PALO ALTO, CALIF — PALO ALTO, Calif. -- After a year of assimilating the language and the culture, Golden State Warriors guard Sarunas Marciulionis has to make his most important transition: He has to show he understands how to play in the National Basketball Association.
That statement may seem strange, considering Marciulionis' vast skills, startling strength and relative success as a rookie last season. Marciulionis averaged 12.1 points (sixth among NBA rookies) and shot 51.9 percent from the field.
But the 6-foot-5 Lithuanian has a lot to prove in terms of making an overall impact as Golden State opens the preseason Tuesday night against the Seattle SuperSonics in Spokane, Wash. It's a transition the Warriors spent most of the off-season working on.
With high-scoring swingman Terry Teagle gone to the Los Angeles Lakers, Marciulionis' role will take on a new dimension. More to the point, his role will be more important because he will be the Warriors' top scorer off the bench and should be the top replacement for Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin.
In addition, he will be expected to play in the crucial situations in which coach Don Nelson went to someone else a year ago. In almost every close game last season, Marciulionis was on the bench in the final minutes.
"I think he's going to be better than a year ago," Nelson said. "His minutes should stay the same, even though we won't go with the small lineup as much as we did last year."
Nelson quickly added the main point: "Sarunas has to take the open shot."
Last season, Marciulionis was the king of overpassing on a team where the goal is to get the best shot as quickly as possible.
Marciulionis was conditioned in Europe to the passing game dictated by the 45-second clock. In the NBA, with the 24-second clock and the Warriors' fast-paced style, the goal is get the first good shot.
"In Europe, it's not considered good to shoot over someone's hand. In NBA, it's normal," said Marciulionis, who played in both of the Warriors' free agent/rookie camps and on the team's Los Angeles Summer League team.
"Last year, I didn't have rights to take the shot. I was looking for the more experienced players. I think all rights are even now, so I take the shot. . . I must be ready to shoot."
That's especially true of someone coming off the bench. Marciulionis had by far his best games as a starter last season when Richmond was hurt, but don't look for those two to exchange roles.
What also must improve is Marciulionis' defense. Again, because European basketball is looser defensively and the overall talent is not as deep as the NBA, Marciulionis had a hard time adjusting to the body contact required.