Serbia’s Milos Teodisic just hit a nasty shot to eliminate Spain in the FIBA World Championships. It was contested; it was 30 feet from the hoop; it was cold-blooded (here’s Chris Sheridan’s take on the last-minute coaching strategies). And it was a fitting end to a weird, wild game that nicely captured the charming madness of the entire tournament: singing fans; insane long range gunning; wildly unpredictable officiating; fiery players swept up in a nationalist fervor (in a good way).
This game, like so many international games, gave us a chance to see not only teams who routinely play the kind of flowing, ball-moving basketball that the NBA occasionally lacks, but also players who are either too slow-footed and earthbound (the perfectly hirsute and dissolute-seeming Jorge Garbajosa) or too waif-like (Juan Carlos Navarro) to stick in the League, but who are nonetheless really, frighteningly good.
We Wolves fans were also able to check out two of our Puppies overseas draftees: Ricky Rubio of course, and this year’s second-round pick, the 6’10″ 22-year-old Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica’s long, wobbly limbs give him a newborn colt-ish appearance, but when he touched the ball on Wednesday, he snapped to attention, ripping off a volley of tall, clean jumpers. Bjelica clearly has a lot to learn defensively; he played only 14 minutes before fouling out and in the fourth quarter allowed Rudy Fernandez to cut to the hoop for an easy layup off an inbounds pass. But Bjelica is young, tall, and confident; he can handle the ball; he hit all five of his field goals. You can see the appeal.
As for Rubio, the young heartthrob looked a little frustrated in this one. It wasn’t so much that he played poorly, although his defensive gambling created space for Serbia’s shooters and got him into foul trouble. But Rubio’s great strengths are his instincts and skill in transition; in this game, Serbia was able to prevent Spain from getting into the open floor, effectively creating a matchup of half-court offenses. Now, Rubio is a solid half-court point guard, and he was able to find Marc Gasol and Fran Vasquez on two gorgeous pick-and-roll drives. But the half-court also exposes Rubio’s great current weaknesses, his shooting and his finishing at the basket. Perhaps knowing this, Ricky tends to simply, unobtrusively run the offense, allowing his more experienced teammates, like Navarro and Garbajosa, to create their own looks.
For the most part, I’d say this is a pretty admirable show of maturity and humility from a 19-year-old superstar. But there were times in this game when the offense was not crisp, when the shooters were not hitting, and Spain really needed their point guard to create some scoring chances. And, with a few exceptions, Rubio never really did this. One hopes that as his shooting touch improves, Ricky will begin to see himself in that Nash-ian light, as a player with the responsibility of the offense on his shoulders.