Lithuania has a reputation for creating exceptional basketball players, some of whom make it all the way to the biggest stage, the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States. There are four Lithuanians currently playing in the NBA; we are about to look closer at them.
Jonas Valančiūnas: Memphis Grizzlies
Jonas Valančiūnas hails from Utena, Lithuania, and is a man mountain! The giant center stands at 6ft 11in (2.11m) and tops the scales at 265lbs (120kg). Valančiūnas started his professional basketball career with Perlas Vilnius from 2008-2010 before moving to Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius from 2010-2012.
Valančiūnas gained a reputation for being an exceptional player and was one of the favorites with the sportsbooks at onlinesportsbetting to be the number one pick in the 2011 NBA draft. The Toronto Raptors drafted Valančiūnas as the fifth overall pick and signed a contract with them on July 18, 2012, making his debut against the Indiana Pacers on October 31, 2012.
He spent seven seasons with the Raptors, playing 470 games, averaging 8.4 rebounds and 11.8 points per game.
Valančiūnas traded to the Memphis Grizzlies on February 7, 2019, and became an instant hit with the fans. He shone in the 127-112 victory over the Washington Wizards on March 10, 2021, logging a double-double with 25 points, 20 rebounds, and four blocks. A month later, he set a franchise record of 15 consecutive double-doubles, scoring 26 points and 14 rebounds as the Grizzlies beat Chicago Bulls 101-90.
Domantas Sabonis – Indiana Pacers
Domantas Sabonis is a Lithuanian-American who plays as a power forward or centre for the Indiana Pacers. Sabonis is the son of Arvydas Sabonis, who played for the Portland Trailblazers from 1195-2003.
Orlando Magic gave Sabonis his chance in the NBA, selecting him as the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. However, he was traded to Oklahoma City Thunder on draft night.
Sabonis played 81 games, starting 66, for the Thunder before heading to the Indiana Pacers with Victor Oladipo in exchange for Paul George. His first two seasons with the Thunder saw him start only 24 games (although he turned out in 148) but became a starting five from the 2019-20 season onwards.
The 2020-21 season saw Sabonis average 9.5 defensive rebounds per game, 6.7 assists, and 20.3 points, the best tally of his professional career.
Deividas Sirvydis – Detroit Pistons
Deividas Sirvydis’ NBA career is only getting started because he was the 37th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The former Rytas Vilnius and Hapoel Jerusalem small forward/shooting guard was picked by the Dallas Mavericks but immediately traded to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Isaiah Roby, and two future second-round picks. That is how highly regarded Sirvydis is.
The 21-year-old rookie has found his court time-limited so far, appearing 20 times but is yet to start a game for the Pistons. Sirvydis scored his first NBA point in a 129-105 win over the Toronto Raptors on March 3, 2021. He recorded a career-high 16 points and one rebound in a defeat against the Denver Nuggets on May 15, 2021.
The future is bright for the youngster from Vilnius.
Ignas Brazdeikis – Orlando Magic
Ignas Brazdeikis is a Lithuanian-Canadian born in Kaunas before moving to the United States and finally settling in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Basketball is in his blood; his second aunt, Lina Brazdeikytė, won the 1997 EuroBasket Women with the Lithuanian women’s national team.
The Sacramento Kings drafted the 22-year-old small forward as the 47th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, who then traded him to the New York Knicks.
Brazdeikis played nine games for the Knicks before being assigned to the Westchester Knicks for the start of the NBA G League season. The Knicks traded Brazdeikis to the Philadelphia 76ers, but he was waived after only one game.
Orlando Magic took a chance on Brazdeikis, and he signed a 10-day contract with them. He impressed on his debut, resulting in the Magic signing Brazdeikis for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. He finished the campaign strongly with a career-high 21 points in a 122-97 loss to the 76ers on May 14, 2021.