Jonas Valanciunas just needs the right investment and offensive environment to prove his value to a team. Is that team the New Orleans Pelicans?
New Orleans Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas just needs the right investment and offensive environment to prove his value to a team. Just look at his production with the Lithuanian National Team. Sure, he is the only NBA player on the team, but the coaches don’t just lean on Valanciunas for everything. Team Lithuania is a respected underdog because the supporting cast and Valanciunas know how to get the best out of each other.
The Pelicans have ebbed and flowed with the big-man roles over the past few years. There is still time to figure things out with a healthy squad; however, Valanciunas has just one year left on his contract with New Orleans. He might still have enough leverage in the open market to get a pay raise on the next deal, but New Orleans is already reportedly out shopping for their next big man.
The front office has stood by Valanciunas since acquiring him in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. Valanciunas wanted job security and got a two-year contract extension in 2021. Now, the problem is figuring out his value and fit with the team moving forward (his extension ends this season). It’s easy to highlight the extremes. One Fadeaway World analyst has Valanciunas as the third-most underpaid player in the league. On the flip side, someone at Bleacher Report has Valanciunas as the third-most overrated player getting an NBA paycheck.
In 2022-23, Valanciunas averaged 14.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 0.7 BPG in 79 games last season and is due $15.4 million on an expiring deal. It is the 15th most expensive contract for a center based on average annual value – right in the middle of the starting level price point.
For comparison, Jakob Poeltl ($20 million) just set a new market for decent traditional big men who can start in various lineups. Meanwhile, Naz Reid got $14 million to be a great reserve option behind Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns. Nikola Vucevic is also an over-30 center getting $20 million.
The issue can be talked to death, but the decision is straightforward: if New Orleans does not want to pay that amount next offseason, then they have to trade Valanciunas before the deadline. Is there value to be had now, or will the front office have to wait and see how the season unfolds? It’s a gamble, especially with all the wear and tear of FIBA play this summer and a looming Olympics that Valanciunas will not miss out on if Lithuania qualifies.
If Lithuania finishes top two in their group, they’d meet up with Group C’s top two (USA, Greece, New Zealand, and Jordan) in the Second Round. Plenty of NBA eyeballs be will watching those battles between Brandon Ingram and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Will they leave as buyers or sellers in the Valanciunas market?
Can’t wait to watch Jonas Valanciunas? Put these dates in your calendar:
Group Play Schedule
Aug. 25: Lithuania vs. Egypt (8:30 a.m. ET)
Aug. 26: Lithuania vs. Mexico (8:30 a.m. ET)
Aug. 29: Lithuania vs. Montenegro (8:30 a.m. ET)