The Group Stage of the 2012 Olympic tournament has shifted into top gear, and the results that took it there are both Raptors-related. Linas Kleiza’s and Jonas Valanciunas’ Lithuanian team gave the star-studded Americans all they could handle, even holding a lead in the fourth quarter before falling valiantly by just five points. Meanwhile, Jose Calderon’s Spanish side continues to look shaky in London, and they finally paid for it with a three-point loss to an upstart Russian side.

So how did Kleiza, Valanciunas and Calderon fare today? I’m glad you asked.

Spain 74, Russia 77

Jose Calderon: 24 Min, 2 Pts, 1/3 FG, 0/2 3PT, 3 Ast, 1 Stl

It’s rare to see a point guard play more than half the game and yet still look as useless and ineffective as Calderon was on Saturday. In fairness to Jose, few Spanish players were actually effective after the first quarter, and you can point to the team’s system and style of play as a reason for the point guard looking so unimportant. I feel like you could have plugged an average guy from your local rec league in at point guard for Spain today, and the result would have been more or less the same.

Some commenters have recently voiced their observations that we here at RaptorBlog always find ways to criticize Calderon, but I really don’t see any way around it after this game. I still think Jose will be a great backup point guard this season if he starts the campaign behind Kyle Lowry in Toronto, but let’s be frank, other than a 44-second span in the final minute against Great Britain on Thursday, he’s been virtually invisible in London. As for Spain, I mentioned in Thursday’s thoughts that they had yet to look sharp, consistent or very interested in finishing off their opponents, and it finally bit them in the ass in this loss to Russia, where Spain actually had a 28-11 lead after one quarter.

Lithuania 94, U.S.A. 99

Linas Kleiza: 30 Min, 25 Pts, 10/20 FG, 2/6 3PT, 3/4 FT, 5 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 TO

The one Raptor who has been consistently good so far in London is one of the most inconsistent Raptors of the last couple years. Go figure.

Lithuania plays a very organized team game that rarely sees one player shine, but through four games, Kleiza has been the closest thing to the team’s shining star, averaging nearly 19 points on 50 per cent shooting to go along with over six rebounds per game. He’s led the team in scoring in all four games and has led the team in rebounding in three out of the four. The surprising quickness I’ve mentioned recently wasn’t on display against the U.S., and he’s still taking some ill-advised shots for my liking, but you can’t really ask for much more from Kleiza so far. Lithuania should beat Tunisia on Monday (though the Tunisians have been surprisingly competitive) to grab a quarterfinal berth, and if Group B continues to look as wide open as it does right now, I’ll give them a fighting chance in the knockout stage.

As far as Raptors fans hoping this latest international success for Kleiza will translate into NBA success next season, while he’s been impressive, I can’t say I see anything new or different in his game other than the quickness with his first step, and that’s really more of an eyeball observation than anything else. It’s nice to see Linas playing well, but I doubt it will mean much in October.

Jonas Valanciunas: 9 Min, 4 Pts, 2/4 FG, 0/1 FT, 1 Reb, 2 TO, 2 Fouls

It was another forgettable night at the office for Valanciunas, although I guess there hasn’t been enough action for him to forget anyway. The game started with a missed Valanciunas lay-up, and within six minutes, the 20-year-old was on the bench, where he stayed put until the start of the second half. Then it was more of the same early in the third quarter. A make, a miss, a turnover, a foul, and quickly to the bench.

It’s become painfully obvious that Valanciunas will need to play over his head in the first few minutes of either half if he wants more than 10 minutes of playing time per night. And while it’s easy for us to say that head coach Kęstutis Kemzūra isn’t giving Jonas a fair shake, JV hasn’t exactly set the world on fire when given the chance in London. Plus, it’s hard to argue too much with Kemzūra right now based on how effective Lithuania has looked in their last two games when they go small. I thought Valanciunas was quietly impressive in limited minutes and deserved more time in the team’s first three games, but I can’t say that about his performance against the U.S.

Based on how important Lithuania’s final group game against Tunisia will be and how little faith Kemzūra seems to have in Valanciunas, I wonder if the leash will be even shorter on Monday and in any knockout games. At this rate, I can pretty much guarantee that Jonas will get more playing time as an NBA rookie with the Raptors than he’s gotten as one of the few NBA players on the Lithuanian squad.

