Ahead of the season, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jonas Valanciunas—one of the league’s most destructive bigs from within 10 feet of the rim—worked on his three-point shot. The massive Lithuanian said he was motivated by the evolving role of the big man in the NBA, but surely in the back of his mind he must’ve also been thinking about his newfound place on the Pelicans: alongside Zion Williamson, in what will soon be one of the most enbeefed frontcourts to ever grace an NBA floor. Any dummy can remember this one weird trick for a juiced-up NBA offense: 1) obtain a Zion 2) direct Zion at rim 3) employ shooters. It would behoove any Zion-adjacent center to space the floor the way Steven Adams couldn’t.
With their superstar still rehabbing a foot injury, Valanciunas is enjoying a career year and has indeed delivered the shooting he promised—albeit mostly in one abrupt and awe-inspiring passage, which I was lucky enough to have caught live. Ahead of Monday night’s game against the Clippers, Valanciunas was shooting an excellent 46 percent from three, on 2.3 attempts a game. In the first half of that game, he hit seven straight threes in the first half alone—
—and would miss his one other attempt from deep later on, ending with 39 points, 15 rebounds, and a 52 percent mark from three on the season. Nobody was more delighted to see this explosion than his peers. Green said the Pels were calling him “Dirk Valanciunas,” and his former point guard in Memphis tweeted excitedly while JV was on fire.
This game is an obvious outlier, but the Pelicans might now trust Valanciunas to shoot more often. If he did push his volume higher—and between his soft shooting touch in the paint and his 78 percent career free throw shooting, maybe this is more sustainable than it currently appears—Valanciunas would be one of the most offensively polished bigs in the league. He’s always set concussive screens, but this way he could credibly pick-and-pop. He’s always gone to work with his wily and efficient post-up game, but this way he’d be able to tuck neatly into a corner as Brandon Ingram drove towards (or Zion catapulted himself into) the hoop. My suggestion to Jonas Valanciunas is to simply start hucking eight of those threes a game and render the concept of Karl-Anthony Towns fully obsolete.