Over the five group stage game days for men’s basketball at the Olympics, I’m going to try to post my thoughts on the performances of the Raptors’ three representatives in London. I’ll also do this for any knockout stage games that include Jonas Valanciunas and Linas Kleiza’s Lithuanian team or Jose Calderon’s Spanish side.

So without further ado, let’s discuss how Valanciunas, Kleiza and Calderon fared on day 1 of the 2012 Olympic basketball tournament.

- Spain 97, China 81

Jose Calderon: 20:21, 12 Pts, 3/6 FG, 3/5 3PT, 3/4 FT, 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

I’ll admit that I didn’t see as much of this game as I saw of the Lithuania/Argentina game, so there might have been some spectacular Jose Calderon play (doubt it) that I missed, but for the most part, the one thing from his performance that stood out to me was his defence, or rather his lack thereof.

Calderon hit a few three-pointers and finished with a respectable 12 points, but his playmaking seemed to be toned down quite a bit compared to what we saw from him in Spain’s last tuneup game against the U.S.

The porous defence is what really concerned me though.

We know Calderon’s not exactly a standout defender and isn’t the quickest lateral mover, but he was also respectable on some nights last season, seemed slightly improved on the defensive side and was playing a game against an average (at best) Chinese team.

And yet I counted more than a handful of times when a Chinese guard blew by Calderon virtually untouched. China does have a quick backcourt, but still, anyone who may have forgotten why the Raptors traded for Kyle Lowry earlier this month was quickly reminded by having to watch Jose attempt to play D.

It wasn’t all bad for Calderon this weekend though. His team won, and he was by far the most valuable Raptor during Friday’s opening ceremonies, or at least that’s how it came off on Canadian television. I didn’t see Valanciunas or Kleiza’s face during the ceremony, but I did see Jose during the athlete entrances, making the kinds of faces that excite Landry Fields.

- Lithuania 79, Argentina 102

Linas Kleiza: 28:36, 20 Pts, 7/11 FG, 1/1 3PT, 5/6 FT, 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl

As you’ll come to realize over the next couple of weeks, Kleiza takes on the main scoring role and is one of the leaders of this Lithuanian squad.

Linas finished as the team’s leading scorer. He was aggressive on the offensive end without becoming careless, was efficient and helped out on the boards.

We’ve seen Kleiza look great in international competition before without it translating to much NBA success with the Raptors, so it will be tough for me to buy in to his numbers in London, but I will say that this is the quickest I’ve ever seen Linas move during a game.

There was one play in particular in the second quarter where he blew by a couple of defenders before evading another at the rim by attempting a reverse lay-up in mid-air. He missed and didn’t get the foul call he was looking for, but the quickness and creativity he showed on the play caught my attention, so here’s hoping for more of that starting in October. Now cue the Lithuanian supporters telling me for the hundredth time that Kleiza has just never been healthy while playing for the Raptors, and that this will be the year we finally see the “real Kleiza.”

Jonas Valanciunas: 14:16, 6 Pts, 3/4 FG, 5 Reb, 1 TO

The main attraction at these games for Raptors fans is unquestionably Jonas Valanciunas, as evidenced by the fact that my twitter timeline immediately blew up with fans looking for a live feed of the game at 5:15 on Sunday.

The numbers weren’t impressive in Jonas’ Olympic debut. His youth and his overall eagerness were exposed by the savvy play of Luis Scola in the game’s opening minutes, he picked up a couple of fouls and was definitely on a very short leash with his coach.

The one thing I tried to stress to fellow fans before the Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this month was that while we salivate waiting for Valanciunas in Toronto and while he absolutely dominated the under-19 world championships last summer, he was never expected to log heavy minutes for the senior national team. He was included on the team to gain experience for the future and to provide depth at centre, but was forced into the starting job when veteran big man Robertas Javtokas went down with injury. This isn’t the Raptors organization that can afford to let Jonas learn on the fly while they develop as a group. This is a national team looking for wins in a two-week tournament, so don’t be surprised if Valanciunas’ lack of major minutes becomes a pattern in London.

