European Prospects

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KK Baltai: Zalgiris reserve struggles in BBL

February 12th, 2012 · No Comments

During the trip to Kaunas for the Nike International Junior Tournament, I had also the opportunity to follow a game of KK Baltai playing University of Tartu in the Baltic League. KK Baltai is in fact the reserve team of Zalgiris Kaunas and one of the several places where the Lithuanian Euroleague team can stack some of their 46 players currently under contract. With the recent addition of Jonas Maciulis, Baltai had a surprise win during last week but it was not enough this time against the Estonians of University of Tartu. The roster of Baltai features some interesting players so here is the report about them.

The biggest name next to Maciulis is of course Mario Delas. The Croatian forward joined Zalgiris exactly 2 years ago but moved around a bit on loan to several teams. He played for Zalgiris in the beginning in the Euroleague but was loaned to Cibona Zagreb last season to get even more Euroleague minutes. Once the Croatian team was eliminated, he played for BC Siauliai in the Eurocup but he never really made a break-out season. This is why Zalgiris has put him on the Baltai roster right from the start this season and he is not with the Zalgiris team at all. It could not have come worth for his automatically eligible Draft year but the way Delas presented himself on Saturday, he also looked far away from being a NBA prospect at the moment.

The 2m07 tall power forward showed only a couple of low post moves that he finished with either hand and a nice dunk on a back door cut. For the rest, his presence on the offensive end was not really felt as he took some bad inspired shots that he could not make. The game structure with Baltai is also not really favoring his game as the team plays a lot of wild offenses and without any really clear set plays. Delas looks to be a player who does a better job in a more organized system where he can use his individual technical skills. He has good ball handling for a player of his size, he tried several times running the break even going for a behind the back dribble at full speed, and his jump shot mechanics look great.

Delas really needs to find his way back on track and use his strengths in a stable environment. We were told that he was on a good way right now and that Zalgiris prefers giving him 25-30 minutes with Baltai than being a 5 minutes player on the Euroleague team. For next season, it has to be however the one where Delas should get more comfortable to be a part of a Euroleague rotation as he has certainly the talent to be on that level. For the NBA, it does not look like any team will take a gamble on him but you never know what will happen until June.

An interesting player on the Baltai team is the 2m14 tall and 20 year old Mindaugas Kupsas. The big kid from Joniskio has only a short career so far as he came very late to basketball. He was never a member of any Lithuanian Youth National team until 2011 and plays now solid 20 minutes per game on the Baltic League level. His offensive arsenal is still limited but you see a guy that is quite mobile and has a good touch. He nets free-throws at about 75% which underlines his progress margin in that area. He struggles some times to catch passes as his movements are still not the fastest ones and his game understanding is still in the making. He scored only 3 baskets in the game we attended but those looked good. Of course with his size, his presence in the paint is a great plus as he has a big body, still being a little chubby, and he should be able to put on more weight in the future. Kupsas is certainly a player to follow more closely as he has still a nice margin of progress left and could develop into a correct big man in the future for a higher level.

Vytenis Cizauskas is a member of the Golden Lithuanian generation of the 1992 born around Jonas Valanciunas and the physical combo-guard is also getting about twenty minutes with the KK Baltai team. However, he could not really impress on Saturday despite looking to be in better shape than last summer for example. He hit two three-pointers but had no real influence on the game. He did a good job on defense though while having 3 assists and rebounds in the mix but we could not really see the same influence that he had on the game with the different National teams. It is for sure a different situation right here but he lives from his vocal presence and leadership as well but it might be one season too early to do so with players being much older than him.

A more pleasant surprise despite his limited minutes was the game of the 1993 born Kaspars Vecvagars. The Latvian PG is making some progress in controlling the game tempo and looked to be the most organized of the different Baltai guards. However, he tried some difficult drives and shots during the game but he is still in the learning process as it was only his 7th game on this level as he played only in the NKL (2nd Lithuanian League)before.

The big satisfaction in my eyes though was the game of Edgaras Ulanovas. The other 92 born in the team showed great effort and was doing all the dirty stuff as usual. He looks like becoming stronger as his body is transforming from being a boy to a man this season. He can play different positions and therefore be a match-up problem on defense as he can play from SG to PF depending on the situation. Ulanovas scored on a post-up against a smaller guard with a strangely looking turn around jump shot. He went over his left shoulder to make the basket with his strong left hand but getting the foul call as well. He has some problems to use his right hand for the finish even close to the basket which is certainly a point of his game that he still has to develop in the future. He missed a big open three-pointer in the final minutes that could have cut the lead to three points and come back into a winning possibility. The 2m00 tall player goes well to the rebound and likes to push the ball in the break. His offensive usage remains limited though (4.8 shots per game in 20 minutes on the court) but he will most likely never develop into a big scorer but the guy you need to have on the team to have everything remain together. He was definitely my favorite prospect on the court on Saturday.

A recent addition to the Baltai roster is the Serbian power forward Uros Petrovic. After having barely played with Hemofarm this season, the 2m05 tall 90 born moved to Zalgiris in December 2011 and is now getting some limited minutes with the reserve team.

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