In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that prior to the draft, I did not spend much time researching Jonas Valanciunas. Almost every draft site had pegged the Jazz choosing either Knight (early on) or Kanter (closer to the draft), so I spent most of my time focusing on those two. I also watched Locke's breakdown of JV, and after that, decided I wouldn't waste much effort on JV. However, I became aware of exactly who he was during the FIBA Under 19 World Championships last week, which he absolutely dominated as he lead his team to the title while earning MVP honors. After watching a couple of games and reading up on his performance, I decided to spend some time learning about his game and, hopefully, gaining an understanding of why the Jazz did not take him. Unfortunately, the only thing I realized was how badly the Jazz will regret NOT taking him.
Before anlayzing JV and comparing him to Kanter, I first want to point out that every non-Jordan championship team over the past two decades has had a dominant defensive center. Consider these names: Hakeem, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaq, Ben and Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bynum and Paul Gasol, and Tyson Chandler. As a Jazz fan, it is painfully obvious that you cannot win a title without a center who is willing and able to both guard post players and protect the rim from penetrating wings. This is especially painful because the Jazz have not had such a big man since Mark Eaton. Which brings us to JV.
According to Draft Express and other threads I read (I have included an enlightening thread from Real GM at the bottom of this post), JV's primary strength is his defense. He is known to be extremely aggressive on that end (in fact, one the knocks on his game you will read about is that he is too aggressive on defense, often resulting in him getting into foul trouble) and takes a lot of pride in playing great defense. He is also tall with very long arms (he's an inch or two taller than Kanter, has a 2-3 inch wider wingspan, and a 2-3 inch longer standing reach), which means he will be a true center in the NBA, as opposed to Kanter who is an undersized center at best (many reports say he wants to play PF in the NBA instead of center). Kanter, on the other hand, hasn't shown a willingness to play defense (read Draft Express's analysis for more detail). He also doesn't have the length or athleticism to protect the rim even if he had the desire to play defense. So even if JV's offense isn't as polished as Kanter, there is no question that JV has the potential to be much, much better defensively (which is the Jazz's biggest need).
Not only is JV clearly the superior defender when compared to Kanter, but he also has the ability to be a solid contributor on offense. Admittedly, Kanter's strength is his offense. He is considered to be very polished offensively with a body that can bang with NBA big men. As a Jazz fan, I hope the reports are accurate and that he develops into a beast in the post. However, JV is no slouch on offense either. First, he shoots nearly 90% from the foul line. So even though he is not known for his perimeter game, he clearly has the potential to develop a solid mid range jump shot. He is also a great finisher in the post and off of the pick and roll. Even if his game isn't to the point that you can throw him the ball in the post and expect him to score for you or run your offense through him, he will finish shots he gets off of cuts to the basket and pick and rolls (unlike most Jazz centers of recent or distant memory). Those skills alone could easily net him 12-16 points a game in the Jazz offense. And if he is able to develop any type of post game, he could become a 20 point scorer.
Because it has been said that JV's game needed further development, it has been said that Kanter was the safer pick between the two. However, I am not so sure this is the case. Kanter was an early bloomer who dominated Europe in his early and mid teens (he also had some great games against JV in European Championships), but he hasn't played competitively for nearly two years and nobody knows how his game has developed since then. He also has no experience (other than a short stint in the Turkish professional leagues) against competition above his age group. JV, on the other hand, has been rapidly improving his game over the past two years while playing in Europe's highest level of basketball - and putting up great per minute numbers (his per game numbers aren't all that eye-opening, but when you consider he was 18 and only playing 15 minutes a night, they are very solid). He has also gained 15-20 pounds over that time and shown a willingness to work hard and do what it takes to get better. The fact that he has produced against an extremely high level of competition, while Kanter hasn't even faced such a level of competition, makes me think JV could actually be the safest pick. The jump to the NBA level of competition won't be nearly as big for JV as it will be for Kanter, so it's much easier to predict how JV will do based on his performance in the Euroleague.
To wrap things up, I find it ironic that the Jazz have wasted so many first round picks on tall white guys, hoping to find a legitimate NBA center who can clog up the middle on defense, only to pass on the right guy when he is sitting right in front of them. I sincerely hope I'm wrong on this, but when I think of the defensive havoc he could have caused next to Favors and what a great front line the Jazz could have had for the next decade plus, I can't help but wonder what KOC was thinking. Instead, he followed his recent trend of acquiring undersized bigs who are good on offense but don't play defense. Where has that gotten the Jazz? Even with an all NBA point guard, the closest they came was the Western Conference Finals in a fluke year when the 1 seed lost to an 8 (and since then no better than the second round). It doesn't make much sense to me to take a guy who, if he develops as we hope, will essentially become Al Jeffeson 2.0 when we could have taken a player with the potential to be Tyson Chandler with an offensive game. How did adding a player like that work out for Dallas last year?