August 14, 2016, 4:32 pm
One Big Thing: Changing of the Guard
Coming into Rio, the general consensus was fairly straightforward. USA, France, Spain, Argentina. Some mix of Croatia, Australia, Lithuania and Serbia. The also-rans.
As it turns out there’s been some turnover on the international scene that people weren’t ready for. A borderline team like Croatia topping Spain? Lithuania over Argentina? Sure, why not.
Australia whipped France up and down the court. I mean I guess so.
The supposed also-ran Brazil knocking off Spain? Now we’re talking.
Slowly, without most of the basketball populous accounting for it, the teams that we took for granted as favorites are looking increasingly vulnerable. Some of that’s understandable given the standard biases of the North American basketball scene.
Spain has Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. Argentina has Manu. France has Tony Parker and Nic Batum plus restricted area monster Rudy Gobert. These are names that you hear on TV every night and recognize as being good. There’s some star power there.
The NBA is definitely the pinnacle of the basketball world; that much is certain. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that European or South American or Asian leagues can also bring the heat. Just because we never hear about them doesn’t mean they’re categorically inferior.
Lithuania has Jonas Valanciunas, Australia has Andrew Bogut and then what? Delly? So one or two guys and then some non-NBA guys. Really?
Yes, really. As it turns out, those teams with guys who ply their trade over in Europe are also pretty damn good at basketball. What’s more, they’ve played together. These guys know each other very well and can hop into roles seamlessly in short-term tournaments like this. It’s easier to integrate, say, Nikola Jokic into a roster of four other guys who play together frequently than it is to jam a small forward, center and point guard into a lineup.
Yeah, I’m talking about France. It helps that Tony Parker has been around forever to ease the transition somewhat but you can’t realistically expect three guys from different NBA teams to jump in with teammates they haven’t played with in a while.
That integration versus talent issue seems like a double edged sword: would you rather have more NBA guys and throw chemistry out the window or take a group of decidedly less-talented players who’ve competed in countless competitions together?
It’s possible that the balance between continuity and talent infusion altered some rosters; Spain might have preferred the deep shooting prowess of Mirotic enough to trade off Serge Ibaka’s rim protection. Maybe France felt like Nando De Colo and whatever guard depth they could scrounge up was better than introducing Evan Fournier to the mix. There’s a lot that goes into roster construction that we’re not privy to, and frankly even more that we’ll never ever know.
That’s not to say that the two are mutually exclusive; in fact the ideal is a mix of both. It’s just increasingly difficult to accomplish, especially if you’re carrying older players who need their minutes managed. Obviously you want Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili ready for the medal rounds, but it does make it more difficult to hit your rhythm as a five man unit.
The type of rapport you need to challenge for gold only comes through reps; reps which teams like France might not get beyond their training camps and practices before the games kick off. And if a veteran guy is on a tight minutes schedule, you better figure it out quick.
That’s just a stab at the struggles of teams like Spain and France in Rio so far. There’s been some bad defense and horrendous decision making out there. France in particular seems to shrug off turnovers like they’re just a part of doing business. There’s no singular answer for any issues in this tournament, but they just look a step slow in pretty much every facet of the game.
It just sort of looks like time has passed the usual stalwarts by. For lack of a better term, some of these traditional contenders just look old. Their cores have aged and there aren’t clear replacements in place just yet.
On the flip side you’re seeing young players like Dario Saric, Nikola Jokic and Bogdan Bogdanovic come up big. Euro leaguers like Miroslav Radujlica, Mantas Kalnietis, Facundo Campazzo are taking control and playing huge roles on successful teams.
The Spanish group of Pau Gasol, Felipe Reyes, JC Navarro and Jose Calderon are at the end of the line. France doesn’t have a good point guard ready once Tony Parker goes and Rio is the final hurrah for Argentina’s Golden Generation.
The countries we’re used to seeing on the podium besides the Americans are quickly moving past their primes and are staring down the barrel of a little bit of a retooling period. Who out there is in their prime in the non-USA division? Australia looks like the pick. Canada, maybe? Beyond that it’s fairly wide open. It’s exciting to see some fresh faces on the cusp of the international scene.
The transition to the next set of contenders will be a fun one; half celebration of the stars who will leave and half spectacle as the new wave emerges. It’s sad for the old guys but it’s great for the game.
April 22, 2019, 7:27 pmBlake Griffin - F - Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin (left knee soreness) is active for Monday's Game 4 against the Bucks, as expected.
Griffin was listed as probable but there was pretty much zero doubt about whether or not he'd play with Detroit facing elimination. We'll see if they can extend this series tonight, even with their best player clearly working at less than 100 percent health.
