Marius Grigonis could have left Panathinaikos in the summer, but head coach Ergin Ataman preferred the Lithuanian stay in Athens. Source: Alfonso Cannavacciuolo/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Marius Grigonis could have left Panathinaikos in the summer, but head coach Ergin Ataman preferred the Lithuanian stay in Athens. Source: Alfonso Cannavacciuolo/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

You’re not wanted, but you’re not leaving either – the success story of Grigonis and Calathes

Basketball OlyBet 28.01.2024

Nick Calathes and Marius Grigonis average more than 20 minutes per game on the pitches of the EuroLeague, although in the summer their paths seemed to be coming to an end with their current employers. But the American – Calathes represents Greece, but he was born in the USA and does not even speak Greek – and the Lithuanian did not give up but started to fight. In hindsight, the men made the right decision!

Calathes, who joined Istanbul’s Fenerbahce two years ago, had a fairly ordinary season in terms of his career, but in terms of the team, the Turkish giant went under the bar – he did not reach the finals of the EuroLeague or the finals of the domestic championships.

One of the reasons for the failure was the position of the point guard. No one doubts that Calathes is one of the best passers in the EuroLeague, but he is a very classic conductor of attacks, who himself does not pose a great threat to the basket. If the shots from breakthroughs still score with a good percentage, the 34-year-old baller has never been able to shoot very well from behind the three-point line.

Calathes’ best passes:

It was thought that Fenerbahce needed a more dynamic point guard. Someone who could make his teammates better, would be more stable behind the arc and more versatile in breakthroughs.

They weren’t even allowed to play

So, it was not surprising at all when in the summer, the management of Fenerbahce stated that they did not want to continue with Calathes. However, since the 45th traded man in the 2009 NBA draft had a valid contract with the club, it was not possible to unilaterally throw him out the door.

It’s unclear whether Calathes was seriously looking for a new club or not, but at the end of August, Fenerbahce announced that the player would continue in their ranks. At the same time, it was clear that his role would not be big under head coach Dimitrios Itoudis, because… why else would Fenerbahce want him to leave? Moreover, the Brazilian Raul Neto was hired as the new main point guard, but the baller, who returned to Europe from the NBA, suffered such a severe knee injury at the World Cup just before the club season that he had to miss the year.

The EuroLeague season started in such a way that in the first two games, Calathes was on the field for seven and four minutes. After that, the number of minutes increased, but there were also rounds where Hellen could not play at all.

A new page was turned in Calathes’ Fenerbahce career on the 14th of December when Itoudis left and Šarunas Jasikevičius was hired to replace him. A Lithuanian who worked with the Greek in Barcelona, where after leaving Calathes was very critical of the head coach.

It seems that the men cleared the air between them, because since the arrival of Jasikevičius, Calathes has participated in all eight games and has been on the court for 16 minutes at worst, but here one must note that it was a 35-point victory against Maccabi Tel Aviv, where no one played a lot of minutes.

Looking at the statistics, it is clear that Calathes has found a new lease of life under Jasikevičius. During Itoudis, he participated in ten matches in the EuroLeague, where he averaged 5.3 points and 2.8 assists per game. He shot 44.7% from 2-pointers, and 40% from long-range, Calathes’ offensive rating (how many points per 100 possessions a player is on the court) was 106.7 and his defensive rating (how many points per 100 possessions a player is on the court) was 105.1.

Since the 14th round, Calathes has helped Fenerbahce with 7.1 points and 6.6 assists. It is important to note that he has made only 1.4 turnovers during this time, in other words Calathes has made 4.8 assists per turnover under Jasikevičius’ guidance. It’s mind-blowing, to say the least!

While Calathes has made a slight decline (36.8%) in long-range shots, there has been a noticeable improvement on two-pointers, as they have been a success by 64.3%. The only sad fact about it? He hasn’t made a single free throw, while he’s only been to the line five times this season, making one successful shot.

