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Scouting The Trail Blazers In Turkey

09/08/10
  1. Written by: caseyholdahl  / avg. rating: 5.0



    Mike Born, the Trail Blazers' director of NBA scouting, has been in Turkey for the FIBA World Championships. Casey Holdahl of blazers.com recently talked to Born about the performances of Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills and their respective national teams.

    Casey Holdahl: Nicolas Batum and the French were beaten soundly by Turkey in their first game of the knockout round. What did you think about Nic's performance against Greece and overall during the tournament?

    Mike Born: I think the first thing with the French team is they don't have all the guys that they're used to having, so I think that makes a difference without (Mickael) Pietrus and not having Tony Parker. They've always been a very athletic team and I think they've become a young athletic team, where as before they were young but they still had Tony Parker to drive the bus. So people are sort of being forced into different roles, to score more and to do some things that they normally probably wouldn't have to do if they had their full complement of players.

    I thought Nic played pretty good (against Turkey). I thought he played really, really hard. You could tell it really bothered him that they were losing. I felt like, in the second half, he played as hard defensively as anybody in the game. I think it was just that he was frustrated that they weren't playing better and that the game wasn't more competitive.

    I think part of what he had to go through a little bit is they've need him to score more simply because he's one of their better scoring options. When you get to this level now were you're down to 16 teams, just like anything else, when you're getting to the cream of the crop (opposing teams) do a really good job of taking away plays and players and making other guys beat them. I think you saw that even (on Saturday) with Patty Mills, where Nic is one of the best two or three players on that team and one of the top two or three scorers on that team. (Turkey) really locked in on making him do things and not giving him looks and shots and maybe making some other guys who aren't as efficient offensively make plays and beat them. I thought (Turkey) did a really good job tonight. I thought Turkey did a really good job of sort of taking France and Nic out of the game.

    Casey Holdahl: Even though he put up good numbers it still seemed like Nic should have been taking more shots. Is that a matter of teams trying to lock down on him or is he just too unselfish at times?

    Mike Born: I think it's a combination of both. I think when you watch Nic play, he's more instinctual I think -- especially when he's playing at this level and with this sort of talent -- as a complementary guy when he can sort of play off of people. So there's some players that are sort of being "the guy" and there are other guys who are just better when they're able to play off of guys. I think Nic is definitely evolved and I think he's become better at being more of a go-to guy, but certain players have certain strengths, and I think Nic, one of the things we really liked about him when we drafted him, is we felt like he was going to be a really good fit playing off of our other guys because he does expend a ton of energy guarding. Like I said, if you watched the game, he's out there pressing up at half court, guarding two or three different guys on one play and they're down 20 with six minutes left in the game.

    But I do think it's a combination of both and I think a lot of credit should be given to Turkey because they're playing at a really high level right now. They're 6-0 in this tournament and really playing together. Their main guys are playing at a high level and obviously I think the crowd really helped them (against France). But it's a combination of both. That's just part of the evolution of a player. I think with Nic, he's still a really young player and he was sort of forced into a different role this year because of not having some of their key guys. But I think overall Nic had a really solid tournament and he's continuing to improve and continuing to get better. Hopefully he'll continue to do those things when he comes back and plays with us this year.

    Casey Holdahl: I know Nic hates being shown up by Hedo Turkoglu. That might have had something to do with his refusal to give up down 20.

    Mike Born: Some times you're outplayed or you're outmatched, but I'm sure France didn't go into that game thinking it was going to be a game like it was, so I'm sure it was probably frustrating for their team to not play very well against Turkey in their home arena. I'm sure they probably wanted a better showing as individual players and probably as a team, so I'm sure there was some frustration from that standpoint. I thought Nic played really hard (against Turkey).

    Casey Holdahl: What role did Nicolas play for France, and to get even more basic, what position did he play? I think he was listed at off-guard, but does that team really even have standard positions or is it more like the five best guys?

    Mike Born: When they made the starting announcement the listed Nic as a two guard because they were playing Boris (Diaw) and they started (Florent) Pietrus. Peitrus is more of a four so you're calling Boris the three, but Nic for, for the most part, plays like a two, three and four defensively a lot. There are certain situations where he'll get switched onto a center or he'll get switched onto a point guard, so he almost guarded five different positions (against Turkey) at some point with a good majority of his defensive possessions being either a two, three or a four. That's part of his versatility and why we like him so much.