Source: Keith Langlois on Twitter
April 22, 2019, 6:48 pmMalcolm Brogdon - G - Milwaukee Bucks
Mike Budenholzer expects to have a firm target date for Malcolm Brogdon (partial right plantar fascia tear) in the next 3-to-5 days.
Brogdon has been out since mid-March and remains on track to meet the original 6-to-8 week timetable, though he hasn't done any scrimmaging yet. It's still anticipated that Brogdon will be back in the mix some time in the second round. Once he's up to speed we'll see less George Hill, Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton.
Source: Matt Velazquez on Twitter
April 22, 2019, 5:36 pmChris Boucher - F - Toronto Raptors
Chris Boucher (back spasms) has been ruled out ahead of Tuesday's Game 5 with the Magic.
Boucher was briefly taken off the injury report ahead of Game 4 but ended up being ruled out anyway. He's highly unlikely to see the floor at all in the postseason, healthy or not.
Source: NBA Injury Report
April 22, 2019, 5:34 pmJoel Embiid - F/C - Philadelphia Sixers
Joel Embiid (left knee soreness) is probable ahead of Tuesday's Game 5 against the Nets.
Embiid played it coy with his status earlier today but we'd expect to see him out there in a closeout opportunity. Ending this quickly would give him some additional rest with the second round starting on the weekend at the earliest, so a focused effort would give Philly benefits on multiple fronts. Embiid's played through the injury after missing Game 3 and hasn't looked too hampered in dominating Brooklyn up front.
Source: NBA Injury Report
April 22, 2019, 1:49 pmJoel Embiid - F/C - Philadelphia Sixers
Joel Embiid (left knee soreness) wouldn't commit to playing in Game 5 vs. the Nets on Tuesday.
Embiid said that "We've got to keep them guessing" and it's highly likely he doesn't even know whether or not he's going to play yet. He's been a true game-time decision for the entire series and that's not going to change so stay tuned for updates closer to tip off.
Source: Keith Pompey on Twitter
April 22, 2019, 12:54 pmEd Davis - C - Brooklyn Nets
Ed Davis (ankle) is considered to be questionable going into Tuesday's Game 5 vs. the 76ers.
Davis was a big part in the Nets' Game 1 win and his rebounding could serve to help Brooklyn out a ton. They just look outmatched by Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic and Davis could provide another big man presence down low. This could be the last game of the series so Davis' status should be a big story coming into the game.
Source: Brian Lewis on Twitter
April 22, 2019, 11:52 amJeff Green - F - Washington Wizards
Jeff Green expressed that he would like to return and play for the Wizards during the 2019-2020 season.
"I would love to come back," Green said. "Great set of guys on this team. I loved playing with Brad [Beal], John [Wall]." Green was very consistent and was on a friendly contract, but the direction in which the organization wants to go remains unclear. Green may need to find a new home given the plethora of depth the Wizards have at the forward position.
Source: Chase Hughes of NBC Washington
April 22, 2019, 12:42 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook went 5-for-21 from the field to finish with 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two treys in Sunday's 98-111 Game 4 loss to the Blazers.
Time and again in this series, it's been evident that Damian Lillard has been playing at a higher level than Westbrook and tonight was a fine example. Lillard was able to shake off his early shooting struggles and come up big in the second half, but Westbrook was still forcing shots and appeared to be on the back foot for most of the game. He's best when he's the one taking it to his opponents. A reactive Westbrook is simply not the star the Thunder need right now, if they want to salvage any hopes of coming back in this first-round series.
April 22, 2019, 12:36 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder mirrored his 17-point performance from Friday with another 17-point game in Sunday's loss to the Blazers.
Schroder shot 6-of-12 from the field and added three rebounds, three assists, two 3s and one steal to the box score tonight. Aside from him though, the Thunder's bench was deafeningly quiet. He cannot carry the load of the second unit's scoring output by his lonesome, especially when they're faced up against a team with multiple weapons like the Blazers. For now, the Thunder can only hope he keeps this up and that the other reserves will follow suit.
April 22, 2019, 12:32 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant made just 4-of-10 shots from the field on Sunday to finish with 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three triples and two steals in 34 minutes.
Grant's impact on the defensive end has been invaluable to the Thunder in this series and it was nice to see him active on the glass tonight, especially with Steven Adams being relatively quiet on that front with seven boards while adding six points, one assist, one steal and one block. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Portland's forwards, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu outplayed and out-hustled them on both ends of the floor.