A pair of well-established young centers poised to begin the primes of their careers, Nikola Milutinov and Arturas Gudaitis, changed Turkish Airlines EuroLeague clubs this summer, offering a tantalizing opportunity to anticipate what awaits them in their new destinations. Milutinov, 25, has been a double-figure scorer in two of his seven EuroLeague seasons so far, the same as Gudaitis, 27, in his five to date. What distinguishes both is an ability to make their presence felt around the rim as rebounders, shot-blockers and high-percentage offensive options. Both have taken their talents to Russia – Milutinov with CSKA Moscow and Gudaitis with Zenit St Petersburg – which means they will be able to take each other’s measure more often in both the EuroLeague and the domestic VTB United League.
It was in the 2017-18 season that both players began consistently playing 20 or more minutes per game, the 2.13-meter Milutinov as a full-time starter with Olympiacos Piraeus and the 2.08-meter Gudaitis in his return to the EuroLeague with AX Armani Exchange Milan. Since then, Milutinov has pulled more rebounds than any other EuroLeague player (512), while Gudaitis ranks seventh (416). But when broken down on a per-minute basis, they are much closer, with Milutinov pulling down 12.0 per 40 minutes to 11.7 for Gudaitis. It will be interesting to see how their minutes and production develop under new systems and new coaches on their new teams.
Both players had breakout seasons in 2018-19, although Gudaitis saw his cut short after 21 rounds by a long-term knee injury. Until that time, they were ranked second and third in total rebounds among all EuroLeague players. Milutinov ended up playing a total of 28 games with averages of 11.7 points, 3.4 offensive rebounds, 7.9 total rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 20.0 PIR. Through his 21 games, Gudaitis had put up 12.5 points, 3.3 offensive rebounds, 7.1 total rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 18.7 PIR per game. Milan had a 10-11 record with Gudaitis on the floor, then went 4-5 without him and missed the playoffs by a victory. Milutinov and Olympiacos had bad luck, too, losing a tiebreaker to reach the post-season by a single three-point shot.
During the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, Milutinov dominated as the EuroLeague’s top rebounder, with 3.6 offensive and 8.2 total boards per game. He averaged 10.3 points and 19.2 PIR in 24 games. Gudaitis, still coming back from his injury, didn’t debut until Round 5 and averaged almost 7 fewer minutes per game than the season before. He finished with averages of 7.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 10.4 PIR per game. Their career totals show that these two young centers can dominate in the paint, be it on offense or defense, and offer their new teams efficiency with the ball in their hands near the rims. CSKA is still the last EuroLeague champion and Milutinov will be expected to help the team make its ninth consecutive Final Four. Zenit, in just its second EuroLeague season, hopes to make noise against the big boys with the help of Gudaitis. Enjoy watching two of the top young centers in Europe take on new challenges in the 2020-21 EuroLeague!