As David recently detailed, the FIBA EuroBasket tournament has begun, and at the moment, for basketball junkies it is the highest level of basketball that can be watched. Following up France’s surprising defeat to Germany yesterday, we were treated to another shocker as Spain, widely regarded as one of the favorites, fell to the host team Slovenia 78-69.
The story within a story for Blazers fans, though, is the play of a certain Victor Claver. After carving out 21 minutes of playing time during Spain’s first game, Claver followed it up with 28 minutes during this loss. While his production was lacking (which we’ll get to in a minute), these large chunks of minutes are immediately worth noticing. Claver has obviously earned the trust of Spain’s Head Coach Juan Orenga.
It must be mentioned, however, that two of Spain’s other bigs, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka, are not participating in this tournament. While yes, Claver has certainly earned the playing time, it may be more of a case that he is one of the only viable options that Orenga has at his disposal. At the same time, the Spanish National Team is an excellent team, even the players who are not currently in the NBA. Getting minutes on this team is not an easy feat.
On to Claver’s production: to be blunt, it hasn’t been great. Actually, far from it. In his 49 minutes of playing time, Claver has shot an ice-cold one for eight, for a cool three points. Rebounding looks minimally better, as he also hauled in 11 boards throughout this time. In terms of NBA production, this won’t fly. Without meaning to slight any of the players, the talent level in this tournament is a ways off from the NBA, so if Claver is struggling to produce against this opposition, his chance to do well with the Blazers is looking mighty slim.
With that being said, I am excited about the experience that Claver is getting in the tournament. It’s an age old argument, about whether or not professional athletes who are being paid millions of dollars by their respective teams should even play in international competitions. I can see both sides of the issue, and I don’t think there is an easy answer. In Claver’s case, I think the benefits far outweigh the risks of injury, especially since he doesn’t figure to be a large part of the Blazers’ immediate plans.
During the off-season, there really aren’t that many opportunities for NBA players to play in high-level competitions. The pro-am circuits and various city leagues that you see highlight reels of on Youtube are more or less glorified ratball games (in my opinion), and shooting around in a gym just isn’t the same as playing in good, old-fashioned competition. In the case of EuroBasket, it is an extremely high level competition, probably one of the highest levels of competition available besides the NBA itself.
If Claver is to have any future in the NBA, he needs rapid improvement. At the moment, I would say that he is pretty clearly on the outside looking in on what figures to be a ten man deep Blazers lineup, which could be a death knell for his NBA career. Getting practice at such a high level is exactly what can help him, and the EuroBasket is the perfect opportunity.
Stepping back out to look at Spain in the bigger picture, I think they will be fine. This loss was only during group play, and Spain has been absolutely notorious for cruising when able to, and turning it on at a moment’s notice. This attitude was cultivated, however, under former coach Sergio Scariolo, and spearheaded by Mr. Turn-It-On-During-The-Biggest-Games himself, Juan Carlos Navarro, who is not at this tournament. This squad also doesn’t have the aforementioned elder Gasol or Ibaka.
If I’m a betting man, I’m still taking them to win it all, especially after France’s lackluster opening performance against Germany.