By definition, small forwards link the backcourt to the frontcourt. As such, they are expected to have skills that apply to both small and big players: scoring, rebounding, passing and, often, defending multiple positions. One player who embodies that versatility is Edgaras Ulanovas, who has spent his entire six-season Turkish Airlines EuroLeague career with his hometown club, Zalgiris Kaunas.
At 28 years old and entering his prime, Ulanovas has already taken on a lot of responsibility for Zalgiris. Since he arrived in 2014, no single EuroLeague forward has played more games (160) or minutes (4,345) than Ulanovas. He ranks in the top 10 among forwards in total PIR (fourth, 1,588), rebounds (seventh, 644) and points (10th, 1,253) during that span. One thing that has separated Ulanovas from most forwards is his affinity for passing, in which he ranks fourth among forwards since his EuroLeague debut, with 298 assists. Unique among the best such forwards, a majority of his assists involve interior passing.
One reason that Ulanovas succeeds as a passer is his low-post game. Even without a mismatch, Zalgiris coach Sarunas Jasikevicius often sets up Ulanovas with his back to the basket near the baseline for the express purpose of passing out if the defense sags to impede him shooting. He is as likely to send the ball cross-court to a shooter as to find someone cutting to the basket. If he is guarded by a bigger player, however, Ulanovas will often drive from the wing, using his speed to dribble into the paint and create. That's where the passes get trickier and usually involve circumventing at least two long-armed defenders to deliver the ball to his fellow big men.
The concept of reading the floor is often thought of as guards operating far from the basket with a vantage point of seeing everything and finding the seams through which to pass. Although Ulanovas will also take handoffs on the perimeter before driving, most of his actual passes come amid a crowd of players close to the basket, and often on the run, making them somewhat riskier. However, his ability to make those plays gives his team the luxury of an extra playmaker who is not a guard, allowing for more shooters to set up and even get open easier. It's a concept of inside-out spacing that gives Zalgiris more options than most teams, as its rising success since Ulanovas arrives would seem to prove.