Tuesday, August 7, 2012
The top 10 of Olympics group play
By Kevin Arnovitz
Monday was the final round of group play, with eight teams advancing to the knockout phase. There were a fair number of virtuoso performances, spirited underdogs and some individual surprises, but those who have excelled at Olympics past, by and large, added to their international legacies.
re 10 standouts of the group play (in no particular order):
Manu Ginobili, Argentina
Possibly the greatest competitor in international play in a generation, Ginobili is likely playing in his final Olympics. He has set the standard for pros who want to leave their imprint on the state of global basketball, and he has suffered no falloff whatsoever in his 2012 Olympic production: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 29 minutes per game -- and perfect at the line in 27 attempts. Ginobili has accomplished this despite losing one-third of a step, but the seams are still there, even if the burst isn’t. Ginobili knows the defenders and is still one of the game's best navigators with the ball in his hands.
Pau Gasol, Spain
He has snatched those 25 or so minutes he spends on the floor for Spain and made them his personal exhibition. It’s difficult to tell if Gasol is being guided by the desire to answer those who question his fortitude November through June, or if he truly feels more comfortable in that Espana jersey. Whatever the case, Gasol has eagerly moved to the post, but has still experienced a ton of success as a face-up jump shooter. He hasn’t been flawless. A couple of brain-freezes late contributed to a loss against Russia, but those blemishes aside, Gasol has been as reliable as anyone in a series of games that hasn’t been a cakewalk for Spain.
Andrei Kirilenko, Russia
Another guy whose happiness quotient seems to tick up when sporting a national uniform. Kirilenko is still one of the best pressure defenders in the game for a player his size. Offensively, Kirilenko has been able to operate in areas of the game where he’s strongest -- making back cuts, facilitating plays that move the Russians closer to a clean shot, and generally putting himself in a position to score (drawing plenty of fouls along the way). When Kirilenko is engaged and playing with confidence, he’s a joy to watch.
Carmelo Anthony, United States
Nobody is more potent when the game is easy. During group play, overwhelmed defenders matched up against Anthony are standing opposite him thinking, “Not only do I have to defend this guy’s size, but also his guile, and deceptive quickness, too?” Anthony’s 37 points in 14 minutes against Nigeria was the buzziest event of group play. He was denied the opportunity to tie a bow around his group-stage performance after he took a nasty shot to the groin by Argentine point guard Facundo Campazzo, but still finished the five games as a “198 shooter," when you add up field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and percentage from beyond the arc.
Luis Scola, Argentina
If Ginobili is the heart of the Argentine team, then Scola is the nervous system, the organ that allows the body to do its thing. It's nothing we haven't seen before. Luis is popping, skying hooks, diving to the rim and finishing. If he can't find the space he needs, he'll cleverly draw a foul.
Scola's performance against Lithuania, when he went off for 32 points and sprinkled in some pretty basketball plays, stands out as one of the best offensive displays of group play.
Nicolas Batum, France
The lanky forward has had a big offseason, inking a four-year contract north of $40 million with the Portland Trail Blazers Portland after being the chew toy in a tug-of-war between Portland and the Minnesota Timberwolves. After he sputtered in France's opening loss to Team USA, Batum has emerged as one of the more effective transition wings in the tournament. The defense has been decent, if unexceptional, but Batum has slithered his way to a number of rebounds in traffic. There won't be a more interesting player to watch during the quarterfinals and beyond, because for all that production (16.8 points per game on 60.4 percent shooting), our overall evaluation of Batum will be his capacity to take control of the game on at least one side of the ball.
LeBron James, United States
James has exerted his will when inspired, even if he's choosing his spots sparingly -- the third quarter against Argentina the latest and most notable example. With Team USA and Argentina separated by a one-point margin at the half, James came out of intermission and put up seven points in three possessions over a minute and a half. The first bucket was a turnaround J after posting Andres Nocioni. James followed with a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound that made its way to him in the left corner. Then, he scooped in a shot at close range after carving out space near the baseline.
Alexey Shved, Russia
Can we throw out the game against Spain for a second and examine what's working about the 23-year-old's game? And can you imagine a few minutes of Ricky Rubio and Shved as a backcourt tandem? The creativity and quickness with the ball are evident, but we also like Shved's change of speeds, his propensity to see where his teammates are situated on the floor, and how their big bodies can help him find a quick path to the rim. As much as anyone in the field, Shved's ability to control pace will contribute largely to his team's success in the knockout phase.
Patty Mills, Australia
The Boomers have been a resourceful, ad-hoc team. They engage in guerrilla warfare, running multiple defenders at big scorers and finding useful ways to deploy their big front line. But the constant for Australia has been Patty Mills in open space. Mills has been a little trigger-happy (only 13-for-39 from beyond the arc), but his cold-blooded buzzer-beater at the top of the circle torched the undefeated Russians. Mills’ 20.6 points per game leads all Olympians.
Joel Freeland, Great Britain
The big Brit has been a gritty irritant on both ends, doing his best Nick Collison imitation. Freeland fights front to low post, and has also shown flashes of a nice left shoulder game. He was a horse down the stretch in the heartbreaker against Spain, and his big frame is deceptively mobile, one reason he has nabbed 10.6 rebounds per 40 minutes.
Honorable mentions: Kevin Durant, United States; Kevin Love, United States; Linas Kleiza, Lithuania; Timofey Mozgov, Russia; Salah Mejri, Tunisia; Carlos Delfino, Argentina; Vitaliy Fridzon, Russia; Anderson Varejao, Brazil; Joe Ingles, Australia; Marcelinho Huertas, Brazil.