Everyone involved knows how time consuming and also annoying part of scouting job is scheduling trips. If you follow entire market and don’t have one specific target you mostly want to go to tournaments with multiple teams and see as many players as possible. Other prosperous opportunity is heading to minor countries which are basketball powerhouses given the chance to evaluate handful amount of prospects on relatively small field. In five day stretch I managed to embrace all the major Lithuanian talents starting from oldest 1997 born Laurynas Birutis all the way to 14 year old Paulius Murauskas. Unfortunately there is also a term which we call “scouting bad luck” as best 2004 project went to EYBL U20 with Zalgiris and Rytas vs Dzukija game has been postponed for 27th of December. Anyway it was still very productive time and below I am presenting my observations from the games that I attended:
Basketball CL, December 12th in Klaipeda: Neptunas vs Virtus Bologna
Gytis Masiulis is having fairly good first season in significant role on reasonably high level especially for 20 years old. He may be overshadowed by Jerai Grant who hit nice career peak during his second adventure with Neptunas and is leading either LKL and Basketball CL in efficiency, but few times contributed to the win including upset victory vs Zalgiris which he is loaned from. Lithuanian NT staff didn’t remain indifferent towards Masiulis progress and recently he made his debut in senior team vs Croatia. Gytis is an instinctive power forward with solid size & length. This season he finally seems to improve his long distance shooting (already 33 attempts on 39.3% in 264 minutes comparing to 22 on 27.3% in 434 during 17/18 campaign). It seemed a matter of time if you think about his overall touch (really golden hands in the paint, can finish everything) and which direction game is heading to as well as archetype of physically unimposing 4 man who often survive by stretching the floor. On youth level he often stood out with his exceptional IQ (who remembers his father playing knows that guy knew everything one second before and was always in right place on the court) but now he faces more experienced players. It can take some time until his anticipation and timing become a big factor also in pro ball. Anyway he seems to be in a good situation regarding that he is an integral part of organisation which hopes to get a place on podium in LKL. There are only three international players, mostly experienced veterans with winning mentality who can have an advice for him and are not positional competition. Masiulis definitely possess a ceiling to become Zalgiris player, ultimately with similar input as currently in Klaipeda but may need at least one more season elsewhere or accept smaller minutes again, keep grinding and wait for his turn. As of now he doesn’t seem overly draftable but little to none attention he has has in this matter may be small understatement. He needs to push his physical limits, gewt tougher, become more specialized shooter and reliable defender to have legitimate stash chance.
NKL, December 13th in Mazeikiai: Ereliai vs Zalgiris II
Without Martynas Arlauskas and Rokas Jokubaitis, Modestas Kancleris was clearly the most intriguing prospect in the game especially in long term perspective. Every time I had a chance to see him live he seemed taller and not done growing and currently stands at maybe even + 6’8. For that size he is very fluid and effortless athlete who can elevate above the rim. His light feet allow him to excel also on the defensive end of the floor. Most of the time he was guarding backcourt players, keeping pace with them and when Zalgiris run zone D for some stretches he was used on top of it to interrupt passing lanes. He covers ground impressively quick and uses length to contest shot attempts. Surprisingly he played with a lot of passion, energy or even you can call it poise. If he is able to fill out then possibly has all the ingredients to become high level switchable defender. Offensively long limbed forward is not necessarily less exciting. He may be master of none but versitality combined with good understanding of the game is something that can allow him to fit in within almost every tactical concept. Kancleris possess maybe not perfect but rather projectable stroke. He can also put the ball on the floor and drive in straight line or coast to coast in open court. Besides he is solid passer who occasionally runs simple pick and roll plays. However his biggest asset considering his liability in playing through contact may turn out cutting given nose for finding open lanes, size and quick leaping ability. Modestas has been oozing with potential for a while but in the past he tended to get passive and less willing to battle. He gained a little strength but his frame may have a limit and never bear enough bulk. This may be something that could keep him away from reaching full potential. Anyway he is must follow for NBA executives and if everything goes right legitimate draft candidate next years. Should lead Zalgiris U18 at home in upcoming Adidas Next Generation Tournament. Next best prospect who most likely possess the biggest floor from Zalgiris roster that game was Lukas Uleckas. Sharp shooter with great positional size has been converting ridiculously good +50% from behind the arc on almost 5 attempts per game. His stroke is pure money, looks equally great every repetition and is supported by very good running off screens, footwork and confidence. Ball can still go way off the target but Uleckas seems to have killer instinct and looks like a player with good composure in general. He is not necessarily one trick pony. He may not possess great wiggle but is quite reliable ball handler with plus passing skills including pick and roll situations. He lacks athleticism and above average quickness but is becoming physical which he tends to already use on the floor as he tries to take advantage of size and strength in playing through contact. To sum up he is lights out shooter with advanced basketball IQ who stands around 2 meters. Swingman who can spend time 50/50 on SG & SF and actually there is no quality slump at all wherever you decide to put him from those two. Definitely Zalgiris euroleague talent caliber but must improve defense. Has rather slow feet and not always can recover with timing or positioning. X Factor of the team is Vitalijus Kozys who plays like baby Jonas Masiulis. In opposite team I had a chance to see Tomas Balciunas who came back to his motherland. 2000 born big played for few Spanish powerhouses on youth level but was early bloomer and is projected to play just for solid domestic teams.
