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FIBA Americas: Studs and Duds Pt. 1
Posted By Moke Hamilton On September 6, 2013 @ 5:09 pm In NBA | No Comments
In the realm of international basketball, the Olympic Games is where the world’s premier tournament is contested. For 10 teams, though, the road to 2016‘s Rio de Janeiro Olympics includes a necessary stop in Caracas, Venezuela.
It is there that Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela traveled to compete in the FIBA Americas Championship. The top four teams will advance to compete at FIBA’s World Cup of Basketball tournament in Spain next summer.
And from there? The Olympics may await.
With potential Olympic bids on the line, the competition in Venezuela has been understandably fierce, despite the absence of a few of the NBA’s more renowned international players. Al Horford (Dominican Republic), Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Greivis Vasquez (Venezuela) are among those who aren’t competing, but the overall level of play has been high, regardless.
For player-participants, the international stage provides a platform to be seen and can ultimately be the difference between continuing to toil in the pre-professional ranks or earning a lucrative contract to play in one of the world’s premier professional leagues, including the NBA.
It is no surprise, then, that a select few have differentiated themselves, some with inspiring performances and others with almost inexplicable absences.
Esteban Batista (Uruguay)
Batista spent time in the NBA as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, but has been playing professionally in Europe since 2007. Even at 30 years old, Batista’s good footwork and patience when operating around the basket have been on full display in Venezuela. Uruguay advancing out of the first round of the tournament is a victory for the country, and Batista’s 17.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game has led them, quite capably.
After playing just 9.6 minutes per game in the 2013 NBA Finals as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, Joseph has been one of the standout performers in the entire tournament. His 16.6 points per game leads Canada, but his 6.8 rebounds per game—second to teammate and fellow NBA pro Tristan Thompson—are even more impressive. Joseph also ranks second in the tournament with 5.8 assists per game and is shooting 52.6 percent from the field. He is the primary catalyst for Canada’s impressive showing, thus far.
Akeem Scott (Jamaica)
Although not as renowned as teammates Samardo Samuels and Jerome Jordan—both of whom have recent NBA experience—Scott has made a name for himself as a member of the upstart Jamaican team. Representing Jamaica in its first appearance in the FIBA Americas tournament, Scott has received praise for his consistent effort and pesky on-ball defense. He is Jamaica’s second leading scorer with 12.3 points per game and ranks fifth in the tournament with 1.6 steals per game. He has rebounded the ball well for a guard and has proven to be a proficient three-point shooter.
Gustavo Ayon (Mexico)
Ayon, currently a member of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, is now playing for his fourth NBA team in three years. Though he has not been able to stick with a particular team, he has shown flashes of brilliance in the NBA. Even still, his dominance at the FIBA Americas and his leadership of a Mexican roster that isn’t rich with NBA talent is impressive. Ayon’s 18 points and nine rebounds on 62 percent shooting from the floor easily make him one of the tournament’s standout performers. Along with Canada’s Cory Joseph and Puerto Rico’s Renaldo Balkman, Ayon has shown an NBA-primed array of offensive moves and exquisite timing—a major asset on either end of the floor for a big man.
Balkman last appeared in an NBA game on February 15, 2012 as a member of the New York Knicks. After being waived by the Knicks, Balkman played professionally in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, but seems determined to make it back to the NBA. With 20.6 points per game, he is the tournament’s second leading scorer and only one of two to average at least 20 points per game. His 8.4 rebounds per contest and high-energy play are the primary reasons why Puerto Rico has won its first five games of the tournament and seems poised for a run at the gold medal.
Jack Michael Martinez (Dominican Republic)
Martinez’s name may ring a bell to those who pay close attention to pre-professional basketball in the U.S. A former star at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California, he was at the center of an age scandal back in 2000 and returned to his native Dominican Republic shortly thereafter. In the FIBA Americas, he has shown the requisite athleticism and brute force required to play with the big boys of the NBA. Even without Al Horford, the Dominican Republic remains in medal contention and Martinez’s 10.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game is a major reason why.
Donta Lamont Smith (Venezuela)
Smith has done an admirable job of leading the Venezuelan team without Sacramento Kings guard Greivis Vasquez. Currently playing professionally in Israel for Maccabi Haifa B.C., Smith is one of the more experienced and accomplished professionals on the roster. He has accomplished the rare feat of leading his team in points (12.6), rebounds (7.6) and assists per game (3.4) and leads the entire tournament in steals per game with 2.8. He is shooting 51 percent from the field and has admirably led Venezuela out of the first round, even without Vasquez.
Along with Gustavo Ayon, Mendez has helped Mexico become the biggest surprise in the FIBA Americas. Along with Jorge Gutierrez, the Mexican triad has shown enough dominance, at least in spurts, to have an opportunity to claim one of the four spots at next summer’s Basketball World Cup in Spain. Mendez is the team’s second leading scorer at 14.7 points per game. He is a very reliable three-point shooter and passes well enough to be trusted with the basketball. He also leads Mexico in minutes played, but almost never turns the ball over.
Facundo Compazzo (Argentina)
Argentina has become a hotbed of talented basketball players, and Compazzo is no exception. At just 22 years old, Compazzo has led the Argentinean offense and is averaging a tournament-high six assists per game. He sees the entire floor, makes the extra pass and boasts an impressive 4.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has made the most of his opportunity to play and may have NBA potential. He is also an above average three-point shooter, converting 48 percent of his attempts. His 12.2 points and 1.6 steals per game show a completeness that makes it difficult to desire more.
Patrick Ewing, Jr. (Jamaica)
After a solid showing during the NBA’s summer league, Ewing earned a camp invite from the Charlotte Bobcats and was expected to help Jamaica compete for one of the tournament’s coveted top-four spots. Unfortunately for Jamaica, a shoulder sprain sustained during training camp caused him to miss the first two games of the tournament. Since returning, he has been a shell of himself, and overall, has been a non-factor for Jamaica.
Playing without Al Horford, Garcia was expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Dominican team, but despite playing 27.4 minutes per game—second most on the team—he is averaging just 9.2 points on 41 percent shooting from the field. Although his on-ball defense has been solid, Garcia’s Dominican team will need more scoring from him in order to medal.
Marcelo Tieppo Huertas (Brazil)
All eyes were on Huertas entering the FIBA Americas tournament. Without Leandro Barbosa, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene, he was expected to lead the Brazilian club and help them remain somewhat competitive over the duration of the tournament. Despite his 6.5 assists per game, Brazil failed to advance out of the first round after losing all four of its matches. As the leader, Huertas shoulders the blame for a poor showing by Brazil, even if the team was playing without some of its more renowned talent.
The tournament will conclude on September 11. By then, four teams will have earned the right to travel to Spain next summer. For them, the road to Rio will continue.
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