And here’s a second question: Shall composition of the requiem for Lietuva’s 2012 Olympic bid begin now? Sadly, it doesn’t look good for our heroes with Team USA on the slate tomorrow and a first-round date with presumably Spain or (BiE’s pick) Russia in the knockout stage – and this in the 20th anniversary year of the country’s greatest-ever Olympic performance.
But first things first. Jonas Valančiūnas. Let’s just get right to the stat lines.
Game 1 vs. Argentina: six points, five rebounds, three PFs, 13 minutes played
Game 2 vs. Nigeria: seven points, three rebounds, three PFs, 13 minutes played
Game 3 vs. France: four points, zero rebounds, two PFs, seven minutes played
In terms of the +/- statistic, Valančiūnas has amassed a number of -19 for the two games, including a -23 victimization at the hands of Argentina.
Lithuania basketball observers don’t need stats to tell you something’s amiss, however. Here’s BallinEurope’s agent Y’s snap review of the Big V’s play in the Nigeria game: “Valančiūnas is bad for team flow. He gets fouls so quickly they have to sub him within like 2 minutes.”
This may sound like an exaggeration but is actually not at all inaccurate: Despite starting most quarters for Lietuva in the first two games, he’s averaging exactly 2.75 minutes per quarter for the Olympics. And Valančiūnas’ game three harkened back eerily to Y’s analysis: Bam, bam, two PFs in the first five minutes of the France game and a swift -7 to “add” to his shocking +/-; yanked by coach Kemzura to sit the remainder of the first half, despite four points and one block.
So what gives? Here’s a guy who became a sensation in Eurobasket 2011 with his gritty performances against Serbia and particularly Spain, where he demonstrated fearlessness and willingness to drive the lane to the tune of 13 points in 16 minutes against those Gasol Boys. Against essentially the same France side he faced yesterday – minus freaking *Joakim Noah* by the way – he ruled over in ’11 with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting mostly in the paint.
That daunted physicality, ostensibly key to any hope of beating Team USA? Valančiūnas had it in spades at Eurobasket … and so, in short, what gives with Jonas?
Some of Valančiūnas’, let’s say, radically uneven mini-performance against France may be blamed on Team France’s less “physical” play (again, particularly with Noah out): Valančiūnas has historically not played well (if much at all) against sides that open the floor early and often – Did Kemzura forget the ample bench time he gave the Big V against FYR Macedonia, Slovenia and Greece to close out the Eurobasket tourney?
Looking back in hindsight at the sluggish-looking play of that first five minutes (and an early 15-8 deficit for Lithuania), well, geez, why did this same coach even bother to start Valančiūnas at all?
Oh, that’s right: Gone from the admittedly backcourt-heavy Eurobasket 2011 roster are Robertas Javtokas and Ksistof Lavrinovic. With no Javtokas aboard, the only other qualified center on Team Lithuania for the Olympics is 17-year-old late addition Antanas Kavaliauskas. While Kavaliauskas took a DNP in the Argentina game, he’s since been pressed in double-digit playing time to address the Valančiūnas issue. Hell, even the presence of Marijonas Petravicius might be welcome right about now.
Meanwhile, like no-show Donatas Motiejūnas, Lavrinovic might have proven useful at stretching the floor just enough to make Valančiūnas the scoring threat he can be inside. And if Doncė were around, we might be penning a victory, rather than funeral, march.
The lack of frontcourt support that begins with Valančiūnas in turn creates a domino effect on Team Lithuania. Here’s an example. After game one, Y. recommended the following: “You have to start [Sarunas Jasikevicius] and Valančiūnas together then, as Jonas gets his quick fouls, roll in Mantas Kalnietis with Paulius Jankūnas, Linas Kleiza, and Jonas Mačiulis at the top three positions just to facilitate rebounding.”
Sounds like a nice rational plan that Kemzura might have imparted against France. Except that two guard Rimantas Kaukenas had amassed three fouls in parallel with Valančiūnas’ pair and had to be pulled at five minutes in.
Bringing in Kavaliauskas and Marty Pocius closed the gap for Lithuania and ultimately got the side a halftime lead, but the trickling down of minutes kept Jasikevicius on the floor for a whopping 21 minutes. Already wearing down, Saras showed fatigue in going 1-of-5 from the floor and committing four turnovers. With Kalnietis running the offense badly and shooting even worse (25% overall through three games, including 0-of-7 on threes).
Speaking of which, how about Lithuania’s chances on Saturday? Right now, BallinEurope’s guessing Team USA runs Lietuva silly. Back in ’92, the Dream Team took out Lithuania in a 51-point romp; the sportsbook gives Lithuania a +34.5 handicap in this game. BiE doesn’t think it’ll be quite that much of a blowout, but either outcome can’t be worse than this.