Will stars shine bright in Olympic qualifiers?

Mindaugas Gobikas
2021-06-29 07:44
Credit: AP, USA Today Sports – Scanpix | BasketNews/A.Zaikauskas illustration
Credit AP, USA Today Sports – Scanpix | BasketNews/A.Zaikauskas illustration

With club basketball season rolling toward its end, fans turn their attention to the national team competitions. This year we're delighted to have Olympic Games, where basketball is among its most popular sporting disciplines.

Twelve teams will battle from July 25 till August 7 with hopes of dethroning Team USA that won gold during the last three Olympics. Eight teams already have tickets to Japan (those came via qualification through the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019). The remaining four will have to earn their Olympic invitations through Qualifying Tournaments that start on June 29 in Kaunas (Lithuania), Split (Croatia), Belgrade (Serbia), and Victoria (Canada).

Granted, international basketball is different from the NBA (it's 8 minutes shorter, for one); each game's significance is much bigger, and defensive focus is much higher. So 40-point individual outbursts are hardly expected, but you never know, especially if the talent is there. And all four tournaments have plenty of individual talent to offer. So let's have a look at the most intriguing individual players for each Qualifying Tournament.

Luka Doncic

Luka  Doncic
Team: Dallas Mavericks
Position: SG
Age: 22
Height: 201 cm
Weight: 99 kg
Birth place: Slovenia

Kaunas, Lithuania

Luka Doncic – fresh off a first-round exit, in which he averaged 35 points, 10 assists, and almost 8 rebounds in a seven-game series against Los Angeles Clippers. What can we expect from Luka in Kaunas? Most likely a lot of the same. Clearly, already one of the best players in the world will undoubtedly be the focal point of Slovenia's attack. Early indications confirm that: 10 points, 17 assists in a win against Croatia. And while his shots weren't falling, expect that to change with expedited training camp. Regardless of his shooting accuracy, Doncic will find ways to score or involve his teammates. So there’s plenty to look forward to Luka's highlights in Kaunas, as Slovenia is gunning for the Olympic berth.

Jonas Valanciunas is another first-round participant in the NBA Playoffs with a young Memphis Grizzlies team. JV followed up his stellar regular season with a solid performance (15 PPG, 10 RPG) in a five-game series against Utah Jazz. One of few true centers who's in his prime, Valanciunas is looking to have a strong showing for the Lithuanian national team. It appears that Lithuania's coaching staff is set on having him and the NBA All-Star Domantas Sabonis play separate minutes. Though Lithuania gave us a slight glance of two bigs sharing the floor in a friendly against Russia, manning the post will most likely be one player's job. Valanciunas is big, Valanciunas is strong, and at this point of his career, he has experience. He's ready. Early indications: 17 points in 15 minutes on 8 for 9 shooting against Dominican Republic (win); 16 points, 10 rebounds in 21 minutes against Russia (win); 12 points (4 for 4 shooting) in 11 minutes against Dominican Republic (win).

Split, Croatia

I'm hesitant to label Mario Hezonja a Draft bust as he's still only 26 years old, but Croatian did have numerous chances with three NBA teams. Maybe he's indeed better suited for the European game as his recent season with Panathinaikos Athens suggests (14 pts)? Our own Giorgos Kyriakidis has it covered in more detail here.

Croatia will most likely face the toughest competition from Germany and Brazil, and Hezonja will be asked to deliver. The deep Croatian team will indeed have plenty of talent to rely on, but Hezonja could be among its go-to guys. Early indications confirm that: 37 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Slovenia and 10.5 points per game in two wins against Puerto Rico national team.

Belgrade, Serbia

Serbia will not have Nikola Jokic, as the reigning NBA MVP decided to take this summer off. But there's certainly no shortage of talent when it comes to the Balkan powerhouse. Enter Vasilije Micic - a newly minted EuroLeague champion, league MVP, and Final Four MVP. In my book, Vasa is Manu 2.0. Yes, you heard it here first. I think when he finally gets to the NBA, we'll be looking at a new Ginobili.

Despite struggling to begin the season, Micic heated towards the end and was absolutely spectacular when it mattered the most. He finished the regular season as the league's 5th best scorer (16.1) and 8th best passer (5.0). Vasa kicked into a higher gear (17.2 PPG, 4 APG and 1.2 SPG) during a five-game Playoff series against Real Madrid. His icing on the cake became 25-point explosions in both semifinal and final games en route to the Euroleague trophy.

After not playing in any of Serbia's friendly games prior to FIBA OQT, expect Vasilije Micic to be ready. He is a battle-tested and a proven winner who should lead his team to the Tokyo Olympics regardless of Jokic's absence.

In addition, keep an eye on a dark horse Ognjen Dobric, who managed a slick 16.7 points per game on a nearly lights-out shooting (80-70-100) in 21 minutes of playtime during Serbia’s showing at the Acropolis Cup in Athens, Greece. The shooting guard has the ability to come off the bench and launch long-range bombs in high numbers.

26-year-old just completed his fourth EuroLeague season with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. Despite not being a starter, Dobric averaged 8.3 PPG in 18 minutes and steadily progressed towards the end of the season. His 45.6% 3-point shooting ranked 13th in Europe's top league. Starting with a contest on January 22, 2021, Dobric made at least one 3-point shot in 14 straight games. It was the second-longest streak among players with less than 20 minutes of playing time (Zenit St Petersburg's Billy Baron had 23).

Victoria, Canada

Despite not having Giannis Antetokounmpo, newly crowned EuroLeague champion Shane Larkin, and recently retired Vassilis Spanoulis, the Canadian tournament is still loaded with potential stars. And you don’t have to look far, as the host team has its most impressive roster since probably Steve Nash's days (however long ago that was).

Interesting decision by Canada not to play any friendly games during their preparation for OQT. So it's anyone's guess as to how the starting five will look and what style of play they'll execute, but look for RJ Barrett and Andrew Wiggins to emerge as their head coach is reportedly hungry for another Olympic experience. Both players had similar statistical seasons (17 PPG, 6 RPG for RJ and 18 PPG, 5 RPG for Wiggins) for their respective NBA teams and should command leading roles in Canada's quest for the Olympic invitation.


Good article. Very informative.👍
whats about Turskis?
JV is the best!

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