10june

Dazzling Dozen. 12 Playoff Stars

Not surprisingly, the final month of the season delivered plenty of exciting storylines, individual heroics and breakthrough performances. As we look back on the 2015 VTB United League postseason, VTB-League.com highlights 12 of the biggest stars.

Andrey Vorontsevich, CSKA forward

Vorontsevich went from role player to irreplaceable starter during the regular season and built on his success during the postseason. He was the perfect embodiment of CSKA's style of play: tough and focused, skilled at multiple positions, no weaknesses, effective on defense and offense. Vorontsevich averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 73.7% from inside the arc, 50.0% from downtown to go with an efficiency rating of 15.7. The regular season's Top Russian Player and Defensive Player of the Year, the Russian forward added to his trophy case with the biggest individual award of his career yet: Playoff MVP.

Sergey Monia, Khimki forward

Sergey Monia played big minutes throughout the playoffs, averaging 27 minutes per outing--extremely important for an injury-ravaged Khimki roster. Though he didn't have huge numbers, the Khimki captain did a lot of work on both ends of the court and made some crucial shots. In Games 4 and 5 against Lokomotiv-Kuban in the semifinals, the most exciting series of the postseason, Monia went 5-7 from beyond the arc. The Russian forward earned the semifinals MVP for his relentless approach and clutch performances, guaranteeing his place as one of the playoff stars.

Aaron Jackson, CSKA guard

CSKA has three incredible guards: Serbian superstar Milos Teodosic, regular season MVP Nando de Colo, plus Aaron Jackson. the American may not have the same status as his two teammates, but he asserted himself as one of CSKA's best players down the stretch. In the Euroleague semifinals against Olympiacos, Jackson was incredible, setting a Final Four record with seven steals. He kept his momentum going in the VTB United League playoffs. Under Dimitris Itoudis, his role has expanded and he's gained confidence. Jackson's spin and layup in Game 3 of the finals was one of the postseason's most exciting plays. Teodosic and de Colo both played well, but Jackson had more minutes and was more effective. The guard's charisma and energy were important factors in CSKA's unbeaten run through the playoffs.

Paul Davis, Khimki center

Khimki relies heavily on its centers and is at its most dangerous when star big man Paul Davis is fully healthy. There were no signs of trouble in the quarterfinal series vs. Avtodor. Davis put on a master class in Game 3, erupting for 28 points (10-14 inside the arc, 8-8 from the line) to go with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and an efficiency rating of 34. Davis started to have trouble with his health in the semifinals against Loko, but despite playing in just two of five games, he had a huge impact. The American forward saved his best for last, scoring 18 points in 15 minutes to lead Khimki to a win in Game 5.

Davis was the leading scorer for Khimki in two of three games against CSKA. It wasn't enough to beat the Army Men, but only further highlighted his big role on the team.

Alexander Kaun, CSKA center

During the 2015 playoffs, Alexander Kaun played like it was his last postseason. Literally. Immediately following CSKA's championship, Kaun announced that he would be retiring from the sport. The Russian center played a key role in the Army Men's title run, scoring in double digits eight out of nine games. Kaun averaged 13.7 points while shooting 69.4% from the field. Throw in his rock-solid interior defense and it's clear that the big man was one of the biggest factors in CSKA's success.

Unfortunately, that's the last time fans will get to see the hard-working, competitive Kaun in action. It will be a long time before anyone forgets his bruising frontcourt presence and thunderous dunks.

Rimas Kurtinaitis, Khimki head coach

Khimki had little trouble against Avtodor in the quarterfinals, but a stiffer test awaited in the semifinals. Moscow Region had to face an ambitious, talented Lokomotiv club, while missing most of its frontcourt. Tyler Honeycutt got injured in April, James Augustine had to sit out the entire series against Loko, Paul Davis only played in Games 1 and 5, Ruslan Pateev missed Game 5, and Maxim Sheleketo had to leave the court midway through Game 5. Kurtinaitis did his best to adjust, proving an excellent strategist and motivator.

