Monday, August 25, 2008 Updated: August 26, 9:35 AM ET
How did the NBA's international players fare during Olympics?
By John Hollinger ESPN.com
Pau Gasol and Yao Ming were impressive on the Olympic stage, helping their teams meet expectations.
The USA finally got it right in an international tournament and is wearing the gold medal, but the folks at the NBA offices are probably just as happy. This was their dream Olympics, with fans in the league's most important overseas market fawning over their players and the Americans re-establishing their dominance over world hoops; that the silver and bronze medalists had large NBA contingents on their rosters is also worth noting (and the league's PR people undoubtedly will).
Come to think of it, the folks at FIBA can't be too unhappy either. This was easily the best-officiated international tournament I've seen -- not that there weren't a few mistakes along the way (a laughable backcourt violation against Lithuania's Sarunas Jasikevicius in the medal round stands out). Nonetheless, you generally knew what you were getting and the officiating seemed surprisingly agenda-free, a radical departure from the 2004 Games.
And FIBA made another strong move with the announcement that it's extending its joke of a 3-point line to a more challenging distance. Several teams made a mockery of the current 20-foot, 6-inch distance in these Olympics, with the U.S. and Spain combining to shoot 21-for-45 from 3 in the gold-medal game and lowly Australia making 43 percent for the tournament.
But while the umbrella organizations are happy, I'm not sure their individual teams are. International tournaments are always a worry for pro teams because their assets are basically being loaned out for free -- and if the player is injured, they're out of luck. Oh sure, there's insurance to help pay for the contract, but the team ends up missing a key player and, under salary cap rules, can't replace him. It's kind of like lending your car to a buddy for a weekend, except that if it's totaled he doesn't owe you anything and you can't get a replacement.
That happened to the Spurs this tournament with Manu Ginobili, who reinjured a troublesome ankle that limited him during the Western Conference finals -- an injury, one should note, that came about because he played the gold-medal game in the 2002 world championships on a badly sprained ankle and almost certainly should have been held out of the game.
Toronto's Jose Calderon, Chicago's Andres Nocioni and Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut suffered setbacks, too, though not as serious, while China's Yao Ming dragged through a tournament that he clearly had no business taking part in. As the profile of international basketball tournaments grows, these incidents are likely to increase. And the current mechanisms for dealing with the competing needs of the international teams and their pro counterparts seem wholly unsatisfactory.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the NBA players who competed for foreign teams in these Olympics, as well as a few others who could be joining them in the league soon.
Yao Ming, Rockets
One can only pray that some day somebody in China realizes The System is grinding this guy into a pulp. Until that day comes, expect to see more of Yao laboring up and down the court for China and holding his shorts after every whistle. The classy giant had a decent tournament statistically, but that's only because he destroyed a Lilliputian Angolan squad; real competition exposed his lack of conditioning.
Andrew Bogut, Bucks
Was on a roll heading into the U.S. game with 45 points in 44 minutes in the two previous contests and shockingly went 5-for-8 for the tourney on 3-pointers (a fact that, on its own, was probably enough evidence for FIBA to move the line back). Alas, he twisted his ankle against the U.S. and the Bucks are still evaluating the severity.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs
Was overwhelmed emotionally to make it here, but seemed overwhelmed physically once the games started. It's hard to know for sure, though, since the German was routinely swarmed by opponents who had no respect for Germany's backcourt.
Chris Kaman, Clippers
Showed what an adjustment FIBA ball is for those who are unfamiliar -- after dominating the tiny Angolans, the "German" Kaman's next four games produced 13 turnovers and just 11 baskets.
Manu Ginobili, Spurs
Silver-lining time: He was playing magnificently before reinjuring the ankle against the U.S., making several key plays down the stretch of the Greece game in the quarterfinals and nearly pulling the first Lithuania game in pool play out of his hat with a fourth-quarter scoring flurry.
Andres Nocioni, Bulls
If you're a Bulls fan, it's bad enough he played on one leg against Greece and the U.S. But 36 minutes in a bronze-medal game? When his team led by 19 after three quarters? Somebody needs to do a Bryan Colangelo on the Argentina basketball federation and slap some sense into these guys.
Luis Scola, Rockets
After a rough opener against Lithuania, Scola blew up for 37 in a win over Russia and 28 to keep things close for a while against the U.S. He finished as the tournament's No. 3 scorer.
Fabricio Oberto, Spurs
Had a really underwhelming tournament, breaking double figures just once. He posted a bagel in 30 minutes against Greece in the quarterfinals, and fouled out in just 19 minutes against the U.S. after scoring two points.
Sun Yue, Lakers
The 6-9 guard will join L.A. this year, but he still looks pretty rough around the edges. His only double-figure game came against Angola and he had only 10 boards in 168 minutes; I have a hard time seeing how this translates into an NBA talent.
Pau Gasol, Lakers
Might have been the best player not named Wade. Gasol led the tournament in scoring and shot 65.3 percent. In the gold-medal game, with him not being in any foul trouble, Spain's coach elected to play him only 28 of the available 40 minutes -- one of many puzzling personnel moves from the Spanish side.
Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
After Fernandez's torrid scoring in the second half of the gold-medal game, we might need to tie down Henry Abbott and sedate him. The Spanish guard was nearly as brilliant the rest of the tournament, even with his 3-point stroke letting him down prior to the finale.
Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Give Chris Wallace this: Gasol the younger looks like a definite player, showing an ability to score in the blocks in big moments (such as his tying basket against China) and draw free throws. However, he was also foul-prone and blocked only two shots.
Jose Calderon, Raptors
He was having a surprisingly weak tournament before straining his groin in the Croatia game and sitting out the final two contests. Here's a shocker for Raptors fans: In six games, he had more turnovers (8) than assists (7).
Roko Ukic, Raptors
The Croatian guard shot very poorly (4-of-20 on 3s, 32.7 percent overall) and had only nine assists against opponents not named Iran, fertilizing my seed of doubt as to whether he can back up Calderon succcessfully.
Yi Jianlian, Nets
Struggled badly against the U.S. in the opener, and while he improved in subsequent games -- most notably in the key win over Germany that put China into the quarterfinals -- he had a disappointing tournament overall. My favorite stat: 180 minutes, one assist.
Linas Kleiza, Nuggets
Made the game-winning 3 in Lithuania's opener against Argentina but completely vanished in the medal round, converting just one basket in the final two games. TV viewers probably thought he did OK in the semis against Spain because the announcers kept confusing him with Ramunas Siskauskas, but that's a whole other story.
Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz
Not only did he not shoot well for the tournament (39.3 percent), he was at his worst in the two most important games. Against Lithuania, he led a brickfest from the line by going 10-for-19 as Russia gave away a close game; against Australia he simply vanished, finishing with six points to knock Russia out early.
Other players of interest:
Here's a story somebody ought to cover: How Lithuania is at all competitive in basketball. Lithuania has only 3.6 million people, or slightly less than the population of Oregon. It's about 1/80th the size of the U.S. and 1/11th as big as Spain or Argentina.
And though it didn't win a medal in Beijing, it reached the semifinals once again -- something it's done in all five Olympic tournaments since independence. And before that, the country essentially won a gold medal in 1988 (all but one key player on the Soviet team was Lithuanian).
Lithuania made the semis in Beijing even though two of its three NBA players sat out (Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Darius Songaila) and one of its top European stars, sharpshooter Arvydas Macijauskas, was also unavailable.
Yet this tiny country went nine deep all tournament long, had five guys hit better than 40 percent on 3-pointers, and kept pulling 6-11 guys off the bench to beat the tar out of bigs like Yao Ming and Pau Gasol.
Javtokas was part of that latter group, and showed why he'd be a competent backup center if the Spurs (who own his rights) can ever convince him to make the jump. He didn't play big minutes due to fouls but he got his licks in while he was out there, including a 15-point effort against Spain in the semis.
It's shocking for such a small country to send out such deep teams year after year; in particular, it seems demographically impossible to produce so much quality size. I have no idea how they do it.
Lost in translation department: The American guard with a Russian passport was originally listed as "D. Kholden" on the FIBA Web site; I guess that happens when you go from Roman to Cyrillic and back again. When reporting the scores from the opening day of the Games, MSNBC dutifully broadcasted back to Holden's home country that somebody named "D. Kholden" led Russia over Iran with 19 points.
The Pete Maravich comparisons are fun, but Maravich averaged 44 a game in college and I'm not sure Rubio could score 44 in a gym by himself; he shot 28.1 percent for the tournament. Instead, let's go with Jason Kidd comparisons because the Spanish phenom sees things that other people don't, even at the age of 17, and he's an absolute pest on defense.
I never thought much of this guy, and he's probably a tweener in the NBA, but he had a fantastic tournament for Spain. Reyes shot 57.9 percent, averaged better than a point every two minutes and pulled down five boards a game in fewer than 19 minutes per.
The Australian guard will return to St. Mary's with a greatly enhanced rep for burning pressure defenses off the dribble -- it's no accident he played his two best games against the U.S. and Spain, where he could use his speed to zip to the basket for layups.
The Rockets own the Australian guard's rights. He didn't overwhelm in Beijing -- he padded his stats with a great game against Iran but didn't deliver much in the games that were of consequence.
The 7-2 Iranian led the tournament in rebounding and has received interest from the NBA, most notably Memphis. He was massively turnover-prone in Beijing, but wouldn't be a go-to guy in the pros the way he was for a shorthanded Iranian squad.
The Greek forward wins the prestigious Illegal Screen of the Tournament award for his two-handed forearm shiver on Argentina's Luis Scola in the quarterfinals, setting up a wide-open 3 by Panagiotis Vasilopoulos. It was about his only impactful play of the tournament, as he had more fouls and turnovers than baskets, and his lack of mobility was a major issue on defense. The Clippers own Schortsanitis' rights but won't bring him over until they've been assured that he won't try to eat Eric Gordon.
The Hawks own his rights, but the Australian forward is playing overseas at least one more year. Unlike the rest of his overly physical teammates, Andersen's softness is a major issue and one that came to light repeatedly in this tournament. His one good game came in a win over Russia.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.