***

That Lithuania vs. Tunisia matchup will tip off at 6:15 am ET. on Monday, with Calderon and Spain getting a chance at redemption vs. Brazil at 3 pm ET. The Spain/Brazil matchup will be interesting, because the winner will likely finish second in Group B, while the loser will likely finish third and will therefore avoid the Americans in the bracket until the final. Will we see basketball’s equivalent of purposely firing a shuttlecock into the net to concede points?

Comments (24)

  1. I have to say, I’ve consistently felt your analysis of Calderon has been WAY off, so I really have no idea how to take your criticism of Calderon’s game against Russia since I didn’t see the game.

    I find the PG position is one of the positions that the average fan really fails to understand the subtleties of. It’s easy to see how great a guy like Nash is, but so many Raptor fans clamoured over guys like Devin Harris and Rodney Stuckey believing they were better PGs than Calderon. A lot of fans have a checklist of things they want to see from a PG, and few of them are really that important. There are two things, in my opinion, that prerequisites to a real PG. Decision making and running an offense. Everything else is gravy. While I don’t think Calderon is a top 10 PG, he’s one of only a handful in the NBA who makes good decisions and knows how to run an offense. I’d take him over literally half of the rest of the NBAs starting PGs. If you’ve got the 15th best PG in the league, it’s really hard to complain. Especially since there isn’t another player, outside of Lowry (who is slightly better than Calderon) , who is even an average started at his position.

    My feeling is, that if you don’t see the positive effect Calderon has on the team when he’s on the floor (and the negative effect he has when he leaves the game, then you simply don’t understand the PG position. And the thing is, the advanced stats completely back me up on this.

    • …. are tingling.

      I sense a how the Raptors fans have never properly appreciated Jose lecture on TPF

    • Offense is only half the battle, if that. Defense, even at point guard is equally important and as we all know, Jose does not play both ends of the floor.

      Tim, which advanced stats are those? If I remember correctly, the guys on Raptor Blog had said Bayless was the more effecient player, and that the advanced stats backed that up.

      • Calderon’s not ideal, and I had no illusions that he was the long term answer at PG, but what he brings to the offensive end is far greater than most Raptor fans give him credit for. I’m a huge believer in defense, and ideally you want everyone to be a good defender, but on a team with Bargnani and DeRozan (as well as Kleiza) he’s not the biggest problem on defense, and he helps the offense more than any other Raptor.

        And Bayless is a more efficient shooter, but Calderon’s offensive rating, assist percentage, offensive Win Share and Win Share, are the best on the team.
        http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/TOR/2012.html#advanced::none
        As a SG, Bayless has Calderon beat hands down. Unfortunately Bayless is a PG.

        • I think the stats can be a bit misleading. What he brings on the offensive end is almost non-existant because of what he doesn’t bring on the defensive end.

          Not only that, the Raptors were still one of the worst offensive teams this year even with Calderon playing in 53 games.

          I think now with Lowry, a huge upgrade defensively, could prove to be the better offensive player for the team than Calderon was.

          I would take a good defensive point guard over an offensive minded point guard like Calderon any day. A good defense is the best offense.

          • I don’t think the stats are misleading in this case at all. Calderon has a noticeably positive effect on the team, when he’ on the floor.

            And one of the big reasons the Raptors offense was so bad was because of the pace ( near the bottom) and lack of offensive plan. The other reason was because they simply lacked offensive firepower, and what firepower they did have wasn’t efficient. Keep in mind the season before the Raptors were one of the better scoring teams.

            The idea of defense generating offense works on a team level, but if you don’t have SOMEONE who can run an offense, you’re in big trouble. You end up being a Detroit team with Rodney Stuckey as your PG. And that’s not good.

            I’ve said it before that I have no problem with having Lowry as the PG, but the fact of the matter is that the PG position was not one of the biggest problems on the Raptors, yet that’s the position that had the biggest upgrade.

          • Yes, Jose slows down the pace of the game, which obviously affected the team’s PPG. But the team is still ranked as one of the lowest as far as offensive effeciency, and points per 100 possessions.

            Jose Calderon has a higher offensive rating, offensive win share, and win share than Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, and Ricky Rubio. Does that make him a better offensive player than them? Of course not, which shows how misleading those stats can be.

