I’ll never forget Steven Nash’s coming out party.
It was during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, with a Canadian team that was hardly expected to make a ripple in the international waters.
The Canadians fell short of a medal in the end, but Nash’s performance in wins over Spain and Yugoslavia, when he torched a much higher ranked team with 26, 8 and 8, marked his arrival on the world stage.
Buoyed by his performance in those Olympic games, the often-booed Dallas Maverick took the reigns of the Mavs the following year, putting up nearly 16 points and eight assists a game leading his team to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Nash of course never looked back and while his experience in Sydney might have only been part of the equation in terms of his NBA breakthrough, it certainly didn’t hurt.
In the past, basketball fans have seen similar examples of players showing their skills on the Olympic stage and then taking the proverbial "next step" in their playing careers. Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, even Toronto’s Jose Calderon and former Raptor Jorge Garbajosa are all testaments to this sort of progress.
And this year, the Raptors could have as many as four players getting a nice boost of Olympic confidence; Calderon, Chris Bosh, Roko Ukic and Giorgos Printezis. Of these four, both Bosh and Calderon have already established themselves on the NBA stage but it’s Roko Ukic who really could benefit from this experience. Playing against other NBA players and the rest of the world’s best can be nothing but beneficial for the young Croad and games like these should give him a good idea of the type of competition he’ll be matched up against in the league.
In fact, I’d love for this international competition to give Roko a big shot of confidence, one that carries over to the NBA season. It’s not that Ukic doesn’t have confidence in his abilities currently, but as we saw with Steve Nash, there’s something about leading your team against the best all over the world that really pushes you to another level. Sometimes this results in an on-court demeanor change and sometimes we see the development of certain skill sets in a player. For Ukic, we can only hope it’s his shooting that improves as after hitting on only two of his 11 shots against Argentina he is now 8 for 30 in the tournament (27 per cent.)
For a player like Printezis, really the Raptors are probably hoping he simply takes in the experience, gets some decent playing time, and learns from being on a championship caliber team with Greece. Printezis did not play against Spain in Greece’s first game but had nine minutes of action against Germany and three against the US. Hopefully he’ll continue to get some PT enabling him to work on all facets of his game.
However this Olympic action isn’t only for the young guns.
Jose Calderon has been great for Spain and although has played sporadically (the Spaniards are loaded at the 1 with Jose, Raul Lopez and wonder-kid Ricky Rubio) I’m sure will be an important part of the team once the medal rounds begin.
And what about Chris Bosh?
Perhaps he’s not the focus of his team the way players like Jose and Roko are but he did have a huge game for the US in their revenge win over Greece on Thursday. Bosh put up 18 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
The interesting thing about Bosh’s numbers are that while he still didn’t top the playing time of say a Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, he was extremely effective given his minutes and as this tournament goes on, Coack K seems to be turning to Toronto’s franchise player more and more. After playing 13 minutes in their first game, then 14 in their second, CB4 racked up 21 minutes against Greece and I expect to see him get around this amount of PT Saturday in the US’s huge game against Spain. Bosh is just such a terror in international basketball because of his ability to shoot the ball and face-up on offense, not to mention that he’s more athletic than almost any other player at his position.
From a Raptors’ fans perspective, the talent on the "Redeem Team" should also be enough that Bosh doesn’t have to log much more than 20 minutes a game, hopefully keeping him injury-free and all the while doing a good job of preparing him physically for the upcoming season.
To top it off, if the US can successfully capture gold, I think this more than anything will have a huge impact on Bosh. While he’s been Toronto’s leader the past few years, he hasn’t achieved a level of team success of other Team US members like Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant or even Carlos Boozer. Therefore being part of a focused, driven and successful team, full of the world’s best players, can only bode well for his return to Toronto, and the experience will give him plenty to draw on during the regular season. In some ways therefore I wish the Olympics were even later in the summer so that CB4 could transition directly from the games into training camp.
While that may not be possible, it’s exciting to think that three potentially key pieces for Toronto’s team next year are getting such practice on such a big stage.
When you think about it, even though at the core next year’s version of the Raptors is quite similar, there are still some major new pieces for Sam Mitchell and co. to try and indoctrinate into their system. Reports of Jermaine O’Neal and other new Raptors like Hassan Adams and Nathan Jawai training together in Vegas make things a bit easier but really, having a new pivot and a new point guard (albeit a back-up one), not to mention having a back-up point guard transition to a starting role, could conceivably make things a bit bumpy at the start of the season.
Therefore having as many players as possible getting game-time experience, even if it isn’t together on the same team, only helps Toronto in the long run.
Maybe we won’t see a Steve Nash style breakout from any of the four Olympic Dinos, but it can’t hurt for the Raptors to have three current players and a future prospect going for gold in Beijing.