For stepping up when his team needed him most to stay perfect this season, Dmitry Kulagin of Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar is Euroleague Basketball's choice for MVP of the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals. Lokomotiv faced the loss of its top scorer, forward Ryan Broekhoff, right before its quarterfinal series began with dangerous Herbalife Gran Canaria. But there was no reason to worry, because Kulagin, a former Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion, picked up the scoring slack in record-setting fashion to lead Lokomotiv to a 2-0 sweep. Kulagin posted 26 points per game in the series, giving him the highest scoring average for the quarterfinals in the history of the competition! What's more, his 32-point explosion in Game 2 was the second-highest scoring total for Lokomotiv player in the club's 87 games over five EuroCup seasons to date. Kulagin's effort helped his team reach the semifinals for the third time and raise its record to 18-0, one victory short of the EuroCup's best winning streak ever, which also belongs to Lokomotiv.
Kulagin, who joined Lokomotiv over the summer after two seasons with Turkish Airlines EuroLeague giant CSKA Moscow, was unstoppable in the quarterfinals. He was lethal from the foul line, hitting 21-of-22 free throws (95.5%) and also drew more fouls than any other player in the phase, 9 per game. Kulagin also had solid percentages: 8 of 14 inside the arc (57.1%) and 5 of 11 from downtown (45.5%). Kulagin had a team-high 20 points, 3 rebounds and a PIR of 24 in Game 1, including the go-ahead dunk with 44 seconds left and free throws to seal the outcome later on. He did even better in Game 2 with 32 points on 12-of-12 free throws and a PIR of 34 to decide the series on the road in Gran Canaria. His 32 points were the fourth-highest total ever scored in a quarterfinals game.
After making his EuroCup debut with Zenit St Petersburg in the 2014-15 season, averaging 10.9 points in 10 games, Kulagin and his younger brother Mikhail went on to play for CSKA, winning the EuroLeague title in 2016 and reaching the Final Four last season. A product of CSKA's youth program, Kulagin started his pro career with Nizhny Novgorod and also played for Krasnye Krylia Samara and Triumph Lyubertsy before the club moved to St. Petersburg, becoming Zenit, in 2014.
Kulagin is averaging 11.7 points, 3.9 assists and a PIR of 14.6 in 14 EuroCup games this season. With Broekhoff still sidelined, Kulagin will try to keep his personal momentum going and most important, help Lokomotiv make the EuroCup Finals for the second time in club history and try to repeat its 2013 title. At age 25, Kulagin has yet to enter the prime of his career but is already providing plenty of highlights.