By every conceivable metric, Zalgiris Kaunas enjoyed the best month of any team in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague; the Lithuanian champs were the only squad with a perfect record in December and those wins came at the expense of four national champions and three teams in the top five in the standings.
Big man Paulius Jankunas is more than just the club’s most productive player this season – and over the previous decade, he is also the team’s longest-tenured player and its captain. As the unquestioned leader – on and off the court – of the best team in the league over the past month, Jankunas is Euroleague Basketball’s choice as the MVP for December.
As the team won close games – Zalgiris’s average margin of victory during its 5-0 run was 5 points – Jankunas did not deliver the spectacular as much as he offered consistency, which proved to be the cornerstone of a memorable month in Kaunas. Whether it was his cool midrange jumpers, timely rebounds or words of advice or encouragement to teammates, the veteran’s impact was felt across the continent and made him a natural choice as MVP of the month for the first time in his distinguished career.
Jankunas averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds for a 16.0 average performance index rating in December, which were all team highs.
He scored in double figures in each game and made 54.4% of his two-point shots and 80.7% of his free throws.
This is part of what is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in the 33-year old’s career; Jankunas’s scoring average of 13.2 points per game this season is on pace to be the second-best in his 15 EuroLeague seasons as is his average index rating of 15.9. Jankunas, who has played all but one of his professional seasons for Zalgiris, is ranked third on the all-time rebounding charts (1,592) and sixth in scoring (2,663 points).
He becomes the second Zalgiris player to win the award, coming exactly one decade after Marcus Brown was named December 2007 MVP. Jankunas is the oldest player to win the monthly MVP since Rasho Nesterovic claimed the February 2011 award with Olympiacos Piraeus at age 34.