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Surprises And Disappointments Of The 2014 FIBA World Cup Group Stage

The 2014 FIBA World Cup group stage didn't bring too many surprises, with the quite predictable result of all favorites reaching the quarterfinals and will continue to fight for the gold in Madrid and Barcelona, while Iran, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Philippines, Ukraine, Finland, Angola and South Korea head home early.

After all of the teams played five games and got ready for the playoffs, RealGM took a look at some of players, who despite their team success struggled to reach expectations, and others, who unexpectedly were very productive.

Surprises 

- Aron Baynes (Australia): 17.2 points and 7 rebounds per game.

Best performance: 21 points (8-for-13 on FG) and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes against Slovenia.

Aron Baynes continues to build his confidence which now turned him into one of the best centers in FIBA World Cup. Baynes more than doubled his statistical numbers from 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 2012 Olympics to 17.2 points and 7 rebounds in FIBA World Cup group stage. Considering that Baynes is 27-year-old, Patty Mills and Joe Ingles, two surprises of 2012 Olympics, both are 26, in 2019 FIBA World Cup Australia will be no less than a medal contender. 

- Andray Blatche (Philippines): 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds per game.

Best performance: 25 points (9-for-16 on FG) and 14 rebounds in 37 minutes against Puerto Rico.

The best rebounder of FIBA World Cup, Andray Blatche made his name known on the international scene. It was obvious that Blatche would be the key piece of Philippines national team, but very few expected that he would record a double-double in every single match he played in Spain. In five games, Blatche scored no less than 14 points and collected no less than 12 rebounds in each of them, helping the Phillipines achieve their first World Cup victory in 40 years. 

- Dario Saric (Croatia): 13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Best performance: 15 points (6-for-9 on FG), 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 28 minutes against Senegal.

Transitioninig from youth basketball to the highest levels of the world - Dario Saric never heard about it. It’s been only the second offseason that the 20-year-old big man joined the Croatian national team, but Saric has became one of the key players almost instantly. Same as Baynes, Saric doubled his statistical numbers compared with 2013 EuroBasket and was unexpectedly consistent - Saric scored in double-digits in every of five games he played.

- Gorgui Dieng (Senegal): 18 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

Best performance: 27 points (8-for-14 on FG), 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 40 minutes against Croatia.

The 24-year-old Minnesota Timberwolves’ big could be called not just a surprise, but a true sensation of the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Dieng helped his team win two group games and advance to the playoffs, while averaging 18 points and 11.4 rebounds. The 27-point performance against Croatia has sparked the U.S. media to talk about why Dieng will be a future All-Star and why Timberwolves should now move Nikola Pekovic.

- Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia): 14.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Best performance: 21 points (8-for-13 on FG) and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes against France.

Recently waived by the Los Angeles Clippers, Miroslav Raduljica has definitely raised his stock after a very solid performance in FIBA World Cup group stage. The 26-year-old Raduljica didn’t score more than 14 points in a single game last season, while in this championship the Serbian big man averages 14.2 points after scoring in double-digits in every of five games he took part in. It seems that Raduljica is not ready to give up his NBA dreams, but in case that happens, he is now one of the most wanted big men in the European market. 

Disappointments

- Derrick Rose (USA): 5.4 points, 2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.

Worst performance: 2 points (0-for-4 on FG), 0 assists, 2 turnovers in 17 minutes against Turkey.

So far the recent videos demonstrating Derrick Rose’s incredible physical capabilities has not turned into reality. Even though the US has been dominant, Rose struggle to score as he made only eight out of his 32 field goal attempts and has missed nine of 10 3-point attempts. However, Rose and Team USA coaching staff do not seem to be surprised as missed shots and turnovers normally comes with not playing for two years.

- Mickael Gelabale (France): 5.8 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 4 points and 1 rebound in 24 minutes against Spain.

Mickael Gelabale, currently a free agent, recently received interest from European powerhouses and NBA teams, which planned to watch Gelabale perform in FIBA World Cup. So far the experienced 31-year-old forward has been struggling to find ways to score as Gelabale averages career-low 5.8 points per game. In his first five games, Gelabale did not had a single double-digit scoring game and went to the free throw line only twice.

- Nenad Krstic (Serbia): 4.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 2 points, 1 rebound in 6 minutes against Spain.

Nenad Krstic has been in decline over the past few seasons but his role with the Serbian national team has changed even more dramatically. Krstic’s playing time was limited due to his poor conditioning, which was mainly caused by a knee injury. It is uncertain if Krstic, who averaged 15.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2013 EuroBasket, will get in shape soon, but for now he remains overshadowed by Raduljica and spends most of the time off the court supporting his teammates.