NKL, December 14th in Vilnius: Perlas vs KTU
Next day and next NKL game and second half of top Lithuanian talents. Despite very unfortunate postponing of Dzukija at Rytas on Saturday due to illnesses of players, neither Deividas Sirvydis nor Marek Blazevic were expected to participate in Perlas team this weekend. Both are having very good seasons, especially Sirvydis who could probably put up historical numbers in Lithuanian 2nd tier as he scored 69 points in 64 minutes in two games. After tremendous start and double digit figures multiple times on Eurocup level, Deividas slowed down but was sick last month and lost some weight. He should pick up where he left off very soon as in the contest in Torino where Rytas claimed promotion to second phase talented swingman already showed flashes of his shooting prowess again. It is not clear whether he will declare for the draft but in this weak class he is definitely an interesting name to keep tracking. Blazevic is being used patiently and rarely play more than one game per week. During the stretch between 5th and 11th of December actually participated in three but that is temporary situation caused of narrowed frontcourt rotation and currently Vilnius powerhouse is on the market looking for a big man. Coming back to NKL, leader is Karolis Giedraitis. Very fast and electric guard with quick & compact release and scoring instincts. He can shake defender thanks to his good right to left crossover and mastered spin move. Next season 1998 born SG should not play on this level anymore but lacks of strength is something that can limit his potential. Father was quite physical forward but sometimes it’s a non factor as Karolis frame may be simply unfillable (same with his teammate Einaras Tubutis who could be labeled poor man Lithuanian Tayshaun Prince). From other observations: not much progress last three years for Domantas Vilys. Actually two years younger Marciulonis can surpass him very soon. It’s definitely in the genes as kid has Sarunas moves, keeps improving and at the time of being college eligible he may be actually ready for solid pro level given his mature game and profile. Stroke still looks like an area to improve but potentially he can have Pangos like impact on high major program in years to come. Azuolas Tubelis was not great this time and I am not sure if he can make a transition to small forward in future but he can possibly become something similar to Paulius Jankunas with better speed down the road.
LKL December 16th in Kedainiai: Nevezis vs Zalgiris:
Laurynas Birutis after being the most productive draft prospect in 17/18 is having no step up season. It seems like if it was ever meant to happen for him to be selected then last summer. Still he is more of the throwback player whom bringing to the NBA nowadays doesn’t make any sense at all. Lithuanian big man didn’t attempt any three and according to synergy only 4 of his 111 possessions were mid range jumpers. Last season he tried more of them but his release is unorthodox and just slow which is worrying even for center who shot with more time and space than wings. Defense is another crucial point in which he would be non factor in the best league in the world. While he survives and is able to make a hard show in pick & roll situation here, he is not quick to recover after hedging which with better executors and more area to operate than in LKL could be his liability. Birutis possess rather slim legs which at least provide fairly solid rim running for his height and more than occassional above the rim finishes. Still his core and lower body are not overly strong, he is too tall and not athletic or long enough to compensate that. Ok we know now that modern NBA is not necessarily his world but how about Euro perspective? Laurynas is super instinctive player while looking for open spots with impressive size, solid mobility who finishes plays very reliably. He doesn’t have much role in his first Euroleague season. Obviously it may grow next years as Birutis is likely to become more and more valuable puzzle of Saras system but I am not really sold whether main Lithuanian’s powerhouse pillar one day. Who stole the show in Kiedainiai from him was Rokas Jokubaitis. Talented guard who has a double license played just 4th game of the season but his ceiling may be even higher than any of Zalgiris current roster member career peak. Competition was not very demanding but he seems to be ready to play double digit LKL minutes night in night out from physical, mental and skill standpoint. If it can’t be provided here then loaning him to mid level rival from domestic league seems beneficial for either side. Rokas was eager to show that he belongs, was very competitive and impactful defensively. On attacking side of the floor he presented classic Jokubaitis repertoire from youth level by being able to score & distribute after PnR thanks to his immediate game reading ability. I am not sure yet about NBA upside but reaching Kostas Sloukas level one day seems achievable in his case in my eyes. On the other hand development of another Zalgiris product who this time suited up for the host (Martynas Varnas) looked somewhat stagnant. He seemed maybe even better athlete as teenager and never really sharpened his handles. Swingman is more of spot up shooter with positional size with good but not impressive profile and production. Returning to his parent team and finding better situation than being 11th or 12th guy in the roster may be difficult.