Tuesday, September 13, 2011

FIBA Americas Musings on Argentina, Canada, More

• Also on The Painted Area: EuroBasket Quarterfinals Preview:
Spain-Slovenia, Lithuania-(FYR) Macedonia

What a fun weekend of basketball down in Mar del Plata, Argentina, with the FIBA Americas semifinals and final. On Saturday, Argentina survived Puerto Rico and Brazil outlasted Dominican Republic to claim the federation's two automatic bids to the 2012 London Olympics. On Sunday, Argentina held off Brazil to win the tournament before an passionate full house at home. Tourney MVP Luis Scola was magnificent, scoring 59 points on 24-35 FG in the final two games, and averaging 21.4 points on 56.5% shooting in 29.2 minutes per game overall in the tournament. Here are a few of my big-picture thoughts related to the tournament:
    1. Argentina: Looking Like the End of the Line
    2. Canada: FIBA Americas Sleeping Giant of the Future?
    3. Whither Splitter?
    4. Grande Sounded Great
    5. FIBA Americas Spitting Images
1. Argentina: Looking Like the End of the Line
Ever since Argentina's Golden Generation burst onto the international basketball scene with their shocking dissection of Team USA at the 2002 FIBA World Championships, they've been one of my favorite teams to watch at any level of basketball, with their often-gorgeous and always-cohesive combination of player movement and ball movement out of their flex sets on offense. (Jesse Blanchard from the Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell posted an eloquent appreciation of this era of Argentina basketball yesterday that's worth a read.)

The decade-long run looks like this:
    • 2002: Worlds Silver
    • 2004: Olympics Gold
    • 2006: Worlds 4th
    • 2008: Olympics Bronze
    • 2010: Worlds 5th
But now, it looks like it's all coming to an end, as Argentina really looked old despite winning the FIBA Americas tournament. All things considered, I would be surprised if Argentina is in serious medal contention at the 2012 Olympics.

Granted, Argentina came into this FIBA Americas tournament with the kind of expectations usually faced by a Team USA. Playing at home and with essentially their full complement of stars, they were largely expected to run through the tourney with little challenge.

Yet, the Argentines were surprisingly knocked off by Brazil in the group stage, barely survived an upset bid by Puerto Rico in the semifinals (I'm still shocked that P.R. did not put the ball in the hands of J.J. Barea down two points and needing to go the length of the floor with 6.6 seconds left), and then had to dig down deep for a fourth-quarter comeback over Brazil in the championship game.

A changing of the guard in South American basketball now seems not only inevitable but imminent, as Brazil has plenty of room to get better - Nene, Andy Varejao and Leandro Barbosa could all be added to the squad, and there are several intriguing young prospects in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Argentina desperately needs reinforcements, but none are on the way. Their team had 10 players over 30, no player under 27, and little depth forced those top greybeards into heavy minutes.

The whole story of Argentina basketball is really amazing to me: seemingly out of nowhere, they developed a generation with an excellent depth of quality NBA players - Ginobili, Scola, Nocioni, Oberto, Delfino - and now, there appears to be very little talent behind them. Argentina did finish in 4th at the recent FIBA Under-19 World Championships, but without any elite-level individual talents.

The players remain confident. Carlos Delfino said this about the Olympics after the win over Brazil: "We are getting old but we've got a big heart and big guts. God willing, we will play a great tournament and get a new Gold."

I mean, I was certainly pulling for the Golden Generation this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be doing the same next summer at the London Olympics, but Argentina desperately needs an injection of a couple 25-year-old talents which is not coming. All things come to an end.

Still, we celebrate the Golden Generation for one more golden performance, and leave the last word to Manu:
    "We are united, a group of friends, we are all really happy about Luis Scola earning the MVP prize after such a tough recovery he had or Nocioni playing with his ankle absolutely injured and these are only a couple of examples we can name. Let the legend continue."
2. Canada: FIBA Americas Sleeping Giant of the Future?
Team Canada flamed out of the FIBA Americas tournament, not even able to get into the top five and claim one of the spots for the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, which cost coach Leo Rautins his job. (Don't blame it on Steve Nash, by the way.)

While Brazil certainly seems well-positioned for FIBA success in the near future, and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico should be competitive, it's worth noting that Canada could become a FIBA power later in the 2010s, if they can harness all of the talent coming down the road.

The 2011 NBA draft featured Canadians PF Tristan Thompson in the lottery and PG Cory Joseph later in the first round.

PG Myck Kabongo should follow the Canada-to-Texas pipeline into an upcoming first-round, and big men Khem Birch (Pitt), Dwight Powell (Stanford) and Kris Joseph (Syracuse) could be first-round picks, too.

Further down the road, PF Anthony Bennett is rated as the no. 7 player in the 2012 high-school class, and SF Andrew Wiggins may be the best prospect of all, currently ranked as the no. 1 player in the class of 2014, and yes, that's ahead of any American high-schooler.

There should be plenty of talent for Canada to compete for medals not only at the FIBA Americas level, but at the World Championships and Olympics, as well. Frankly, by the late 2010s, Canada may have more basketball talent than any country outside the U.S.

