandon Knight has more potential then JV. The buyout isn’t even an issue, because the lockout will cause everyone to miss out on the year. That’s an advantage for JV. Knight in my estimation could be an all star point guard. At worst, he will play good D, shoot the ball well, and be a Jason Terry like player. AT WORST. He reminds me of Gilbert Arenas.. Only he’s incredibly intelligent. Jonas seems to have a ceiling of an Al Horford type, 15-11 night in night out. I’ll take the floor leader that will get me 18-8 instead. Knight would have been the perfect compliment to Derozan in the back court with his shooting ability. Knight/Derozan/Davis/Bargnani along with a top 10 pick in next years scorer heavy draft would be a good core. Say, for example, Quincy Miller, or Austin Rivers, and that’s a nice base of talent. Point Guards are more of a commodity in today’s league, especially for a young, growing team, than a solid center that isn’t a major defensive presence.

  9. You lost all credibility when you said that Chris Kaman was European and that he wasn’t known for defense. The guy was born in Michigan. He went to high school in Michigan. He went to College in Michigan. How much more American do you want him to be? And in his last college season he blocked 3.2 shots per game.

    I won’t even get into how you think Jose is a good PG because the raptors have decent offensive numbers (if you believe that, I’ve got this neat rock that keeps tigers away!) or that you think 3 inches of height is the main difference between Karl Malone (king of the fadeaway) and Shaq (a 340 pound monster always found within 2 feet of the rim).

    Leave basketball writing to people who know something about it, because clearly…you don’t.

    • Jo,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that Kanter will probably never be the team defender that Valanciunas will, but I think he’s got the chance to be a very good post defender. I see his ceiling on defense as Karl Malone, who was pretty damn good.

      Anony Mous,

      I disagree about Knight. I think his chance of success is lower than anyone except Jimmer. He’s never shown ANY indication he can play PG. In fact he’s got horrible PG stats. At worst I see him as Quincy Douby. I think he probably won’t be that, but IF he does eventually learn the PG position, it will probably take years of struggling. The guy people always point to when they say a guy can learn the PG position is Chauncey Billups. Billups played on 5 different teams over 5 years before he finally got it. It may have eventually been a success for the player, but certainly not for the team that drafted him. In fact, most combo guards who try and make the transition to PG in the NBA don’t end up sticking with the team that drafted them very long, at all.

      And while it’s arguable PGs are more of a commodity, they’re also easier to find than centers. And good ones can generally be found anywhere in the draft.


      Thanks for the traffic! I’m well aware that Kaman is from Michigan, but he plays for Germany, and I was lumping him in with the other European centers to make things easier. Sorry for the confusion. As for his defense, the more knowledgeable basketball minds know that blocked shots don’t necessarily equal good defense. Case in point, JaVale McGee, who’s one of the best shotblockers in the league, but is a horrible defender. Kaman isn’t a bad defender, but he’s not a particularly good one, either.

      I know that Calderon doesn’t get a lot of respect among Raptor fans, but he is better than most think. Outside of simply watching him, you can check out his advanced stats, which are good. Not great, but definitely good. He’s not worth his salary, but he’s more than adequate to run the team for the time being. Unfortunately, good PG skills aren’t always clearly evident to the average fan, so I’m not surprised you didn’t see them.

      As for Malone vs Shaq, Malone certainly was good enough to win the MVP as many times as Shaq and become the second leading scorer in NBA history. Perhaps if he were 3 inches taller he wouldn’t HAVE to have learned that deadly fadeaway that helped him average 25 ppg over the course of his career.

  10. Tim,

    Nice piece. Although I have one minor quibble: I believe that, in the study you referenced, the delicious item in question were actually marshmallows, not cookies :)

    Although there are tons of these studies floating around, so perhaps someone did one using cookies instead.

    • Devin,

      Thanks. I personally didn’t even see the show, but I’m pretty sure she said cookies. I like cookies a lot better than marshmallows. In fact, the only way I like marshmallows is when their roasted. I love it when you roast them to a light brown and then take the outside layer off and then roast the inside. Mmm. Reminds me of growing up.

  11. Salami,

    I’m assuming you didn’t read my entire response to the analogy (or choose to ignore it).

    “Atleast you have an idea of what the cookie infront of you is”

    I hardly feel bad about it. Nice work though.

  12. I believe they are all prospects, no? Sure Darko comes to mind, but Johnny Flynn anyone? Once you eat the cookie, doesn’t it taste better than the two you gave up? All the time.

  13. Salami,

    at which point you get back to EXACTLY what I said initially.

    “What all this debate should come down to is:

    does one think Val was the best choice available at the time?”

    Never did I say one choice is better than the other. Never did I say one cookie was better than two. The “two cookie” analogy infers waiting is the better choice as you will get 2 of the same rather than one. The reality of drafting in the NBA is we don’t know what the end result will be. Therefore, in the end, eating the one cookie MAY turn out being the best choice.

    Eating one cookie versus waiting for two each come with their own risk vs reward.

    I honestly can’t believe I had to explain that or took the analogy that far. I think Tim got my point, I’m not really caring anymore if you do.

  14. Tim,

    Unfortunately … in all likelihood … time will tell that Jonas Valanciunas was NOT, in fact, the best player available, when the Raptors made the No. 5 Selection in the 2011 NBA Draft.

