The 2011 FIBA Americas are underway, and despite Memphis Grizzlies point guard Greivis Vasquez's game-high 26 points, Venezuela fell to Group A favorite Brazil, 92-83.
Bigs things are not necessarily expected of Venezuela, as SB Nation's Tom Ziller noted in his FIBA Americas preview, though they did hold a halftime lead before managing only 14 points in the fourth quarter, allowing the Brazilians to pull away for good. Our old pal Tiago Splitter - you may remember him from some playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs - led Brazil with 17 points. In the end though, we're talking about this game because of Vasquez, as he continues to build on the encouraging signs we saw last spring.
I am not what you should consider the foremost source of Venezuelan national hoops, yet a look through the roster leads one to believe that Vasquez is the team's marquee, most recognizable player. He's never been an introvert on the court in the first place, and the attention he received during his days at the University of Maryland and during the Grizzlies' postseason run in the NBA playoffs last year likely means he'll be the focal point of any opponent in the FIBA Americas.
This probably isn't something he's unaccustomed to, from his days as a Terrapin where he was often the ACC's lead antagonist to the same fiery on-court persona he carries now. The FIBA Americas, however, provide another opportunity for the Grizzlies' backup to Mike Conley to exert control over a team; to have much of the responsibility for the offensive flow on his shoulders. In 37 minutes, Vasquez made up for a rough night inside the arc (3-for-9 shooting) by going 4-for-8 from three, dishing seven assists to only two turnovers, and getting to the free throw line 11 times, making eight.
With Venezuela, the load is larger than it will be in Memphis. He'll be asked to do a lot for Venezuela as they try and make it out of Group A play. There will, presumably, be a lot for him to do. But it's the experience at another level of competition that he gains and the good returns that his style of play continues to bring that he can take back to Memphis whenever the powers that be get their shit straight. Whatever he can compact and channel into his 15 minutes or so off the bench, the Grizzlies could be that much better off as a whole.
Gasol Steps on EuroBasket Stage
EuroBasket 2011 will begin with the 2009 champions, Spain, facing Poland in the (otherwise) loaded Group A. For Memphis Grizzlies' cornerstone Marc Gasol, it will be another chance to put his classical skills on display. The combination of Gasol's emergence as a big who puts his size to use with an array of scoring options around the basket, along with smooth passing and shooting touch last season put him on the NBA's endangered list of Last True Centers.
You can, if you want, throw in the brotherly storyline because as Marc and the Grizzlies were stunning the league and gaining notoriety, the Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol were, well, also stunning the league. That version wasn't as good for them, reputation-wise, though. The Lakers were swept out of last year's playoffs and Pau was passive and largely nowhere to be found in that Dallas Mavericks series. One could say that EuroBasket is an opportunity for Marc to take a step above Pau. But, being a few NBA Finals championships and a few years of consistency behind, it's a lacking argument. And it's missing the bigger picture.
The Memphis Grizzlies, if they want to keep the nucleus of their potentially-budding Western Conference challenger intact, need to resign Gasol whenever an action like that is allowed to take place. He's developed with the Grizzlies into the type of paint presence that stands out more and more in the NBA. His role, his fit, with Memphis has never looked as right as it did at the end of last year. The basketball world will be watching EuroBasket (nothing else is on, for one) and whatever's left of Gasol's secret will probably be gone. Whenever contract talks begin, signing Gasol will be just as important, but the Grizzlies will have more company than they would like.