Having struggled to start 2021, Valencia Basket faced three higher-ranked teams in February who could have easily prolonged its problems. Thanks in large part to the relentless efforts of forward Nikola Kalinic, Euroleague Basketball's choice as MVP of February, Valencia instead aced those three games to reassert itself in the super-hot Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs race. From his swing forward position, Kalinic led Valencia in scoring, assists and performance index rating to help knock off CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid and Zenit St Petersburg, top-five teams as the month started. The former continental champion, now in his seventh EuroLeague season, reached two of his career-highs in February. His consistency and versatility throughout the month were everything that Valencia needed to shake off a potentially fatal spell of losing and reposition itself for a strong run at the playoffs.
The MVP of the Month honor is now in its 17th season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance during the month in question. Kalinic has not only won the MVP of the Month honor for the first time in his career, but is also the first such honoree in Valencia's six EuroLeague seasons to date.
February loomed fatefully for Valencia as it carried six losses from its previous seven games into a Round 24 home date with second-place CSKA Moscow that needed two overtimes to decide. In the first OT, Kalinic reeled Valencia back from the brink with 5 consecutive points and in the second one, his last-minute layup was good for an epic 105-103 victory. His 22 points tied Kalinic's career-high and his 23 PIR matched Valencia's game-high. "Maybe this is a turn-around," he said, prophetically, afterward. When fourth-place Real Madrid came to town next, Valencia led from tipoff to buzzer for an 89-78 victory as Kalinic contributed 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block for a PIR of 16, second-best on the team that night. To finish February, Valencia traveled to meet a then fourth-placed Zenit team that had won by 13 when the teams met in Spain back in Round 4. This time, it was all Valencia in a smashing 62-91 road win in which Kalinic scored 12 points without a miss, dished a career-high 10 assists for his first-ever EuroLeague double-double and led his team with the second-best PIR of his career, 25.
After he averaged 15.3 points, 5.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals for a 21.3 PIR in February, fourth-best among all EuroLeague players, it is clear that Kalinic's move to Valencia this summer has opened new horizons in his game. He is working on career-highs of 10.5 points and 65.5% two-point shooting, while already far exceeding his best single-season total in assists with 84. Kalinic was known for his defense as a starter in four Final Fours over his five seasons with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. With the way he brought his many talents together to help restart Valencia's playoff run last month, the team's fans are no doubt delighted to see Kalinic wearing orange now.