Tracking: LKL Prospects (Part 1)

Paulius Valinskas (1.3, 21.7 years, 191cm, Zalgiris)

Junior Level

Rotation player at the U16s 2011 and the U18s 2013. Lithuanian top scorer (12.3 PPG) at the U20s 2015. A creative playmaker who takes risks and creates shots for himself & others, but lacks physicality and length. Possible national team future considering shot creators aren’t growing on trees in Lithuania (nor do they in most of Europe).

Club Situation

Appears to be cracking the Zalgiris guard rotation to a point where regular Euroleague minutes (just garbage time minutes last season) aren’t out of question. Led Zalgiris in scoring in their season opener versus Dzukija. Had his moments in preseason too. Can (and will have to) co-exist with other playmakers.

(Paulius Valinskas LKL 2017-18 G1 vs Dzukija)

Is next in line, should Bost and/or Micic not live up to Jasikevicius’ expectations. Valinskas’ quick-release, accurate pull up shooting coming off the ball screen and ability to knock down shots against the switch defender one-on-one have value.

What to look OUT for

  1. Mid dribble drive decision making: Isn’t afraid to turn the corner and attack the lane, but tends to turn the ball over or get blocked at the rim. Isn’t a power guard either. A lot of room to improve, but it’s easier said than done.
  2. Holding his own defensively on the Euroleague level which, athletically, is a different animal compared to LKL.

Martynas Varnas (2.7, 20.6 years, 199cm1, Pieno Zvaigzdes)

Junior Level

High-level prospect on the U16 & U18 level. Kaunas NIJT MVP, U18 Eurobasket All-Tournament Team. Athletic, fearless, multitalented player. Since held back by injuries. Out of the 2016 U20s with an injury after the group phase, missed half of the 2016-17 club season. Not an NBA prospect, but Zalgiris, Rytas or abroad.

U20 Eurobasket 2017

Once standing out as a fearless wing attacker, Varnas isn’t quite the same player after a stress fracture in his foot ousted him from last year’s U20s midway through the tournament, then complications involving the metal plate in said foot required a 2nd surgery in the middle of the 2016-17 season. Varnas didn’t play a single game for Zalgiris II in the NKL after New Year.

In Crete, 77.8% of his half court FGA were jumpshots, most of the catch and shoot type. Just 3/11 FG on finishes at the rim. Struggled in PnR, didn’t complete dribbles in tight spaces, finished on 2/10 FG in PnR, frequently turned the ball over. Looks generally tentative off the dribble. Does possess some off-catch game. Is still a physically strong swingman.

Varnas did step up as a shooter, drilling 36.2% of his 6.7 attempts per game.

Club Situation

Played for Zalgiris II in the NKL in 2016-17, played for the first team in pre-season (where he looked serviceable knocking down open shots and operating off the catch) until the start of the LKL season a week ago. Loaned to Pieno Zvaigzdes, where he came off the bench the first two games. Averaging 6.5 PPG in 19.4 MPG.

What to look OUT for

  1. Aggressiveness: Needs to find his way back to full form after a season riddled with injuries.
  2. Playmaking, ballhandling, decision-making: Is a solid shooter and decent off-catch attacker, but his pick and roll game, where he commits turnovers in tight spaces, isn’t up to par. He’ll likely never be an alite pick and roll ballhandler, but plenty of wings with average ballhandling are useful part-time ballhandlers by making smart reads at the top of the key.

Martynas Echodas (4.5, 20.2 years, 207cm2, Lietuvos Rytas)

Junior Level

Very effective at the junior level. Simple & effective finisher, dunker (despite merely average verticality). Eurocamp regular, but struggled there. Needs good team offense around him. Usually a four at the youth level, but likely a five in the long run.

U20 Eurobasket 2016

Doesn’t have a position but strengths trump weaknesses at this point. Serial finisher inside the paint. Attacks the rim, gets to the foul line (5.4 FTA/G in Helsinki), fearless, dunks whenever possible. Goes strong for offensive boards. Has a fair short mid range J but range doesn’t extend any further. Tends to have problems finishing against length; always goes for the power move. Much more power than finesse in his game. Played exceptionally hard on both ends.

U20 Eurobasket 2017

Played four, went to work in the post. Lived at the foul line, 2nd in FTA. 3rd in PPG in Crete. Still limited range, but has — as he showed in the pros last season — a place as an aggressive inside 4.5.

Club Situation

Turned heads when he dropped 38 on Neptunas on the last day of the 2016-17 regular season for a historically bad (6-30) Siauliai. Averaged 11.4 PPG & 6.5 RPG in 24.7 MPG in LKL & FIBA Europe Cup.

Legit part of the Rytas frontcourt rotation this season, and he’s producing: Had 17, 13 and 20 points respectively versus Pieno Zvaigzdes, Juventus and Lietkabelis, on 19/26 shooting alltogether. Plays the five and is setting high ball screens followed by hard rim rolls on every possession. Has good passers and shooters around him.

Loukas Mavrokefalidis’ arrival should reduce Echodas’ minutes though.

Doesn’t fix any of the team’s defensive problems (this is a team full of minus defenders).