The key issue, however, is getting all these players together to actually play for Team Canada. As Lawrence Dushenski noted to me on Twitter: "Most of these kids spend more time in the States than in Canada - hard to convince them to come play".

Canadian columnist Michael Grange wrote a full piece on the topic as well, leading with the following comment: "Until our players truly want to play for Canada, the basketball program will continue to suffer."

3. Whither Splitter?
In Monday's edition of 5-on-5, three of the five panelists suggested that Tiago Splitter would be a player who would make a great leap in 2012.

It should be noted that Splitter really did not look good for significant stretches of the FIBA Americas tournament. He was hampered by foul trouble, yes, but the Brazilian offense often seemed to function better with reserve big Rafael Hettsheimer in the game instead of Splitter.

In Brazil's group-stage win over Argentina, Hettsheimer was the star, with 19 points and 8 rebounds on 9-11 FG in 22 minutes, while Splitter had just 1 point on 0-6 FG in 18 minutes.

In the semi vs. the Dominican Republic, Splitter scored just 3 points on 1-5 FG in just 11 minutes (Hettsheimer had 14 points on 6-10 FG in 20 minutes), and often seem overpowered by Dominican revelation Jack Michael Martinez.

In the final, Splitter played better, with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists on 5-10 FG in 22 minutes after once again battling foul trouble.

All told, Splitter may have been miscast as a primary scoring option. He really struggled to convert offensively, and often had his shot blocked. Overall, he averaged 8.7 ppg on 49% FG and an abysmal 43% FT mark in 21 minutes per game.

Yet, as Jay Aych has noted in his analyses, Splitter still contributed strong efforts as a rebounder (6.6 per game), defender, and passer (2.2 assists per game).

Still, after Splitter's exceptional 2009-10 season as the MVP of the Spanish ACB, we were expecting him to follow in the footsteps of former ACB MVPs like Luis Scola and Marc Gasol, and make a bigger impact on the NBA.

Back in San Antonio, Splitter will probably be placed in a role which suits his strengths and weaknesses better, but considering he's a key player in the team's future, it has give Spurs fans some pause that the Brazilian national team often seemed to function better in key games with Splitter on the bench.

4. Grande Sounded Great
Sean Grande and Fran Fraschilla called the FIBA Americas games on ESPN2 in the U.S. Certainly, we're appreciative of Fraschilla for all the support he's shown The Painted Area, and despite our bias, we genuinely think he does a great job analyzing FIBA games.

But we just wanted to take a second to give a shout-out to Grande, who's been the Celtics' radio broadcaster for several years, for outstanding work. Grande has everything one would want in a play-by-play man: good voice, eloquence with language, impeccably well-prepared with background knowledge, evident love of the game.

Even though these FIBA Americas games were far off the radar of the American sports landscape on the opening weekend of the NFL, Grande still treated them as significant events, understanding that the dozens of us lunatics who DVR'd the semis in the middle of the night and watched the final ahead of the Cowboys-Jets game did, too. I appreciated that.

In my mind, Grande should be a major national TV broadcaster for the NBA somewhere, without question.

5. FIBA Americas Spitting Images
A little FIBA frivolity before we go. Every time there was a cutaway to the Argentina bench, we couldn't get over the sense that Argentina coach Julio Lamas bore a striking resemblance to Keith Olbermann:

Lamas doesn't draw up plays during time outs, he issues SPECIAL COMMENTS.

Finally, we were excited that scrappy Argentina big man Guillermo Kammerichs brought back his moustache styling for the tournament final, as it allows us to re-run our favorite obscure FIBA lookalike from a few years ago, which goes something like this:

Borat + Brent Barry


Guillermo Kammerichs (Argentina)

Thank you. We'll be here all week.

• Also on The Painted Area: EuroBasket Quarterfinals Preview:
Spain-Slovenia, Lithuania-(FYR) Macedonia


At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see props for the nice crop of young Canucks in the pipeline. I think there are few others that will become solid pro's beyond the one's you mentioned...however you mentioned the best of them.

I truly think they will show up to play for Canada too. They have all repped Canada at the FIBA Americas and FIBA Worlds at the junior levels. They all rep Canada (in a way) playing for the CIA Bounce AAU team. They all know each other well and have played with each other growing up. I think you convince one or two of them, then they will all come play for the Senior Nat team.

A future 2016 Canadian Olympic Team Roster?
PG Myck Kabongo / Corey Joseph
SG Corey Joseph / Nick Stauskus / Xavier Rathan-Mayes
SF Andrew Wiggins / Anthony Bennett
PF Tristan Thompson / Dwight Powell / Kyle Wiltjer
C Khem Birch / Rob Sacre / Sim Bhullar

One can dream of better days!!!

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I missed putting Kris Joseph in there as well...

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

About Splitter I do think is worth to point out that he missed 2/3 of training camp injured and was according to himself just 70% healthy. That said Brazil offense certainly functioned better with Hettsheimer (even when one takes into account that Splitter was second in assistes and Hettsheimer second in TOs).

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