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Un Gran Avance

The 2006 FIBA World Championships have come to a close...but during them, many of our readers wondered where exactly Canada was through the whole process?

No, Canada did not make it, but were we even close?

Unfortunately not.

Canada failed to make it through the qualifying stage for the tournament as they were neither the winner nor runner-up from the Tournament of the Americas, nor were they one of the top three "best placed teams from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament." And even if they had squeaked in, it probably wouldn't have mattered.

As many have witnessed, this tournament was really run by four teams; Spain, Greece, Argentina and of course the USA. These four clubs represented the crème de la crème of international clubs in the tourney and mostly had their way with the opposition.

So even if Canada had been participating, without a club full of players like Steve Nash, Jamaal Magloire, Samuel Dalembert...oh heck...even Rick Fox and Bill Wennington, it's doubtful the team would have made so much as a ripple in the International basketball waters.

It's interesting to note however that it was at such an international basketball event, the 2000 Olympics, that Canada DID make a splash and became the coming-out party for the now two-time defending NBA MVP, Steve Nash. Nash had been steadily raising his game and status as an elite player in the NBA heading into those Olympics, but after almost single-handedly carrying the Canucks in Athens, the rest of the World really began to take notice. Canada was actually considered a medal contender based on Nash's play and had it not been for a closely-fought loss to Italy in the elimination rounds, Canada's squad would have been firmly in the hunt. After the loss, Nash admitted he was disappointed that Canada didn't advance further, but regardless, after consistently blitzing the international competition, Nash's NBA stock was at an all-time high.

And this is particularly interesting as with Nash's recent success, many people forget Nash's numbers after the 1999-2000 season, which looked like this:

8.6 points, 4.9 assists, 47.7 per cent shooting from the floor and 41 percent from three point range.

No, definitely not All-Star material.

But something happened after the Olympics. At the end of the next season, Nash's numbers looked like this:

15.6 points, 7.3 assists and an increase in his shooting percentage to almost fifty per cent from the field!

So why this sudden jump? Sure it's been argued that point guards and centers take longer to develop in the NBA, but if you remember, Nash didn't just break through, he kicked down the cotdamn door.

I really felt after his Olympic experience that the main reason for these increases was that his confidence took a huge jump which in turn elevated the rest of his play. Nash saw how he could dominate in an international style competition playing against the world's best, and when he returned to the NBA the next season, he took that confidence in his abilities with him and he looked like a different player.

I'm wondering if we won't see a similar change in Jose Calderon now.

Calderon was one of my MVP's at this year's World's and while he only averaged 7.3 points, 4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game, he was a huge part of Spain's run to the finals. Calderon's penetration and speed made Spain a dangerous club as he consistently found team-mates in transition for easy looks at the basket. In fact if you watched Calderon play these past few weeks, you know that his assist numbers were a bit misleading. Many times it was Calderon's penetration or knack for finding an open lane or cutter that resulted in a player receiving a pass which was then doled out to yet another team-mate for the score. So let's just say if this was hockey we were talking about, Calderon would be averaging over 10 assists a game.

Let's look at Calderon's averages last season:

5.5 points, 4.5 assists, 42.3 percent from the field and yikes, 16.3 percent from beyond the arc. the three-point shooting is way off base as of now. But are the points and assists considering his playing time that different from Nash prior to the 2000 Olympic games? And apart from the long-range shooting issues, aren't Nash and Calderon quite similar in almost every other way including size, skill set and the speed at which each developed? I mean, is there another player in the NBA more similar to Nash?

Considering the style of play it seems that GM Bryan Colangelo wants to run with this season and the type of teammates he now has, I feel that Calderon may be in line for a break-out year. If this team wants to run and gun, well Calderon is a perfect fit. Like Nash in Phoenix, Calderon will be able to use his speed and passing ability to find open players in transition for easy scores. He's not the shooting threat that Nash is yet, but he's also two years younger than Nash was when Nash had his break-through season. His form isn't Shawn Marion-esque, he just needs some more practice and to carry through that confidence from his recent International play.

I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say that he may make Toronto regret trading Charlie Villanueva. While I was in favour of the TJ Ford trade, if Calderon plays like he did at the World's next season, he could very well challenge Ford for playing time, especially if he comes to training camp healthy and confident. Yes, I realize that by trading for Ford, TJ is firmly entrenched at the starter spot and will get the majority of minutes at the 1...but for how long? Right now I just don't see a huge difference between Ford and Calderon and for the supposed "Phoenix East," will Calderon eventually be a better fit for the club that Colangelo is trying to build? Ford is quicker, maybe more athletic and perhaps a bit more skilled as a natural point guard, but I'd argue that Calderon is more experienced, a slightly better shooter and a taller player who is a better defender (anyone who saw Calderon consistently hounding opposing point guards at the World's can attest to this.) We saw how open to lineup changes Sam Mitchell has been in the past...if Calderon is getting the job done at both ends of the court, I can see these two splitting almost equal time as there's no chance they will play together (it would give Toronto the NBA's smallest back-court and neither is a good enough shooter to play the off-guard spot.)

If Calderon does begin to outplay Ford, or even takes a significant bite into his minutes, this raises numerous other questions in terms of Ford's impending free-agency doesn't it?

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

For now, I'm just excited to get past this last month and to the start of training camp. After watching our five competitors at the World Championships I really think we've got a club that can make some noise in the East and a solid foundation that can be built on for years to come. We've got depth at every position and what appears to be a nice mix of young talent and both NBA and International basketball experience. If these elements mix correctly this team could be a joy to watch and one of the most entertaining squads in the league.

You can never have enough talent and based on what I saw of Calderon in the past few weeks, the Raptors' point-guard spot looks to be in the best shape it's ever been in.

Vamos Raptors!