What to look OUT for 

  1. Defense: How does he defend high pick and roll on Eurocup level? Not a rim protector.
  2. Mid range: On youth level, occasionally flashed the short range jumper on post ups. Must knock the elbow jumper down consistently. Went 6/35 on catch and shoot jump shots in 2016-17, including 0-14 from three point range.
  3. Mid-roll game: Footwork, passing, patience. Is an effective hard rim roller; now comes the advanced stuff.

Laurynas Birutis (5.0, 20.0 years, 217cm3, Siauliai)

Junior Level

Long, slender, legit 7-footer with good touch who had his breakthrough in 2015 when he impressed at Kaunas NIJT before averaging 8.7 PPG & 5.9 RPG at the U18 Eurobasket, where Lithuania won Bronze. Won silver with the U20 team in Helsinki last year. Was the focal point of the Lithuanian offense in Crete this year.

Naturally, as a 7-footer with soft touch and elbow range, he can’t be ruled out as an NBA Draft 2nd rounder.

U20 Eurobasket 2016

Possibly the center with the highest ceiling. Got real work done in limited minutes. Still slender with skinny legs but getting wider and becoming a more aggressive finisher. Ambidextrous. Has progressed leaps and bounds as a passer; finds cutters and spot up shooters out of the post. Contributed to Lithuania’s strong team effort defending Markkanen. Occasionally has that 7-footer problem where the game is moving too fast for him, but he’s getting there.

U20 Eurobasket 2017

Lithuania dumped the ball into the post all tournament and counted on their bigs Birutis & Echodas to produce offense. Both responded by scoring efficiently and moving the ball well versus the double team.

Birutis, a narrow-shouldered, slender big with long limbs burst onto the scene at Kaunas NIJT 2015 and has made serious progress as an on-ball player since, finishing more aggressively, making faster reads and consistently making the right play versus help defense. Is practically ambidextrous and finished well with either hand. Kicked out of 37% of his post ups while ending the tournament on the lowest post up TOV% of all players in Crete. Is still not a good finisher versus long & physical defense, and not the toughest player around.

Finished 7th in BLK% and altered a great many shots as pick and roll defender.

Club Situation

NKL MVP with Zalgiris II last season, then moved to Vytautas to finish the season there. Loaned to Siauliai for 2017-18, where he is starting center. Averaged 11.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG in 25.7 MPG over the first three games. He’ll get minutes & reps in a Lithuanian league where half of the teams (Zalgiris, Rytas, Lietkabelis, Neptunas, plus Juventus, to a degree) have legitimate, experienced, high-level rosters. It’ll help him get better.

What to look OUT for

  1. More aggressive finishing, but easier said than done. Most 7-footers don’t exactly destroy the rim.

Gytis Masiulis (4.3, 19.4 years, 207cm4, Zalgiris)

Junior Level

Slender, smart combo big who impresses with an effective combination of finesse and activity. Cutter, floor runner, offensive rebounder, has a nose for the ball. Good footwork, passer, has the quick one-dribble outlet. Plays like the coach’s son he is. 5 Performed well at Eurocamp 2017 despite being at a physical disadvantage. Pro breakthrough likely not in 2017-18, but one or two seasons from now.

Kaunas ANGT 2016

Masiulis dominated the tournament together with teammates Hartenstein and Velicka, posting averages of 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just under 25 minutes per game for Zalgiris.

Masiulis, whose father is the coach of the Zalgiris junior team, is a slender, slightly undersized power forward who is a relentless floor runner, competitor and high-IQ player who’s really added to his game over the last couple of years. A glue guy on Lithuania’s Under 18 Eurobasket Bronze medal winning squad, Masiulis is looking like he’s becoming a reliable outside- and foul shooter. He’s a phenomenal cutter, crashes the glass hard on offense and generally produces without having plays run for him. He’s starting to attack the close out via dribble drive, too now, played good outlet passes and even pushed the ball in transition himself.

Masiulis is not a star-calibre player but a valuable role player who does all the little things. At his best when he has passers around him.

Eurocamp 2017

Gytis Masiulis is one of the least physically developed bigs at the camp but the smartest guy on the court. Finished on 16 points (6/11 FG, 2/3 3FG). Did a lot of damage running the floor and sealing the first defender back, drilled spot up threes, had a tough runner attacking the close out, moved well off the ball.

Club Situation

Unlikely to receive extended Euroleague minutes but will play significant minutes against lesser teams in the LKL. Already played 11 versus Dzukija and 16 versus Pieno Zvaigzdes (13 points on 4/6 FG & 5/7 FT combined).

What to look OUT for

  1. Three point shooting: Masiulis had never been a high-volume three point shooter before going 7/21 in 6 games at the 2016 U20s and drilling 11/18 triples in limited minutes for Zalgiris in the 2016-17 season run-in. Went 4/20 in the U19s in Dubai last summer.
  2. Gaining strength, becoming the best athlete he can be.
  1. Hoop Summit 2016 measurement, in shoes
  2. Eurocamp 2017 measurement, in shoes
  3. Eurocamp 2015 measurement, in shoes
  4. Eurocamp 2017 measurement, in shoes
  5. Father was a Sydney Olympic bronze-medalist and FIBA EuroLeague champion 1999, amongst many other titles