The Olympics are about the highest level of competition and getting very few chances to show you’re the best in the world at your respective sport. Slip up once with a misstep in a race, mistime your strokes in the pool or show poor form on a shot-put heave, and you could be handing over any chance of gold to your opponents.
Olympic basketball is a bit different though.
Players have five games to help their team move on to single-elimination games. You can have highs and lows and not have each one completely decide your Olympic fate. While players get extra opportunities to show growth or regression in their play, NBA teams get to view the players they employ and see just how far their players have come.
For fans hoping to see certain young players and veterans on a grander stage with a bigger role than they typically have in the NBA, seeing them perform at a high level can bolster your expectations. However, seeing them struggle can discourage the outlook of their next year as they face tougher competition and harder schemes against their team in the NBA.
With that said, there are five players so far that have been quite underwhelming with the way they’ve played. For some of those guys, it’s probably just a tough week and nothing that seems to be long term. For others, it’s something to be mindful and while sticking it to the back of your mind.
Let’s see who has underperformed so far during the Olympics and how it might affect their NBA teams.
Averages through first four games: 9.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 0.7 blocks, 2.7 turnovers, 26.2% FG, 7.1% 3FG, 69.5% FT
Aminu seemed to be a pretty promising lottery pick back in 2010. While showing very few flashes of potential in his two years since being drafted, he’s been pretty underwhelming as a player.
He displayed a knack for rebounding in the NBA with an impressive 7.1 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career, but his career shooting percentages of 40.2 percent from the field, and 30.5 percent from the three-point line leave much to be desired.
The problem with Aminu is he’s one of those SF/PF tweeners that nobody really knows what to do with.
When those guys can make outside shots, you can roll them into a stretch-4 role and hope they become a matchup nightmare. But when a guy that lanky and tall has such a high dribble and such a low likelihood of knocking down jumpers, it makes him much easier for defenses to ignore until they have to rotate over to stop him.
On this Nigerian team, Aminu doesn’t have much of a role.
His team doesn’t have traditional initiators that can set other guys up, meaning he often has to fend for himself. He’s taken a high volume of shots and made barely over a quarter of them. He’s still rebounding well like he usually does, but any scoring seems to happen simply because eventually he has to get some points with the amount of shots he’s taking.
Defensively, he’s been rangy and done a decent job of disrupting passing lanes and helping down on guys driving to the basket. But it hasn’t been enough to give Hornets fans watching for improvement a glimmer of hope. I don’t think Aminu is a lost cause by any means, but his play in London certainly isn’t inspiring.
Maybe in his last game on Monday, he can show more plays like this one from last season.
Averages through first four games: 10.2 minutes, 4.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 1 turnovers, 60% FG, 0% FT (two attempts), 2.5 fouls
Jonas Valanciunas is supposed to be one of the next big, bad post players of the next decade or two. In Europe, he’s been known to overwhelm unprepared big men trying to protect the backend of a pick-and-roll.
He’s a defensive savant that can show on screens on one end and devastate the rim on the other end. He’s extremely mobile while retaining the needed strength to properly protect the interior. He’s a very good rebounder that shows the ability and probability to grow his game throughout his formative playing years.
However, during the first four games of Lithuania’s Olympic basketball run, he’s been a complete nonfactor. In the first two games, he’s been in a bit of foul trouble, compiling six fouls (three in each game) in just 25 minutes of play. In the next two games, I think Lithuania just realized it plays better without him on the floor right now.
In international tournaments with age limits, Valanciunas dominates his peers. Most players around his age can’t seem to hang with him for extended stretches on the floor. However, the goal in the Olympics isn’t to develop Jonas and figure out how to get him to work with his current team. Lithuania needs to win first and develop in the off years.
While I still think Valanciunas will be a valuable big man in the NBA, it does concern me a bit that he’s such an irrelevant player when playing on a bigger stage with older competitors.
He’ll need to figure out how to get past that in Toronto. Dwane Casey shouldn’t have much problem getting him to adapt to what the Raptors want to do on both ends of the floor, but as of right now, the Raptors can’t be looking at his play in London and think they’ve got a diamond in the rough. All they can see is just rough play.
