FIBA World Cup Recap: Valanciunas shines, DeRozan improves

Lithuania takes down Korea, USA topples the Dominican Republic.

Day 5 of FIBA World Cup action wrapped up with both Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and DeMar DeRozan’s (USA) teams emerging victorious. Lithuania beat Korea 79-49, while the United States toppled the Dominicans 106-71.

Lithuania vs. Korea – Game Recap

As one could have expected, the Koreans were no match for the Lithuanians. The most obvious discrepancy was height — the Lithuanians boasted four 7-footers, while Korea had none — though the Baltic Giants were also the more skilled team.

Size dictated Korea’s style of play. Without any discernible bigs to speak of, Korea relied on a five-out, pick-and-pop offense built around generating open spot-ups with some neatly designed sets. The smallball strategy worked in the first half with Lithuania’s bigs struggling to rotate out to the perimeter, but a clever halftime adjustment saw Lithuania opting to switch liberally. As a result, the Koreans were held to 2o points in the second half.

Lithuania eschewed their size advantage by opting to play mostly on the perimeter. Despite both Donatas Motiejunas and Valanciunas boasting in excess of four inches and 30 pounds on their respective defenders, Lithuania ran only a small handful of post-ups. To their credit, Lithuania’s wings played well, connecting on 9-of-21 triples (three were missed by Motiejunas).

Lithuania vs. Korea – Valanciunas’ assessment

Boxscore – 12 points (6-for-7 FG), 8 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 22 minutes played

In some respect, this game reflected many played by the Raptors last season. Valanciunas’ first move on offense was always to establish post position — a perfectly sensible move given his size advantage — yet not once did Lithuania opt to deliver him the ball to set up a post-up. Not once. Valanciunas mostly fed off a diet of put-backs, pick-and-roll buckets and a pair of high-low feeds from Motiejunas. Valanciunas was noticably frustrated at the half, presumably by the lack of opportunities.

Where Valanciunas was most effective was on defense. Of Korea’s 48 field-goal attempts, only eight were attempted inside the paint. Granted, Korea’s prioritization of spot-ups certainly played a factor, as did Lithuania’s strong guard play, but Valanciunas did provide strong rim-protection. He was also solid in closeouts, though his limited foot speed did at times draw the ire of his head coach.

USA vs. Dominican Republic – Game Recap

Welp. It wasn’t much of a game. The States only led by three points after the first quarter due to some extremely sloppy play from the starters, and would have likely lost the quarter had it not been for the non-stop hustle from Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis. From thereon, the States went on to win the final three quarters by a combined 32 points en route to their second rout of the Dominicans in two weeks.

Having now played four games, the United States’ style of play is pretty clear — they’re relying on speed and athleticism to force turnovers and score in transition. Their play isn’t necessarily well-coordinated, nor meticulously executed, but it’s been tremendously effective in overwhelming their opponents thus far. Ironically enough, their biggest hurdle is Team Spain, whose style of play is the diametric opposite, reliant on precise playmaking and deliberate movements. It will be fascinating to see which of the two countries — and therefore styles — wins out.

USA vs. Dominican Republic – DeRozan’s Assessment

Boxscore – 11 points (5-for-8 FG, 1-for-3 3FG), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers, 3 steals, 18 minutes played

On the whole, it was DeRozan’s best showing thus far in the tournament. The 1-for-3 three-point shooting and five turnovers blemished what was otherwise a good performance. As me, Andrew and Zarar noted on the last episode of Raptors Weekly, DeRozan looked shaky and somewhat hesitant over his first three games. That was to be expected, as his role and teammates were both foreign to him. Therefore, DeRozan figured to improve with more games and minutes played under his belt.

He looked comfortable on Wednesday, making a few timely cuts in transition while making solid decisions in the pick-and-roll. He was diligent on defense, with the three steals coming as a result of cutting passing lanes rather than poorly thought-out gambles. Most of his contributions came in a blowout against a team with no NBA talent (Francisco Garcia sat out to rest an injury), but DeRozan’s calmer demeanor can only bode well for both himself and the States going forward in this awful tournament.

Someone learned a thing or two from James Harden.

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