    On the offensive end he ended up basically playing a wing. He was like a two/three most of the time he was out there. They do give him the ball. He had the ball more this year than I've seen where they're running him off of stuff and putting him in pick and rolls and allowing him to make plays to get to the basket. Again, I think that's part of his evolution as a player. I don't know whether he'll ever be a guy that you can say 'He's a go-to guy' but you can definitely see the maturation on the offensive end as well where if he's open, he's at the three-point line, he's looking to shoot. They gave him the ball more in pick and rolls and allowed him to try to go and make plays. A lot of times it may not even be a play like he's going to get a dunk or he's going to get a foul or he's going to drive to the rim and get a good pass; it might just be putting him in a pick and roll and making those guys make a decision on it because he's a good enough ball handler. Once he turns the corner he's quick, so even if you can get a defender to suck into the lane and help and he can throw it to a guy who gets a shot or he can throw it to a guy who then gets his guy to closeout and now he can turn the corner, that is sort of created from the pick and roll with Nic having the ball. So maybe they don't get a ton of baskets or a ton of assists out of it, but based upon their team, he's a guy they needed to do that with and I definitely think that was beneficial for Nic to be put in that role. He was handling the ball a lot more, which I think is really good for him.

    When I look at this and I watch Nic play I think what can help him grow from this is when you're used to being sort of a complementary player and you end up being the guy who is all of the sudden one of the main scoring options, you're going to get more attention and more focus because you had 24 against Canada. You have some of these games where you're putting up big numbers so when they're starting to identify who we need to stop, Nic is one of the top couple guys on that team, him and Boris, who teams say 'Look, we need to really lock in on these guys and do a good job.' So just the preparation they're putting into guarding Nic and the defensive energy and the focus I think is great for him because he's being put into that situation and obviously now when he comes back to us you're hoping now he get back into where (opposing teams) have identified that Nic is important, Nic is improving as a player, but they're still not going to put him into the top one or two on their board and he moves down a little bit. So now he's able to go back to his role, but be an improved player because he's been given the ball, been allowed to run pick and rolls and handle the ball in transition and sort of do some things. I would imagine he would tell you he feels like he's getting better and he's becoming a better player and he's becoming more confident to go make those plays.

    Casey Holdahl: Rudy Fernandez is now the only member of the Trail Blazers still playing in the tournament after Spain beat Greece to move on to the quarterfinals. What have you thought about his performance and that of Team Spain.

    Mike Born: I think when you're looking at the teams here, Team USA is definitely, if not the top team, one of the top teams, and I think Spain and Turkey are right there with Team USA. Then you've got maybe Serbia and Argentina, Lithuania, those guys are probably all sitting right there.

    The Spain team, obviously it's different not having Pau (Gasol) playing and (Jose) Calderon being hurt so they've had to rely on their bench a little bit more. They're relying on (Ricky) Rubio to play a lot of minutes. Fran Vasquez and some of those guys coming off the bench have done a pretty good job. Probably relying on their wings in (Juan Carlos) Navarro and Rudy to score for them and obviously Marc (Gasol) is getting that opportunity to get a lot more touches offensively. They've still got a really good team. Those guys have played together for so long and just do a really good job of knowing how to play off each other and where guys are going to be and what sort of shots they're going to take.

    As for Rudy, overall I thought he was good. In the first half he just had the two free throws, missed a few shots and had a couple of turnovers. It just didn't seem like he was really into the game, like he didn't have a good rhythm or a good feel to the game, and I thought in the second half he was really good. If he doesn't play as well as he plays in the second half with his points, Spain may not end up winning that game. I know they started pulling away and shot a bunch of free throws late, but Rudy had four buckets right in the key stretch where they were separating. He had those two three's and two buckets and he ends up finishing 4 for 7 for the game, so for him to get 14 points on seven shots, that's how those guys have to do it some times just because you've got so many guys out there that can score. I thought overall he played a really nice game and was a big reason why they had a chance to advance.

    Casey Holdahl: I have to say, after watching Spain struggle through group play I was surprised they were able to handle Greece.

    Mike Born: Obviously Greece has a good team. They're missing (Theodoros) Papaloukas, but they've still got a nice team. That was one of those games that felt like it got into that stretch when Rudy scored his points that it could have very easily gone either way. If Rudy doesn't have that 10 points in that stretch it could have very easily been Greece pulling ahead and Spain is fouling Greece instead of the other way around.

    I felt like Rudy, when he needed to play well and the team needed him to play well, I thought he did a really nice job. Obviously him scoring allows other guys to have space and do some other things. Plus you get a guy that gets hot, sticks a couple of threes and it sort of changes the tone of the game and it allows you to relax and play a little easier. If you know you're up three, up five versus down five and now you're thinking 'Man, we've got to score now' versus 'There's not as much pressure on us to score.' It just changes the rhythm and the confidence that guys have sometimes. I'm sure Spain guys were like 'I can feel us pulling away and we just need to lock in on defense.'

    So again, I feel like Rudy played well in a key stretch of that game that allowed Spain to have separation.

    Casey Holdahl: Spain started slow in EuroBasket '09, and they were able to recover to win the tournament, but I didn't think they'd be able to do the same thing this time around without Pau Gasol.

