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Boris Diaw Held No-Brainer Decision To Return To Spurs

Once last season’s NBA Finals ended, Boris Diaw spent reasonable time deciding on the player option on his contract with the San Antonio Spurs. For Diaw, the choice had been made simple far beyond the amount of money on the deal.

With the Spurs, Diaw has close friends and France teammates Tony Parker and Nando de Colo, Gregg Popovich, a stable organization and, most importantly, another opportunity to make a championship run. The seven-game Finals defeat to the Miami Heat disappointed Diaw into the EuroBasket tournament – leading to the conclusion that exercising the option was a no-brainer.

“It was an easy decision coming back,” Diaw told RealGM. “In the Finals, we were so close. I wanted to go again and come back with this team. It’s been a great season this year, and we play a good style of basketball and we’ll get another shot together.”

Popovich watched Diaw, Parker and de Colo closely as the French national team won the gold medal in the summer, noticing an aggressive Diaw who searched out his own offense. Diaw put up 10.4 points a game in 10 tournament games, and he’s taken his assertiveness into this season averaging nearly 10 points. 

After averaging just four points in the playoffs last season, Diaw believes that he’ll need to prove himself as a reliable offensive option – both by scoring and playmaking, two facets Diaw has exquisitely blended into his repertoire over 11 NBA seasons.

“Some games I need aggressiveness, and I have to be ready when the playoffs get here, to be able to be aggressive,” Diaw said. “My shots are game by game, trying to help and contribute.”

Five years removed from playing with Steve Nash, Diaw credits the former two-time league MVP for helping his rise to a firm NBA contributor. The ex-teammates remain friends and Diaw said they exchanged messages recently.

Given their conversations, Diaw anticipated exactly what Nash plans to do: Maintain rehabilitating from nerve irritation in hopes of continuing his career.

“Health will always be up and down, but Steve takes so much care of his body,” Diaw said. “He has a great work ethic. He’s always able to come back and perform.”

10 Most Disappointing Performances Of EuroBasket 2013

EuroBasket 2013 brought many surprises and was unpredictable as quite a few favorites fell earlier than expected. As in every major tournament, some of the players individually struggled to reach expectations and that created an early elimination for some of the teams.

The following is a list of 10 players who underperformed at EuroBasket 2013.

- Zackary Wright (Bosnia and Herzegovina): 3.4 points (21% 2FG), 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Worst performance: 0 points (0/7 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers in 14 minutes against Serbia.

Zackary Wright, 28, did a great job on collecting long rebounds after the misses of Mirza Teletovic and Nihad Djedovic. However, Wright, who averaged 14.6 points throughout the qualification tournament, failed to make a significant contribution to Bosnia and Herzegovina's offense as his shooting percentages were incredibly low. In fact, Wright made only two shots out of 22 attempts in his last four games and soon became a role player for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

- Georgios Printezis (Greece): 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 2 points, 1 rebound, 2 turnovers in 11 minutes against Sweden.

The author of one of the most famous shots in Olympiakos Piraeus history, Georgios Printezis was pretty much unnoticeable at this tournament. Printezis, who averaged 14 points and almost five rebounds in London Olympic qualifying, was far from being a key member of the team and spent most of the time sitting on the bench. The forward only shined in the third quarter of the game against Spain, where he scored all seven of Greece's points in eight and a half minutes. Meanwhile in games against Turkey, Sweden, Slovenia and Croatia combined, Printezis scored only four points.

- Maciej Lampe (Poland): 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 8 points (3/9 FG), 3 rebounds, 5 turnovers in 18 minutes against Slovenia.

Last season was likely the best in Lampe's club career as he averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in Spanish league and Euroleague. However, Lampe failed to reach expectations in EuroBasket 2013 and had difficulties scoring against lower level opponents. Moreover, Poland usually struggled while Lampe was on the court. No surprise, the big man had the second-worst plus/minus rating in the tournament: Poland scored 57 points less than their opponents with Lampe on the floor.

- Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro): 7 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block per game.

Worst performance: 4 points (1/7 FG), 3 rebounds in 14 minutes against Latvia.

Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed 29 rebounds in a single game and set a new Orlando Magic record, once again was far from being productive in European championship. Two years agp Vucevic came to EuroBasket 2011 as an NCAA star, but averaged only five points, 3.2 rebounds and spent most of the time sitting on the bench. The same thing happened again this summer as Vucevic struggled to dominate inside the paint and his playing time became more than limited.

