Luol Deng, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Luis Scola, Patty Mills – in their respective teams these players are not the superstars of their team. Although Parker and Ginobili fit right into that category, it’s Tim Duncan who’s the superstar at the Spurs camp. In their respective teams in the NBA these players are not the first option on offense. They aren’t placed in a situation where they have to be the voice of authority on the floor, the unquestionable alpha dog, the go-to superstar. When it comes to playing for the country, they step forward and show what they are truly capable of.
Thank God for Jermey Lin. He showed everyone that you can’t afford to keep banking on established players for on court production. It’s a vicious circle. You don’t give unproven players a chance, don’t trust them with enough on court minutes to produce. Then they will remain unproven. Same issue faced by freshers looking for a job. Job requirements detail “Must have years of work experience”. How on earth will they have experience if you don’t hire them in the first place?
International competitions offer a valuable opportunity for fringe players and borderline superstars to cross the chasm and make the jump into superstar territory. Even if they don’t attain a stratospheric height of superstardom, these players can shatter the immediate ceiling placed upon their limits and make the climb up to rub shoulders among the league’s elite players.
Linas Kleiza of Lithuania burst out for 25 points vs the USA and almost pulled off an upset, they ended up losing by 5 points. When we talk about the best forwards in the league Linas’s name isn’t one which comes to mind. A little known forward with the Toronto Raptors, turned into a beast for his nation when given the responsibility and the minutes. His Lithuanian and Raptors teammate, Jonas Valanciunas is a young big man with exciting potential. Going up against Tyson Chandler of the USA, his youth and immaturity were exposed. His coach shook his head and remarked that he was still playing way too fast and trying to do way too much. Jonas didn’t manage to hold his own but he got some valuable experience, and that’s what it’s about.
Experience. The example of the 2012 USA squad which won the gold will stand for a long time. That squad was a far cry from the 2008 one. They didn’t have Bryant, James, Wade or Howard. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, these players were borderline superstars. Even though they were standout players in every sense of the word, the international experiance helped to elevate their confidence and their games to another level. The Thunder had a great season following the FIBA Championships and both Durant and Westbrook attributed the jump in their game to their international experience.
Kevin Love’s name became synonymous with rebounds. A three point shooting, freak rebounding anomaly. Cue the international experience. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant made it to the NBA Finals last year. They thanked the international experience for that.
Look at some players who aren’t ‘The man’ on their teams in the NBA but carried their nation with pride and glory in the Olympics
Serge Ibaka, OKC Thunder had 17 points and 3 blocks against China. Anderi Kirilenko, AK-47 carried Russia and scored 35 points shooting 14-for-17 vs Great Britain. He will be playing for the Timberwolves this season, and his national teammate, Timberwolves Alexey Shved, scored 25 points with 7 assists in Russia’s 81-77 win vs Argentina in the Bronze medal winning game. Makram Ben Romdhane, a Tunisian forward blew up for 22 points and 11 rebounds against USA.
Besides Serge Ibaka, you may be wondering who these players are. Where did they come from? There’s a common perception that the NBA is mostly comprised of players from the USA. It is true, predominately so. But times are changing. China, Japan, Britain, Puerto Rico, (very soon India), countries besides USA are churning out NBA caliber players too.
The international competition brings some unique dimensions which allow for talent to burgeon out. One, fringe level players who have to defer to the superstars on their NBA teams become the alpha dogs on their nations and play as such. It’s a beautiful placebo effect, you play all out for your NBA team anyway but going into a international competition you think to yourself “Hey I was holding back, I was deferring to my superstar team-mates”, and you play even more all out for your country.
Two, for lowly paid NBA players or ‘wannabe’ NBA players, the international platform is a talent hunt competition where they can hope to catch the attention of NBA scouts. Three, playing for your country brings out the best in you. Knowing that your entire country is behind you, cheering you on, does wonders for a player’s motivation.
There has been some gloom over the news that the NBA is proposing an age limit of 23 years on Olympics participation. One silver lining in that dark cloud is that it will give a lot of room for a lot of unknowns to rise up and assume the elusive mantle of a superstar.