Why we like Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo’s choice at the NBA draft last night
We wouldn’t blame Toronto Raptors fans for letting out a collective groan when the team announced Jonas Valanciunas as the fifth overall pick in last night’s National Basketball Association draft. In Valanciunas the Raps acquired another seven-foot European centre, and we all know how the last one of those turned out. But with president and general manager Bryan Colangelo still calling the shots, we probably shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this is the same guy who passed over a handful of future all-stars in 2006 to select Andrea Bargnani (he’s that last one, by the by) with the number one pick. But five years later, we’re surprisingly impressed with Colangelo’s latest big gamble (hey, sometimes we shock ourselves, too).
Here’s why we like Valanciunas: first, he enjoyed a meteoric rise up the draft boards in recent weeks, thanks in large part to the depressing dearth of talent in this year’s draft class, but also as a result of a series of quality workouts for NBA scouts. He’s an aggressive rebounder—something the Raps lack when the injury-plagued Reggie Evans is out of the lineup—and a legitimate low-post presence (in essence, a bizarro Bargnani). In a possible world, he could address one of the Raptors biggest needs, even though it will surely take time for him to refine his skills and grow into his 6’11 frame.
And here’s why we like Colangelo drafting Valanciunas: it was a ballsy move. Leading up to the draft, pundits were in near-unanimous agreement that the Raps should use their pick to secure a bona fide point guard prospect, choosing either Kentucky’s Brandon Knight or reigning NCAA Player of the Year Kemba Walker from Connecticut. When Knight, who was projected to go third overall, was still available when the Raps made their selection, it seemed like a sure bet. But instead Colangelo snagged a player that make not even be able to play next season because of contract issues with his club team in Lithuania.
Sure, Colangelo just signed a two-year extension—but he’s still an executive in the crosshairs, and that makes the Valanciunas pick all the more fascinating. We’ll be waiting and watching to see if this move blows up in Colangelo’s face (paging Turkoglu, Hedo) or finally returns him to his once wunderkind status.