Eurobasket ended last Sunday and, as most of you probably already know, Tony Parker led team France to the gold, beating Spain and Lithuania in succession to finally achieve the success that has eluded him in the FIBA game. It wasn't a question of if but when this ridiculously talented generation of French players was going to put it all together and win, really. Peter Sherman did a fantastic job covering the tournament but I'd thought I'd drop some thoughts on the final game and about the performances of the Spurs in participation.
France 80 - Lithuania 66 mini recap
France controlled this one from the get go, with Lithuania hanging on until the beginning of the second quarter solely on the play of former Nugget and amnesty clause recipient Linas Kleiza. Kleiza carried the offense for Lithuania as long as he could but France simply had more weapons, with the French bench players vastly outplaying their Baltic counterparts, making up for an inefficient game by Parker. At the end of the half, France led 50-34, after scoring a scorching 31 points in a ten-minute quarter.
In the third quarter France slowed the game down and managed the lead while Lithuania struggled to score without Kleiza, who had to sit due to foul trouble. Kalnietis tried to push the pace and give the offense a jolt but once again the rest of the team wasn't efficient and he couldn't cut down the deficit on his own. Going into the fourth quarter, France led by 18 points and there was not a lot of suspense left. The implausible Lithuanian comeback never materialized as Parker scored eight of France's 12 fourth-quarter points to hold them off. France won it easily, 80-66.
France won it all but five other teams also qualified for the World Cup: Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Serbia. Traditional powerhouses Greece, Russia and Turkey disappointed; only Russia was able to use the fact that their stars weren't there as an excuse, as Kirilenko retired from the national team and Mozgov bowed out.
Other notable absences were Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman (Germany), Andrea Bargnani and Danillo Galinari (Italy), Joakim Noah (France), Pau Gasol (Spain), Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro), Andris Biedrins (Latvia) and Zaza Pachulia (Georgia).
It wasn't surprising to see France, Spain, Lithuania and Serbia among the best teams in the tournament but Ukraine, led by American-born Pooh Jeter and coach Mike Fratello, shocked Europe with their performance. Slovenia and Croatia, meanwhile, took advantage of terrible performance from teams that were considered superior to them to sneak into the World Cup. A depleted Italian team performed better than expected and came really close to qualifying, but couldn't beat Serbia for the last spot. Europe will surely get at least two wild card spots in the World Cup, which should go to a combination of Russia, Greece or Turkey.
The Spurs participating
The draft-and-stash guys
The Spurs hold the rights to several European players but only Viktor Sanikidze was in attendance in Slovenia*. Ryan Richards quit the British national team in 2012. Davis Bertans couldn't be with Latvia because he is healing from a knee injury. Hungary didn't qualify but Adam Hanga couldn't have played either because he is also healing from a knee injury. Livio Jean-Charles wouldn't have made the team in all likelihood anyway but you guessed it-- he is also recovering from a knee injury. Having your rights belong to the Spurs seems to be bad for the knees, so be careful, Deshaun Thomas.
Sanikidze did have a great tournament for the lowly Georgia. He averaged a remarkable 14.6 points and seven rebounds per game. Those numbers are similar to the ones Jonas Jerebko of the Detroit Pistons put up for Sweden and better than what the Rockets' Omri Casspi did playing for Israel. It's too bad he is under contract with Italian league powerhouse Siena because at 28, the rangy combo forward seems ready to make the jump. His ability to defend the three at an NBA level is questionable but his efficient scoring and prolific rebounding are definitely intriguing. Maybe next year.
Tony earned that MVP award, leading all players in points with 19 a game. Parker also did a great job in the leadership department, knowing when to take over and when to defer. He was key in the victory over Spain, where he scored 32 points. There's really not much to say about Parker's performance other than it was fantastic.
Nando had a good tournament. The numbers (7.4 points, 2.1 boards and 1.1 assist per game) won't jump off the page but De Colo got them within the flow of the offense and in a reduced role, as France relied heavily on Parker and Nando shared playmaking duties with Antoine Diot. He didn't shoot particularly well, finishing with a lowly 40% field goal percentage. What De Colo did do well was stay in control when he was in charge (one TO per game) and hit three pointers when playing off the ball (36% on three attempts a game).
De Colo still seems to be more comfortable when he gets to push the pace and has the ball in his hands to create, but he seems to truly be working on becoming more of an off-ball scoring threat. He is undoubtedly talented but my fear is that not succeeding early on his NBA career could have damaged his psyche. He didn't look confident or comfortable in either Summer League and Eurobasket. Hopefully the win will help with that.
Boris was a different player with France. His role on offense was bigger and he seemed to enjoy that, playing with a high energy style that is not what one would expect from a guy nicknamed The Land Walrus. His ability to create out of both the high and low post was invaluable to a French team that only had one creator in the starting lineup. He also seemed to realize he had to score a bit to help the team, so he wasn't as hesitant to pull the trigger as he is with the Spurs. His three-point stroke wasn't there but he made up for it by going strong to the bucket often.
He averaged 10.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game because that's what Boris Diaw does. He's still a bit pudgy despite playing competitive basketball year round because that's also what Boris Diaw does, and I've learned to accept it.
With Danillo Galinari and Andrea Bargnani unavailable, Belinelli was forced to play a central role in Italy's offense. He answered by putting up an inefficient 13.6 points and recording 2.2 assists per game. Since he had to create the majority of his own looks a low field goal percentage was expected, but 33.1% is too low under any circumstances. To be fair, it wasn't just Marco who struggled. Italy as a team shot 37% from the field in the last three games of the competition and that inability to put up points efficiently cost them their ticket to Spain.
As a playmaker, Belinelli showed off a great understanding of space and great court vision, as I've already covered. He was a bit turnover-prone but, once again, he had to carry the offense and that won't be his role with the Spurs. As the leader of the team he showed great commitment and awareness on defense, which made up for not having the greatest physical tools. Marco's performance pretty much confirmed what we knew from the guy when he was signed: streaky but good shooter, good secondary playmaker on pick and rolls and an adequate defensive player.
*Robertas Javtokas's rights belong to the Spurs but at 33 his chances of playing in the NBA are zero.
Stats courtesy of FIBA.com
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