Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Early days yet

Someone asked me on Friday night, following the loss to Poland, what I thought Great Britain's chances were at Eurobasket. "Not great," I said. "But let's not judge them just yet."

Someone asked me on Saturday night, following the spirited but ultimately losing effort against Turkey, what I thought Great Britain's chances were at Eurobasket. "Not great," I said. "But let's not judge them just yet."

Someone asked me on Sunday, after a comfortable reverse to Israel left Chris Finch's side at 0-3 for the weekend, what I thought Great Britain's chances were at Eurobasket. "Not great," I said. "But let's not judge them just yet."

And so it should remain for the time being. It was hardly a surprise that GB failed to break their duck in their opening three preparatory games for Poland, given the long list of injuries and absentees in London. 

Afterwards, Finch was asked if a trio of home friendlies had been the right move at this time in the calendar. It is what it is, he said, after a weekend in which the average crowd at the 02 Arena was, disappointingly, only around 3,000 per night (with a rush of late giveaways). But the American, creditably, refused to contemplate that the choice of opponents had been too tough, like a boxer opting to go for the champ rather than a makeweight to pad his statistics. 

"If we wanted easy games we could have stayed in Division B," Finch bristled. "This is what we wanted, this is what we earned. I expected us to come here, compete and play hard and get better and I think we did that."

It won't get any easier in Seville where - even if one or all of the trio of Archibald (likely), Mensah Bonsu (possible) and Betts (unknown) - it's quite likely that GB will again go 0-3.

But let's not lower the flag and give up just yet. There were positives to take from the 02 excursion.

1. Joel Freeland looks like a legitimate NBA-level player, rather than just a prospect. The former first-round pick confirmed to me that his contract with Unicaja Malaga is for five years with opt-outs to go to the NBA after three seasons. Freeland did receive a two-season offer from Portland but, like a bunch of opponents' shot attempts, swatted it away. "I looked at the situation there," he said. "But I felt I would end up at the end of the bench and I didn't want that."

On his evidence in London, his prediction may have been off. He's now skilled enough to compete at the highest level.

2. Dan Clark hasn't had much playing time at Estudiantes Madrid and on Friday it showed. He struggled to get into the offensive flow, there were lapses at the other end and he looked lost at times. Fast forward to Saturday and Sunday and we got a glimpse of why the young Englishman was lured to the ACB at an early age. "I'm hoping to get more of a chance next season," he admitted. If Estudiantes see the tape of his performance against Turkey, they'd be nuts not to.

3. The three-spotters. Nick George, Kieron Achara and Drew Sullivan may all be fighting for time when Pops Mensah Bonsu (hopefully) pitches up. But they can all stretch opponents, hustle for boards and play solid defence.

On the negative side, only when Flinder Boyd shook off injury against Turkey did GB look like they have a capable playmaker. Losing Luol Deng will be felt harder on ball-carrying duty, despite the hard work put in by Boyd and Jarrett Hart. Nate Reinking looked out of sorts (we'll give him a pass just yet) and while Justin Robinson gave us flourishes of being the PG of the future, he was honest enough to concede this was a tough introduction at this level. Which leaves Mike Lenzly, who hit a team-high 16 against Israel, as the main offensive threat.

"Mike's back in the mix and he's much sharper right now," said Finch. "I told him I wanted him to be more aggressive. Having him back is big. It gives us another guard with experience who can make shots."

Add in Steve Leven - who is discussing a move to relegated ACB side Mallorca - fighting back from injury, to a crowded mix and it's obvious that there will be cuts here prior to Poland. There's more analysis here from my good chum Rob Dugdale but Finch's greatest challenge looks to be to mask his backcourt's weaknesses as best he can.

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