Averages through first four games: 21.2 minutes, 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.7 turnovers, 48.7% FG, 61.5% FT, 2.2 fouls
There was a brief moment in time when Tiago Splitter was supposed to be the man that took the reins from Tim Duncan in San Antonio. He was a top international prospect with a fear of committing to the NBA draft. Eventually, he overcame his cold feet and jumped right into the NBA pools.
After looking pretty bad during his rookie campaign, Splitter emerged last year as a solid big man off the bench for San Antonio. He never looked much like he could carry a team for stretches or be a definite starter at the NBA level, but he showed that he can definitely play a role at the top level of competition.
However, during his first four games with Brazil in the Olympics, Splitter has been terribly inconsistent with his play.
After a horrendous showing against Brazil’s win over Australia, Tiago bounced back against Great Britain and dominated for stretches. He finished with 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. He was a safety valve option on offense for the Brazilian team.
Since then, he’s been able to put up points, but it’s been pretty inefficient for someone that spends so much time around the rim. Splitter clearly has skills for the NBA game and he can be a decent enough rebounder for his position. But you rarely feel confident that you can run a play for him and expect a solid scoring opportunity.
He’s barely played (just 31 total minutes) during Brazil’s last two games and it wasn’t due to foul trouble. It just doesn’t make sense to play him over Anderson Varejao or Nene. Hopefully, he can explode in the next game and take some momentum into the single-elimination games.
Averages through first four games: 13.5 minutes, 6.2 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0 blocks, 1 turnover, 45.4% FG, 23.0% 3FG, 66.7% FT, 1 foul
It’s hard to really include James Harden on this list because his role with Team USA is so inconsistent. The team is loaded on the perimeter, which is where he’s supposed to do his damage and create mismatches for the opposing team.
So the fact that his minutes are extremely inconsistent is good enough reason to explain why his per-minute numbers aren’t overwhelming or even just straight whelming.
But it just seems weird to see how uncomfortable he’s looked since the Western Conference finals. During the Thunder’s march to the NBA Finals, James Harden was a one-man wrecking crew whenever he had the ball. The Beard was leaving defenders on an island and making them look like they’d never tried to play defense before.
Then Harden played in the NBA Finals and was completely taken out of the game by Miami. He was a nonfactor, which just didn’t seem right with the offensive renaissance he was displaying that brought comparisons to future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili.
When Harden is on the court in these Olympics, he looks lost.
Nothing looks comfortable for him and he doesn’t seem to know how to get back his bearded mojo. I’m not sure that the Thunder really need to be that worried about him, and this certainly shouldn’t affect any future plans with him and the team.
You just pray that his no-show in the NBA Finals won’t end up being the beginning of a Nick Anderson moment for Harden. Not to mention, you have to be disappointed that he couldn’t admit to getting crossed up against Nigeria.
Averages through first four games: 18.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0 blocks, 3.5 turnovers, 32.0% FG, 22.5% 3FG, 69.2% FT
Eighteen points, seven rebounds and nearly five assists per game look like nice statistics for a guy like Luol Deng to have during Great Britain’s first four games of the tournament, but there is a lot more to his game that has left many completely disappointed with his play.
Deng is in a similar boat that Al-Farouq Aminu is in with Nigeria in that he doesn’t really have a guy on his team to help set him up.
When he was playing with the Bulls before the dreaded knee injury on the first day of the 2012 playoffs, Derrick Rose was the guy drawing attention and setting up Deng for All-Star type success. On Great Britain’s team, they’re essentially asking Deng to be LeBron James for their team.
Here’s the problem with that: Luol Deng isn’t even as close to as skillful as LeBron is.
Deng is a solid ball-handler and decent at creating his own shot when he needs to, but if you have him doing this nearly 20 times per game, he’s going to be completely overwhelmed by the task at had.
He’s shooting just 32 percent from the field and a paltry 22.5 percent from three-point range. He may be scoring a lot of points but he’s taking about one shot for every point scored.
Unless you’re Monta Ellis, that’s not a goal you want to accomplish.
Deng is trying his hardest to be Mr. Everything for Britain because it doesn’t have anybody on that team outside of a couple solid big men to get the job done. But his scoring totals are the only thing he has to hang his hat on right now.
It’s not really going to be a concern for Deng with the Bulls next season, unless they’re hoping he can lead the charge offensively until Rose’s knee is completely mended. Good luck with that, Chicago.