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BASKET-WC-2023-ESP-CAN

Five Thoughts: Team Canada, Bruno, and Loyalty to the Flag

FIBA World Cup second round thoughts — delving into NBA vs FIBA ball, reminiscing about Bruno’s time as a Raptor, and players switching flags to play for.

Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Team Canada survived a Brunoesque nightmare and turned things around against old friend Sergio Scariolo and the Spanish National Team, advancing to the quarter-finals. The game was a thriller, and while coach Jordi Fernandez’s team was much more composed down the stretch, the team still played with several holes and played catch-up for most of the game.

Meanwhile, Bruno Caboclo and Brazil lost to Latvia, thus ending their dreams of moving on to the next round. Still, looking at his overall performance in this tournament, I can’t help but think of when Caboclo first showed flashes of what his real position should be. More on Bruno below.

1. Traditional Big Men Battling Extinction?

The modern NBA is making traditional big men obsolete, and the earlier success of Team USA and Team Canada makes it look like the FIBA tourney is following the same trend. However, with big men and former Raptors Bruno Caboclo and Jonas Valanciunas helping their respective countries to massive upset wins, we can’t completely write off these big men.

Canada barely survived Willy Hernangomez in a thriller against Spain, and the New Orleans Pelicans’ 3rd big off-the-bench carved the Canadians with 25 points and six boards. Canada’s got Zach Edey, but he has yet to get off the bench unless it’s a blowout. Modern bigs like Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kirstaps Porzingis, and Victor Wembanyama chose to skip this tournament, but Canada will likely see most of them in the Olympics. With Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk getting up there in age, Canada needs to produce a quality big or two to keep this momentum going.

2. Team Canada’s Favourable Bracket

Team Canada bounced back from a shocking loss from Bruno Caboclo and Brazil to dethrone Sergio Scariolo’s Spanish National Team, winning a thriller, 88-85. Coach Jordi Fernandez’s team advances to the quarter-finals, where they will face Luka Doncic and his Slovenian National Team. Doncic appears banged up, and his supporting cast is suspect, and the Canadians have the talent advantage.

Suppose the Canadians can get past Luka and Slovenia. In that case, they’ll face Bogdan Bogdanovic and the Serbians in the semi-finals, who’s a Super Saiyan version of his NBA self, whenever he reps the flag. Luckily, the Americans and the Germans are on the other side of the bracket, so if Team Canada manages to get to the finals, they’ll only have to go through one of them.

Of course, we can’t look past Serbia, which means Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, and Dillon Brooks will have to bring their “A” game today.

3. NBA vs FIBA Ball

Talent will always be a big factor when it comes to basketball. However, even the most talented team can be upset in shorter tournaments like the FIBA World Cup and the Olympics. Several times. Just ask the 2004 Team USA. That team had Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, and the then-young pups Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James.

A National Team loaded with NBA talent has to overwhelm their opponent with their athleticism, size, power, and skill. If they can’t do that, they will have to play the international game and hope they’re good enough to function as a team.

A big part of why the Americans and Canadians lost last week was that they could not get the ”NBA game” from their system. They can’t help but regress into ISO ball, playing individually and jacking up bad shots. Worse, the long NBA season is probably attached to these players’ DNA, where it’s hard for their sense of urgency to kick in, especially early in the tournament.

Whether it’s the FIBA World Cup, EuroCup, or Olympics, the games are played where every game counts — heck, every possession counts. For ragtag teams like the Americans and the Canadians, who have a lesser training runway than the other countries, it’s hard to develop chemistry offensively and defensively, and the better teams are getting better at game planning to bridge the talent gap.

Looking at what coach Jordi Fernandez has done for Team Canada in a short period, it would be great to see if Team Canada can secure a long-term commitment from their top talent moving forward for a sustainable chance of getting into the medal round at each tourney.

4. Loyalty To The Flag

Is that Ignas Brazdeikis?

That’s my co-worker’s question while watching the Lithuania/USA game highlights. Brazdeikis was born in Lithuania to Lithuanian parents, but they moved to Canada when he was a young kid. He represented Canada in various FIBA youth tournaments, so it’s not a surprise reaction for someone who’s not following him. By the way, Brazdeikis got his Lithuanian citizenship back, which allowed him to rep Lithuania for the past year.

This is nothing new — Chris Duarte and Karl Anthony Towns chose to represent the Dominican Republic, and Marial Shayok is reppin’ South Sudan. In contrast, Kyrie Irving and Paolo Banchero chose to play for Team USA. I don’t mind this switch of allegiance as they have roots they can claim. Heck, I’m even OK with Kyle Anderson, a.k.a. Li Kaier, playing for China as he traces his Chinese roots via his maternal grandmother. I’d rather see this more often than countries choosing to naturalize an American player with no ties just to improve their competitive advantage.

5. Let’s Talk About Bruno

Nope, this is not the Bruno Caboclo who played for the Raptors organization. The Caboclo that the Raptors fanbase knew was infamously known as being “two years away from being two years away.” The then-NBA draft analyst Fran Fraschilla was not wrong with that assessment, and if one was following Caboclo’s career, it didn’t really click for him until his fifth season, and that’s when he started running out of runway to showcase who he is as a player.

The Caboclo that the Raptors wanted was supposed to be a big wing, earning the moniker of “Brazilian KD,” thus setting unreasonably high expectations for the 20th pick overall. The long and lanky kid with an insane 7’7” wingspan showed promise, but it was evident he was a big project. Watching his games back then, I was not convinced he was a SG/SF that people hoped he could be.

It wasn’t until his 3rd year in the league, playing for Jerry Stackhouse with the Raptors 905 that Caboclo showed signs of what he could possibly be — a modern-day big. The Cleveland Cavaliers called up Raptors 905’s behemoth 7’3” Edy Tavares heading into the playoffs, and this forced coach Stackhouse to use a frontcourt rotation of Caboclo/Pascal Siakam/Yannick Moreira/CJ Leslie. Caboclo was the only one taller than 6’9” from that group, and he shone in the Finals, closing the Rio Grande Valley Vipers with a stellar 31 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks as their modern big.

Fast forward to this year, and Caboclo’s now a full-fledged modern big, capable of playing the “big man” that’s just as comfortable as a pick-and-roll and as a pick-and-pop partner. Caboclo’s a fringe NBA player and probably deserves one more look somewhere, but at least for this year, he’s staying in Europe, signing with Reyer Venezia in Italy.

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