Jasikevicius is unanimously considered the #1 PG in the world outside of the NBA. While he has his fair share of doubters (Larry Brown's comments below are probably the most famous), there is no doubting the fact that he is one of the most successful players (in any league) of this generation in terms of the things he has accomplished and the impact he has made on every stage wherever he played. He has been a winner wherever he has gone, and it has always been our belief that he has the tools to translate his game to the NBA as well. This season, if the offer is right, it looks like he will finally get the chance to take his game overseas and show the NBA what they have been missing out on over the past few seasons.
Jasikevicius is very familiar with American basketball. He moved to the U.S. as a teenager and attended Solanco High School in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. After that he played in the NCAA for four years at the University of Maryland under Gary Williams ("He's a rock star in Europe") mostly as a shooting guard. He went undrafted despite NBA director of scouting Marty Blake saying that he has can't miss potential and that "There ain't no way he's not going to play in the NBA". It looks like Marty's prediction might finally come true this summer.
That was early on in his collegiate career, though. The Jasikevicius you will see today is a completely different player. There is no doubt anymore that he is a pure playmaker.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 is when he really started to come into his own as a player, because as usual for him, the bigger the stage, the more he steps up to the challenge. He averaged 14 points and 5 assists in the tournament. In the quarterfinals he led Lithuania to a huge upset win over heavy favorites Yugoslavia with 18 points. The next game was against the Dream Team Americans, and as many fans remember today, the Lithuanians came very close to knocking them off. Jasikevicius almost single-handedly kept them in the game with his playmaking and timely scoring. He ended the game with 27 points and five three pointers. Two missed free throws at the end by Ramunas Siskauskas did them in eventually, though, and the game ended 85-83 in favor of the Americans. Lithuania finished the tournament with the Bronze, another outstanding accomplishment for a tiny country with a HUGE basketball tradition.
In his first season after that at Barcelona in 2000-2001, Jasikevicius averaged 14 points and 6 assists per game in the Euroleague, and helped Barcelona win the ACB (Spanish league) championship, averaging 16 points a game in the playoffs. He was invited to the Spanish All-star game and also helped his team win the Spanish King's Cup, the Copa del Rey. The next two years after that we saw Jasikevicius do a lot of the same, many wins, points and assists. He helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey once again in 2002, and led his team to the ACB Semi-finals.
2003 was probably his most successful year to date as a basketball player. Barcelona won the King's cup once again in February, the all-important Euroleague in May and the ACB finals in June (Jasikevicius was named the MVP of the playoffs). Jasikevicius was once again invited to lead Lithuania at the national team level, this time in Sweden for the European Championship (other participants: Tony Parker, Nowitzki, Kirilenko, Okur, Gasol and many more).
Jasikevicius did not disappoint of course on a stage like this, helping his team win the gold for the first time in 64 years, and was again named the MVP of the tournament after averaging 14 points and a tournament high 8.2 assists per game. Jasikevicius was already under contract at that point with Maccabi Tel Aviv (a trend you will notice throughout this article with this team) for the following season, with no escape clause for the NBA, much to the dismay of the San Antonio Spurs. This is the point in which his reputation amongst NBA executives started to take off, although it would take another two years and countless more trophies before they were completely sold.
Jasikevicius continued to sweep up titles left and right in 2004, including another Euroleague title (scoring 18 points in the final game) another Israeli championship and another Israeli Cup. Despite being called one of the top overseas free agents on the market by DraftExpress in July, there wasn't substantial enough interest from the NBA for him to get up and leave his place as the premier point guard in European basketball.
I personally handed Miami Heat president Pat Riley the article and scouting report we published last year at the Orlando Summer league (about a week before the Heat traded for Shaq) along with an encouragement to sign the talented PG. "Who?" was the only response I got. Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy quickly said that he knows Jasikevicius and gladly took the article and scouting report, but the Heat opted to sign Damon Jones instead. You can take it to the bank that Saras wouldn't have choked in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals the way Damon Jones did, but that's water under the bridge for Heat fans like me unfortunately. This year they have a chance to fix that mistake (although for a much higher price now), and apparently they are one of the many teams interested.
Later on that summer, Jasikevicius came in to the Olympics in Athens once again looking to show the world that he is the top player in the world outside of the NBA. In a head to head matchup with Stephon Marbury and the US National Team early on in the qualifying rounds, Jasikevicius scored 28 points and helped his team to the victory over the Americans. What made that performance so incredible, though, was the way he played down the stretch, like a man possessed. He showed his clutch play time after time by scoring 12 points (including three back to back to back three pointers) during a two minute span in the last three minutes of the game versus the team full of NBA allstars.
