The top five performers of the men's basketball tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Getty Images)
The men's basketball tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics is now behind us, with the U.S. winning its second straight gold, Spain taking its second straight silver and a new rising international basketball power in Russia earning a bronze for its first medal since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. Dozens of players competed hard and well over the course of the two-week tournament, but which performers stood above the rest? Hit the jump for Fourth-Place Medal's All-Olympic Men's Basketball Team, plus a few near misses and some dudes I just dug watching.
• Kevin Durant, United States: You've got to include London's leading scorer and the new holder of the record for most points scored by an American during a simple Olympic tournament, right? Durant fell for the FIBA 3-point line (which, at 22 feet, 1.7 inches, is more than a foot closer to the basket than the 23-foot-9-inch NBA line) en route to roasting the competition at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, and continued his love affair from long range in London.
Sixty-five of his 101 field-goal attempts in Team USA's eight games came from beyond the arc ... which might make him seem like a selfish and unrepentant gunner if, y'know, he didn't hit 34 of them, a 52.3 percent mark from 3-pointers, which is a pretty efficient way to score, if you ask me. (That's also twice as many as any American has ever hit in an Olympic tournament, according to the @NBAHistory Twitter account.) He went through multiple stretches (most notably during the third quarter of Team USA's pool-play finale against Argentina) where the long-distance attempts just seemed like obvious, too-easy gimme putts. My Ball Don't Lie and Fourth-Place Medal colleague Eric Freeman was right to say that we didn't necessarily learn anything new about Durant by watching his eight-game scoring spree, but he exits London having proven that he is, without question, the best scorer in the world. (The 46 rebounds, second on the team only to Kevin Love, were a nice added touch, too.)
• Andrei Kirilenko, Russia: For NBA fans who hadn't seen Kirilenko since leaving the Utah Jazz following the 2010-11 season to return to Russia and play for Euroleague power CSKA Moscow, the Olympics offered a fantastic refresher course in his jack-of-all-trades game. Kirilenko was a near-constant in London, playing a tournament-high 273 minutes and trailing only Great Britain's Luol Deng in minutes averaged per game as he paced Russia to bronze, its first medal-stand finish since the fall of the Soviet Union.
During Russia's 6-2 trip, Kirilenko showcased his defensive acumen, netting 15 steals (second-most in the tournament, behind only U.S. point guard Chris Paul) and 14 blocks (second only to Tunisia center Salah Mejri) in eight games; his instincts on the glass, where he averaged 7.5 rebounds per game (eighth-best in the tourney), and especially on the offensive boards (only Team USA's Kevin Love and Brazil's Anderson Varejao grabbed more teammates' misses); and his ability to score, averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game (sixth-highest in the competition) primarily by working tirelessly off the ball to find daylight along the baseline and seams through which to make smart cuts in coach David Blatt's Princeton-inspired offense.
The 31-year-old forward is never going to be a dominant scorer — he did much of his scoring early in games or just after halftime in spurts of activity sparked by Russia's frequently stifling defense, and less so late, due to his dodgy deep jumper and inability to consistently beat defenders one-on-one — but he remains a gifted, multifaceted talent capable of impacting all phases of a game and doing quite a bit of damage against lesser defenses that allow him to beat them with his frenetic pace (looking at you, Great Britain). Plus, even after a long summer of service for his national side, he says feels "like a young deer." That has to be good, right?
• Manu Ginobili, Argentina: Others may have done nearly as much, but no Olympic performer can claim to have done more for his national team than Ginobili. He was Argentina's high scorer in five of eight games, leading the team with an average of 19.4 points per game — third-most in the tournament, just one point behind Kevin Durant for the overall Olympic scoring title — and serving as the team leader in rebounds (5.4) and steals (1.6) per game. He also finished second in minutes played (242, behind only Carlos Delfino's 253), assists (33, trailing starting point guard Pablo Prigioni by just six) and 3-point shooting (44.2 percent, just behind Leo Gutierrez's 44.8 percent among Argentines who took more than two shots from deep).
• Pau Gasol, Spain: Similarly to Ginobili, Pau was Spain's home base, the place it would look whenever it needed an answer. And throughout the tournament, he had it, leading a Spanish team without point guard Ricky Rubio to its second consecutive silver medal.
Gasol led Spain in minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, and rebounds, and tied for the team lead in assist. His 19.4 points per game were good for fourth in the tournament; his 7.6 rebounds per game tied for sixth. As I wrote earlier Monday, his 24-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist gold-medal game against the U.S> — and especially his dominant 15-point third quarter — cemented his status as the best post-up big man in the world and reminded NBA viewers used to watching him play second (or third, or fourth) fiddle that, when used as the focal point of an offense, he's as destructive an option as there is in the post.
• LeBron James, United States: Duh.
We've already spoken at length here, here and here (and briefly here) about the all-court brilliance of James' performance during Team USA's run through London, and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski has already correctly christened the past year the Season of LeBron, so we'll stand on those bits of analysis and just remind you of the numbers — 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals in just 25 minutes per game (that'd be just over 19/8/8/2 per-36), a 45-8 assist-to-turnover ratio in eight games, a 60.3 percent mark from the field — and note that they don't tell the whole tale. Not by a long shot.