- Jiri Welsch (Czech Republic): 2.8 points (21% 2FG), 1.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

Worst performance: 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist in 22 minutes against Croatia.

It seems that Jiri Welsch's career is coming to an end at the age of 33. In five games played at EuroBasket 2013, Welsch made just six shots out of 30 and grabbed only eight rebounds. Welsch's shooting percentages also went down as he shot only 25 percent from beyond the arc in 2011-12, and just 20 percent in 2012-13. During EuroBasket 2013 in 111 minutes of action, Welsch took only one three-point attempt (!) and wasn't a big threat for Czech Republic's opponents.

- Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey): 7.3 points (11% 2FG, 50% FT), 3.7 rebounds, 2 assists per game.

Worst performance: 2 points (0/9 FG), 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers in 31 minutes against Greece.

The biggest disappointment of EuroBasket 2013, Turkoglu looked nowhere close to an NBA player who could make $12 million next season. Over the past few years, Turkoglu's career has been going down dramatically as the forward was suspended for steroids usage, shot only four percent from three-point range in 2012-13, and now made only five shots at EuroBasket 2013. A couple of weeks ago former teammate and now Fenerbahce Ulker manager Mirsad Turkcan confirmed that his team is willing to pay millions to bring the Turkish star back, but now it's unclear if Turkoglu does belong in the European elite any longer.

- Kostas Papanikolaou (Greece): 6.3 points (50% 3FG), 2.3 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 2 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers in 22 minutes against Sweden.

Kostas Papanikolaou, a hero of the 2011-12 Euroleague final, signed a long-term five million euros contract with FC Barcelona, but the young talent didn't remain a future basketball star at EuroBasket 2013. Similar to Printezis, Papanikolaou was one of the key Greece national team players in the London Olympic qualifying tournament, but this year the forward was not as productive as last summer. Papanikolaou showed some great range from the three-point line (50% 3FG), but he was quite passive and took only 16 three-points attempts throughout the tournament. That means that Papanikolaou averaged 1.7 attempts per game, while his Euroleague average last season was 3.1.

- Jaka Lakovic (Slovenia): 3.6 points, 1.9 assists, 1.3 turnovers per game.

Worst performance: 0 points, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 1 turnover, 3 fouls in 10 minutes against France.

It is obvious that the career of the 35-year-old Jaka Lakovic is coming to an end, but last season the playmaker proved he can still be productive at the highest level. Lakovic, who was playing in the top Italian league, averaged 16 points and 5.2 assists last season while shooting 45 percent from the three-point range. However, EuroBasket 2013 was the least successful tournament in Lakovic's career as the Slovenian guard didn't fit his role to be Goran Dragic's backup. Slovenia struggled while Lakovic was on the court and unsurprisingly Lakovic's plus/minus rating was fifth-worst in EuroBasket 2013 (minus 50).

- Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania): 6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game.

Worst performance: 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls in 11 minutes against Serbia.

In his third straight summer with the Lithuanian national team, Jonas Valanciunas was expected to mature into one of their key players. However, with 20 official games and 290 minutes played, Valanciunas looked more like a rookie of European championships than a starting NBA center. Valanciunas tried hard to use his increased strength that led to unforced turnovers and offensive fouls. The Lithuanian big man also had troubles passing the ball off the key, with an an assist percentage of 1.2. That means Valanciunas assisted only one out of 100 field goals that were made by his teammates while he was on the floor (the fifth-worst result at this tournament).

- Janis Blums (Latvia): 6 points (8.3 2FG), 2.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game.

Worst performance: 4 points (1/9 FG), 2 rebounds, 2 assists in 20 minutes against Belgium.

Same as in the 2012-13 Lithuanian league finals, Janis Blums reminded an unpredictable three-point shooter in EuroBasket 2013. As four out of every five shots Blums took were from beyond the arc, the Latvian didn't put too much effort trying to find easier looks. Blums, who averaged 16 points and was a true leader of Latvia at EuroBasket 2011, was more than disappointing at this championship. The 31-year-old guard made only one shot from two-point area in 170 minutes of action and he became the worst player in this area in the whole tournament.

Jonas Valanciunas And The New Big Man Synthesis

Lithuania, one of the most basketball-mad countries in the world, has long punched above its weight in international competitions. Despite a population of less than three million, they have four bronze medals since gaining independence in 1990. The Lithuanians aren’t one of the favorites at EuroBasket 2013, but they’re off to a strong 3-1 start in group play. More importantly, the tournament is the next step in the growth process of Jonas Valanciunas, their 21-year-old starting center.

