Toronto Raptors Centre, Jonas Valanciunas talks to the media in Vancouver.

Toronto Raptors Centre, Jonas Valanciunas talks to the media at Fortius Sport and Health in Vancouver.

VANCOUVER, B.C – The Toronto Raptors are expected to have another outstanding season as they prepare to dominate the NBA eastern conference and win the Atlantic division. Raptors centre, Jonas Valanciunas will be a big part of any success the Raptors have this season. The 7-foot towering centre has the ability to support DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as a third scoring option. The main hurdle for Valanciunas will be staying healthy, avoiding foul trouble, and his foot speed.

Coming into preseason camp in Vancouver, Valanciunas is healthy and not worried about any lingering body ailments. If anything crops up during the season, that’s out of his control. He’s focused on going forward and doing his best on the court for Toronto.

“I feel healthy and fit, no problems for me,” admitted Valanciunas.”Staying healthy is not a thing you can control. You know, everything can happen. Last season it happened twice to me. You can’t control those things, but taking care of your body, working hard, and looking at what you put in your body is really important.”

The 24 year-old missed 17 games with a fractured left hand and also missed 8 games during the NBA playoffs thanks to a sprained ankle. It can be difficult for an NBA big man to stay healthy throughout his career and Valanciunas is by no means over the hill. It’s imperative that he doesn’t attract an injury prone label while entering what is arguably the prime of his career. Staying on the court will determine whether or not he can reach his full potential.

DeMar DeRozan knows how important a healthy Valanciunas is to the Raptors.

“It’s big, it’s big,” said DeRozan. “He showed it in the playoffs, how great of a player and the potential that he has to be able to dominate the game on both ends. Just carry that over from the post-season to this season, it’s going to help us out a lot.”

It will be vital for Valanciunas to dominate in the paint, pickup rebounds, post up opposing defenders, and set screens. Raptors Coach Dwane Casey will be expecting a lot more from the fourth year NBA man. It won’t be enough to put up solid offensive numbers, Valanciunas has to play at both ends of the court.

Coach Casey will be looking for a more complete game and it all starts with protecting the hoop.

“Continue to defend.” admitted Dwane Casey. “During the playoffs last year he had begun to do a much better job of handling pick and rolls. We’re going to see a ton, people are going to try and run us. Our transition defense is going to have to be impeccable, we’re going to have to contain the ball and protect the paint. That’s where he can be a big plus for us with his size and length. He did that when he was healthy during the playoff run. I thought he was playing some of his best defensive basketball of his career.”

Like any NBA player, Valanciunas is quick to respond with his goal of winning an NBA championship. That’s certainly not out of the question with the talent and bench that Toronto has. If The Raptors can pickup where they left off last season, they should be on the right track to achieving a dream that every basketball player grows up with.

“To Win, that’s what it’s all about,” said Valanciunas, when asked about his goals. “It’s all about winning, we have a new team, we have a couple of new pieces. I think that’s good additions for us and we’ll see about it. The goal is to win the NBA, to win the championship. I think every team has a goal to do that, so we are the same.”

Notes: Jonas Valanciunas picked up 3 points, 7 rebounds and a steal in Toronto’s 97 – 93 victory over the Golden State Warriors in preseason action on Saturday night in Vancouver.


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