THE NEXT FIVE
• Alexey Shved, Russia: It was an up-and-down tournament for the 23-year-old Russian guard. At times, Shved looked brilliant — 16 points, 13 assists, six rebounds, three steals against Great Britain; 14 points, six assists, two steals against China; that sensational 25-7-5 line in the bronze-medal game against Argentina. At times, he looked disastrous — the 2-for-12 shooting against Lithuania, his pair of poor performances against Spain (seven scoreless minutes in pool play, two points on six shots in 26 quiet minutes in the semifinals). Against Brazil, he was a little of both, notching 17 points with six assists and three rebounds, but coughing the ball up six times in 30 minutes, too. But no player in the tournament outside the U.S. roster was as daring, as exciting or as exhilarating as often as Shved was; watching him in the NBA this season is going to be a real treat.
• Patty Mills, Australia: A tournament-leading 21.2 points per game (albeit on just 42.2 percent shooting) as the catalyst of Australia's quick-trigger transition offense, a tournament-high-scoring 39-point explosion to beat host nation Great Britain, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to pace a signature win over eventual bronze medalist Russia, and a 26-point, six-rebound perfomance against the eventual gold medalists in the tournament quarterfinals? Not a bad trip for Mills, who'd done his country proud before ever setting foot on the floor.
• Marcelinho Huertas, Brazil: Maybe I'm just biased toward point guards. But watching the 29-year-old Huertas, frequently feted as the best point guard not playing in the NBA, turn Tiago Splitter into a legitimate scoring threat near the basket during Brazil's run to the quarterfinals was sensational. Huertas' pace in the halfcourt, control in the pick-and-roll game, court vision in transition and ability to complete passes others might not attempt made him a gripping watch throughout the tournament, and while Brazil came up just shy of the medal round, Huertas showed in the five-point loss to Argentina that he's willing and able to call his own number when needed, scoring 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting. (Just lay off the one-foot 3-pointers late in the fourth, OK, Marcelinho? There's such a thing as too much swag.)
• Luis Scola, Argentina: Scola's been arguably the most consistent low-post scorer in international competition over the last 10 years, and while he wasn't quite as dominant a force in London as he's been in years and tournaments past, he still gave opposing front lines all they could handle, averaging 18 points per game to team with Ginobili in giving Argentina the most potent one-two scoring punch in the tournament (non-U.S. division).
• Luol Deng, Great Britain: Led Great Britain in minutes, points, field-goal attempts, free throws attempted and made, defensive rebounds, steals and assists, (predictably) led the tournament in minutes per game and led the host nation to its first win at an Olympic Games since 1948. Now please: Go rest, Lu.
GUYS WHO WERE FUN
• Wang Shipeng, China: Twenty-one of the 29-year-old shooting guard's 32 field-goal attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc, and he hit 13 of them, a tournament-high 61.9 percent mark from downtown. For one thing, his hot shooting kept winless China (for a little while, at least) in a couple of games in which it had no business competing. For another, completely conscience-less gunners are awesome.
• Sasha Kaun and Timofey Mozgov, Russia: Individually, neither the former Kansas star nor the Denver Nuggets pivot are all that highly regarded in NBA circles, but together, they gave Russia a formidable tandem in the middle, combining for 17.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 38 minutes per game on 58.3 percent shooting. Watching Kaun bully opposing pivots to get deep post position and Mozgov hit baseline jumpers over defenders was surprising; seeing Kaun looking like the lead singer of Arcade Fire was downright shocking. (Then again, Win Butler's been known to ball.)
• Salah Mejri, Tunisia: The 7-foot-1 big man was one of only two players (along with China's Yi Jianlian) to average a double-double in Olympic play, kicking in 10.4 points and 10 rebounds per game for a Tunisia team that earned a measure of respect in London by coming out of the gate strong against Team USA, holding a 14-point lead over Argentina after 10 minutes and hanging tough until the very late stages of losses to Nigeria, France and Lithuania. He led the tournament with 17 blocks in just five games and showed the kind of explosiveness and athleticism that help you understand why the Utah Jazz extended Mejri a Summer League invitation earlier this year. Mejri's awful raw for a 26-year-old, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him again — whether with a larger European club or perhaps in the NBA D-League — sometime soon.
• Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes, Australia: Watching Dellavedova (a 21-year-old, 6-foot-4 guard who's still enrolled at St. Mary's College of California) and Baynes (a 25-year-old, 6-foot-10 center who plays in Greece) hook up on pick-and-roll alley-oop dunks was one of the neatest little thrills of the tournament. I'm not sure if Boomers coach Brett Brown always called it, but it seemed like every time Baynes came off the bench and checked in, within two possessions and without fail, the two would hook up on a little foul-line extended screen that would result in Baynes rolling hard to the rim and corralling a lob. It got to the point where, after having drilled it into my head that I was going to wake up at 3:45 a.m. Eastern to watch every game, no matter what, and catching a couple of early-morning Aussie contests, I was waiting for it as soon as I saw Baynes get up, and I was never disappointed.
Like Mills before him, Dellavedova might get an NBA look coming out of St. Mary's as a tough point guard with pace who can shoot it a little bit; at 25 without much of a developed offensive game and a Euro career underway, it seems unlikely that Baynes will wind up stateside. Whether or not I see them again, though, they provided at least one viewer with a reliable bit of entertainment throughout their stay in London. Good on ya, mates.
Want to weigh in? You can reach Dan at devine (at) yahoo-inc.com or let him know on Twitter.
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