- Nicolas Batum (France): 9.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 11 points (5-for-15 on FG), 1 rebound and 2 assists in 29 minutes against Spain. 

Nicolas Batum was unstoppable in 2012 Olympics and was a big piece of gold-winning French national team in 2013 EuroBasket. After Tony Parker announced his decision to have rest this summer, Batum was expected to step up once again and carry this team on his back. So far, Batum is averaging career-low 9.2 points per game, shooting only 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. If France has intentions to go any further than quarterfinals, they definitely need bigger contribution from their leader Batum.

Renaldo Balkman (Puerto Rico): 12.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

Worst performance: 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 minutes against Philippines. 

As Carlos Arroyo was sidelined for the most part of FIBA World Cup group stage, Renaldo Balkman had a chance to put up MVP-worth numbers as he did in 2013 FIBA Americans where he averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds per game. However, after putting 23 points and five rebounds performance against Greece, later Balkman scored just two points in a win against Philippines and just six points in a do-or-die type of game versus Croatia. That was not enough to beat Croatia and advance; therefore Balkman together with Puerto Rico had to go home early.

RealGM Interview: Goran Dragic Of The Suns

After twisting his left ankle six times last season and making the Phoenix Suns nervous, Goran Dragic is still not going to have a break this summer and disappoint his people in Slovenia as he prepares for the upcoming FIBA World Cup, the third in his career.

Dragic, a national hero of Slovenia, will be the face and the leader of a younger national team, which will compete in group D with Angola, Australia, Lithuania, Mexico and South Korea. The 28-year-old point guard is coming to the World Cup after having a career season as he averaged 20.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.

RealGM caught up with Dragic in Europe to talk about the Suns’ offseason, Slovenian basketball, what is it like to play with his brother and much more.

RealGM: First of all, have you been following Suns’ offseason moves closely? How do you like your new assets?

Dragic: Of course. It is going to be a different team than last year. We lost Channing Frye, who was a big piece of our starting lineup. But they brought in new players, Isiah Thomas at the point guard, Anthony Tolliver who will play at four. I believe we will have the same structure as the last year. It is going to be an exciting season. Jeff [Hornacek] is a great coach and it is going to be his second year as a head coach. I think we will grow, we will be better and hopefully we will make the playoffs.

RealGM: What is your regular routine when you find out about new players coming to the Suns?

Dragic: All the players in the NBA, we know each other. If they play a lot, every time you have a game against them you have to prepare yourself, how you are going to defend. Basically, you know them well. But I do check rookies who come from college. I do not watch college games, therefore I have to check them out, go to YouTube and see some highlights. But of course, sometimes highlights might be tricky. At the same time, we have a great group of new guys and every new addition is welcome and hopefully we will be a better team.

RealGM: Do you stay in touch with Eric Bledsoe? Do you receive information about his situation and do you pay attention to it?

Dragic: I follow him on Twitter. I talked with Jeff couple of weeks ago and they still didn’t know if they are going to offer him a contract. We are waiting for his decision. But I think he is a big part of this team. He was great last year and we played together well. I hope he will sign for the next year.

RealGM: After you saw the Suns' moves this offseason, do you feel your team has potential to win more than 48 games next season?

Dragic: Yeah, why not? I’m always very optimistic. It is going to be hard, of course. But playing in the West is so tough. Last season we won 48 games and if we were in the East, we had been the third seed. That’s basketball. I would take fewer minutes if we make it to the playoffs. Minutes don’t matter for me as long as team is playing well. The main goal is to make it to the playoffs because two seasons ago we were losing a lot, last year we won 48 games and now we are in the different situation.

RealGM: I heard about the restrictions from the Suns for you to play five international friendly games under 25 minutes in each. What is your opinion about some of NBA GMs intentions to prohibit their players to play for their national teams?

Dragic: I understand them. They pay me a lot of money and they are scared. Last year I had many troubles with my ankles. I twisted my left ankle six times. They are a little bit nervous but at the end, it is always nice to play for the national team. Every organization has a different opinion. Me and the Suns, we made an agreement and that was great.

RealGM: Is it difficult to negotiate with an NBA team on the terms of playing for the national team?

Dragic: It is difficult because on one side you have an organization that is paying you and on the other side, you have your people. I always like to play for my people, the national team and it is tough. But I think if you sit down and you talk with them, you can make an agreement. That’s why I’m really happy and grateful for the Phoenix Suns. They allowed me to play and I think I can gain more experience here. Also I can get in better shape for the next year. 

