As we’ve mentioned before, the 2011 NBA Draft will be one of the weakest we’ve ever seen. The class just doesn’t have the talent level of previous seasons and it hasn’t been helped by guys like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Baylor’s Perry Jones (among others) deciding to return to school.
The lack of top-level American talent has opened the door for international players and there could be flood of Europeans taken this year. The top-rated international player on most draft boards is Lithuanian power forward Jonas Valanciunas, and he could be a good one.
Valanciunas is a 6’10, 230-pound power forward who has been turning heads ever since he turned pro at 16. Having watched the 18-year-old (he’ll turn 19 on May 6) play a few times, I can tell you that he’s impressive and reminds me of a young Pau Gasol (random video of the kid can be seen here).
Valanciunas is talented and possesses an inhuman wingspan. He’s very good in the paint, with a soft touch and is fearless going up against other bigs because of his length. He’s a good rebounder and while he doesn’t possess explosive hops or athleticism, he does run the floor well and doesn’t take plays off. He also has a very high basketball IQ.
Like most 18-year-olds Valanciunas does need to add some muscle and improve his range.
Valanciunas has had tremendous success on the international stage already. He led Lithuania to the U-16 European Championship in 2008, dominating the tournament with 14.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 23.5 minutes per game as he was named the MVP of the tournament. Then in 2010 he led Lithuania’s team to the U-18 European Championship. Again he was named MVP after averaging 19.4 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
One hangup with Valanciunas is the fact that he has a massive buyout in his contract for this season. That could scare off teams looking for an immediate impact from a pick. He does present a risk in that regard, but we don’t see him lasting outside the top 10.