Finishing the regular season in last place in the standings with just 8 wins is not what Zalgiris Kaunas had in plan for the 2021-22 campaign, but there were several positives that the club can use to build on going forward.
Season in review: Zalgiris Kaunas
The best of Zalgiris was showcased during February and early March. A five-game stretch saw Zalgiris win four games, including against Final Four teams Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The run started with a dramatic come-from-behind 82-83 road win over AS Monaco - the team's first road win of the season, which also snapped Zalgiris's nine-game losing streak. Zalgiris followed it up with an impressive 68-47 trouncing of Real Madrid and an 83-96 road victory over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. After a road loss at ALBA Berlin, Zalgiris got its fourth win in five games with a 91-84 triumph over Barcelona behind a career game from Edgaras Ulanovas who posted 16 points, 9 rebounds and 6 steals.
Paulius Jankunas has played its last EuroLeague game. The Zalgiris legend, who spent 18 seasons with the club, is the all-time leader with 392 games played, and the EuroLeague all-time rebounding leader with 2,010 for his career. He bid farewell to the competition in style, too, helping Zalgiris to an improbable 103-98 overtime win over Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade with 13 points and 7 rebounds, his best performance of the season. All good things come to an end and the run Jankunas had with Zalgiris was one of the best. Things will not be the same in Kaunas without the legendary team captain leading the men in green.
He’s got next
A months-long injury to Lauvergne and Jankunas missing significant time opened up a lot of room for 21-year-old Marek Blazevic, who grabbed his opportunity. The 2.11-meter center, who played a total of 28 minutes before this season, was then thrust into action in Round 4 and kept contributing all season. He logged 16 appearances with double-digit minutes and scored 10 or more points in six of those. He had a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds along with 4 assists in Istanbul against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and scored a career-best 20 points at home against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv. This experience of battling against the EuroLeague's best centers will surely hasten the development of Blazevic, who showed plenty of promise.
Zalgiris Kaunas got off to a bad start to the season, losing its first nine games, but really had no luck with injuries. Starting center Joffrey Lauvergne, the team's top rebounder and second-best scorer a year earlier, was injured in Round 2 and did not come back until February. Janis Strelnieks, the team's best scorer in the first three weeks, got hurt after Round 3, and even though he was not sidelined for long, he lost his rhythm, which all helped Zalgiris fall into a rut and led to the dismissal of Coach Martin Schiller. Later in the season, when Lauvergne returned, Zalgiris lost starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis, who played in just 18 games this season. Surely, every team deals with injuries, but Zalgiris's two most important players got sidelined early, getting the team's season off the track too soon.