RealGM: What is it like to play with your brother on the same team? Do you spend much time together?

Dragic: He plays in Malaga [Unicaja] and I play in the NBA, therefore I do not see him a lot. It is very nice when you play together for the same country. When we were kids, we were always close, always together. It is a special moment when we are together on the court. I wish that he could be even in the NBA if that’s possible. He is improving, he had a great year in Malaga and I’m waiting for him in the NBA.

RealGM: Last season you won the NBA Most Improved Player Award. In your opinion, what was more influential for your game, your improvement physically or mentally?

Dragic: I think I just got more chances. I was always like that. It was hard for me in Phoenix because I was behind Steve [Nash]. He’s the best point guard in the league, all the expectations and everything… Usually I got 15 minutes in the game and it is very difficult to do something in that time. I think trading me to Houston was a very good thing for me because I got more playing time. It is difficult to explain, but in those 15 minutes you usually rush to do something good because you want to prove that you can do good. But when you get more minutes, you are relaxed, you are not rushing and you’re waiting for game to come to you. I think that was the main difference.

RealGM: Talking about the Slovenian national team, how does the preparation go so far?

Dragic: So far it has been awesome. We have a very young team, a lot of young guys. It is different from the last year. Our two important players have retired, Jaka Lakovic and Bostjan Nachbar. But at the same time, I feel we have young legs. We can run, we can defend. Hopefully we will build that chemistry that we need and we will get good result at the world championship.

RealGM: It seems that Slovenia always struggles to have the best possible players on their roster. Have you ever thought what if Slovenia would have avoided all the drama?

Dragic: All the time. All the time. You’re dreaming someday to win a medal, doesn’t matter what kind, bronze, gold or silver. I think we had a great team for that but we always had some other issues. Every time we try do bring all the players, we fail. That was our biggest problem. However, every player is the owner of his body, therefore it’s up to him to decide whether he wants to play or not.

RealGM: Do you see yourself finishing career in Europe? Do you miss European basketball?

Dragic: Yeah, why not? For the second part, I wouldn’t say I miss European basketball. I’m not that kind of player anymore. This will be my seventh year in the NBA and I’m really enjoying every moment. It’s players’ league, you have one practice everyday and a lot of games. I don’t want to say that I will never comeback to Europe but probably if I have a chance, I will retire in the NBA.

Euroleague Interview: Martynas Pocius Of Galatasary

After dealing with injuries and playing in only 27 games during 12-13 season, 28-year-old guard Martynas Pocius revived his career in Kaunas where he was one of the key players for Lithuanian champion Zalgiris.

Pocius played the best game of his career against Galatasaray last season, a team he will join for 14-15 season, scoring 26 points and along with four rebounds. The Lithuanian national team and former Duke University guard also managed to make seven threes in a single game against Strasbourg and repeat Zalgiris Euroleague record in that category. Pocius averaged 10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 23 minutes in Euroleague and helped Zalgiris to reach Top 16 stage.

RealGM caught up with Pocius in Kaunas during the Lithuanian national team training camp to talk about being raised in sportsmen family, development of young players, 2014 FIBA World, future with Galatasaray and more.

RealGM: First of all, what was it like to grow up in a family of athletes?

Pocius: The main difference between a regular family and mine was that I was always surrounded by sports. At the same time, it is more difficult because my father was a professional basketball player and if a father wants to make a good basketball player of his son, he wakes him up every morning and takes him to the basketball court. I had to train there and it didn’t matter if I wanted that or not. He knew that I needed that, while a regular dad who does not know much about the game maybe would not do the same thing. Apart from this, I don’t think it differs a lot. When you are a kid, everyone supports you and wishes you all the best.

RealGM: Did you feel at the time that your habits came from your family were different than your friends?

Pocius: Of course. Everything was related with basketball. Before going to school, I always went to the basketball court. While everybody sleeps, you make shots. Then you go to school and afterwards you cannot spent too much time playing outside because I had to do my homework before the evening training. I was always busy because those extra trainings took my time.

RealGM: I read that your move to the U.S. in 2003 was very spontaneous. Do you remember how that happened?

Pocius: It all happened after I attended Steponas Kairys' basketball camp in Silute. I went there for only one day and he really liked what he saw. In a week or ten days I was already in the U.S. and I didn’t expect everything to happen so quickly.

RealGM: Usually basketball coaches emphasize the importance of giving playing time for young players. However, you did not get many chances to play while you were at Duke, but you still developed yourself into a Euroleague and national team level player.