In general, I think what we saw on Sunday was what you can expect from Valanciunas as rookie in the NBA, at least in the first few months of the season. And I don’t mean that in a completely critical sense. He’s going to play the right way, he’s going to set good screens, he’ll roll hard to the basket, he’ll follow virtually every shot that goes up while he’s on the floor, and in general, he’s going to give you everything he has for every minute that he’s on the floor. But those minutes will likely be more limited than you’re hoping for while he deals with early foul trouble.

If anything, the two biggest observations we could gather from these two games (Calderon’s poor defence and Valanciunas’ short leash/foul trouble) are the perfect examples of why a defensive upgrade was necessary for Toronto at point guard. The last thing Jonas needs while he adjusts to NBA officiating is a constant parade of guards blowing by the team’s first line of defence uncontested and coming straight for him. Kyle Lowry should help prevent that.

***

Day one is in the books for men’s basketball, with play resuming on Tuesday. Spain will take on Australia at 6:15 am ET, while Lithuania plays Nigeria at 9:30 am ET. If Lithuania is to live up to my modest expectations of a fourth place group finish and quarterfinal berth, all they need to do is beat Nigeria and Tunisia.

Comments (17)

  1. No wonder JC wants to be traded. Every time he play, someone always trashes his game. I mean, the guy is one of the best passers in the game. he deserves far better respect than he gets. Nobody trashes on Steve Nash’s poor defense or that of Deron Williams, but when it comes to Jose, everybody joins the bandwagon on bashing Jose’s play on the defensive end.

    Cal is probably one of the toughest players on that Raptors squad as well. If he were on any other team, I am sure he would be an All Star, because he puts up numbers comparable to other elite point guards in the league; however, writers like you never tend to notice that.

    • I’m not gonna say Calderon is garbage or anything ridiculous like that…but to say he’s one of the game’s best passers? Come on. He can throw the odd alley-oop but as far as his passing game is concerned, he doesn’t make anything spectacular happen on the court.

      Watch videos of Nash running an NBA offence and then look at Calderon. Nash makes things happen, he runs a great pick n roll and there is movement. More often than not, Jose stands there and dribbles out most of the shot clock then passes it off. Nash is still a better defender and a much better offensive player than Calderon will be, or ever was for that matter.

      Has Calderon ever carried a team to the playoffs or even past the 1st round? From what I remember, it was his wayward pass that ended the miserable series against the Nets a few years back. And other than winning 2 playoff games against an Orlando team that was way outta our league, he hasn’t done anything major for this team.

      There are plenty of reasons why Calderon shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as Nash or D.Williams but I don’t have the time to go over all of them. I love the guy’s heart and work ethic, but he’s simply not an NBA starting PG.

      • Best description there – in spite of Jose’s nice passing numbers, he absolutely will not lead a team into the playoffs as the best player on the squad. The top PG’s in the league will, and do.

        Jose’s a good passer and shooter who makes sure there is good flow and even shot distribution in the offense. No need for the hyperbole in praising him or criticizing him.

    • I’m as big a Calderon fan as anyone, but to say you CAN’T criticize him is ridiculous, The guy is a poor defender, no matter what he does on offense. Nash and Williams are ELITE players who have proven they can be the best player on a team that goes deep into the playoffs. Even then, their lack of defense hurts their team. And Nash’s defense will undoubtably be a topic of conversation in the playoffs this year. You can bet on that.

      • The Lakers will have two very good defensively-minded big men behind him to cover his flaws, so it’s not a big deal. If they get Howard, Nash’s D won’t matter one bit since he’ll be able to take away jumpers with the confidence that the lane is taken care of by Dwight.

  2. Not to pile on here, but Calderon’s numbers are abosolutely inflated by his overdribbling. When you hold on to the ball for 18 out of 24 seconds of almost every shot clock, you’re going to rack up assists out of necessity. And if you spend those 18 seconds dribbling outside of the 3 point line (or dribbling to the baseline only to dribble back out again), you’re going to keep your TO’s low.

  3. Fact:
    Jose Calderon Starting PG for Rap’s last year, 4th in ast per game, 3rd in ast per 48 mins, 1st in ast to turnovers, in the NBA. What is the purpose of an NBA PG?

