I've been watching some international games going on with Spurs players in them (since there are many going on right now) and I'm starting with the France-Latvia match from Friday in the second round of FIBA Eurobasket 2013. Early on in the game, France built a huge lead that was as large as 22 in the second quarter. With some mediocre shot attempts in the third and fourth quarters, France lost all momentum in the game, and Latvia looked like they were going to pull it out. But a game-changing block by Nando De Colo on a three-on-one fastbreak helped France to end Latvia's run and pull out the victory 102-91. The main story of the game, however, was the battle between Dairis Bertans and the Alexis Ajinca-Nicolas Batum combo.
Bertans should sound like a familiar name, because Davis Bertans was the Spurs' 2011 second round draft pick, and Dairis is his brother. He was balling from all over the court against France, despite the defensive efforts of Batum, knocking down step-back and pull-up threes, as well as an unexpectedly athletic dunk. He finished with 28 points, but it sure felt like more because almost all of the offense was run exclusively through him and he had multiple circus shots. If Davis could do the same as his brother did to France, he could be a great bench addition for the Spurs. Bertans reminds me of a more athletic Gary Neal, who can play a little defense, as well. Maybe the Spurs could bring him over, and the Bertans brothers could be a deadly, alliterative combo.
For France, Batum and Ajinca's size and athleticism was simply too much for Latvia. Batum made defenders uncomfortable with his ability to penetrate easily to the rim, which often led to multiple open shooters all over the floor. He finished with a huge 19 point, 10 rebound, six assist night. Ajinca really impressed me. Showcasing a plethora of post moves, and displaying some great court vision. He looks like he could play a solid bench role on an NBA team. He could be signed this offseason, as some teams are taking a serious look at him.
Despite scoring 23 points in the game (most of which were when France already had a major lead), Parker was largely neutralized by Bertans. The taller (6'4") Bertans guarded Parker, and forced Parker to play passively to start the game. This has been a recurring theme with Parker, and has gotten him in some trouble when guarded by guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Klay Thompson. In order to solve this problem, Parker used a lot of off-ball movement to get some separation from his defender, which is something that he often does in his NBA games. He never really needed to put much of an effort into this game, though, with Batum and Ajinca tearing up the floor.
This is the point where I rant and rave about De Colo, who finally came into the game at about the two-minute mark of the first quarter, and looked quite smooth right away. He got Batum an open three, which he was fouled on, and then he made a Kobe-esque fade away jumper -- interestingly, he looks much more comfortable taking off-balanced jumpers than he does taking normal shots. De Colo is in a sixth-man role for France, which is probably a good choice because Gelabale and Batum are much more reliable defensively. De Colo said that he's been lifting weights recently, but I think he should be focusing much more on his lateral quickness because he gets quite a few steps behind when following a screen.
One thing I do like about De Colo is his court vision. When he's in the paint, he knows whether he should throw it out to an open shooter or to take an easy layup. One play, he had the opportunity to take a fancy layup at the rim, and instead kicked it out to Parker for an open three. However, even when Parker is taken out of the game, De Colo still doesn't handle the ball, which should say something about his backup point guard chances with the Spurs. De Colo finally started to run the point in the third quarter, but most of the time just fed the ball into Ajinca in the post.
Defensively, De Colo needs to work on his rebounding. On consecutive possessions, he had a tough time boxing out a much smaller player, which led to an unnecessarily contested rebound and an offensive board. De Colo gambles way too often in his perimeter defense, and it usually doesn't pay off. He also gambles a lot in the paint, which, interestingly, usually turns out well.
Also, one day after I wrote my piece on what NBA pundits are saying about the Spurs' international players, Mark Woods wrote a great article on Nando de Colo for ESPN. In the article, Woods wrote, "We tried to do our best to make him feel welcome," Diaw says. A process, Diaw reveals, which included fetching a regular supply of donuts. Not quite the haute cuisine their motherland is renowned for." I can't imagine Nando actually got any of those donuts with Diaw around.
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