Saturday, July 9, 2011

Comparing Jonas Valanciunas to Kosta Koufos

Let me be clear, the Toronto Raptors may indeed have gotten the best player in the 2011 Draft with the #5 pick, even if they have to wait a year for Jonas Valanciunas to come over. I don’t want to freak you out in comparing him to the current Kosta Koufos, a man who has been buried on 3 NBA benches in 3 years now.

In watching Jonas compete for Lithuania at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships, his domination reminds me of Koufos’ performance for Greece at the FIBA Under-18 European Championship. Koufos finished that tourney averaging 26.5 points, 13 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. As of now, Jonas is at a more than respectable 21 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 3.25 blocks per contest. Valanciunas arguably is playing in the more challenging competition.

Statistics don’t mean anything unless you see some similarities in their games, which I do. Here’s a clip of Koufos in the U-18 European Final, and here’s a clip of Valanciunas as MVP of the 2010 U-18 European Championship. Valanciunas is starting to use his jumper currently. Look at how much more bulked up Jonas is now in just a year’s passing. Jonas is more athletic and leaner than Kosta, but I believe the Greek has the advantage over the Lithuanian when it comes to shooter’s touch. Whether it be in the paint or on jumpers. Both men had/have 4-5 teammates that will make their respective senior team squads but had no problem deferring to their big men studs. Daniel Aubrey wrote a great little piece piece at the conclusion of that Under-18 summer of 2007 tournament and gave Koufos the praises he deserved:

Konstantinos Koufos made up for a slight amount of upset of missing out on the gold medal by picking up the UMCOR U18 European Championship Men Most Valuable Player award. Koufos blew the opposition off the court averaging 26.5 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots whilst playing nearly every minute of the tournament for Greece.

“This is a proud achievement” said Koufos, despite his disappointment of not having the gold medal his performances deserved.

“A gold medal would have been better! MVP is usually the guy with the most points, but of course I’m still proud, you know”.

Koufos not only scored the most points but also had the most rebounds and the most blocked shots, as he scored double-doubles in all but one game of the tournament. In the final he managed 33 points and 13 rebounds, but was still philosophical about his side’s defeat.

“Serbia is a great team,” he said. “So you can’t be upset about losing to them. We just wanted to do better.”

The highly talented center, who was raised in Ohio in the US by his Greek mother, has dazzled scouts, fans and reporters who hadn’t had a chance to see his skills before this tournament due to him playing in the States.

Next season he will continue his highly promising career at Ohio State University.
All-Tournament Five:
Ricky Rubio (Spain)
Edwin Jackson (France)
Dairis Bertans (Latvia)
Milan Macvan (Serbia)
Konstantinos Koufos (Greece)

Koufos put up 33 points and 13 rebounds in the final and seemed to up his tourney performances as the stakes grew. Greece had a solid 4th period lead heading into the final period, but Serbia had the grit to turn the game around and win.

It’s also fun to point out Ricky Rubio on there as this was where his hype bandwagon became warranted. Look for Koufos to play a fairly vital role for Greece come the end of August, and EuroBasket 2011 kicking off. This will be the first time Koufos will have some national team pressure on him since 2007.

Don’t get me wrong, when Valanciunas comes to Toronto and plays for Raptors fans in the 2012-2013 season, he will have a lot more support and responsibility from his coaching staff than Koufos ever did under Jerry Sloan. This is more of a cautious warning that it is indeed imperative that the Raptors properly groom Jonas into the star he can be immediately.

It would be something though if Serbia were to knock off both (potential) tournament MVPs and hoist the trophy on Sunday, making the comparison a bit creepier. Lithuania is a fairly heavy favorite though.

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