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HomeViralScore Big with Valanciunas: The Affordable Ace Pelicans Can't Resist!

Score Big with Valanciunas: The Affordable Ace Pelicans Can’t Resist!

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The Pelicans are still learning to lean on Jonas Valanciunas as a safety valve when the three-point shots are just not falling.

The New Orleans Pelicans were going into their third road game in four nights without a two-time NBA All-Star and one of the most respective defensive stoppers in the league. The visitors had neither Zion Williamson nor Herb Jones against the Houston Rockets but still came out ahead 110-99. Willie Green’s locker room gave most of the credit to their most consistent player, big man Jonas Valanciunas.

The Pelicans needed the win too. They are battling to get above the Western Conference’s second tier and have only two home games remaining before the NBA All-Star break. The win not only boosted them up the standings, it showcased Valanciunas in a way that upped his trade value.

“(Valanciunas) was fantastic,” gloated Green. “He and (Houston’s Alperen) Sengun have that matchup going. Sengun got the best out of us last game. JV was locked in and focused on doing what it took to win the game. He had big play after big play, especially in that second half.”

The long-tenured Lithuanian has started all 48 games this season and 79 last year. Compliments for being dependable do not do him justice. Valanciunas recorded his 25th double-double of the season (25 points, 14 rebounds) to help the Pelicans break a three-game losing streak. Good things happen when Green features Valanciunas.

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New Orleans needs to remember their in-demand, inexpensive safety valve when the three-pointers are not falling. Doing the dirty work is just part of the job, per Valanciunas.

“I have to just play whatever. We have who we have. We all have to do our jobs,” Valanciunas stated. “It’s not an individual sport, it’s a team sport. We all have to know our spots, our job to do and we have to do it no matter who’s playing and who’s not.”

Valanciunas carries Pelicans to win in fourth quarter over Rockets

Jonas Valanciunas with the Pelicans arena in the background free agency

That was the case versus the Rockets Houston. The Pelicans were 11-34 from long-range on the night and have had trouble closing out games. New Orleans has squandered 16 double-digit leads but last night it was Houston who had a problem. Valanciunas poured in 11 fourth-quarter points to secure the victory.

“Yeah, it was one of those games where it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Green laughed. “Throw it to JV. Throw it to the big fellow. Let him settle us down and then he creates offense. He’s getting a shot for himself, for a teammate or he’s going to the free-throw line.”

Those are traits to lean on, not trade away. This performance was one of many to catch the eye of rival front offices, though.

A contract extension is still a possibility but there have been inquiries with the trade deadline just a week away. Valanciunas is not only a great addition for any playoff contender but his expiring $15.4 million contract is also very attractive. His leadership might be more valued in the Pelicans locker room though, going by the compliments of his teammates.

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“He was big for us pretty much all game,” agreed Brandon Ingram. “He made a point to attack Sengun on the offensive end. I think he just did a good job of getting us going and gaining momentum for us. We just kept looking for him.”

Green has been adamant the team needs to take more threes, however, putting up a certain number of attempts a night has to be a flexible mandate. The third-year head coach has shooters available but the Pelicans rotations are still a work in progress. Valanciunas can get any NBA offense back on track when given the chance and veterans like CJ McCollum know it. Green is starting to learn that playing through Valanciunas more often brings better results than aiming for 40 shots from beyond the arc on off-nights.

“He was huge,” McCollum explained. “We tried to get him going early. As the game progressed, he rebounded the ball well. Finished around the basket. He did what he does. Got him some touches, and he established a rhythm.”

Valanciunas is currently 10th in Offensive Rating among centers playing more than 25 minutes a game. Granted, being 23 in Defensive Rating and 16th in Net Rating is a knock but that suggests bringing in a defensive big in support, not shipping Valanciunas out.

The game is skewed too far in favor of the offense in today’s NBA, and the unselfish Valanciunas has the 15th-best assist ratio. His top-10 rebounding on both ends has been a given since Valanciunas was drafted.

The Pelicans are currently mired in the NBA Play-In Tournament muck but sit one game behind the fifth and sixth seeds. New Orleans someone like Valanciunas to lead the way through difficult moments this year, not a draft asset sometime in the future. The front office knows it will be tough to replace his talents and character, not to mention the challenge of incorporating a new big man. Messing up the big man situation could even be the second-worst Pelicans nightmare trade scenario.

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