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NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Outperformed Cavs Kyrie Irving in Rio

Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise as the top players at international tournaments are invariably the more experienced veterans, so when Team USA was struggling – and they did struggle in Rio, they went to their 30-year-old veteran point guard Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors to get things back on track.  It’s not that the Cavs 24-year-old Kyrie Irving had a bad tournament, he shot the ball well and was a significant contributor on offense, it was Lowry’s defense that allowed him to outperform his NBA rival as described by Kurt Helin of NBC Sports.

As they had every step of the way to the USA’s gold medal, the bench changed the dynamic of the game when they entered.

Deserving the most credit was the combination of Kyle Lowry at the point and Paul George at the wing — they changed games. Plural. Lowry is a better, more tenacious on-ball defender than Kyrie Irving.

Look at it this way, against Argentina in the quarterfinals the lineup of Lowry, Butler, George, Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins was +20 in 12 minutes, the rest of the team was +7 for the remainder of the game.

the USA doesn’t have gold without Lowry, George and the rest of Team USA’s bench.

Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski had a plan. Irving was paired with defensive center DeAndre Jordan who clogged the paint and intimidated at the rim.  Lowry played a lot with the offensively talented DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings big man had a monster performance in the Gold medal game. In the end, Krzyzewski’s rotations got the job done yet again and Team USA got better the longer the tournament went.

For all the NBA players that didn’t make it to the Olympics in Rio like LeBron James, Team USA was still an All-Star roster and their least utilized player Harrison Barnes just signed at $94.4 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks in July. Team USA won the Gold with their depth – again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a veteran All-Star was one of the keys to victory.

Gold Medal Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Isn’t Benefiting By Playing For Lithuania

Watching how Lithuania uses the Toronto Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas in international events leads one to wonder if the big man is getting anything out of the commitment to his National Team beyond avoiding bad press in his basketball crazed home Country. Anyone would be hard pressed to suggest he returns to his paying job in the NBA showing any signs of improvement after a summer of playing for Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlaukas.

Valanciunas is the most talented player on his National Team and has been for several years, but Kazlaukas still has him on a short leash despite his obvious contributions every summer since he played for Lithuania in both the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship and the 2011 Eurobasket.

As the expression goes, if you want your center to stay engaged, you got to “let the big dog eat,” at the offensive end of the court. Valanciunas was starving during this summer’s Olympics.

Except for the final pool game against Croatia (that there were rumblings Lithuania had thrown in order to get a better quarter final seeding), Valanciunas averaged 22.2 minutes of playing time and 5.2 shot attempts. As has so often been the case in previous summers, Lithuania either couldn’t or didn’t bother trying to feed their “big dog” in the post and just maybe that explains why Valanciunas couldn’t seem to get his head into the game.

“I was pretty bad, you know,” Valanciunas admitted on FIBA.com. “I’ve got to do something to my head.”

When asked in the press conference why Valanciunas had struggled in this tournament – he went into Wednesday’s game averaging 7.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas responded: “You have to ask Valanciunas, not me.”

It’s not that Lithuania should be anguishing as much as they appear to be over their quarter final exit at the Olympics. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Spain blew them out in pool play, Spain easily beat them last summer as well. In the quarter final game, the Australians far superior guard play led by NBAers Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills wasn’t something Lithuania should have been expected to have an answer for. Guard play has always been a concern once Lithuania gets deeper into tournaments and Australia has their own star NBA center in Andrew Bogut.

Lithuanian success in international tournaments isn’t much of a concern back in Toronto (beyond the local Lithuanian nationals.) The goal of every young professional athlete is to take advantage of the off season to work on their game and return better than when their season ended. FIBA basketball, especially for big men, doesn’t necessarily accomplish this.

In prior summers Valanciunas has admitted it takes time to re-adjust to FIBA rules. No three-second call on defenders gets Valanciunas yelled at for moving in and out of the paint on defense like he’s required to in the NBA. Playing the ball off the rim as a legal move. Even all the clutching and grabbing often (albeit inconsistently) overlooked in the paint beyond anything seen in the NBA. FIBA basketball has different rules, is played differently and officiated differently. It doesn’t help Valanciunas that his European head coach isn’t interested in doing anything that might help his center add skills that could be useful in an NBA game.

If anything, what can be observed is Valanciunas having outstanding breakout NBA playoff series in each of the past three years only to return after a summer of playing for Lithuania looking like he forgot everything he’d done well at the end of the previous NBA season.

Valanciunas isn’t about to decline an invitation to play for Lithuania in the futre and even Kazlaukas admits eventually he’ll have to turn the reins over to his star player (What has he been waiting for?), but his call for Valanciunas to stop just playing off his superior talent belies the fact the coach has yet to adjust his own (unsuccessful) game strategy and stopped trying force-fit Valanciunas into how he wants to see the game played. The player has to get something out of his commitment to the team as well.

The scary thing from a Toronto standpoint is Kazlaukas doesn’t see himself as part of the problem. He will keep trying to change Valanciunas from an NBA center into his vision of a FIBA center every summer and he’ll likely keep him on a short leash until his center can figure out how to be both. In the meantime Valanciunas’ progress in the off season will continue to stall or even take a step back and that isn’t good for anybody.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





Team Argentina Luis Scola

Luis Scola To Carry The Flag For Argentina At The Rio Olympics

Luis Scola has represented the South American powerhouse Argentina in international basketball for over two decades and in his fourth Olympic Games, he will carry his Country’s Flag during the opening ceremonies in Rio. An honor won by hard work and dedication to his National Team.

“It’s amazing,” Scola told Pro Bball Report after he heard the news. “I can’t believe it you know. I will have the chance to do that.

“This is my fourth Olympics. I can remember going into my first one and now after some time I had no idea what I was going to be in. I thought about the Olympics as just another experience and I didn’t know it was this life changing experience that people will pay a lot of money to see and they will do a lot of things to win this.

“I had a chance to not only be there but also to play there and to win there.”

In 2004, Scola and Manu Ginobili led Argentina to a semi-final upset win over Team USA represented by group of young NBA Stars including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Amar’e Stoudemire and Allen Iverson. Team Argentina won Olympic Gold in Athens that year.

In 2008, Scola led Argentina in scoring and took home a Bronze from the Beijing Olympics. They didn’t medal in 2012, but Argentina managed to qualify for 2016 in Rio by winning a Silver medal at the FIBA Americas tournament last summer with Scola taking tournament MVP honors.

“Each (Olympics) is different,” Scola said. “I know a lot more about what I am going to need, what kind of experience I am going to have. My eyes are going to be more open. My eyes and ears and mind is going to be more open to live the experience more because I know how important it is, much more than I did 12 years ago.

“On the other hand, basketball-wise we are not as competitive as we were before and that will change the experience a little bit. It’s just a different reality.

“I think I am going to be nervous.”

At 36-years-old Scola is not ready to go out in a hard-earned blaze of glory from basketball just yet. After the Olympics he will be joining the Brooklyn Nets on a one-year contract in his tenth NBA season.

Last year he played for the Toronto Raptors and started 76 games. Not as quick or strong in the post as he once was, Scola put up almost three times as many three-point shots as he had in his entire NBA career up to that point and he hit over 40 percent of them.

Now a stretch-four, Scola is going to be called on for scoring by Argentina at the Olympics once again, but this NBA, FIBA and Olympic veteran has nothing to be nervous about in Rio. He just shot 2-5 from three-point range in a Friendly against Team USA on July 22nd.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.