The appointment of a new head coach has had a good effect on Kaunas Žalgiris. If under Kazys Maksvytis, five out of 17 games were won, then under Andrea Trinchieri, the opponent has been defeated in three out of five matches. The arrival of the Italian has had a positive effect on several players.
Keenan Evans is the undisputed leader of the honor and pride of Lithuanian club basketball. The American is one of the leading offensive players in the EuroLeague, and with good shooting accuracy, he has scored 16.5 points per game, which only Mike James (19.3), Markus Howard (19.1) and Shane Larkin (18.0) have managed to beat this season.
Under Trinchieri, Evans continues as Žalgiris’ first fiddle in attack. At the same time, the Yankee has managed to increase his average point score, as the 27-year-old baller has scored 18.6 points per game in five matches.
But this is not the reason we bring him up in this article. Namely, Trinchieri uses many different lineups, where there are two other guards next to Evans. This means that the basket-hunter, who played in Žalgiris last season, does not have to bring the ball over so much and can save his energy for scoring points and finding teammates.
Let it be said that if Evans has averaged four basket assists in the EuroLeague per season, then in the Trinchier era, his number of assists has increased to 5.4. The difference is not huge, but it is still important because it means a few extra points for the Kaunas club.
It is also important to note that Žalgiris fans will have to enjoy Evans’ performances to the fullest because, in a few months, the American will be gone. Namely, his contract ends this season and there is no doubt that for the next season, one of the best guards in the EuroLeague will move to a team where he will earn a bigger salary and fight, at least in theory, for higher positions.
One person’s misfortune is another’s happiness
One of the biggest failures of Žalgiris’ season is Kevarrius Hayes. The center showed his good side last season both in defense and in taking rebounds, but this season the American has gone under the bar.
This has opened the door for Laurynas Birutis. With Maksvytis, the Lithuanian was a bench boy who mostly was on the court for less than ten minutes, and although the center was very effective at times, it did not change his role. With the arrival of Trinchier, Birutis has played at least 13 minutes and 12 seconds, but that was also in the match against ASVEL of Villeurbanne, which did not work out for Žalgiris and where most of the men failed.
In the season summary, Birutis’ numbers are 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, but with Trinchier, the player’s – who is 213 cm tall – statistics are 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds. On average, the Lithuanian tower has been on the court for 18 minutes.
It is also clear that Birutis is the kind of player who needs to be looked for when he is on the court, otherwise he will not be effective. The center, who comes from Šiauliai, is not a remarkable guard, but he has a soft hand in attack and can take on an opponent with his back to them. After all, his strength is not apparent if he doesn’t get the ball.
Sharpness is required
He has had some minor injury problems this season, but Lukas Lekavičius‘ role with Maksvytis was surprisingly modest. Besides Evans, he is the only Žalgiris guard who can stably break the defense and thereby create space for both himself and his teammates.
Lekavičius is not a player that you would expect to have great statistics, but that does not mean that he is not important in the game. So it is worth watching the increase in the playing minutes of the Lithuanian because if with Trinchieri he has been on the field for 13 minutes and 14 seconds in the worst case – against Istanbul’s Fenerbahce, over whom the back-to-back victory was taken, i.e. the minutes were distributed more evenly – then with Maksvytis, the average playing time of the defender was 10.13.
In addition to Lekavičius’ ability to break the defense, one of his most important tasks is to reduce the load on Evans. And as was pointed out before, it has worked well for the American.
The captain has leveled up
Edgaras Ulanovas’ point score has not increased significantly under Trinchieri, but the Žalgiris captain has been significantly more effective. Although the forward gets the ball less than with Maksvytis, and the number of playing minutes is also slightly reduced, he gets the ball in better shooting positions.
Take Ulanovas’ shooting percentages for example. With Maksvytis, he hit 46.7% of 2-pointers and 35.1% of long-range shots, but with Trincheri, the percentages have risen to 64.3 and 50, respectively. This is a big and important difference even in a situation where he shoots less because, after all, it is important to get the ball to the basket effectively, not to shoot as much as possible.
The importance of Ulanovas is also illustrated by the fact that when he is on the court, Žalgiris has scored 140.3 points per 100 attacks during Trincheri’s tenure, which is a fantastic figure. Only Evans (141.5) has been ahead of him in this area.
What has been the Žalgiris’ best lineup?
In Trinchieri’s five matches, one line-up he has used has stood out from the others by a long shot. If Birutis, Evans, Ulanovas, Brady Manek and Edmond Sumner are on the court, Žalgiris has outplayed their opponents by 37 points. By the way, during this period it has been the most effective five in the EuroLeague, their closest pursuer is the Barcelona lineup of Dario Brizuela, Nikola Kalinić, Jabari Parker, Tomaš Satoransky and Jan Vesely (+24).
Sumner joined the club last November from North America, so he still needs time to get used to European basketball, but Trinchieri has always valued men like him in his previous teams.
With 12 rounds before the end of the regular season, Žalgiris is three wins away from the tenth place ie. the last position to qualify for the play-in. However, the attempt of the men under Trinchieri’s care to reach the playoffs is made more difficult by the fact that there are as many as five teams between them and the tenth Valencia. And they need to climb over all of them.
If beating Milan and Belgrade’s Crvena Zvezda does not seem impossible, Bayern Munich, Istanbul’s Anadolu Efes and Belgrade’s Partizan are much tougher teams that should get better and better as time goes on. This is especially true for Efes and Partizan.
Although the playoffs are of course the goal of Žalgiris, missing out would not be a disaster. It is more important to see if and how the team develops under Trinchieri, because the first signs are promising. Then one can already look towards the next season, and although the Lithuanian club has never had one of the biggest budgets in the EuroLeague, the Italian proved with Bayern that he can lead such teams to the top eight.