Jonas Valanciunas, the center for the first-place Toronto Raptors, will miss at least four weeks while recovering from surgery to repair a dislocated thumb.
Valanciunas injured his left thumb during a game against the Golden State Warriors. This season with the Raptors, Valanciunas averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. The Raptors are the best team in the NBA with a 23-7 record.
The Harder They Fall
In a game dubbed as a potential NBA Finals preview, the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors for the second time this season to conclude the series sweep. However, despite the big win against the defending champions, the Raptors lost Valanciunas.
In the second quarter, Valanciunas posted up Draymond Green. When Valanciunas attempted a spin move to the rim, Green went for a steal and smashed down at the ball. Green hacked Valanciunas and the center instantly went down while clutching his hand.
Valanciunas left the game with a dislocated thumb. The injury required surgery, which will sideline him for at least four weeks.
The 7-foot Valanciunas was a teenager when he began playing pro ball in his home country of Lithuania. During his career in Europe, he won Lithuania Basketball Player of the Year on three different occasions.
The Raptors drafted Valanciunas with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Valanciunas started in all but six games he played for the Toronto Raptors in his first six seasons in the NBA. During his career, he averaged 11.7 points per game and 8.6 rebounds.
The Raptors finished the 2017-18 season with the best record in the NBA and locked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors won an opening-round series against the #8 seed Atlanta Hawks. However, disaster struck in the Eastern semifinals when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavs swept the Raptors in four games. The Raptors fired head coach Dwyane Casey after being eliminated from the playoffs for a third straight time by the Cavs. They promoted offense-minded assistant coach Nick Nurse to replace Casey.
In the postseason, despite the Raptors overall woes, Valanciunas elevated his game and averaged 14.6 points and 10.5 rebounds.
This season, Valanciunas found himself in a backup role under his new head coach Nurse. Valanciunas only started 10 games and saw his playing time diminish. Despite playing four fewer minutes per game, Valanciunas averaged the same amount of points as last season with 12.8 ppg.
Third-string center, Greg Monroe, moves up the depth chart. Monroe will get Valanciunas’ minutes while backing up Ibaka.
“I wouldn’t say my mindset changes,” said Monroe. “My mindset stays the same. I work every day the same. Just stay ready for my number to be called. That’s what I focus on.”
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Toronto Raptors are 6-1 favorites to win the NBA championship.