    Although Jonas is going to be a good NBA player it is unlikely that he will ever become a “star” in the league, based on the attributes he has displayed to this point in his career.

    With the No. 5 Selection in this year’s Draft, the Raptors could and should have done better than they did.

    • “based on the attributes he has displayed to this point in his career.”

      Which career was that? Assuming, because your post was 2 years ago you meant his international career?

      LKL Champion (2010)
      LKF Cup (2010)
      3× LKL All-Star (2010, 2011, 2012)
      2× LKL All-Star Game MVP (2011, 2012)
      FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship MVP (2008)
      European Under-18 All-Star Game MVP (2009)
      FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship MVP (2010)
      FIBA World Under-19 Championship MVP (2011)
      2× Lithuania Basketball Player Of The Year (2011, 2012)
      2× FIBA European Young Player of the Year (2011, 2012)
      Eurocup Rising Star (2012)
      All-Eurocup First Team (2012)
      LKL Regular Season MVP (2012)

  15. Hey, nice article, but I just want to point out some things.

    First of all, your analogy is reasonable but not perfect – in this case, the two cookies aren’t guaranteed for Raptors fans. That’s a fact. The thing is, no matter how much raw talent Valanciunas may have, he is not NBA-ready right now and we really don’t know for a fact if he ever will be.

    The reason why most (including myself) would rather have seen someone like Walker taken is because not only does is he a pretty good PG but he is also defensively capable, something that absolutely cannot be said about Calderon. I think this draft is too weak though, and just hope that the Raptors can get a solid player next year.

    Honestly though, have you ever seen a Euro player become what Valanciunas is expected to be?

  16. Therefore, in the end, eating the one cookie MAY turn out being the best choice.
    Weak. I’m relatively new to the Raps scene but I’ve enjoyed your posts at RR and I expected stronger from you.
    Never did I say one choice is better than the other.
    Hedge much? Why say anything then? Look. You’re entitled to your opinion regardless of what an anonymous poster retorts on the Web. You and Tim both take the Net too seriously as a platform to build one’s reputation and ‘cred’ regarding Bball.

    • Khandor,

      You and I have disagreed on the draft, before, and we obviously do this time. there were a few prospects you really liked (Knight, Fredette) that I think have MASSIVE question marks. If Valanciunas has absolutely nothing else going for him, and he does, it’s that the Spurs were trying to trade up to grab him, and that’s good enough for me.


      No, the two cookies aren’t guaranteed, but neither is one cookie. Walker MAY be able to defend in the NBA, but he may not be. It’s not as if Calderon doesn’t try on defense, and he’s also a better defender than many Raptor fans give him credit for. Plus, we know Calderon can run an offense and make those around him better, in the NBA. We have no idea if Walker can. It’s not as if Colangelo passed on a sure thing to take Valanciunas.


      I think Theswirsky’s comment is valid. Why does he HAVE to have an either positive or negative opinion? He can debate the merit of the argument without actually saying my opinion is wrong. I’d probably have the same reaction if someone like Walker was drafted. As for using the internet to build my “basketball cred”, I think that’s a little out of line. I do this and go on the forum on Raptors Republic because I live in Vancouver and no one I know follows, or really much cares about, he Raptors. Besides, I’m pretty much passed the age when I’m worried about basketball “cred”.

  17. Tim,

    #1. Although different media reports have mentioned that the Spurs were trying to move into the Lottery … I have yet to read a single quote from either RC Buford or Gregg Popovich that indicates their intended target was, in fact, Jonas Valanciunas [No. 5] … rather than, either, Jan Vesely [No. 6] or Brandon Knight [No. 8], for example.

    i.e. Each year there are players who are picked by different teams that come almost as a complete surprise to members of the media … primarily, because different teams do a very good job of not being completely honest, re: which player they actually intend to draft.

    #2. Despite the immense level of respect which I have for the Spurs, just because they happen to like a specific player in a Draft class, e.g. DeJuan Blair, does not mean that this player is someone who is destined to play out as a very good pick in the future.

    That said … it would also not surprise me in the least to see:

    – Nando de Colo [i.e. 2nd Rd Pick from last year who I liked a great deal] join their team next season, as the primary back-up PG to Tony Parker

    – Davis Bertans and/or Adam Hanga become 1st-class players in the NBA down-the-road

    … because San Antonio is a top notch organization, in general, that really does know what its doing.

    #3. I have not said that Jimmer Fredette is a player who “I really like” in this year’s Draft. What I’ve said runs along the lines of: “Jimmer Fredette is a Draft eligible player with the capacity to become a ‘star’ in the NBA.”

    These two statements are not the same.

    e.g. Monta Ellis also has the capacity to become a “star” player, in the NBA; but, he is not the type of player who I would prefer to have on my favourite team.


  18. As for using the internet to build my “basketball cred”, I think that’s a little out of line. I do this and go on the forum on Raptors Republic because I live in Vancouver and no one I know follows, or really much cares about, he Raptors. Besides, I’m pretty much passed the age when I’m worried about basketball “cred”.

    True enough. Just shootin the sh!#. Funny how a rude-ass comment brings people together, eh?

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