by Jeremy Bauman / @jbauman13
Saturday marked the first day of the World Basketball Championship, and it couldn’t have come soon enough. These are the days where it is tough to find a basketball game to watch so the WBC gives fans around the world a chance to tune in for a few weeks.
Particularly, American basketball fans have something to watch and learn about, as the International game is much different than the traditional game. Try to take these games for what they are and enjoy watching players whom you don’t know about as much. A lot of these guys will be around for a long time to come.
Here is a quick rundown of a few of the games I caught on Day One.
– The French National team had the most impressive showing of the day. They were down by close to 10 points in the first and second halves against a heavily favored Spanish team, yet they kept fighting defensively and moved the ball amazingly on offense against the Spanish zone. This was in large thanks to the incredible drive-and-kick ability of point guard Yannick Bokolo. He kept the defense off balance with his vision and deft passes to big men near the hoop. The end result was an impressive win for the French team and a very disappointing loss for the Spaniards.
– Derrick Rose floater/short-range game is proving to be almost impossible to guard. This area of his game has been a major strength for him since the start of his second season in the NBA but it appears to be headed towards new heights. Rose also pushed the ball incredibly well up the floor and made the correct plays on practically every possession.
– Frenchman and Portland Trailblazer Nicolas Batum displayed his athleticism time and again. First he chased down Marc Gasol on the break and blocked him, then he had a nasty right-handed throwdown on the left side of the lane and then he ran down another Spanish player on the break and pinned his layup attempt on the glass. He was saddled with fouls early but that play brought his team to life with his athletic prowess. Spain held a comfortable lead for much of the first half but France came back to make it a 28-27 game at the half behind the inside-out play of swingman Mickael Gelabale, who drained threes and muscled points on to the scoreboard inside.
– Ricky Rubio controlled his Spanish team well but did not pass the ball as well as he normally does today. He tried to force some cross-court passes that were deflected/stolen and his drop-off passes down low were rather inaccurate. Apparently his neck was hurting but I don’t want to make any excuses for the highly regarded Spanish point guard.
– Marc Gasol was great inside in the few minutes he played in the first quarter, rebounding with efficiency and using jump hooks around the rim. Foul trouble forced him to sit for much of the first half which helped France to stay in the game and he struggled to work back into rhythm.
– Sergio Llull is an effective spark plug off the bench for Spain. He uses his quick first step and fights his way to the basket through contact. Once he got some open space he hit tough shots or dimed teammates around the rim.
– Eric Gordon’s game is perfectly suited for International Basketball. The shorter line aids his long distance range, he’s playing with teammates who are looking for him to shoot when he is in the game and he clearly has the confidence to take shots upon checking into the game. With so many other weapons on the floor EJ has consistently gotten good looks since joining this team and could prove to be a major factor in this tournament against better competition.
– Kevin Durant’s personality looks like it has become a defining factor on this team. He passed the ball well, made plays and shot the ball whenever he was in position to take the best shot for the team. Sure enough, the rest of the team seems to be making the extra pass and looking for the best possible shot for the team on each possession. When you’re best player is as unselfish as Durant, it helps to peer pressure everybody else into doing the same thing.
– The refereeing was, just as expected, shaky at best. Even though the USA blew out Croatia there were still an abundance of bad calls against the so-called B Team. Eric Gordon was called for a foul when simply boxing his man out defensively and a moment later when he tried going over a screen. Westbrook had a horrible charge call on him in the second quarter at the top of the key. A Spanish player battled innocently for defensive position in the paint early on and was whistled for a foul immediately. Croatia forward Luka Zoric took about 6 steps near the basket in the third quarter and there was no call. The International refereeing is shaky, at best, and if you watch closely you can pick out lots of differences in the way they do their job in FIBA ball. As the competition heats up later on look for the referees to call the games very intensely.
– Ante Tomic is a very talented low post player. He has go-to moves over both shoulders, can knock down the 15-footer, is confident putting the ball on the floor and establishes great position in the post. The major knock on him, though, is his lack of strength. If he can put some weight on the Utah Jazz could have a solid player coming over soon.
– Give credit to Coach K. In his month with this team he has been able to whittle the group down into a squad that has excellent chemistry, amazing quickness and very capable shooters from beyond the arc. As a result, the USA won its first game by 28 points and the product placed on the floor was one that showed excellent teamwork, something USA fans have to be proud of thus far and can look forward to for the rest of the tournament.