The Lithuanian coach made headlines comparing Sheleketo to Lionel Messi, taught his team to play without big men and got his men ready after a disastrous Game 3 when many were quick to write off the Eurocup champs.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Khimki advanced to the finals. Their coach may have played the biggest role in the series win, squeezing the maximum out of his club.

Derrick Brown, Lokomotiv-Kuban forward

Derrick Brown will leave Lokomotiv this summer after spending three successful seasons in Krasnodar. Brown gave everything he had in his final month with Lokomotiv. His biggest contribution was his momentum-shifting three at the end of Game 2. The Railwaymen went on to win Games 2 and 3, before dropping Game 4 and 5, as well as the series. Nonetheless, Brown's effective, exciting performances did not go unnoticed.

Trey Thompkins, Nizhny Novgorod forward

Nizhny and Zenit put on a show in the quarterfinals with the Black-Whites stealing Game 5 on the road to clinch the series. Trey Thompkins was the most effective player on his team, winning the quarterfinals MVP. He then put on a heroic performance against CSKA's frontcourt in Games 1 and 2, recording two double-doubles. He ran into foul trouble in Game 3, but that didn't take away from his impressive postseason showing.

Evgeny Voronov, Lokomotiv-Kuban guard

Role players often have an outsized role in the postseason. The stars score, rebound and distribute the ball, but it's the breakout performances from lesser-known players that often make or break a game. Evgeny Voronov entered the postseason extremely motivated and in excellent shape. Despite modest regular season stats, Voronov played like a star in almost every game, asserting himself as one of Lokomotiv's leaders by the end of the playoffs.

Even an ankle injury suffered in Game 1 of the quarterfinals vs. UNICS culdn't slow Voronov down. The Russian guard was an endless source of energy, one of Krasnodar's best defenders and a regular contributor on offense. Loko took sweet revenge for its Eurocup defeat, sweeping UNICS in three games.

Voronov didn't have as big of an impact against Khimki and the Railwaymen ultimately fell in five games. Nonetheless, the Russian guard battled to the final seconds. In Game 5 against Khimki, which Krasnodar lost by 17, Voronov was a lone bright spot, leading his team in scoring.

Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA forward

Andrei Kirilenko may not have been as dominant as he was during the 2012 postseason, when he won the Final Four MVP. But despite being near the end of his career, he played hard throughout the postseason. Kirilenko signed with the Army Men in February and quickly established himself as a starter. He showed his versatility during the playoffs, averaging 7.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks for CSKA.

Russian basketball's greatest player over the past two decades hasn't made a final decision, but he is leaning toward retirement. In an important season for himself, Kirilenko returned home and won another championship.

Petteri Koponen, Khimki guard

Petteri Koponen enjoyed the best season of his career and boosted his resume further in the postseason. The Finnish guard always made Khimki better off the bench, before Kurtinaitis decided to make him a starter, where he was just as effective. Koponen played a very important role as point guard, helping distribute and attack the basket. His biggest weapon is his three-point shot, which causes a lot of problems for Khimki's opponents, especially late in games. The Finn averaged 43.6% from beyond the arc, 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The league's Sixth Man of the Year was one of the playoff's most visible figures.

Dmitry Kulagin, Zenit guard

Dmitry Kulagin has been labeled an exciting prospect for several years and fans are eager for him to take the next step. Based on the 2015 playoffs, it looks like he's reached another level.

The young guard played with smart confidence, gave 100% and hit big shots in several games. Dmitry averaged 15.6 points and 45.5% from beyond the arc in the epic five-game series against Nizhny Novgorod. Kulagin's performances in Games 3 and 4 were one of the highlights of the playoffs: 14 points in two and a half minutes in Game 3 and 22 points over 38 minutes to lead Zenit to a win in Game 4. The NBA talk is starting to heat up for the young Russian. 

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