Jasikevicius had his revenge, and wasted no time in letting the NBA know what they had missed out on: "I was a free agent in Europe, and it never came - any offers. They talked about they were interested, but there weren't even any minimum offers," Jasikevicius said. "So I think I'm just not a player for the NBA, because these guys know what they're doing...If 30 teams think a player cannot play, I cannot play."
When asked what he thinks NBA teams think of him, he answered: "That I'm a slow, fat white guy. The international scouts come to see me, but they don't have much pull."
Larry Brown was asked about Jasikevicius after the loss and had this to say: "I think he's a great international ballplayer. But a lot of things he can do internationally, he couldn't do in our league. I'm a fan of international ball, but there are a lot of guys who do well in their environments that would struggle in our league."
If he hadn't done so already, 2005 cemented Jasikevicius' place as one of the greatest guards in European basketball history. He once again led his team to a Euroleague title, his third straight if you are keeping score at home, matching the great Toni Kukoc as the only player to accomplished that in European basketball. He was named the MVP of the Euroleague Final Four after scoring 22 points in the final game, many of which came in the fourth quarter when he took his team on his back. In the semi-finals, Jasikevicius scored 13 points to go along with 8 assists. He was also named to the All-Euroleague first team for his play throughout the season. On the domestic front, Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Israel league championship and cup (17 points, 10 assists in the final) once again. Saras was named the MVP of the Israeli league as well for good measure.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
As mentioned already, Jasikevicius is the #1 point guard in Europe. He has great height at 6-4 which allows him to see over his opponents and make fantastic passes both in transition and half court situations thanks to his excellent court vision and knack for improvising.
He knows how to run a team and thrives when doing so, especially in clutch situations under immense pressure, which is why he should be considered by every NBA playoff team looking for a PG this summer. One of the places in which Saras appears to have improved is in the passing department, averaging 5.3 assists this season in all the competitions he played in, up from 4.8 last year. We should remind you that European basketball doesn't hand out assists nearly as easily as the NBA does, not to mention that the game is 40 minutes long over there as opposed to 48 in the NBA. He also isn't Maccabi Tel Aviv's only ball-handler, sharing the duty at times with Anthony Parker and Tal Burstein and getting time at the 2 guard position occasionally as well.
Saras controls the tempo of the game wonderfully, knowing when to push the ball down the opposition's throat and when to pull back and regroup for a high percentage shot. He is a world class shooter, averaging 45% from 3 point range in the Euroleague last season, and 40% this year. He also shot 57% in the Israeli league from 3 point range last year and 53% this season. From the free throw line he shot a remarkable 96% in the Euroleague (70/73) last year, missing only once from the line in the last 13 games (50/51 or 98%) and 94% this season.
The best part of his game is definitely his demeanor on the court. He is a natural leader that plays with great passion for the game and fierce competitiveness. He loves taking big shots and as you can see by his list of accomplishments he usually succeeds when doing so.
His main weakness is his defense which is not up to par with the rest of his game and is considered weak even for European standards, although he plays on a very offensive minded team. He is not the type of player that a coach can call plays for from the sidelines, but that's not really a concern considering his usually excellent decision making. Sometimes he will get ahead of himself, though, which would explain his 3+ turnover average last season. He's also no spring chicken at age 29, although he is clearly still at the peak of his career.
Athletically he isn't extremely quick or explosive, which might relegate him to a role as an outstanding backup that can play both the 1 and the 2 spots should he go to a team that is really competing, as Jasikevicius has indicated that he is interested in. Should he go to two teams that he really makes sense for, the Celtics or Heat, he would almost certainly be their starter. Both teams have guards that can defend either the 1 or the 2, which means that Jasikevicius' weaknesses as a defender can be masked easier.
Why sign him?
He should be considered one of the top point guards on the free agent market along with Antonio Daniels, Marko Jaric and possibly Earl Watson.
He has no buyout issues and his salary demands should probably be in the same ballpark area of the other top PG's, somewhere between half to all (probably closer to all) of the MLE for three years or so depending on the team that is offering. Keep in mind that this is a guy that can basically go to any team in Europe right now and ask for a blank check in return for him signing there. Three straight Euroleague titles on your resume go a long way when you are talking to a team that is looking for a player to put them over the top.
According to sources, there are already multiple offers on the table from both NBA playoff and lottery teams right now, with more expected to come once things clear up a bit in free agency.
"I know that my time is now," Jasikevicius said. "I'm very happy with what I've done, but the NBA has always been my dream."