Welcome to Blazersedge's coverage of the 2013 EuroBasket in Slovenia. As in years past, multiple members of the Portland Trail Blazers are competing in the tournament, which pits various European national teams against each other for continental supremacy during non-Olympic, non-World Cup (formerly World Championship) years. Spain -- regarded as USA Basketball's top international competition after taking silver medals at the 2008 Olympics and 2012 Olympics -- won gold at the 2009 and 2011 EuroBaskets.
This year, Blazers forward Nicolas Batum is competing for France and forward Victor Claver is competing for Spain, while forward/center Joel Freeland opted not to play for Great Britain. As in years past, our coverage of the tournament will focus primarily on the play of the various Blazers. Game breakdowns and individual grades will be given after every contest.
Spain and France will both play five preliminary round games before the tournament advances to a second stage and, finally, a knockout round that will crown the champion. The preliminary round opened on Wednesday, with Spain routing Croatia and France losing to Germany.
Let's get to Claver's play.
Spain 68, Croatia 40: Game 1, Preliminary Round
Victor Claver's line: 0 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 0-for-3 shooting, + 18 in 17 minutes
Claver, coming off of his rookie season with the Blazers, looks like he will be enjoying a much larger role for a stacked Spanish squad than in competitions past. In 2011 EuroBasket, Claver barely played and did little more than hover on the perimeter when he did see action.
This time around, with Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol not playing, Claver was moved into a starting lineup that is composed entirely of NBA talent. He occupied the stretch four position alongside Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, Dallas Mavericks guard Jose Calderon and former Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez, who now plays professionally in Spain. As you might imagine based on that lineup, Spain is regarded as the top team in the tournament, even if only half of the Gasol brothers are in attendance. Spain did switch up its starters for the second half, but Claver remained in the starting lineup.
Claver played the third-most minutes for Spain, trailing only Gasol and Rubio. This game was essentially decided in the first quarter, and Claver was on the court for that stretch, providing a solid first look at how he will be used.
Offensively, Spain kept Claver on the perimeter, opting to spread the floor so that Gasol can enjoy as much room to operate -- for himself and as a passer -- in the middle. Claver is merely a complementary option in the halfcourt, as you might expect, usually occupying space on the weakside corner and getting into the offense mostly as a screen-setter on the perimeter. Spain also likes its guards to push the tempo when possible, and Claver was regularly out ahead of the pack, applying pressure to the transition defense and, if nothing developed, spotting up on the three-point line to keep up the pressure.
Defensively, Claver guarded opposing threes and fours, which didn't leave him at a major strength or size disadvantage in this one. He did find himself in all sorts of defensive situations: face-up isolation on the perimeter, helping to the low block from the weakside, playing as the big in pick-and-roll sets, switching out on guards, boxing out in a crowd, etc. He looked way more found than lost defensively, as his head was on a swivel and he wasn't personally responsible for any bad breakdowns.
At the 2011 EuroBasket, Claver was a maddeningly passive observer to the action. Here, although his statistical contributions were minuscule, he definitely made his presence known. The stand-out quality early was his end-to-end speed in transition: Claver was busting out on the wings at every opportunity, looking to receive a pass over the top. Spain never hit that home run look, but they did find a number of first-quarter baskets in transition or quickly once they entered the halfcourt as the Croatian defense was back on its heels.
That energy was evident on the defensive end too. Because of positional match-ups, Claver will be working hard in this tournament, doing heavier lifting on the boards than he is used to in the NBA. The Croatian lineup wasn't really in a position to exploit his slighter frame, and Claver spent a fair bit of his time matched up against Dario Saric, a face-up forward currently projected to be a first-round pick in 2014 by DraftExpress.com. Saric beat Claver to one rebounding opportunity, drawing a foul in the process, but otherwise left little mark on the offensive game, finishing with four points. Claver shadowed him out past the three-point line and worked diligently to hold his rebounding position against Saric and others.
Claver's individual offensive performance was short on opportunities and long on bad luck. Twice he found himself with the ball in good scoring opportunities -- open on the right side for a face-up mid-range shot, in the paint with no big between him and the hoop -- only to have the possessions waved off due to shot clock violations that were the result of bad decisions made before he received the ball. On another, he looked ready to lick his lips in preparation for a dunk attempt, only to have the drive short-circuited by a forced foul as he turned the corner.
The highlight of his night came after the ball skipped to him in the right corner. He didn't hesitate in attacking the rotating defense and, once in the key, he made the proper, clean and fairly easy read by passing to Sergio Llull in the left corner for a wide open three, which he knocked down. The only real lowlight came just before halftime, when Claver uncharacteristically tried to do too much off the dribble, flinging up a lefty runner that missed as the clock wound down. Spain was up double digits so it wasn't criminal. Claver's other field goal attempts were a missed right corner three off of a clean look, and an off-balance shot that never had a chance forced up during the late stages of garbage time.
Claver was singled out by ESPN's one-man announcing crew for doing the "little things" and rightfully so: he corralled a defensive rebound in the first half and the ball worked ahead quickly to Gasol, which ended with a run out hoop; he mucked up one Croatian possession with a deflection and later delivered a dunk-preventing foul to Croatia's leading scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic; he tapped out an offensive rebound to extend a possession; he beat the defense by threading a high-low pass to Gasol that forced a foul; and he darted into a transition passing lane for a garbage time steal. His night ended when he appeared to learn from his earlier mistakes on the overly ambitious drives, opting to reverse course in the final moments to settle for a dump off pass to Sergio Rodriguez, who canned a three-pointer to deliver the final 28-point winning margin.
In the spirit of soccer write-ups, we'll hand out match ratings, taking into account individual expectations for both Claver and Batum. For Claver, we'll use a 1-10 scale calibrated as such: 1 = passive, invisible, losing his match-up; 5 = doing his job; and 10 = career night.
Against Croatia, Claver earns a 6. He helped set the tone early, he played an engaged game, and he was essentially mistake-free in a large defensive role, while doing what he needed to do on the glass. Points deducted for going scoreless and for the misguided forays to the hoop. Spain should be quite pleased with his overall play.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter