In what turned out to be a major bust of a final, the Spaniards brought hustle, tough D and sharp shooting while the Greeks had clearly played themselves out in the semi's when they knocked out the Americans. The lack of competition during the game was actually quite surprising. After two great semi-final match-ups we here at the HQ had high hopes for this all-Europe final. Although we thought Spain the better team, we thought the game would have been much closer considering their best player, Pau Gasol would not be seeing the floor (and will not be seeing an NBA floor for three months).
Well after 10 minutes of play a few things were very apparent. The first, that Spain came to play. The second, that Greece was running on empty both physically and emotionally. The third? That Jorge Garbajosa had the hot hand. In fact, one could argue that Garba was the best player on the floor on Sunday. Hitting six three's, cleaning the boards and playing tough D, Garbs did everything he does well and simply did it a little bit better when his team needed it the most.
In the end Spain is on top of the world for the first time in the nation's history. One of the most obvious results of this win, and in fact the final as a whole, was if there was any doubt remaining about the international game and how it would match-up against the USA, it is now gone. Basketball can no longer be claimed by any one nation, and like soccer/football, it is now totally international. The game continues to grow and develop, and for those who love the game of basketball, these world championships were extremely gratifying.
As a Raps fan these championships have been very satisfying as well. On a whole it is hard to be anything but happy with how all of the Raptor representatives played over the past few weeks. Here's a final look at each player.
Rasho Nesterovic: Rasho was essentially a team leader on the team from Slovenia and although they didn't manage to get very far in the tourney no blame can be placed on the Raps new starting centre. Rasho looked very good on both ends of the court and looks like he will enter training camp in great shape. One thing that must be noted is that Rasho's ability to play and understand both the NBA game and the international game will be a huge asset this coming season. He will help make the transition for other players like Bargnani and Garbajosa that much easier which, in turn, should make life a whole lot easier on CB4. As noted many times before, Rasho has played alongside the two most dominant PF's of the past 5-10 years in Garnett and Duncan. Rasho may in fact be a perfect veteran for this team as he will bring experience and a level of production at the 5 that the Raps have not seen in quite some time. He averaged 12 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during the tournament. Rebounding numbers like these would be a huge asset to the team this year.
Uros Slokar: We have harped on this guy for quite a while now and his ability to produce in limited minutes. This tournament was just another prime example of that. To quote the FIBA site: "He could use some playing time to develop his widely-appreciated talent." Let me ask this simple question knowing what we do about Uros now, "Is there a better candidate for the D-League?" Didn't think so. Uros is going to have that tough transition to make between international and NBA ball and he still needs to develop his game. Both perfect reasons for him to go through training camp and spend the majority of the year in the D. Hopefully he will get some minutes at some point in the year but he is a project. As an aside, Slokar could turn out to be FANTASTIC value as the 58th player selected in the 2005 draft. If he were to translate his World Championship numbers (5.4ppg, 4.4 rpg) into NBA numbers he would be one of the best players ever selected in that spot of an NBA draft. His competition? Guys like Sergei Karaulov, Andreas Glyniadakis, Corsley Edwards, Bryan Bracey, Pete Mickeal...you see my point.
Chris Bosh: We all know Chris Bosh hates to lose and not grabbing that gold medal has to burn. In the grand scheme of things however Bosh is a huge winner after playing in the World's. His up and down championships have been well documented, from little playing time to being one of the best players for the USA. When all was said and done Bosh averaged 6.8 ppg and 4 rpg. Here at the HQ we have tried to identify all of the benefits there are to CB4 having played in Japan, but in hindsight there are definitely more. Chris now has a better understanding of the international game and will have a better sense of what style of basketball many of his new teammates like to play. You would have to think that if there was any doubt in Bosh's mind about what BC is trying to do here in Toronto, that watching some of his new teammates play, and play well, likely reduced any lingering concerns. Lastly and one thing that we have not touched on is the fact that Mike D'Antoni was an assistant coach for the USA. For those Raptors fans thinking that the Raps are going to become the Phoenix of the East, Bosh may be ahead of the curve as a result.
Now to the two Raps that are World Champions:
Jose Calderon: I won't say much on Calderon now as Franchise has a great piece coming out in the next day or so about the Raps back-up PG. Jose, despite our recommendation of locking him in a gym to work on his shot, looked extremely confident and capable on the floor during the World's. The Spanish team has a great group of guards, second to no-one except maybe the USA, and Calderon was a key member of this group. Although he didn't play a lot in the final and did not shoot particularly well in that game, Calderon had a great tournament. Jose was, like many Raps fans are used to now, full of energy, consistently drove to the hoop and helped the offence run smoothly. Jose averaged 7.2 ppg, 2 rpg and 3.2 apg. If Calderon can continue to play at this high level, show improvement on the jumper and stay healthy then TJ Ford better watch his back. As a Raptors fan, having two really solid PG's is a something we are definitely not used to.
Jorge Garbajosa: Jorge was simply awesome in the final. As discussed above, he and Navarro were Spain's best players. Throughout the tournament the garbage man displayed what Raps fans can expect this coming season. Without question Garbs will be the best 29 year-old rookie in the NBA this coming season! In all seriousness though Garbajosa will be a nice addition to the Raps bench this coming season. The question with Garbajosa will be where on the bench he'll be? One of the best match-ups for Raps fans to keep their eyes on during training camp will be Humphries vs. The Garbage Man (sound like a WWE match-up) and who Mitchell will pluck of the bench first. Humphries is a guy that Mitchell has had his eye on since his huge season with the Golden Gophers, and Garbs can shoot from outside like Bonner, and we all know how much Mitchell loved Bonner...
The one thing that concerns me about Garbs, and I admit it may be too early to be saying this, is whether he can consistently hit the NBA three and how his offensive game is going to translate into the NBA. On a whole Jorge's game is from beyond the international arc, as reflected by his shooting numbers in the World's. Garbajosa only took 30 2-point attempts and he attempted 59 3-pointers. His shooting percentages? 33% from inside the arc and 39% from beyond. Two things jump out at me here. The first is the shooting percentage inside the arc. 33% is simply just dirty. The second is what happens to that three-point shooting percentage when the arc is extended to NBA range? If you go back and watch some of Spain's games most of Garbs shots from NBA three-point range were flat and he was much more consistent from the corner. It will be very interesting to see how he makes the transition to the NBA shooting range. I am really uncertain as to what we can expect from Garbajosa this season. There is no question that he is a smart player, will do the dirty things, play tough D and get in and grab rebounds, but offensively will we be getting a D-Marsh type of player, someone that should NOT shoot the rock, or some sort of hybrid between these two extremes? It will be very interesting to watch. If Garbajosa has a tough time hitting the NBA three on a regular basis (35-42%) then expect Humphries to be taking the minutes Garbs expected when he signed with the Raps.
At the end of the day these World Championships have only emphasized something that we at the HQ have been expecting all along: this year's training camp will be an exciting one full of hard-fought battles. The Raps are now at least two deep at almost every position and competition for PT will be fierce as the last time we checked, there were still only 48 minutes in an NBA game.