BallinEurope’s man from Lithuania, known on these pages as “Y,” was apparently so hyped up by Žalgiris Kaunas’ marvelous win over Caja Laboral Baskonia that he was inspired to assess the Green-and-Whites’ early success in 2010-11. For Y., it’s all about the coach and the bench…
Unlike their arch-rivals from Vilnius, Lithuanian side Žalgiris Kaunas did not enter the season with overoptimistic claims. Despite this fact, the green-and-whites brought their most impressive roster on paper for years, including four bronze medalists from the most recent edition of the FIBA World Championship, and set an official target for the team to break through to the Euroleague Top 16. And this was no coincidence, as Group A consists of a league-leading number four national champions.
Now, after four weeks, the Lithuanian team stands at 3-1, including last night’s impressive 92-88 victory against Caja Laboral Baskonia: A most surprising result that few expected. For the Spanish side, it was the first home loss this season, while for Kaunas’ team it was the second Euroleague road win since 2008-09.
During the beginning of 2010-11, new head coach Aco Petrovič has doled out both praises and cursing, as his team were victorious against likes of Panathinaikos in the preseason and BC Khimki in VTB United League play, but were not too impressive in the same league’s fixture vs. VEF Riga. In fact, later, after a narrow overtime win against Asseco Prokom, Petrovič was challenged by a media member who questioned the coach’s decisions during a press conference. Petrovič left that media session before it was supposed to be over. (Video below; subtitles not really necessary.)
Most question marks, from fans and some media, were put on the reserves – expectations were for some players to get more playing time, and others less. However, this is where Petrovič is realising Žalgiris’ strength this season: its long and great bench.
In the game against Caja Laboral, eight players played 17:40 minutes or more, none of them reaching the 30-minute mark. This allowed the Greens to keep the defensive intensity throughout the whole game and still look more fresh in the end.
Mirza Begič, who suddenly remembered his time with Union Olimpija, was very active in the fourth quarter, no doubt partially thanks to his earlier rest, even though many other coaches probably would have kept Bosnian in the game when he was enjoying a monster performance earlier. The same can be said of Martynas Pocius: It’s notable that neither Begič nor Pocius started the game, but both finished as leading scorers.
The fatigue advantage might become an even bigger factor as the season progresses if Žalgiris keeps using this strategy. It is also worth mentioning that the Euroleague’s leading scorer Marcus Brown should heal and rejoin the team in a month or two, widening the rotation even more.
For now it appears that Petrovič is ready to calmly silence his critics with results. And even though it’s still very early to predict, Žalgiris is definitely a team that might become a surprise of the season.
Incidentally, does anyone remember the story about how Jeremy Tyler didn’t bring his passport when he was supposed to go to Israel for his first pro season and missed the flight? Well, according to a tweet from Pocius, a.k.a. LTUmarty, the same thing happened to Omar Samhan, who forgot his passport for a trip to Spain. Unlike Tyler, though, Samhan somehow managed to get on the plane.