Utena, Lithuania – It has become typical of Mindaugas Kuzminskas to finish games with very pretty-looking stat-lines. Game two of the Lithuanian League’s bronze medal series was no exception – the 204 cm (6’9”) 20-year-old blondie had 23 points and 5 rebounds in 29 minutes of court time. Kuzminskas shot the ball with fair decency knocking in 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and making 6-of-13 field goals overall, the player missed only one of his eight attempted free-throws as well.
However, statistics haven’t always been the best way to describe one’s game and tell the true story. Kuzminskas’, just like any other Siauliai player’s, numbers are inflated like a balloon that’s bound to burst as he eventually moves to a team that actually plays with some logic, structure and, most importantly, defense in their game.
Siauliai are known as a very fast-paced team with a high-octane offense and practically no defense, that likes the up-and-down, run-and-gun style. Players have a lot of freedom and can improvise on their for the most part, but Kuzminskas hasn’t been creating much of his own, mostly relying on Derrick Low or Deivydas Gailius to open up space and get the opponent defenses out of shape. It’s hard to miss the fact that Kuzminskas collected most of his points from catch-and-shoot situations after the defense got mixed up in their rotations. That’s not a particularly bad thing, but Siauliai’s opponents in the Lithuanian League aren’t the best defensive teams in the world either and Kuzminskas wouldn’t have nearly as many wide-open looks in a better league against stronger opposition.
When he did decide to put the ball on the court, Kuzminskas didn’t look very confident in driving towards the basket, got muscled out and had his path denied by a defender, who’s about 10 cm (4 in) smaller than him, on several occasions and had to go for strange-looking off-balanced shots. On the other hand, Kuzminskas’ put-back dunk that gave Siauliai a lead with 24 second on the game-clock was probably the most important play of the game.
The player has developed his outside shot but still needs to get stronger to be able to fight for rebounds and effectively play at the power forward position as well as against stronger small forwards, when he eventually makes the move up a level and faces stronger opposition – both physically and skill-wise.
Kuzminskas’ post game isn’t anything very special, he has definitely improved his skills in this department, but still lacks a wider variety of post-moves. He uses spins and pump-fakes to get around even bigger and stronger defenders for open lay-ins, dunks or baby jump-hooks, but that might prove to be too little in the future.
The forward should be complimented for his understanding, feel for the game and basketball IQ – he never holds the ball for too long and usually makes timely passes that allow the development of a fluent offensive game, however, he still gets caught off-guard from time to time and has his passes intercepted.
Although the team’s poor defense isn’t helping Kuzminskas at all, he couldn’t be called a good defender himself, but is far from being a liability as well. He gets outsmarted by more experienced players committing fouls in places where he shouldn’t and has troubles getting through screens to catch his defender, but compensates it by his length. Defending stronger players usually ends up with the opponent backing down on Kuzminskas, who doesn’t have the strength to hold his ground yet.
It is widely expected that Kuzminskas will pull out from the 2010 NBA draft and play in Zalgiris Kaunas, where he has signed a long-term contract, next season. With the current roster he might end up being the second option at small forward behind veteran, former Lithuanian National Team player, Dainius Salenga and playing some additional minutes at the power forward position.
by Simonas Baranauskas