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.