Of six undefeated teams through two weeks of the 2009-10 regular season, five have rosters featuring Euroleague, world and continental champions and medalists. Three of those five boast plenty all-Euroleague superstars and MVPs, and the other two each have a Euroleague champion to look to for experience. Lietuvos Rytas, by contrast, started the season with just one player who had ever been a full-time Euroleague starter - and he did that for only one season before. Despite his relative inexperience and coming to L. Rytas new this season, point guard Bojan Popovic has proven over two weeks to be the perfect leader, playing almost non-stop and re-defining himself as an assist-maker of prodigious potential. Only a handful of the Euroleague's finest point guards all decade can match the 19 assists Popovic dished while L. Rytas was beating Efes Pilsen and Entente Orleanaise to tie for first place in Group B. Popovic posted 10 assists and 11 points while playing 40 minutes for L. Rytas in its opening-night home win against Efes Pilsen. On the road the next week, he scored another 11 points and distributed 9 assists in 35 minutes to lead L. Rytas to victory in Orleans. He lacked one more assist against Orleans to become the first Euroleague player all decade to register back-to-back double-doubles in points and assists. But the numbers that most prove Popovic's impact on L. Rytas are 2 and 0, wins and losses, respectively. Largely due to his efforts, a young, inexperienced team is sharing first place in its regular season group when no one expected it. For that reason, Bojan Popovic is the choice as Euroleague MVP for October.
Euroleague Basketball's MVP of the Month honor is in its sixth season. Although statistics and performance ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance. The award for October was decided considering the two regular season games played by all teams during that month.
For its regular season Group B opening game, Lietuvos Rytas welcomed to Siemens Arena in Vilnius not only its devoted crowd of Euroleague fanatics, but one of the teams that had beefed up most with big-name summer signings, Efes Pilsen. In the very first quarter, it became apparent that Popovic had become a floor general, hitting three different teammates with assists before his own basket-plus-free throw put L. Rytas ahead 15-13. The hosts did not lose the lead the rest of the game, going up by as much as 22 points late in the third quarter before settling for a 77-70 victory. When it was done, Popovic had played all 40 minutes and had recorded his first career Euroleague double-double - 11 points and 10 assists - to go with 3 steals and a blocked shot for an index rating of 19. His assist total was a career-high for Popovic. Equally important, the Efes backcourt was a non-factor in the game on offense. A week later, Popovic picked up where he left off, conducting the L. Rytas orchestra on the road in Orleans with assists and timely scoring. L. Rytas again led early and often, but when its lead dropped to double-digits before halftime, Popovic stopped an Orleans run with 2 free throws and a three-pointer. In the middle of the third quarter, he buried 2 three-pointers and fed teammate Milko Bjelica for consecutive layups as L. Rytas again finished three quarters with a 15-point lead that was too much for the opponent to overcome. This time, Popovic had 11 points and 9 assists, for a two-game total of 19 assists. Since 2000, only seven other players - Theodoros Papaloukas, Pablo Prigioni, Gianmarco Pozzecco, Tyus Edney, Elmer Bennett, Dragan Lukovski and David Vanterpool - have had 19 or more assists in a two-game span. Popovic is the eighth.
In three previous Euroleague seasons and four more in the Eurocup, Popovic had more of a reputation as a one-on-one threat than a passer. His highest assist total in European competition was 42 over 22 Euroleague games with Dynamo Moscow in 2006-07. He is almost at half that total in two games so far with L. Rytas, proving that he is ready, at just 26 years old himself, to lead a young team by way of inclusion. Its quick start in Group B will no doubt become harder, but under Popovic's baton, a young L. Rytas team is moving forward with confidence into the heart of the season. The fans in Vilnius will no doubt be on their feet in thanks when Popovic receives the October MVP award at an upcoming Euroleague home game.