After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, Zalgiris Kaunas’s goal is to play more than 34 EuroLeague games. Coach Martin Schiller is back and has several new and some old-new faces around him as the Lithuanian champs aim high once again.
Zalgiris signed three first-class playmakers this summer. One of them, Mantas Kalnietis, knows the club inside out; he was born in Kaunas and this will be his third stint with the club. Kalnietis was named to the 2020-21 All-EuroCup Second Team after leading that competition in assists (7.1 apg.). Janis Strelnieks is in his eighth EuroLeague season and Zalgiris is his fifth team in the competition. He is a great three-point shooter with a high basketball IQ who is never afraid to step up in crunch time. Emmanuel Mudiay missed the entire 2020-21 season and is set to make his EuroLeague debut under Coach Schiller's guidance. Mudiay is a great athlete with top-notch scoring skills. Lukas Lekavicius and Arturas Milaknis are back to provide the fireworks from downtown. Lekavicius is a combo-guard with outstanding one-on-one skills and unlimited shooting range. Milaknis is a three-point specialist able to change any game with his high accuracy. Zalgiris added another great three-point shooter in Niels Giffey, who is also an energy player that contributes at both ends. Up-and-coming talent Mantas Rubstavicius and sharpshooter Karolis Lukosiunas give Coach Schiller even more versatility.
Edgaras Ulanovas is back in Kaunas to serve as Zalgiris's first option at small forward. Ulanovas is an all-around player with very good post skills for a player his size, which allows him to find many advantages on offense. Team legend Paulius Jankunas and Tyler Cavanaugh are set to split minutes at power forward. Jankunas is a smart player, a rock-solid rebounder and a deadly mid-range shooter in his 19th EuroLeague season. Cavanaugh is a more mobile forward who can open the floor from beyond the arc. Joffrey Lauvergne and Josh Nebo should see most of the playing time at center, but because they are very different players, they will likely play together on court, too. Lauvergne is a dynamic big man who runs the floor well, plays above the rim and is a solid rebounder at both ends. Nebo is an incredible athlete, an energy player who can get the crowd going with his blocked shots and outstanding dunks. He is also a very effective scorer (66.8% 2FG in Israel last season). Marek Blazevic offers post skills and hustle off the bench. He is also an excellent offensive rebounder.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Emmanuel Mudiay arrives in the EuroLeague at age 25 eager to fulfill his potential as an elite playmaker. He is a very physical, athletic and explosive player and knows how to maximize those strengths in one-on-one situations due to his great ballhandling and extremely quick first step. He is also a good pick-and-roll player with good court vision. Mudiay, however, is an up-and-down shooter, both from three-point range and from the free-throw line. He is in the right environment to improve his shooting skills and if he does, Mudiay has all it takes to dominate, as he is a smart player who knows how to use his big body and all-around skills to find advantages.
Zalgiris lost some important backcourt players but, as always, moved well in the off-season market to find the right pieces. Having experienced point guards like Kalnietis and Strelnieks should make Mudiay even more dangerous in transition and one-on-one situations. With Mudiay and Nebo, Zalgiris has a more physical roster than last season and should use that to its advantage. As always, Zalgiris has a core of Lithuanian players surrounded by outstanding foreign talent. Coach Schiller did an excellent job last season and with Zalgiris fans back in the stands, the Lithuanian powerhouse should be more powerful than ever at Zalgirio Arena. If Zalgiris finds consistency, the sky is the limit.