How Indicative Are Olympics Performances?

Dave,

It's only the first day of the Olympics and already I'm depressed about Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver but ecstatic about Joel Freeland's possibilities. How much stock do you put in Olympics performances?

Ryan

FREEEELAAAAAAAAAAND! WOOT! WOOT! WOOT! We're going to PWN EVERYBODY!!!

Well, ok, not so much.

Once upon a time the standard line at the Olympics was "quality of competition". It still holds for some matchups. Talent level among countries, and further among positions in each country, varies wildly. But the asterisk after an Olympic performance is smaller than it used to be, at least in this vein. You can't look at Spain or France and say, "These guys aren't NBA-quality." They're NBA players already.

That doesn't mean that you should swallow Olympic performances whole, however. The asterisk may be smaller but you have a couple footnotes and one of those little cross thingies after. Here are some things you need to consider while watching your team's players on the international court.

How Is Your Player Being Used By His Team?

International play is different than NBA ball. I remember when Rudy Fernandez played in '08 plenty of people were up in arms when I questioned his defensive potential in the NBA. "You don't understand the European game!" they'd claim. I was actually pretty familiar with what Spain was trying to do with Fernandez. What the up-in-arms crowd didn't realize was that "hiding in a weak-side zone scheme" in international ball was going to look like "getting stuck in no-man's land" in the NBA, which is pretty much what Rudy did until he learned the game. Some schemes and habits within schemes just won't translate.

This can work the other way too. Sometimes players will be depended on for scoring or ball-handling for their country when their teammates will handle those duties in the U.S. If your guy is a defensive specialist you don't really mind if he went 5-for-20 for 10 points in the Olympics. He'll never get that many touches.

Obviously you'll want to consider position as well. Freeland notched a great performance on opening day playing plenty of power forward minutes. How many power forward minutes is he going to get for the Portland Trail Blazers? Unless you want your season doused with copious buckets of losing, LaMarcus Aldridge is going to leave about 10 minutes in his wake. Behind Aldridge comes J.J. Hickson. Also consider how many players the Blazers have termed "stretch fours" lately. Unless you think Freeland can play plenty at center, you have to wonder how many minutes he'll get in his comfort zone.

Unless international teams are playing a similar style, asking your player to do similar things at the same position your team will, you have to be leery of the results you're seeing. They're not unimportant, they're just not conclusive.

Against Whom Is Your Player Playing?

Naturally you'll want to consider overall talent of the opponent. Batum is unlikely to be asked to guard LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the same game while being defended by each as he was on Sunday morning against Team USA. Almost anybody will look bad in that situation.

But you also have to consider size and capability in specific matchups. Who's your player facing up against when he's scoring 30? Is the defender slow? Short? Can't jump? None of that is happening in the NBA. Ask yourself whether that move would look as good against a player 2 inches taller, 30 pounds heavier, or 2 beats quicker. If your big man is scoring huge while playing close to the bucket but below the rim in the Olympics, you can pretty much erase that production in the NBA.

What Skills Is Your Player Exhibiting?

Generalities are no good when scouting in disparate environments. "He looked pretty good at a high level of competition" is a useless statement. Why did he look good? What specifically was he doing? Technique translates. Physical gifts can translate. Smarts translate. Getting a nice dunk off of a wide open lane or grabbing an offensive rebound because somebody fell asleep doesn't translate as well. You want to see specific skills repeatedly demonstrated at a dominant level. You want to notice a guy's first step off the dribble in Game 1 and then still be noticing it in Game 5 the same way. If you don't, that 20-point performance is probably a throw-away.

Basically you don't want to have to create best-case scenarios. "He looks like he could..." doesn't matter. He did...repeatedly...and people couldn't stop him. That's what counts.

Taking all of that into consideration, you're really going to have to wait and see before making determinations about Olympic performances and what they herald. One game means little. The French needed more from Batum than they got but Trail Blazers fans are already familiar with that story and his performances. You can rest assured he'll have a great outing before the games are over...particularly when he doesn't have to match up with the Wall of Doom he faced on Sunday. He'll not be as good as that performance nor as bad as the one against Team USA. The Blazers are bringing over Claver to fill out the roster and develop. They want to see what they've got. They don't expect him to play significant minutes...maybe not at all. That's about what happened in his opening game. Freeland's good game will need to be followed by similar results against varied opponents while demonstrating translatable skills before we make too much of it. He was the deviation from the norm on Sunday, though, so being hopeful is justified until further notice.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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