Statistically, however, Calathes has impressed the most in his attack rating. Under the hands of the Lithuanian, it has risen to a fantastic 149, which means that compared to the time of Itoudis, the increase has been just 42.3 points! There’s no doubt that Fenerbahce’s offense is going great with Calathes, the defensive rating has also improved, albeit only slightly – 104.9.

The Lithuanian worked his way back into the team

In the summer, Panathinaikos of Athens essentially assembled a new team and, for example, EuroLeague legend Kostas Sloukas, potential star Luca Vildoza, EuroCup’s most valuable player Jerian Grant and Kyle Guy, who shone last season in the Old World’s strongest national league in Spain, were hired.

Marius Grigonis, who joined the Greek giant two years ago, was told that he could look for a new club. Instead of sulking, the Lithuanian got to work. It has not been confirmed, but perhaps Grigonis missed the World Cup precisely because he wanted to prove himself in Panathinaikos.

The 29-year-shooting guard, who can also play the small forward, made such a good impression on new head coach Ergin Ataman that Grigonis has been among the starters since the start of the season. He has not missed a single game, has only come off the bench once, and has earned 22 seconds of playing time over 28 minutes per match.

Grigonis is a player who shoots the opponent’s basket to shreds on a good day, and while individually he is not a defensive lock like Grant, he is very smart and mobile enough that the defense does not bother him much.

Grigonis’ best game of the season:

The man from Kaunas, the basketball capital of Lithuania, is all the more important to Panathinaikos because Sloukas has been plagued by injuries, Vildoza recently underwent surgery and will be out for at least a few months, and Guy knocked down the bar with a thud and left for Tenerife in Spain a few weeks ago.

A look at the stats reveals that Grigonis has the best impact on Panathinaikos’ attack. If the club’s defensive rating of 109.7 and Grigonis’ individual indicator of 111.8 are roughly the same, the difference in the offensive rating is significant: the Lithuanian’s 128.0 vs. the team’s 114.5.

A great finisher

And here, too, Grigonis’ basketball wisdom must be praised, because he is not a player who takes shots all the time like Wade Baldwin or Lorenzo Brown. He has nothing against passing, and he always tries to get the shot points to be played out. On a larger scale, Grigonis’ goal has been successful because, for example, he has scored 55.4% of 2-pointers and 43.4% of long-range shots, both of which are very good numbers for a guard.

By the way, looking at the stats, it turns out that at the end of the game, Ataman trusts Grigon very much. In five of the 21 matches so far, he has been on the court for all ten minutes in the last quarter, and on average, the baller who won several medals in the youth championships with Lithuania is on the court for six minutes and 42 seconds in the fourth quarter.

Ataman trusts Grigonis for a reason, as in terms of the season, the offensive rating of the player in the fourth quarter is a whopping 136.6, and the defensive rating is as good as 100.9. This shows once again that although Grigon is not directly a defensive lock, in a good team system he helps to slow down the opponents effectively.

In the last quarters, Grigonis has not only demonstrated his basketball skills, but has emerged as the locomotive of Panathinaikos in two matches. In the opening round, they lost the Greek derby to Olympiakos in overtime 78:88, but Panathinaikos scored 11 of their 15 points in the last ten minutes of regular time from Grigonis’ points or basket assists.

In the 14th round, Panathinaikos struggled to break Villeurbanne’s ASVEL. Ataman’s team scored 19 points in the fourth quarter against the French club, 11 of which came from Grigonis. In doing so, he made three crucial long shots. Six days later, Grigonis toppled another French club, Monaco, by throwing a three-pointer at the final siren.

Grigonis’ winning goal against Monaco:

Calathes and Grigonis are excellent examples of how basketball players should never give up even if it seems that their song has been sung in a club. With a bit of luck and plenty of work, it is possible to play oneself to the lineup even if only a few months ago all they wanted to see was your taillights.


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