I’ve seen some confusion as to why Jonas Valanciunas (129th on the ESPN Basic Player Rater last season) is being drafted so highly, so let’s try to explain.
Valanciunas was traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Marc Gasol deal last season. Once Valanciunas was in Memphis, his numbers were 27.7 Minutes Per Game (second highest average of his career), 19.9 Points Per Game, 10.7 Rebounds Per Game, 2.2 Assists Per Game, and 1.6 Blocks Per Game, on 54.5% shooting.
If Valanciunas had averaged 19 and 10 last season for the entire season, then he would be on this list of players: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell Westbrook, Nikola Vucevic, and Nikola Jokic. He would have had the second best field goal percentage of that group, 54.5 FG% to Giannis’s 57.8 FG%.
Everyone on that list is an elite fantasy player. Last year, Valanciunas was the 129th best player in ESPN Basic. This season, he’s being drafted 40th overall, and has 88% ownership.
The Memphis Grizzlies are starting Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson, Jr., and Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas should be the third option on offense, at worst. He’s still just 27 years old. And, while he’s dealt with some foot soreness this preseason, and foot stuff is super scary with bigs, all reports suggest he’s ready to go for the season opener.
Jonas Valanciunas has a chance to be a fantasy force this season, perhaps even a 20-10 traditional Big with good ratios. That’s the reason he’s being drafted in the top 50. All he ever needed in Toronto were more minutes and touches; now that Jonas has them in Memphis, will he be able to capitalize? The drafting public believes Yes.