Is Letting Jonas Valanciunas Walk Best for Both JV and the Pelicans?

NEW ORLEANS – New reporting suggests the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t looking to re-sign free agent big man Jonas Valanciunas. This season, the veteran center was a point of contention, excelling as a low-post scorer and rebounder while still facing major defensive struggles. If New Orleans elects to let him walk this Summer, what will they be missing?

As always, Valanciunas did most of his damage from the block this season with post-ups making up over a quarter of his possessions.

The burly Lithuanian is effective as ever, carving out space with his body before feathering in shots. His fadeaways and face-ups are especially difficult to stop; JV shot 52.5% from the mid-range this season, placing him in the 96th percentile among all players. With Valanciunas on the floor, the Pelicans’ offense improved by four points per 100 possessions.

Aside from generating his own offense and grabbing boards, Valancinuas doesn’t always fit smoothly with the Pels’ offense. He’s not a reliable spacer, shooting just 30.8% from deep on 2.3 attempts per 75 possessions.

Defenses don’t respect Valanciunas, sagging and helping off of him to help on drives. Given how much Zion Williamson lives in the paint, there was often friction and closed-off spacing.

The defense was Valanciunas’ weaker side of the ball this season, as the 32-year-old center’s declining mobility reared its head. With JV on the floor, the Pels’ defensive rating dipped by five points per 100. With Valanciunas as the primary defender, opponents shot 51.8% from the floor. Only Nick Richards, John Collins, Kelly Olynyk and Mitchell Robinson allowed a higher clip among centers this past season with at least 10 field goals defended each game.

Observing the Pelicans’ defense backs up the data, as Valanciunas’ lack of mobility and vertical leaping limited their ability to defend the rim. Opponents shot a strong 65.1% at the rim against the Pels this year, spreading the defense out and forcing Valanciunas to move in space. Teams are diligent in burning slow-footed bigs in a modern NBA where the court is wider than ever. With Valanciunas in high-drop coverage, quick handlers could burn him to the rim. In deep-drop, shooters rained in pull-ups.

Jonas Valanciunas Stats since start of 2021-22 season.

Valanciunas still excels defending down low in isolation. With his strength and balance, Valanciunas stonewalls strength-based scorers. And while mobility is an issue, he did have some games where the mobility was sharper. Against teams without great shooters or ball-handlers, JV found success parking at the rim.

Valanciunas is most valuable as a mismatch hunting big. Some teams simply lack the girth and size to handle him down low and in those games, his value is clear. For a team in need of his scoring punch, Valanciunas will add value. But for a Pelicans team in dire need of rim protecting, playmaking and spacing, it would be wise to let him walk this Summer.

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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One thought on “Is Letting Jonas Valanciunas Walk Best for Both JV and the Pelicans?

  1. Val is so dependable. That’s something that should be a factor. Hate to let him go. But we are desperately in need of a rim protector

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