KK Buducnost

Four Factors

51.3% eFG 16.1% TOV 28.2% oREB 16.8% FTr

Opponent Four Factors

58.5% eFG 15.8% TOV 30.6% oREB 22.6% FTr

Zalgiris Kaunas

Four Factors

53.6% eFG 18.9% TOV 30.2% oREB 31.0% FTr

Opponent Four Factors

55.0% eFG 16.0% TOV 29.5% 21.8% FTr

While Buducnost is not technically eliminated from Euroleague playoff contention they may as well be, a playoff berth at this point is all but impossible. They travel to Kaunas to take on a Zalgiris team that is at the edge of the playoff chase, despite losing 7 of their last 8. If Bayern doesn’t pull off the upset in Madrid, a win Friday night puts Zalgiris just 2 games out of the playoffs with 7 rounds to go. They’re going to have to win this one, and possibly their huge matches in the coming weeks against 8th and 9th place Bayern and Baskonia, without starting point guard Nate Wolters.

It seems likely that Leo Westermann will take over most of the minutes opened up by Wolters’ absence. The three games that Wolters missed due to injury in December were the only three in which Westermann spent more than half of the match on the court. In those games (@Bayern, @Darussafaka, Maccabi Tel Aviv) Westermann averaged 14 points (7/9 FT, 4/7 2pt, 9/16 3pt), 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, and 3 turnovers before getting hurt himself. The issue with Westermann getting more minutes seems to be the defensive struggles when he shares the backcourt with Arturas Milaknis. Milaknis is one of only four players to hit 500 minutes for Zalgiris this season and has been instrumental to their offense because of his ability to space the floor with his deep shooting (he has made 9 2-pointers all season). While Wolters is a solid defender (1.00 opponent points per possession on, 1.05 off) compared to Westermann (1.03 opp PPP on, 1.01 off), Milaknis lags far behind both guards (1.06 opp PPP on, 0.97 off). It doesn’t seem like defense is the most glaring issue plaguing Zalgiris right now, their 69 points scored per game over their last 8 comes to mind, but it could keep them from overcoming their other issues.

Even as Milaknis’ defense has improved significantly since the beginning of the year, the backcourt of him and Westermann has moved the opposite way. Zalgiris gave up 158 points in 150 possessions (1.05 PPP) when the two shared the floor in Rounds 1-11. However, when Wolters went down and the pairing became more frequent in Rounds 12-14, they gave up 95 points in 74 possessions for an abysmal 1.28 PPP. Westermann’s only game since that stretch was in last round’s matchup against Barcelona, where he spent four possessions on the court with Milaknis. While Zalgiris did score 7 points in that time, 3 of which came off a Arturas Milaknis shot assisted by Leo Westermann, they also gave up 8 points, Barcelona’s only miss was a 3 which was promptly put back for one of 4 2-point shots in that 2m53.

Because both players are going to need to play significant time while Wolters recovers, there will have to be shared minutes at some points, perhaps even double digit minutes some games. Coach Jasikevicius will have to figure out who he can include in the lineup to help them on defense. In the first 3 Wolters-less games, Thomas Walkup played 294 possessions with the pair, giving up 29 points. Those numbers aren’t great in a small sample size but the offensive numbers give hope that this would be a viable lineup, Westermann’s size (198 cm) could allow the 3 guards to play together in some smallball situations. If Jasikevicius really wanted to play a small backcourt with the pair, an interesting lineup might have been one which included Derrick Walton Jr., who started two games in Wolters’ absence. Unfortunately, Walton left the club with Westermann’s return and the likelihood that his playing time would drop even more. At this point the backcourt depth is basically Westermann, Milaknis and Marius Grigonis, who is probably the best defender of the 3 (0.97 opponent PPP on, 1.07 off). The three will have to find ways to stop opposing backcourts, and while Grigonis plays decent defense with Milaknis (1.05 PPP) he and Westermann do not (1.11 PPP), a lot of Grigonis’ defensive numbers can be traced back to well he played with Wolters (0.95 PPP). He’ll have to adapt these next 2-3 weeks without him, their starting point guard coming back to a tight playoff chase or a season that’s already over could depend on it.

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