Tactics Board: Coach of the Month for December
VILNIUS (Lithuania) - We need to talk about Rytas Vilnius.
Giedrius Zibenas' men are on a tear. They haven't lost since November 25th and have a 10-2 record across November and December - with none of those losses being recorded in the Basketball Champions League.
If we had an award for Coach of the Month, the rising star of Lithuanian coaching, Giedrius Zibenas, would be a more than deserving winner.
Rytas started December with a 20-point win over Opava and then followed that with a vital 79-77 win over JDA Dijon to secure homecourt advantage in the Play-Ins.
A huge factor in Rytas' win streak is that Zibenas has his team working harder than every opponent they have faced.
If we want to see evidence of that, we need look no further than their stats on the glass. They are the best rebounding team in the BCL this season, pulling down 46 per game.
Not Just Tagging Along
The above chart shows us Offensive Rebound Percentage (OReb%) for the whole season.
As you can see, Rytas top the chart hoovering up a whopping 47 percent of their own misses - nearly seven percent higher than AEK, in second. In December, Rytas took that number up a notch and recorded an OReb% of 51 percent!
If we dive into the film it's not hard to see how Zibenas has managed to get his team to be so effective on the glass.
They employ a tactic called "Tagging Up" where offensive players instantly match up behind a defender when the shot goes up and then look to push closer to the rim before reacting first to the ball rebounding in either direction.
This also has the added benefit of players being matched up already for transition defense if they don't get the rebound. It's no surprise that Rytas are also one of the best transition defense teams in the BCL and LKL.
In the video below we can see Rytas consistently committing to tagging up with three to four players on every possession. This means we can see anyone, from guards to centers, getting offensive rebounds and putbacks.
Rytas are just as hard-working on defense in the half-court. Zibenas' system is designed to keep everyone in front of them.
They fight over screens and try to use "Drop" coverages to defend screening actions 2v2.
They will regularly double and swarm any post entry (usually from the baseline, to blindside the offensive player), and they contest absolutely every shot from everywhere.
As you would expect, on the offensive end Rytas are one of the best teams in the BCL for putbacks.
They get putbacks on 9 percent of their total possessions and score from them at a rate of 1.3 points per possession. Even outside of the work they do on the glass, this is a very team-oriented system.
The Lithuanian team attempt 30.8 threes per game, which is behind only MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg from the teams still left in the BCL, and third overall.
To get so many open threes they fill the corners and move the ball rapidly. Also, as we can see in the second clip below, this is a team that moves very well without the ball.
When your Center (#14 Echodas) is in the post, passing to a Power Forward (#21 Masiulis) cutting from the perimeter, with shooters spaced everywhere else, the pressure that puts on the defense is intense.
January 3 sees Rytas host Peristeri bwin in the first of three Play-In matchups to decide who will make it Group K of the Round of 16.
And the prize should they make it that far? Probably the toughest group in the Round of 16, with Lenovo Tenerife and Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem already confirmed, and the winner of Pinar Karsiyaka or Breogan also joining.
It's never easy in the Round of 16, but it doesn't get much tougher than this for Rytas.
As good as they have been on the glass and as hard as they have worked on defense, the 2022 LKL Champions will need to take things up another level again to keep the BCL dream alive in 2024.