Nenad Krstic earned one of the highest salaries in the continent and Kyle Hines is a fan favorite because he overcomes his short height in order to make a true impact as a big man. Yet Sasha Kaun was the best center CSKA Moscow had last season. A long time removed from his serious knee injury years ago, Kaun looked like the type of athlete suited for the NBA.
His purpose on offense is to catch-and-score out of the pick-and-roll and he is quite good at that. Kaun finished 106 attempts at the rim in 499 Euroleague minutes at a 75.5% clip and his 169 shots in the lane in 470 VTB United league minutes at a 66.8% clip. He is a good screener who looks to draw contact, dives to the basket naturally and has soft hands to catch the ball on the move. Kaun is a great target for lobs as he can play above the rim, leaping off the ground in a pinch.
He can set good post position due to the strength in his six-foot-11, 265-pound frame and has a decent but not money turnaround baby hook, as he is comfortable finishing over either shoulder. His athleticism and seven-foot-six wingspan didn’t translate much in the glass, though. Kaun posted average offensive rebounding rates among position peers in both leagues. And he hit just two thirds of his 233 free throws. Kaun doesn’t have a natural shooting motion as he mostly pushes the ball towards the basket with his right arm.
Kaun might have been average on most areas of his offense but his one elite skill significantly impacted CSKA’s production. It averaged 117.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 110.9 without him in the Euroleague; 115.3 overall in the VTB United league but 128.2 with Kaun in the lineup.
The pick-and-roll is also where he excelled on defense. CSKA guarded the two-man action flat, with the big man hanging back to contain dribble penetration. It allowed the fourth fewest shots at the rim per game in the Euroleague and also the second lowest shooting percentage at the basket. Kaun was great, sliding his feet quite comfortably with above average lateral quickness for his height and making his presence felt in the lane, also playing above the rim on this end. He ranked third in the VTB United league in block rate.
Kaun was a bad rebounder, though, controlling just 14% of opponents’ misses in the VTB United league and 15.4% in the Euroleague; below average defensive rebounding rates among position peers. Considering his physical profile, Kaun should be significantly better than that. But just like on offense, what he did well offset what he did poorly and CSKA allowed just 98 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the Euroleague, a rating that would have bested their league-leading mark in defensive efficiency by a couple of points.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.