The Olympics are always a bit of a wild card given that teams are almost always cobbled together just a matter of weeks before the Opening Ceremonies. The momentum gained from world championships or FIBA’s qualifying tournaments means little when most teams have been disbanded for months. The unheralded players who toil playing overseas the rest of the year add seasoning to the mix as another unknown. Take, for example, Tunisia. How much tape could Coach K have dug up on Makram Ben Romdhane? What hasn’t been a surprise is the U.S. dominance; no matter how many perceived weaknesses the team has, there are more ways to cover up the cracks than any other team can match. What has caught our eye, however, are these five surprises.
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5. LEANDRO BARBOSA’S CROSSOVER
One of the nastiest crossovers of the summer came from … Brazil’s Leandro Barbosa? Between buzzer beaters and the admittedly surprising rise in groin punches during these Olympics, this crossover was the all-time surprising play.
4. FRANCE PLAYED WELL
Things did not look good for France in early July. Joakim Noah’s injury kept him from joining the national team and Tony Parker nearly lost an eye thanks to beef between Drake and Chris Brown that both will use on their next albums. We heard time and again there were still six NBA players on the French roster, but other than Parker none was a game-changer who could lead in his absence. Once he got back with his goggles, they turned heads. In pool play the Frenchmen knocked off Argentina and Lithuania, took care of business against Nigeria and Tunisia and narrowly lost to Spain. All in all, it wasn’t just “not bad” but kind of impressive.
3. DISAPPEARING JONAS
Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas piqued many fans’ interest when the forward crushed a dunk on a poor Icelandic defender’s head in pre-Olympic warmups. Raptors fans were giddy. But what do we make of Valanciunas’ total of 69 minutes of playing time and 25 points in six games? His 13 fouls contributed, of course, but more often he didn’t look confident that he belonged on the court with his opponents, and I’m not just talking about Team USA. Now the Raptors get to figure out if his Icelandic abuse was the exception or the rule.
2. THE U.S. THREE BALL
International basketball is characterized partly by the love of the three-pointer, a barometer that would seem to indicate the U.S. has fallen in love head over heels with the international game this summer. The U.S. attempted 214 threes through the quarterfinal, making 96 (45 percent for the non-math majors). That’s far and away the most of the tournament, with Australia’s 146 attempts a distant second, and really, there’s no reason to stop. The U.S.’ shooting percentage from three is better than Tunisia, Nigeria, Great Britain and China have shot on two-pointers.
1. PATTY MILLS GOES FOR 39
Mills is the guard in the NBA who plays like he’s walking on egg shells, fearful he’ll be banished to the bench if he tries anything out of the ordinary. He went from being one of the most fun collegians to watch in Saint Mary’s go-go-go style to a guard asked to simply don’t mess up. In Australia’s pool-play win over Great Britain, he showed what he can offer outside of such a strict role, getting 39 points with 5-of-7 from three. It built on his Olympic-leading 21.2 points per game average that he capped with a buzzer-beating three to beat Russia. To expect Mills to find a job in the NBA where he’ll shoot even 10 times in a game (he went 9-of-15 here) is expecting too much, obviously. He also was playing against a no good, very bad British team. Here, he simply showed he can still sling it like it’s back in Saint Mary’s.
What do you think?
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