NBA Draft Intrigue at the 2006 World Championship

NBA Draft Intrigue at the 2006 World Championship
Sep 06, 2006, 02:03 am
Unlike what happened last year at the Eurobasket in Belgrade, the World Championship has been keen on good performances delivered by draft prospects. It’s particularly remarkable that two young players led their respective teams in scoring through the tournament: Tiago Splitter and Marco Belinelli. These kind of things don’t happen every day at the International level, particularly in rather strong squads such as the Brazilian and the Italian national teams.

Tiago Splitter was the most reliable and steady piece of the Brazilian puzzle. With a backcourt stacked by your typical off-the-bench spark players (Leandrinho Barbosa, Marcelo Huertas, Machado, Garcia, Nezinho), the Brazilian game has been a bit of a mess, leaving them out of the eight-final round, in what has arguably ben the biggest disappointment of the tournament, alongside the embarrassing display of Panama. Ironically, it had to be the 21 year-old youngster as the one to display maturity and consistent good decision making for the Brazilian team.

Anyway, Tiago surprised us with his playing style. We were expecting something in the line of what he showed last summer with his National Team, a face-up-based game putting the ball frequently on the floor to attack his matchups. On the contrary, Splitter stuck with a similar role to the one he plays for Tau Vitoria, mostly scoring from the low post and off movements without the ball. Of course, he has continued delivering good decision making, very solid defense and plenty of hustle, while he has struggled a little bit in the rebounding area. 16.4 points per game for a 21 year-old guy is no joke. He scored over 3 points per game more than the next Brazilian player, Barbosa.

Not falling a single bit short of remarkable compared with Splitter, Belinelli has led his team to a very nice performance in Japan at the tender age of 20 years old, actually assuming responsibilities whenever a game was in the line, and averaging 13.5 points. Nobody expected much of Italy, and although falling in the eight-final round doesn’t sound like a great achievement, they played a very good group stage and fought until the last second against Lithuania before being eliminated.

All in all, Belinelli just reproduced his role with Climamio Bologna, becoming the main perimeter threat of Italy. He showcased his ability to hit extremely complicated long-range bombs after creating his own shot. Actually, he saved the best against USA, netting 25 points in impressive fashion. However, as awesome as he might have looked at times, he’s still looking way too much one dimensional (he has barely slashed towards the basket), while his shot selection and accuracy are questionable at best. After all, the same stuff he delivered during the season in Serie A.

It doesn’t finish here. At least other three guys deserve recognition because of their notable play combined with their draft potential.

The shadow of Sarunas Jasikevicius was too big for anybody trying to play the point guard position for Lithuania in this tournament. Nobody can really fill his shoes, but at least Mantas Kalnietis did feed the hope of this country to finally find a decent successor for the great Saras at the point guard position, where they have suffered a big drought producing talents for several years. We’re talking about a completely type of player, an excellent athlete who is everyday more of a reliable playmaker, even if still inconsistent. Struggling with his perimeter shooting, he has successfully attacked the basket either to score himself or dish the ball, averaging 6 points and 2.8 assists per game. We’re talking about serious NBA potential here.

Speaking of NBA potential, Yi Jianlian comes to mind in a heartbeat. Fighting for a place in the big man rotation with much more established players such as Yao Ming or Wang Zhizhi, Yi had time to show some of his best stuff. Mid-range shooting, turnaround jumpers in low post situations, dunks after attacking his matchup or in transition, solid rebounding and intimidation, he looked like a significantly more mature and productive player than in previous summers, although he has never managed to transcend from a complimentary role for the Chinese team. Arguably his best game came against the US Team, with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, while showing that he enjoys the physical and athletic foundations to eventually join the strongest league in the world. His final averages were 6.2 points and 5.7 rebounds.

Finally Rudy Fernández seems to be fitting in the Spanish engine filling the role of offensive spark off the bench, as he has emerged as the prime scorer of the second unit (and fourth overall in this very strong squad) with 9.1 points per game. He enjoyed some excellent perimeter shooting streaks, finishing with a nice 40.7% of accuracy, while also pleasing the crowd with his trademark alley-oop dunks and very solid defense. Still, as the competition grew stronger, his offensive performance level got weaker. After all, he hasn't showed much production off the dribble and he’s usually entered the games with Spain comfortably leading in the score, as the starting five has pretty much crushed every opponent but Argentina. He wasn’t a factor in the Final game against Greece, but the Spanish team has plenty of room for optimism regarding their mid-long term future with Fernández on board.

Also pay attention to:

Marc Gasol’s surprising contribution off the bench for the Spanish squad. Felipe Reyes’ injury forced coach Hernández to use him, and “Big Marc” has answered with a very steady performance, displaying intensity, excellent defense (for example, he successfully battled Sofoklis Schortsianitis in the final) and nice fundamentals near the basket. He still shows a significant lack of athleticism NBA wise, but this is certainly an upgrade after spending an entire season sitting on F.C.Barcelona’s bench.

Chen Jianghua’s precociousness. Being (officially) only 17 years old, the young Chinese point guard has been given some eventual playing time, with promising albeit inconsistent results. Quickness, a fearless attitude, incisive game on one hand, questionable decision making, turnovers, immaturity on the other. Regardless, he didn’t look out of place too often on the court, quite remarkable considering his youth and the competitive level stage.

Engin Atsur’s clutch game in the eight-finals against Slovenia. The guard from NC State probably hasn’t shined as much as his drafted teammates Cenk Akyol and, especially, Ersan Ilyasova, but he’s another valuable piece of the surprising Turkish squad. Sharing the point guard spot with Ender Arslan and Hakan Demirel, he emerged in that decisive game showing some nice character to nail a couple of clutch back-to-back three pointers, actually his only points in the day, that contributed mightily towards the victory for Turkey.

Ekene Ibekwe’s explosion against Germany. After being too much of a non-factor in previous games to draw much attention or praise, Ibewke found the perfect time to show off his outstanding combination of explosiveness and upside in an elimination game against Dirk Nowitzki and Germany, to the tune of 22 points (9/13 FG), 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Coming off the bench, Ibekwe was Nigeria’s best player for every moment he was on the court, running the court incredibly well, being a beast defensively and on the glass, nailing mid-range jumpers with ease, and generally giving the Germans fits with his athleticism around the basket. If he can find a way to translate some of this momentum into a consistent effort over his senior year at Maryland, he’s got a terrific chance at hearing his name called on draft night.

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