    Mike Born: You're sitting here looking at some of the teams that won't advance and when it's all said and done there's going to be some really good teams not make it through. New Zealand and Russia are pretty evenly matched. Then you get into Brazil/Argentina, that's a game where both teams are really good teams.

    Casey Holdahl: By the way, what is up with Dimitris Diamantidis retiring from international play?

    Mike Born: I saw that. A little bit surprising. I don't know exactly the reason behind it, but shoot, he's a heck of a player and has been for a long time. He's still fairly young. I don't know the reason behind that, I don't know if it will change. He's a good player, especially in Europe. I've liked him for a long time.

    Casey Holdahl: Last up, Patty Mills. What did you see out of him versus Slovenia and during the rest of the tournament?

    Mike Born: First of all, it was great that Australia had a chance to advance. Probably somewhat like France, I'm sure they're really disappointed, not the outcome, but how they played. One of the things I've always respected about the Australian team is how hard they've played and how together they've played, just sort of the passion they've played with. It didn't feel like they quite had it at the level that they need to have it, and again, you're coming in and playing against Slovenia, playing against a really good team, they know Patty has been a big scorer for the Australians, one of the top scorers. I thought (Slovenian point guard) Jaka Lakovic is a terrific European player. Just talking with some of the guys here, he's sort of a Derek Fisher, Jon Stockton-type in Europe. The guy plays his tail off and he's tough, he can make threes, he's smart, a good leader. I thought he did a really good job of setting the tone defensively by not giving Patty any looks. In pick and roll stuff, (Lakovic) always trailing (Mills) and tracking him and just didn't give him any clean shots.

    So some of the other guys are forced to play a role, taking shots or making extra passes. Part of that is just being a good defensive team, but I think individually Lakovic really set the tone. And they're up 12-0 to start the game. Australia eventually scored but it just seemed like Australia never got into the flow of the game. Obviously Patty ends up scoring his dozen or so to finish the game but I'm sure he would have liked to done it in a little better fashion.

    Overall I thought he had a pretty good run (in Turkey). Between summer league and the FIBA tournament was a little bit up and down. He wasn't spectacular in any games but he wasn't bad in any games either. I think when he plays well and scores well and shoots it well, obviously it's a big boost for their team. Obviously he didn't do enough of that tonight. He had a few games where he struggled to shoot a little bit but overall, watching him play (Saturday) you can definitely tell going through summer league, practice leading up to summer league, practice after summer league and then being here, you can definitely tell he's got a pretty good rhythm. He's in good shape, he's moving well, he's handling the ball well. I know for him he was just excited to get back on the court and actually play. I would imagine he would probably tell you it's been a pretty good summer for him to just be back on the floor, getting healthy, getting that confidence back with his body and his skills. I think overall, he's had a pretty darn good summer.

    I think when you look at Australia's team, obviously there's a lot of teams missing key component guys. Patty got a chance to get a lot of minutes because he wasn't playing behind, like CJ Bruton, who played in the Olympics. And then you don't have (Andrew) Bogut, so it's like how Patty's playing is different because not only is he playing as a starter, but you're not able to play off of Bogut, which is a huge thing for Australia. Not having him forces you to play differently because you can't post Bogut and play off a Bogut or Bogut gets a rebound and guys are helping him kickout and you get a trail three. Some of those things where Bogut's presence changes how you're having to play.

    For Patty, he's stepping on the floor now almost similar to Nic where Patty's not the complementary role guy that he was in Beijing where he's coming of the bench and (opposing teams) are worried about other guys. Now all the sudden Patty is one of their top two or three scorers, so every night they're coming out and they're going to lock in on him. As you sort of move through these rounds you're going to face better teams with more talent and they're going to be better defensively. THey're going to lock into those top guys and try to make other guys beat you. It felt like, with Australia and France, the better teams won that had more depth and experience. But overall I thought it was a really good showing for Patty and I'm sure he's happy to be back playing, and playing pretty well.

    Casey Holdahl: Who do you think the favorite is to win the tournament? Seems like Team USA has to be the favorite at this point.

    Mike Born: I don't know I could say the USA for sure because I think Spain and Turkey, which I think are really good teams, those teams to me are really close. I think part of that reluctance to crown Team USA is from how Turkey is playing right now because it's in Istanbul and they've got the energy from the crowd. I think those teams are really close.

    I think the other team you throw in there that would be a Top 4 team is Serbia, and they're in the same bracket as Spain and Turkey, so you've got what I would consider three of the top four teams in one bracket. But then the two other teams that are really, really close to being in that Top 4 are Argentina and Lithuania. I know Team USA is going to have their hands full. They could have a pretty tough game against Russia. Then you're getting down to some pretty good teams in that other bracket. I think Brazil could be Argentina but it's going to be tough because Argentina is playing so well and (Luis) Scola has been just terrific. I think definitely Team USA has as good a shot as anybody left in the tournament. 

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