Pocius: A basketball game lasts for 40 minutes. But everyday you train at the highest level for two or three hours, this is what brings you most benefit. I didn’t play much and it was difficult for me but everyday I was part of training. I believe that those practices, lessons I learned from Coach K and routine we had there gave me a lot.

RealGM: Do you think that coaches in Lithuania feel too much pressure to play young players?

Pocius: If you have great young players and they deserve to play, then why not. But you cannot play youngsters who are not ready for a certain level just because somebody tells you to do that. If a player deserves that and coach see his performance in practices, he should play. Of course, there are situations when you have to play over 70 games in three or four leagues in one season, and you want to rest your older guys or leaders, then you can give chances for young players as well.

RealGM: While watching you play last season, it seemed that you were slowly becoming a veteran player. For example, instead of driving to the basket, now you more often take a three-pointer or make a pass. Do you feel that your game and decision-making is changing?

Pocius: I agree. At first, you do not think much because everything is new, you can run as much as you want and you want to score. I remember Marcus Brown was telling that I was a great player but I need to calm down and start to think. It also has much to do with injuries I suffered and pain I feel and sometimes because of that instead of driving and dunking, I try to make smarter decision, take a shot or do something else. Before I broke my hand last season, I didn’t feel good but afterwards my health condition got much better. In every team you play, you try to take as much experience you can. I took a lot while I was with Real Madrid, this season I learned from Sarunas Jasikevicius. I try to use my main strengths while also taking care of my health. I feel like I am slowly becoming a so-called veteran player.

RealGM: I see some similarities between you and Tomas Dimsa. Did you have much time to work out with him and give him any advices?

Pocius: We were roommates last season and he’s a great player. It is difficult to say what kind of player I was at his age because that was very long time ago. He’s 20-years old right now and at that time I was still in the States and I did not play for Zalgiris. Despite his young age, he’s already a member of this team, he got enough playing time and he performed really well in practices. I learned throughout my career that the main thing is when you think that you already archived something, do not stop and keep going forward. When you calm down and you feel you’re a great player, then you start to fall down.

RealGM: Moving on to the Galatasaray, why did you decide you join this team and did you have a chance to have a better look at their summer moves?

Pocius: In basketball, you never know where you might end up playing. Before we signed a contract with Zalgiris, both me and the general manager, Paulius Motiejunas, knew that most likely I will leave the team after one season, therefore Zalgiris could get a buyout. It was a great offer that I could not refuse. Also I talked with the coach and he really wanted to see me playing for Galatasaray. I did not see a reason why I shouldn’t sign with Galatasaray.

When I had my health check in Istanbul, I talked with coaches and agents who told me what the roster would look like. I know pretty much all the names while not all of them have been officially announced. I know some of the guys personally as Nolan Smith was my teammate at Duke for three years. The team will be really good but for me it was also important that coach likes me and he wanted to have me on his squad. I really did check everything and so far everything seems to be ok.

RealGM: Is it easier to concentrate on work with the Lithuanian national after sorting out the contract with Galatasaray?

Pocius: It is always like that. I had a contract by the end of first week with the national team. It also helps with insurance. It is not official yet, but signatures are there. Right now I do not think about Galatasaray as everything seems to be so far away. My concentration is on the national team now.

RealGM: Talking about FIBA decisions, what was players’ reaction to the news that EuroBasket will change to a four-year cycle?

Pocius: I didn’t really think about it. When does it start? I hope I’ll still be playing at that time, otherwise it might not be important for me. However, a free summer is priceless for every basketball player. Especially it is tough if you have such long season as I had with Real Madrid. Because of not getting any time to rest, in the middle of the season you start to break down and get injured. Proper rest is very important but it is not up to players to decide and you cannot say, “I’m not coming”. 

RealGM: What are your personal goals for this upcoming 2014 FIBA World Cup?

Pocius: I don’t want to talk loudly about it. However, for the last couple years the most important thing for me is to stay healthy. If I stay healthy, everything else will come in time. I don’t have any high goals for myself as we play for Lithuania and the most important thing is team’s result.

RealGM: Did you ever have offers to participate in NBA summer league? Do you see yourself trying your luck in the NBA?

Pocius: I had two offers while I was with Zalgiris to take part in NBA training camp, but I had a back surgery and it did not work out. Anyway, I don’t have big intentions to play in the NBA. Everything is great in Europe, both playing and money wise. I’m not that young anymore to try myself everywhere. However, if I get a chance, you never know. But I don’t think about it now.

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