The battle of the point guards – Kalnietis or Popovic?

Who is better - Mantas Kalnietis or Bojan Popovic?
Who is better - Mantas Kalnietis or Bojan Popovic?

The regular season of Euroleague is nearly over with two games still to play. Both Lithuanian sides, Lietuvos Rytas and Zalgiris find themselves in quite different situations. The main contrast is that one team has its destiny in its own hands and the other doesn’t, despite still having chances to make it to the Top 16. What has been the difference-making factor?  

Before the Lithuanian derby in the Baltic Basketball League in Vilnius in the beginning of December Lietuvos Rytas head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis told that the game would be decided in the point guard department. The club from Vilnius won. Could that provide the evidence to say that Bojan Popovic is a better playmaker than Mantas Kalnietis? Or was it a one day splash?

The times, that a player was either mediocre, decent or exceptional
The times, that a player was either mediocre, decent or exceptional

 The case of Mantas Kalnietis 

   

2009-10 Euroleague PTS  REB  AST STL  TO RKG
Mantas Kalnietis   8,8   3,0   4,0   1,1  3,8   9,5 

Mantas Kalnietis seems to be stuck between the positions of point guard and shooting guard. The Lithuanian combo guard would definitely be complimented by a more experienced playmaker in the team, who would put much more use of Kalnietis’ much-improved shooting skills, while giving the young Lithuanian more time at the two-guard position. 

One thing can’t be left unmentioned as well – Mantas Kalnietis could not be considered a typical shooting guard as well. His shot is still not consistent enough to call the talented chap from Kaunas a good shooter, though as said before, Kalnietis has put a lot of work in the practice gym throughout the last year. 

 A good playmaker alongside Kalnietis would take the strain off of his shoulders, as from time to time it has proved too much to handle for the current Zalgiris point guard, especially at a higher level of competition. For Zalgiris playing a two-guard with fairly decent passing skills and court-vision would come in handy as well, as this might open up the floor and increase spacing, creating more opportunities for both the team’s shooters and slashers. 

 It shouldn’t be forgotten, that Kalnietis can indeed play proper minutes as a point guard, just as he had been doing for the most of his still short career. Kalnietis hasn’t got the skill-set of neither a playmaker, nor has he the ones of a shooting guard, but with a smart this could be used to an advantage. It looks like that the new Zalgiris coach Ramunas Butautas took on the challenge straight on, declaring that he could do exactly that in his first interview with Lithuanian media.   

The case of Bojan Popovic  

   

2009-10 Euroleague PTS  REB  AST STL  TO RKG
Bojan Popovic 11,6   2,5  5,6   2,5  4,1  14,9 

Bojan Popovic has proved to be yet another summer market steal by Lietuvos Rytas management, who signed the Serb after a fairly poor season in Spain. Coach Kurtinaitis has shown trust in Popovic by giving him complete freedom to maneuver, of course, within the coach’s schemes or style in a broader sense. 

 One has to keep in mind the huge load of responsibility that Popovic has on his back whilst looking at the turnover numbers. Lietuvos Rytas, a team with a lack of individual talent and no particular player, who could create his own shots, except from Arturas Jomantas to some extent. The game relies on Popovic as the motor of the team to link up his teammates. Zalgiris, for example, has individually stronger players, who can go one-on-one and collect points this way. 

 Popovic doesn’t have the smoothest of shots, which he could rely on, but has learned to use his speed and quickness to get off of his defender, which usually results in free-throws. The player should work on improving his shot and keeping the turnover numbers as low as it is possible to make the best of the opportunity to showcase his skills at the highest level given by Lietuvos Rytas. 

 The statistics  

 The styles of both Popovic’s and Kalnietis’ offensive game is radically different. The Serbian playmaker prefers an aggressive mind-set, while Kalnietis looks to hang around the three-point line more often than not, looking for his own shots from downtown as well. The main reason for this is the shooting percentages – Zalgiris point guard’s shot has improved significantly, but is still far from brilliant, while Popovic’s shot accuracy depends too much on the weather on a specific day and is highly unstable.  

The different styles of the players are reflected in how they score points
The different styles of the players are reflected in how they score points
Shooting stats   2PM-A    2P %    3PM-A    3P %    FTM-A    FT % 
Mantas Kalnietis   62-107   57,9  28-77  36,4  21-22  95,5
Bojan Popovic  39-91  42,9  21-70  30,0  94-113   83,2

Kalnietis seems to be either too confident in his shooting, or not confident enough in his ability to take on the defenders head-on. Knowing, that he does have the athleticism and the hops to both drive and finish over the rim, it’s dazzling why he doesn’t use this weapon more. If not in direct points, his tally will tower, as he hits free-throws, which he has been shooting at a perfect 9 of 9.Talking about free-throws, Popovic uses them to full extent, trailing only the  most efficient Euroleague player Aleks Maric in drawn fouls and has attempted five times more shots from the charity stripe than his Lithuanian counterpart.   

Kalnietis played against stronger opponents than Popovic, but also allowed them to collect a slightly larger ranking than usual on an average
Kalnietis played against stronger opponents than Popovic, but also allowed them to collect a slightly larger ranking than usual on an average
Bojan Popovic had some of nights on defense, despite being pretty good on a regular basis
Bojan Popovic had some of nights on defense, despite being pretty good on a regular basis

 The aggressiveness translates into defense as well – Kalnietis commits only 1,4 fouls per game and leaves much room for interpretation. He should have an advantage, due to his height, but this must have been balanced out by a lack of speed and quickness to some extent. Popovic, once again, prefers a more in-your-face approach, committing twice as much fouls as Kalnietis, but for that he gets rewarded with twice the amount of steals at 2,5 a game to make him second in this category as well, only behind  former Lietuvos Rytas player Mindaugas Lukauskis. On the whole, this leaves Kalnietis more room for improvement, stepping up his defensive intensity on his opponents and playing on the edge of a foul.

And by the way, I’ve told you this would happen right here. I’ve also said that Popovic’s price will have rocketed up by the end of the season, believe me now? (“But you’ll see, he will have a good season, he will rise from the ashes and he will get a good contract coming out from this year” – posted just before the Eurobasket) 🙂 Hope you enjoyed it…

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The battle of the point guards – Kalnietis or Popovic?

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