Through the first three games, Valanciunas is averaging nine points, seven rebounds and one block in 22 minutes of action. While he’s nowhere close to a finished product, his level of production at such a young age is encouraging. The highest-drafted Lithuanian of all-time (No. 5 in 2011), Valanciunas is the rare gigantic center with both athleticism and coordination. When the biggest guy on the floor knows how to use his size to his advantage, it’s a problem for everyone else.

Before the 2011 NBA Draft, Valanciunas measured at 6’11, 240 with a 7’4 wingspan. Two years later, with his frame beginning to fill out, he looks much bigger than that. He towers over many of the European centers, in the same way he did at this year’s Summer League. Unlike most his size, Valanciunas is no stiff either. His big, loping stride isn’t always graceful, but he can get up and down the floor quickly. In the halfcourt, he consistently plays above the rim.

With his length and leaping ability, it’s virtually impossible to finish over the top of him. In his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors, he averaged 1.9 blocks per-36 minutes. Like most young big men, he still picks up way too many cheap fouls, but that should improve as he becomes older and more physically mature. Interior defense is one of the toughest aspects of the professional game to master, which is why experience like this is so valuable for Valanciunas.

On offense, the Lithuanians initiate a lot of their attack with Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll. Coming off the screen, his soft hands, long reach and finishing ability make him a threat anywhere in the paint. The defense has to respect him when he cuts to the rim, opening up plays on the backside. At EuroBasket, he’s shooting 67 percent from the field, mostly as a hyper-efficient release valve. Occasionally, though, he is given the chance to bust out some post moves.

For a big man with his physical abilities, scoring in the post isn’t rocket science. Valanciunas has the strength to establish position in the paint and the length to shoot over the top of the defense. All he has to do is keep the ball over his head. He’s been well coached, almost never bringing it down low, a cardinal sin for many young big men. With a high release point on his jumper, he has a natural show-and-go move, which could become the backbone of his offensive game.

At this point, however, it’s still pretty raw. His go-to move is a running hook over his right shoulder, which savvier opponents have started to figure out, drawing offensive fouls by cheating that way. The next step is a counter. If Valanciunas can learn to spin off his opposite shoulder and finish with a drop step or a turn-around, he’s going to be hard to defend. The physics are on his side: he has a soft touch and a higher release point than his opponents.

His ceiling, on the offensive end, will depend on his jumper. There are encouraging signs, namely his free-throw shooting: 79 percent in Toronto and 89 percent in his last season in Europe. He looks very comfortable at the line, somewhat unusual for a big man his age. After spending most of his career playing in the paint, Valanciunas could take his game to the next level by becoming a threat as a pick-and-pop shooter, i.e. fellow countrymen Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

While Valanciunas will probably never be as skilled as Big Z, his two-way ability still makes him intriguing. He also has the potential to be an excellent rebounder, as his 7’4 wingspan allows him to operate on a higher plane than most centers. In comparison to Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas, both of whom have proportional 7’0 wingspans, Valanciunas starts with a huge edge in reaching for the basketball. There’s a reason Jay Bilas has a “wingspan” drinking game at the NBA draft.

As a result, Valanciunas is the rare big man who forces opponents match up with him. A center who can’t score is a defense’s best friend, allowing them to zone the paint and play 5-on-4. One who can’t defend is even worse, a welcome sign at the front of the rim. To survive in the modern game, a center has to do both. Many coaches who aren’t Scott Brooks have started taking one-dimensional big men off the floor, creating the wide-open small-ball game we saw in the last two NBA Finals.

Valanciunas represents a new synthesis: big and skilled enough to punish smaller defenders, but still quick and active enough to survive in a more wide-open game. He’s the perfect big man for a small-ball lineup with four shooters on the perimeter. If there’s only one defender in the paint, he should as big and athletic as humanly possible. As long as Valanciunas continues to develop defensively, he can be paired with a Ryan Anderson-type for maximum spacing.

For Lithuania, that player is Motiejunas, a 22-year-old 7’0 who plays for the Houston Rockets. The two should work well in tandem: the outside shooting and aggressive faux hawk of Motiejunas blending with Valanciunas’ more traditional approach. While they still have much to learn, they could become the backbone of the Lithuanian national team going forward. If the country can find another pick-and-roll guard like Sarunas Jasikevicius, they will be a real threat.

