With the FIBA Americas Championship only hours away, Can Ball Ray takes a look at the Senior Men's team's depth and what it could mean to Canada's Olympic hopes. Check out his ramblings right here ...
It occurred to me that the FIBA Americas Championships start tomorrow and the Senior Men have trimmed their roster one last time. I had meant to do a look on the team's depth but had been sleeping on that until now. So now the SMNT is down to twelve players to run this tournament that will likely be very tough both mentally and physically.
So how does Canada stack up for this tournament?
In my post last week on who was going to the Tuto Marchand Tournament, I was fully expecting to see all the guys on the trip on the roster with two guys in street clothes every game. Well, that’s not happening now which is too bad since the team would have benefitted from the extra bodies. For the real deal, they are down two players and they will have to make due now. The big concern that I, like many observers I’m sure, is whether this team has the depth to withstand the tournament’s grind and any unforeseen circumstances (read injuries) so let’s take a look shall we …
At the guard spots we have Joseph along with National Team mainstays Jermaine Anderson, Andy Rautins, Carl English and Denham Brown. This essentially is made up of two true point guards and three off guards. Rautins has been working in as a PG the last few summers but his biggest strength will be his shooting so I’m lumping him with English and Brown. I’m going to assume that the starting backcourt will likely by Anderson and Rautins leaving Brown, English and Joseph coming off the bench. I think, in the absence of Steve Nash, this is a decent rotation of players. Anderson and Joseph are going to work well opposite each other and in Joseph we have an added primary ball handler who defends well on the perimeter. No offense to Andy, but Cory is an improvement as a backup (and eventual lead) guard. Andy’s primary strength rests on the offensive end, like English and Brown, so the drop off isn’t too serious when it comes to the O but it’s on D that it may be an apparent. Andy is a very good defender due to his very high basketball IQ. He’s not the quickest or most athletic but he plays excellent position defense. English on the other hand is an average defender with lots of pro experience while Brown is more athletic than the latter two but is still learning this side of the game. Playing in a zone would definitely help this situation but if the team goes to a man-to-man set, this spot could be exposed. Adding to this can be fatigue if Rautins becomes the primary ball handler and is required to match up with the faster PGs. I don’t think that this will be the big issue but in spite of that the guard rotation overall will be solid between these guys
I think the biggest concern will be up front.
In the frontcourt, we have another list of usual suspects with a new addition and the mix is going to be tested every game. We can lament missing players like Tristan Thompson, Matt Bonner and Samuel Dalembert all we want but they are not here so there is no point crying over their absence now. The bigs look good when you lineup the potential starters – Joel Anthony, Levon Kendall and Jevohn Shepherd. These guys know how to defend and play their position and in the case of Shep can fill the lanes well in the role of slasher. These guys have their credentials and they are very good at what they do so they are very capable, though not great, to start. But beyond that we may have found the team’s Achilles heel. The rotation of Aaron Doornekamp, Jesse Young, Kelly Olynyk and Jeff Ferguson, I think, will have some trouble if they are out there on their own as the second unit. They are all very talented guys but some things in my opinion work against them.
Aaron Doornekamp is one of my favorite all time CIS players because he is just a tough, hard-nosed player. He’s not afraid to get in there and mix things up on any end but he may get exposed by more athletic players. He’ll likely be playing in the three spot against players who tend to be among the most athletic on the floor. Doornekamp is very smart but that can get negated if the player is equally smart but more athletic, which these players likely will be. If he has to shift to defending a true four man, well that will be a problem.
The same can be said about Olynyk. He’s among the biggest bodies on the team but he’s tweener type guy – has some perimeter skills in a big body whose knock is that he’s not quick enough to defend at the three or quite strong enough to bang with the post guys consistently. I know he’s a young dude but youth will get trumped by experience nine out of ten times and the guys he’ll be playing against will have experience, both as professionals and in playing with the same group of guys for at least five years. Can he have another breakout tournament like last summer?
Among my favorite people to have worn the Red and White, Young is coming back from serious injury and has really only been rounding back into shape in the last few months after a lengthy hiatus. He’s always been able to hold his own in the low block but with injury and age creeping in I have to wonder how effective he can be on consecutive nights in tournament like this? He’s shown that he be can play though pain but will he be effective if given moderate minutes, let alone heavy?
And lastly, Ferguson is my wild card. I know he’s athletic and long and active and quick but how he performs here on this stage is anyone’s guess. He’s played in some second tier pro leagues overseas and with the Saint John Millrats last season and the IBL’s Edmonton Energy. That doesn’t mean a whole lot really but will the atmosphere of this type of event affect his performance? Or will the constant grind of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back games affect him more? It’s hard to say since we haven’t seen him play much.
Though I love my National Team program, I’m a little concerned – actually a lot concerned – about this unit considering the pool they play in includes team that consistently bring big, quick, perimeter skilled bigs. On top of that, the allocation of minutes will be something to keep an eye on. With Ferguson likely not getting a whole lot of PT, that would cut down the rotation to three off the bench. If you factor in Young's potential physical condition weighing in as a factor (he did sit a few workouts in Toronto when I was in attendence during both sessions) then you further reduce the rotation to two. These guys are are going to have really show something of the pine if it comes to that.
Overall, even despite the issues I may have with the second unit in the front court, this team can have a solid showing in the tournament. Obviously the additions of Bonner, Thompson and Dalembert could have bolstered the team a great deal but without them the Senior Men still look capable of putting a good run together. I think that the depth beyond the starting five, particularly in the frontcourt, will likely need to play bigger than they are at some points to hold off teams nightly but that can be done. I’ll always bring up the previous summer’s showing against France and China to illustrate that it’s always possible to put together a string of great games and this team is not too far off talent wise from 2010. I forsee the guards having to carry the load offensively most games and would think that any major contribution from the frontline offensively would be a bonus. I am expecting there to be tough wins and losses over the next ten days with Canada having a reasonable shot and getting the W on most nights.
The only thing that can really through a wrench in this thing will be injuries and to be honest, though I’ve harped on how the team can maintain itself with its current roster, there is no way it could stand an injury to any of its top five. If that happens or more than two off the bench go down, forget I even said anything.
So let’s hope for the best here … hope my friends.
Prediction: Canada finishes in the top five to advance to the Olympic qualifying tournament next summer.
Remember that you can watch the whole shebang on TSN2 or on FIBATV.com beginning tomorrow at 7:30pm ET.