Quick Thoughts

1.    FIBA Things: So far the FIBA Americas really haven’t gone down with much surprise but here are some things to note:

-The US is obviously the best team again and its margins of victory have been ridiculous  Still, you can’t take these three blow outs to mean that the US has extended the gap against Spain and the other medal contenders for the Olympics.  Before today’s win over Brazil by 37, the US has played Canada, the Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.  None of these teams won any games against any one but each other (Brazil was also 3-0 against the trio).

In terms of the internal workings of the team, Carmelo Anthony and Michael Redd have led the teams in shots and they both are hitting 50% from three.  In this All-Star type environment, the non-shooters really don’t shoot. Before last night’s game, Jason Kidd has taken one shot in three games and 45 minutes (he hit an open three).  Something I never would’ve guessed is that the guy getting the most minutes before the Brazil game, albeit by a small margin, was actually Tayshaun Prince (62 minutes in three games).  The only player with less than 45 minutes in those three games is Tyson Chandler at 28 minutes.

-Uruguay is a surprising 3-1, led by former Hawk Esteban Batista who has  23 ppg and 14.5 rpg. The only other player on the squad with more than 6 ppg is six-foot guard Nicolas Mazzarino, who has shot really well (15-32 from three).

-Argentina is 3-0 again, even without Manu Ginobili or Andres Nocioni.  Luis Scola has led the team all categories, though he hasn’t looked like a future star.  Carlos Delfino has looked like the most athletic player on the team but even in this setting, he still can’t shoot (11-32 overall).  The most noticeable thing about this team, however, was that they have a pretty strong corporate sponsor.  Not only is Visa listed prominently on their jerseys, you can’t even find the damn country name.  Frankly, it’s a little gaudy.

Forget the US, we look forward to their showdown with Team Master Card

-Puerto Rico looks much weaker than a few years ago.  Elias Ayuso is still scoring but is only 10-29 from three and Rick Apodoca has played very poorly (only 6.3 ppg on 33% shooting).  Big man Peter John Ramos is getting big playing time and has been okay (9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.2 fouls per game).  It should be interesting to see if he can ever develop.

-Romel Beck from UNLV is pretty much the only guy who is any good on Mexico.  Beck is the only player anywhere near CBA level (22 ppg).

-As for the rest of the world, FIBA Europe doesn’t start for another week.  In Africa, Angola, once again took the title.  Angola has now been in every Olympic game since 1992.  The Australia/New Zealand area of the globe is called FIBA Oceania for their tournament, which was only a three-game series between Australia and New Zealand.  Australia took the automatic bid by winning two of three.

FIBA Asia was played mostly in July and early August and had 16 teams from the Middle and Far East.  In the end, Iran beat Lebanon to win the title.  (China had the highest ranked team coming into the tournament but none of its NBA talent ended up playing).  In terms of recognizable names in the Asian tournament, there ain’t many: Ha Seung Jin of Korean (a former Portland big man), Jordan had Joe Vogel (from Colorado State was drafted back in 1996), and 7’5 Jaber Rouzbahani from Iran, who was almost drafted a few years ago.

2.    RIP Eddie Griffin: In more shocking news, 25-year old Eddie Griffin died last week when his car was hit by a train.  Despite being ballyhooed as a huge talent, Griffin had struggled with alcohol problems and it looked like his NBA career was already over.  Griffin played only one year of college ball at Seton Hall but was quite good (18 ppg, 10 rpg, and 4 bpg) where he was remembered for punching teammate Ty Shine.  By the end of the season, Griffin was thought to have burned bridges well before declaring for the draft in the Spring.

The questions were still pretty loud about Griffin that early.  Usually, a young, 6’11 athlete would be a clear number one pick.  But in a draft where unknown quantity Kwame Brown went first, Griffin fell all the way to seven and was promptly traded by the local Nets to the Rockets for three other drafts picks, Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, and Brandon Armstrong (this was a great trade for the Nets, though I actually thought it was a mistake at the time—shows what I know).

In Houston, Griffin had a decent rookie year (8.8 ppg, .366 FG%, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 apg, 1.8 bpg).  After the season, John Hollinger’s 2002 Basketball Prospectus summed up his season thusly: “Griffin is only 20 years old this year, and obviously has the potential to be an outstanding shot-blocker.  Right now the rest of his game has a lot of holes, and how he fills them will determine whether he was worth trading three first-round picks to acquire.”  In 2002-03, Griffin had pretty much the same season as his rookie year, except he raised his shooting to 40%.  Hollinger’s 2003 Prospectus was still skeptical: “Griffin’s odds of achieving stardom as a jump shooter are pretty slim.  The ball spins about a quarter turn off its axis and has unreal amounts of spin on it….Griffin won’t be any kind of star unless he seriously increases his shooting percentage, which means he has to find a way to get more baskets inside.  He’s young enough to make the adjustment; he’ll just need to put in the work in the gym.”

After 2002-03, things went seriously downhill.  In early 2003-04, Griffin missed a bunch of practices and flights and had a publicized domestic disturbance issue (for which he spent almost two weeks in jail) and Jeff Van Gundy had had enough and cut him.  The Nets promptly signed Griffin as a low-risk gamble but he never played a game for the team. He was cut after getting in an incident where he was thrown out of a hotel.  The incident was downplayed by the Nets, but after he was cut there was an implication that he needed some treatment.
The T-Wolves took a flier on Griffin for 2004-05 and he had a season very similar to his time in Houston, which is to say useful but limited.  His numbers fell a bit in 2005-06 but he Wolves still played him almost 20 mpg but things started to really fall apart.  He was involved in a bizarre car crash in March 2006, that appeared to be caused by drunk driving.  Griffin still came back for the 2006-07 season but played only 13 games and was down to 1.4 ppg and was suspended for violating the drug program in January 2007.

The Wolves cut him last March and implied that waiving was with prejudice.  At the time, Kevin McHale said: “[i]t was time for both parties — Eddie and the Timberwolves — to move on.  It just didn’t work out for Eddie here in Minnesota.”  The next we heard from Griffin was about his untimely death.  In the end, it’s hard to understand when the problems arose and where the could have been prevented.  Was Griffin hurt by coming to the NBA at such a young age?  Did he receive appropriate mentoring in his one year in college where he was brought in to make Seton Hall national again?  Ultimately, each person makes his or own decisions but I am sympathetic to the roller coaster life that Griffin went through as big recruit who jumper from team to team.  I can’t say that the high school, NCAA, or NBA don’t try to prevent such problems (both the NBA and the NCAA have very public rules and prevention programs) but is fair to say that his life should be examined to see how, if at all, young players from similar backgrounds can be protected.

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