NBA Watch: FIBA Americas
The first phase of the FIBA Americas tournament in Mar del Plata, Argentina, has co me to an end. The tournament had no big surprises so far, except for Canada's victory against the Dominican Republic and perhaps Dominican Republic's against Brazil. Anyway, we can make an accurate analysis of what happened with the NBA players who participate in the competition.
Without going into detail, we will describe each one of the players of the best league in the world that are taking part in this tournament in Mar del Plata.
Carlos Delfino, Milwaukee Bucks: It sounds almost ridiculous to think of Delfino as the secondary option on the perimeter, but with Ginobili in the frontcourt, that's the role the Bucks' guard is playing. He recovered well from tendinitis in his right ankle that sidelined him against Paraguay in Argentina's debut, his triples and penetrations were key against Puerto Rico. Against Panama, Delfino was not at his best, but all shooters can have a bad night.
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs: He is still the best player in this tournament. The left-hander's ability to penetrate defenses allowed Argentina to be a real dagger in the scheme Puerto Rico planned. Against Panama, in a match that had its complications, he made a couple of moves that made the crowd stand on its feet. Ginobili is one of the few players in the world who knows, minute by minute, what his team needs. And more important than that: He applies it perfectly.
Andres Nocioni, Philadelphia 76ers: Chapu is one of those people who plays basketball with the logic of someone who has lost something and needs to find it. He's relentless, exhausting for any rival. "Good, we're doing good, we're physically fit," he told the reporters after the victory over Puerto Rico. Energetic, active, almost desperate at times, he throws himself to the floor each play and fights for rebounds better than anyone. His team may be winning by 20 points and his admirable attitude does not change. Nocioni has a pure approach. Lamas has used him as a 3 and a 4 in this tournament, but he can also play the 2. If Pablo Prigioni is the brain of the perimeter, Ginobili is the talent, Delfino the art and Nocioni the heart. Nothing would be the same without this man, who makes every game an unforgettable experience for the audience. He should be careful with fouls, because this is not the NBA. That type of physical play is not allowed here.
Luis Scola, Houston Rockets: Scola is, without a doubt, on the podium of the best players in Argentine history. Because of his knee injury, he is slowly improving in this tournament. The mission of every opponent is to cut Prigioni's and Scola's pick-and-roll circuit, so it is common for them to defend Argentina standing in the area. Scola is yet to be the genius we saw in the 2010 World Cup, but he has certainly found the compass against Puerto Rico in the third quarter of action. Against Panama he stepped false, but believe me he is the right player for big games. As a boxer of 2.06m, Scola makes the difference by moving his pivot feet in the key. Someday he'll be remembered as the master of the art. He is a player made for school.
Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs: Splitter is the only Brazilian in the low post. While Scola plays pick-and-roll with Prigioni, Tiago does it with Marcelo Huertas. "We have to continue improving the defense, that's our key. We are not as talented as other teams, so we have to play as a whole," he told ESPNdeportes.com on Saturday. The large yellow lighthouse almost did not play in the match against Cuba. Ruben Magnano is well aware that without Splitter, they are just one more team in this tournament. His rebounding, his energy and his combination of NBA and FIBA basketball are intangibles and peerless. He has to improve for the second phase, because his team really needs him. In these tournaments there is no room for later.
Joel Anthony, Miami Heat: Anthony is one of the top inside defenders in the NBA, and the best inside defenders of the tournament. Canada has three NBA players on its team, but none of them is a star on their NBA squads, and thatīs something that has affected the group. The audience waits for Anthony to score, or to be the one who makes the difference in pick-and-roll situations with guards, but heīs not built for that. He gives a lot to Canada, but if they want a Kafkaesque metamorphosis every night he wears the uniform of his country they are looking at the wrong guy.
Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs: Joseph, the new rookie that will play with the Spurs next season, has the virtues and vices of a player fresh out of college basketball. He's incredibly fast, but sometimes his speed gets him into trouble. Leo Rautins uses him in different passages of the game, but he doesnīt often take part of the closures because he is not always as safe a bet as other NBA talent in this tournament. He looks like a scoring point guard who sometimes makes bad decisions on offense. He has a lot of things to improve.