          • I never said Jose slows the pace of the game. I think the notion that the reasons the Raptors don’t run was because Jose can’t play at a faster pace is a ridiculous one. He’s done just as well at a faster pace as a slower one. The reason the pace slowed down was because Casey slowed it down to limit the number of possessions. The fewer possessions, the better chance of squeaking out a win- the same strategy Minnesota used in their first couple of years.

            And no, Calderon is not better offensively that those guys, but I think he’s been vastly underrated by a good portion of Raptor fans, as well as Joseph Casciaro because he doesn’t play like they want him to.

  2. What is the basketball equivalent of purposely firing a shuttlecock into the net? I propose purposely firing a shuttlecock over your teammate’s head and out of bounds.

  3. I saw the game and Jose did not have his best game, thats for sure. I agree fully with Tim, that since halfway through his second year with us, Jose has been one of the better PG’s in the league. But must note the hypocrisy, no mention of his defence and rebounding. Only because Jose’s shabby defence cannot be denied. At least I know your not racist againt white Europeans.

    Regarding Jonas – it sure looked like coach made the right moves against the US. To keep in perspective, Anthony Davis got no playing time at all.

    I really don;t know what to expect from Kleiza. But I do not think he has ever had a healthy stretch with the team. Could be a wildcard.

  4. wow, Joseph, you really hate Kleiza, don’t you? Why can’t you give at least some appreciation for his effort yesterday? I mean, he was probably the best player on the floor, leading a very average Lithuanain side to a close game with the best the US can throw on the intl floor. 25 points tallied against the likes of Lebron, Kobe and Durant. I do concede Kleiza thrives in a team game, not the my-stats-first game of NBA, but still, I was expecting that Raptors fans would be happy to see him play this well. BTW, do you start hating every european player after a couple of years? If so, I hope Jonas will not stay long in your city.

    • I wouldn’t read too much into it – we Toronto sports fans aren’t exactly known for looking at the bright side of things…

    • I praised Kleiza for being the lone consistent Raptor in London so far and wrote that he’s the closest thing Lithuania has to a “shining star” in this tournament. That’s hate? I suppose you’re referencing the fact that I don’t assume this will translate into NBA success next season. Well sorry, but we’ve seen Kleiza play even better in a summer FIBA tournament before without it really translating. As for your “hating every European” comment, I was one of the few who defended the selection of Valanciunas the night he was drafted, and continue to think it was a great pick. He could be a special player, but I can’t just ignore his play when it’s time to be critical. Most of your comment was just ridiculous.

  5. Linas sucks in the nba.

  6. Jonas seems to be tired – he hasn’t had a proper holiday for a long time. He was like this last autumn after Eurobasket, but then everything was fine. And with all respect to coach Kemzura, I think he isn’t very good at psychology and makes mistakes with Jonas (and not only with him). Anyway, after all those games I have seen him play for “Lietuvos rytas” I can’t believe he can be a bust. Just can’t :) He has something.

  7. @ Joseph Casciaro – I thought your whole analysis was fair, just some delusional Raptors think their team is a bunch of all-stars. I have always been skeptical about giving Raptors players any credit just because they seem to dissapoint more then they surpirse.

    • Are you lumping me in with the delusional Raptor fans? I only ask because it would mean in one month I’ve been called both a delusional Raptor fan who thinks everyone on the roster is an All Star AND a pessimist who always has to be critical of the Raptors and hate on them.

      • If you believe Calderon’s 10 mil contract for his team is an asset going into the next season I’d say you are delusional. Surely he has something to provide for his team but his blatant lack of defensive play causes me to dislike him- some might say unfairly, but that’s the truth. I believe you should play as hard on one end of the court as you do on the other, something Jose hasn’t shown to be interested in doing.

        • Well, if you think that gumdrops are actually superpills that make you fly and become invisible at will, then I would say that YOU’RE delusional.

          I say that because while you never said that, I also never said that Calderon’s contract was an asset going into next season, so I figured we were just randomly taking things out of thin air, here.

          Calderon’s defense is not good, but it’s not nearly as bad, when healthy, as some of his detractors seem to think. And he generally makes up for it on the offensive end.

          And the problem with Calderon is not that he doesn’t play hard on the defensive end, but he just doesn’t have the lateral quickness to be able to defend the position well. Calderon always plays hard.

          • Well then I guess you are not delusional. Jose is just not as defensive minded as many other ‘great’ point guards, and lateral quickness is a huge weakness especially on a team with an altogether soft backcourt.

      • Always about you

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