The Toronto Raptors are watching three of their recently signed key players for next season in leading roles with their respective National Teams this summer. Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph are playing on teams expected to make some noise in their respective FIBA tournaments and while each player has a pivotal role, their situations couldn’t be more different.
Lithuania, despite its small size in terms of population, has long been one of the FIBA powerhouses that has punched well outside their weight class. However, there is a changing of the guard in this basketball crazed Country, the veterans are starting to retire and young center Jonas Valanciunas is the only NBA player on the team this summer. Not that expectations are any lower this time around.
Valanciunas missed nearly all of his National Team’s pre-Eurobasket preparations as returned to Toronto during the Friendlies to finalize a new long term deal with the Raptors. The move didn’t go well with his National Team’s fans, but Valanciunas has been a major factor in Lithuania winning two of their first three Eurobasket games and sitting in a four-way tie for first in Group D.
Through three contests, Valanciunas has averaged 19.7 points, 10 rebounds and a block in 26.7 minutes. He is shooting 51 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line. Some people even think he looks a little lighter on his feet which could be very good news when he gets back to Toronto. Valanciunas doesn’t want to be tagged as a big, slow-footed center any longer. He is also showing a little more confidence in the jump shot he was working on earlier this summer.
Argentina has been a powerhouse for the better part of a decade and at the FIBA Americas tournament Scola has been the most dominating player. Scola is 35-years-old now, but unlike Lithuania that is breaking in a new star player, absolutely nothing has changed. Once again the Argentine big man is leading the tournament in scoring as he averages 21.9 points and 10.9 rebounds in 31 minutes. He also leads the tournament in free throws attempted (7.4) and made (4.6) by a wide margin.
Scola is Argentina’s go-to-guy and when Argentina does struggle, they simply don’t take him off the court. In their win over Canada, Scola scored 35 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 34 minutes. (FIBA games are 40 minutes long). In the very tight second round match against Uruguay, Scola had 26 points and 13 rebounds in 37 minutes proving he still has the legs to do whatever is necessary to get the win.
Unlike any other team at the FIBA Americas, Canada has an unprecedented depth of NBA talent, although they do have a couple of FIBA tournament veterans that provide something the young NBA talent is still figuring out. However, Joseph is the one NBA player on Team Canada that has been to the FIBA Americas for his fifth time, twice as part of the under-19 squad and this is his third trip as part of the Senior Men’s National Team.
Joseph is Coach Triano’s steadying influence, the guy who’s been here before, fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how one looks at it – Canada hasn’t struggled much in this tournament. Over their first six games, Canada has outscored their opponent by an average of 23.2 points, so Joseph hasn’t been required to play big minutes.
So far Joseph has averaged 9.7 points (4th on Canada), 3.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 22.2 minutes (3rd most on Canada), but his opportunity to shine may not arrive until the semis and the finals. Joseph has played well and remains a leader for Canada, it has just been hard for any one individual to really stand out with Triano able to divide up the minutes so evenly.