Andy Rautins, New York Knicks: In my opinion, Rautins is one of the best shooters in the world with both feet on the ground. He has remarkable technique and has given a lot to Canada, one of the surprise teams in the first round. He has trouble when it comes to attacking on penetration. And he is also not adept at the pick-and-roll. He's a sniper hidden behind a window with his rifle ready to shoot. But do not expect him to become Tarzan -- that story of jumping and hunting wild boars is not made for him.
Gary Forbes, Denver Nuggets: No, no and no. Gary Forbes has not found the compass to lead his team from the first-round field. Against Argentina he had a great first half, but then he fell back into the hole. Forbes is energetic, incisive, but also anarchic. His game is so individual-based that it becomes scary. He needs to learn a lot of concepts of FIBA basketball.
Carlos Arroyo, Boston Celtics: As of now, heīs the best Boricua player in the tournament. He benefits from the fact that rival teams are mostly concerned about Barea, because it lets Arroyo show the best of his repertoire on offense. Nobody will find anything new with Arroyo, as his game is the same as always -- good penetration, shooting with and without defenders in front of him and a remarkable vision of the game to assist. Puerto Rico runs, but also defends. It has balance. This is by virtue of its stellar pair of guards. To understand why Arroyo is shining, the explanation is that now, with all eyes elsewhere, the windows are open to display his talent. Arroyo, a lover of music, makes us all dance to the beat of his band.
Renaldo Balkman, New York Knicks: Balkman is not a player who can make a difference scoring points, but he runs the court well, he is a good trailer in transition and he is also a lion on defense. Let's face it: Balkman is added because of the defensive spirit of Flor Melendez. In the area posed by the Puerto Rican team, Balkman fits perfectly among the interns. At times, he loses his composure, but that is all about his attitude. If you donīt have a fierce attitude in some situations, if you don't get angry, the offensive stars of the opposing teams will harass you.
Jose Juan Barea, Dallas Mavericks: What more can you ask from the great Barea? Everything good, the saying goes, comes in a small package. He is the example for parents to show their children in the years to come. Barea is ultra-fast in both attacking on offense and defense. When coupled with Arroyo, we realize that from the point guard life can be wonderful. Everything has to do with defense, and in this case the physical frame does not matter. The ability of the Mavericksī point guard is so great that it can surpass any barrier. I think at this point he is already proven.
Francisco Garcia, Sacramento Kings: I still cannot erase from my mind this man's tears after the defeat to Canada. It's amazing to see the kind of basketball in this kind tournament, because the very next day, Garcia, after the victory against Brazil, couldn't stop smiling. He lives on his shooting, and if he doesn't take a shot, or he misses, he feels he is failing his peers. In the Olympic qualifiers his performance has improved progressively and against the "verdamarelo" his wrist has been so hot that he could have shot an arrow through the eyes of twelve axes aligned. The Dominican team needs this man in order to be a different squad. He has shown that he can rotate, in only one night, 180 degrees in his level. That's a great argument to start believing again.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks: He's got so much talent that you have no choice but to grab your head when he makes a mistake. At times he plays very far from the key and that presents solutions to the defenses. In this first round he has played really well, but suffers greatly when the perimeter lacks action because when he gets double teamed, he has nowhere to discharge. He takes rebounds, establishes physical differences in the low post game and becomes a steamroller when they try to control him. In short, it takes more than one person to stop an All-Star.
Charlie Villanueva, Detroit Pistons: So far he's been the great disappointment of the tournament. "He suffered the flu and an injured Achilles' tendon while training in Lexington. He's recovering little by little," said John Calipari about his power forward. For now, Villanueva looks slow and a bit overweight, which lead him to commit silly fouls on both sides of the court. There were some interesting parts to his game in the victory against Brazil, but he has much more to give. Let's be honest: He's been the least focused NBA player in the first round.
Greivis Vasquez, Memphis Grizzlies: The Venezuelan fans must be proud of their NBA star. Not only has he shown commitment and seriousness in implementing Musselman's system, but he's been one of the hottest talents in the 2011 Olympic qualifiers. Venezuela has a clear idea of the game and has changed it on both sides of the court.
Vasquez has been the catalyst for a promising young band. He has certainly made some mistakes in the defining moments of games, but it is a matter of experience in this kind of tournament. It is not easy to become a role player for a national team with so much history like Venezuela. Vasquez has everything he needs to keep pushing this team toward moments of glory. As he grows, this tree will start to bear ripe and delicious fruit.
Bruno Altieri covers the NBA for ESPNdeportes.com.
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