The New Orleans Pelicans believe that Jonas Valanciunas will
play a crucial role for their team going forward, as he can help
unlock Zion Williamson's game by making an impact inside (as a
rebounder and shot-blocker) and out (as a three-point shooter who
provides spacing). That's why the Pelicans agreed to lock up
Valanciunas for two additional years via a $30.1 million extension
earlier this week, ensuring that the 29-year-old will remain with
New Orleans throughout his prime.
It isn’t easy to find a center who can do everything the
Pelicans are asking. After all, Valanciunas was the only player in
the NBA to average at least 12.0 rebounds per game while shooting
35.0% from three-point range last year, which is why the Pelicans
went out and traded for him this offseason.
New Orleans acquired the 29-year-old from the Memphis Grizzlies
as part of a three-team deal where the Pels traded away Steven
Adams and Eric Bledsoe.
Valanciunas was dealt after a career-year in which he averaged
17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 blocks, while
shooting 59.2% from the field, 36.8% from three and 77.3% from the
free-throw line. His 12.5 rebounds ranked third-best in the NBA,
and his average of 4.1 offensive rebounds per game was second-best
in the league. He posted a career-high 49 double-doubles, and he
grabbed his 5,000th career rebound on Dec. 30.
Now, the Pelicans are hoping he can provide the same kind of
versatility and production over the next three years.
“He can do a little bit of everything — post up, early entry,
set great screens, great roller, he can shoot the ball,” Kira Lewis
Jr. said of Valanciunas. “He really doesn't have any holes as far
as a big man, so he's a big piece to our team’s success, and I'm
looking forward to how he keeps playing down the season."
The big man won over head coach Willie Green with his effort and
competitiveness during the preseason when he refused to take any
plays off. He even got thrown out of the Pelicans’ exhibition
against the Orlando Magic after picking up a pair of
“He's a competitor,” Coach Green said. “Jonas, he gets in there
and mixes it up. Look, he got two technicals in preseason! He got
kicked out! I haven't seen that before. I'm not paying his fine,
but I don't mind the fact that he's trying to set the tone."
Green is excited to have Valanciunas for the next three years,
and he pointed out that JV can also provide veteran leadership
(which is something New Orleans lacked last season). The 10-year
vet made a similar impact last season in Memphis, where he helped
the young Grizzlies win 38 games and make the playoffs.
“Jonas brings a veteran presence to our team,” Green said. “He
can post, he can shoot the ball from outside. More than that, he's
a great guy to have around. He's done it for a number of years now
and we need his know-how.”
The Pelicans have a number of new faces including Valanciunas,
Devonte’ Graham, Trey Murphy III, Tomas Satoransky and Garrett
Temple among others. The team will need to develop chemistry as the
year goes on — and Zion is currently out for a bit after undergoing
surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot —
but there’s no question that the Pelicans have a high ceiling once
they get to full strength.
“There's a lot of new guys, [and] we all are trying to learn
each other,” Naji Marshall said. “Just like Coach Green is trying
to learn us, we're trying to learn him, so it's a chemistry thing.
As the season goes on, we'll get better... It's all great vibes on
and off the court. We just have to learn each other — how we like
the ball, how we move and stuff, just some small chemistry things,
easy fixes that come with time and reps."
New Orleans is hoping to end its three-year postseason drought
and become a perennial playoff team, with Valanciunas playing a
huge role on and off the court.