For the Raptors, the future is a little more cloudy. Bryan Colangelo is gone, leaving a roster of mismatched parts for new GM Masai Ujiri, who returns to Toronto as a prodigal son. Amir Johnson had his best season a pro last year, but his lack of a perimeter game might not make him the best fit with Valanciunas. If Dwane Casey wants to roll the dice, he could try to open up the floor and go small with Rudy Gay (6’8 230) at the power forward position.

Either way, with Valanciunas on board, Ujiri has the most difficult part of a rebuilding process behind him. When EuroBasket 2017 comes around, he will still be only 25, just coming into his own as a player and with a wealth of experience under his belt. In a best-case scenario, he’s Omer Asik with an offensive game. From Ilgauskas to Arvydas Sabonis, Lithuania has a long tradition of high-level big men. Valanciunas could be the next one in that line.

Europe Interview: Petteri Koponen Of Finland

Right before the tip-off of EuroBasket 2013, Petteri Koponen talked with RealGM about Finish basketball, his NBA dream, first season with Khimki and much more.

RealGM Interview: Jan Vesely

RealGM caught up with Jan Vesely to talk about the challenges he faces in the NBA, his transition period, the Czech Republic national team and more.

EuroBasket 2013 Power Rankings

Compared with previous tournaments, EuroBasket 2013 will be a weaker competition in terms of talent, as a lot of stars for various reasons won't suit up for the championship. But the tournament will still have many top players from the NBA and Euroleague.

Picking A Starting Five From The 27 USA Basketball Minicamp Participants

Paul George, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried received the most votes to be included in their best starting five of some of the NBA's most talented American-born players.

RealGM Interview: Andrew Sullivan Of Leicester Riders

Andrew Sullivan sat down with RealGM to discuss joys and sorrows of the British basketball, his personal career, Great Britain national team, Luol Deng and much more.

Europe Interview: Dontaye Draper Of Real Madrid

Over the past couple of season Dontaye Draper has established himself in Europe as a pass-first type Euroleague point guard with excellent scoring skills.

Kirilenko's NBA Departure And Return

Andrei Kirilenko talks to RealGM about his experience with CSKA, winning the bronze in London, the impact of Mikhail Prokhorov on the Russian game and his initial days with the Wolves.

RealGM Interview: J.R. Holden

J.R. Holden was a European game changer and retired a year ago after a long career with CSKA and the Russian National Team. Now, Holden begins the next phase of his life as a businessman and maybe one day as the GM of a team in Europe.

Surprises And Disappointments Of The 2012 Olympics

Patrick Mills, Joe Ingles, Nate Reinking, Darius Songaila and Salah Mejri were amongst the players with surprisingly good performances in the Olympics, while Matt Nielsen, Jonas Valanciunas, Ronny Turiaf, Al-Farouq Aminu and Sergey Monya struggled.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

Star Among Stars (LeBron's Performance For The Ages)

More impressive than even his stats was LeBron James command of the game. While his teammates restricted their game and played more as specialists, LeBron expanded his. Whatever Team USA needed -- scoring, playmaking, rebounding, perimeter or interior defense -- he provided.

USA 2016 Will Threaten 1992 For Best Team Ever Assembled

LeBron James Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant will presumably be at their peaks in 2016 at the ages of 31, 30 and 27 respectively, and the depth of talent joining them will be remarkable and similarly in their prime.

Olympic Quarterfinals By The Numbers

Not surprisingly, the United States has the highest Points Per Possession (PPP) offense in the tournament. But what must make Mike Krzyzewski the most happy is that Team USA also has the lowest PPP defense.

Olympic Basketball After Day 3, A Look At Player Efficiency

Who has been Team USA's biggest shot-hog so far? Who has been Argentina's weak link? And who has been the surprise star for Great Britain? Time to break out the efficiency stats.

Olympic Basketball Day 1

With Day 1 of men's basketball in the books, which international team looked like Ryan Lochte and which team looked like Kim Rhode?

Why The Lakers Need The Team USA Version Of Kobe Bryant

It makes no sense for a team that has Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant to give a 34-year old Kobe Bryant the green light to shoot the ball at will. The same is true for an NBA team with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Steve Nash.

David Kahn's Rubio Challenge

While the struggles of Ricky Rubio in EuroBasket don’t signal doom for his NBA career, they do highlight his rather unique skill-set and the difficulty Minnesota will have building a team around him.

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