    Raptors with JC startting, along with DD, and AB, who are continuosly dissed for their defense, improved from a last place team defensively in ’10/11 (105ppg against) to a top 10 team defensively in ’11/12 (94ppg against) with Casey as the coach with mostly the same players as the previous year.
    Is it the coach, the system, the players, or what? Defense is a TEAM game, no NBA player can defend a good offensive player 1 on 1 consistently.

    • Calderon is an above average offensive point guard and an atrocious defensive point guard. He’s a so-so starter and a great NBA backup. As a few guys mentioned above, you can’t just look at numbers.

      Secondly, while the Raptors obviously improved drastically on the defensive end last season, points allowed per game is not a very accurate measure to prove that. Defensive efficiency, opponent field goal percentage and other stats that take pace into consideration are much better indicators.

      Thirdly, the way I see it is that if Casey could turn a team with Calderon at the point into a good defensive team, imagine what he can do with a team led by Lowry at the point.

      Fourthly, while standout defensive players are fewer and farther between in the modern day NBA, your comment that “no NBA player can defend a good offensive player 1 on 1 consistently” is simply wrong. There are still guys who can defend 1-on-1, and defend very well.

      • I think Calderon’s defense was much better last season. Still not good, but I wouldn’t have called it atrocious. And I think he can definitely be a starting PG on a contender, if surrounded by the right players. I think he’s better than a so-so starting PG. I think too many Raptor fans take what he does for granted, which is too bad. I think he’s easily been one of the best Raptors over the last 3 years- sure not saying a whole lot, but I think you haven’t given him enough credit.

  4. Those are some nasty kicks Jonas is wearing though.

    • Saying Jose is ‘so-so’ offensively is like saying Reggie Evans is an above average rebounder, or Shane Battier is an ok defender.

      The guy was one of the best passers in the league, again, and did that on one of the most turnover prone offenses with an offense ranked in the bottom three in the league. Thats no small feat.

      As for the rest of the argument… then why the hell is Bargnani and Derozan still here? If we want to upgrade the defense why don’t we look at the culprits that are going to be playing 36 minutes a night? The guys who do nothing but shoot (and not particularily well at that) instead of the guy who atleast plays a team game and is one of the best in the league at what he does?

      It makes no sense to me to want to ‘upgrade’ this team defensively by losing the productive players in order to compensate for the unproductive ones.

      • whoops that was supposed to be to Joseph above

        • Said Calderon is a so-so starter, not a so-so offensive player. Above average offensively, below average defensively, so-so starter overall, great if he’s a backup.

          • your right I read that wrong. But really saying he is ‘above average’ offensively or ‘so-so’ aren’t that far apart.

            -to date he’d rank 7th in assist% for a career in NBA history. Only beaten by John Stockton, Steve Nash, Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Brevin Knight.

            -only Chris Paul on that above list would beat him in TOV%

            -if he had taken (not made, but taken) 16 more FTAs in 2008-9 he’d be one of only a handful of players in the 50-40-90 club with Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller and Mark Price. The following year he was 0.3% shy of making it (only been accomplsihed two times in a player career more than once – Nash and Bird)

            Those aren’t ‘above average’ offensive players he puts his name up there with. The only thing keeping him from being regarded as being one of the elite in NBA history is he doesn’t score enough points to get the regard he deserves.

  5. I’ve actually written about the fact that Calderon is under-appreciated in the past, and feel that he might be the kind of player that you don’t fully appreciate until he’s gone. But none of that takes away from the fact that he’s a horrible defensive player, and that Kyle Lowry is a major upgrade defensively. Plus, while Calderon’s pick and roll ability can help Valanciunas as a rookie, the amount of unnecessary defensive pressure he’ll put on Jonas is concerning to me, as mentioned in the post.

  6. To clarify the Raptors defensive improvement with Calderon as the starting PG
    in Casey’s defensive system year over year:

    Pts allowed from 105.4 (24th) to 94 (9th)
    FG% allowed from 48.2% (27th) to 43.5% (8th)
    3FG% allowed from 37.6% (28th) to 32.8% (5th)

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