Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nicholson and Canada - Podium Dreaming in Venezuela

SHOOT THE 3, 'DREW! SHOOT IT! Magic big man Andrew Nicholson has not only survived his first week ever as a member of the senior Canadian national team, but thrived. So have his teammates as Head Coach Jay Triano's squad finished in second place of the FIBA Americas Championships. I thought Canada would finish 3rd in Group A out of the five nations placed there. Well, they beat my prediction by one spot and are definitely in the correct position to finish top 4 in the competition and earn that trip to Spain for next year's FIBA World Cup.

Canada very well could have finished undefeated had Nicholson not fouled out on Day 2 against a Puerto Rican team that finished atop the group at 4-0. Former Magic point guard Carlos Arroyo went berserk from the perimeter, and Renaldo Balkman showed up once Andrew was stifled by foul trouble. It's a shame because Nicholson in 22 minutes posted 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and went 6-for-6 from the stripe that included Triano picking 'Drew to knock down technical free throws. Best of all? Andrew had his best rebounding output (grabbing 7 boards) of his first round by far against a Puerto Rico squad that I still envision winning the entire tournament. Not bad considering Andrew's debut so-so showing versus Jamaica, which Canada had to win to get off on the right foot.

The really 'AHA!' identity moment for Canada definitely came against Brazil. Follow up a deflating defeat with an unexpected bounce back blowout of Brazil officially announced to the other FIBA Americas opponents that Canada is for real. Canada went from a respectable 10-point halftime lead to DOUBLING UP Brazil in both the 3rd quarter and the 4th quarter. It was the Cory Joseph, Andy Rautins, and Jermaine Anderson show. Although Nicholson didn't post overwhelming numbers (13 points in 17 minutes), he and Tristan Thompson took a lot of Brazil's defensive focus more towards the interior. That opened up driving lanes and the jump shots for their shorter teammates to capitalize.

Now to more negative analysis. The 23-year-old Andrew also managed only block of Week 1 against Puerto Rico, a total that I'm begging to see rise. Nicholson fouled out against Puerto Rico because he picked up a few dumb fouls that included his fifth and final personal foul rather early in the final ten-minute period while reacting out of frustration to JJ Barea stripping the ball from him. 'Drew is still slow on the help defense and is still struggling stopping anyone with a respectable offensive arsenal from scoring. Nicholson's quickness and reaction time does appear better than it did back in July, but Andrew needs to make a larger leap in the athleticism department for anyone monitoring his development to be impressed.

So looking at Canada's fourth and final contest in Group A play, the red-and-white had long secured progression into the second round robin stage. That didn't prevent Canada from absolutely annihilating a Uruguay team that won 2 games more than anyone initially would have fathomed. Andrew led all scorers with 18 points in just 17 minutes of rested play that would surely keep ones confidence up as the quality of opponent rises.

With that said, Magic fans should be thrilled with Nicholson's progress since a 'meh' Summer League. Andrew has added an efficient 3-point shot (5-of-10 from downtown), shown off some pump fakes to his paint game, has unveiled a running floater from the top of the key, and is efficiently making his banking running righty hook. Jacque Vaughn and staff should be quite pleased. Uncle 'Drew was able to lead his nation in scoring in 2 of the four contests - Puerto Rico and Jamaica - and Nicholson looks prime to get tested going up against Luis Scola's Argentina (September 8th) and former Magic man Gustavo Ayon's Mexico (September 5th). If Cory Joseph isn't scoring, it'll be up to Nicholson to grow his team second-best 14.8 points per contest average. Jay Triano won't hesitate to feed the St. Bonaventure's product when you see Andrew's 57.7 FG% from inside the 3-point line in comparison to the Cavs' Tristan Thompson only managing a paltry 38.9 FG%.

So here comes the second and final round robin round before the Semifinals. It's oddly been named 'Group X'. Insert your own jokes. If you recall, again, the top four teams reach the knockout stage...and will have all punched their tickets for Spain. Canada is already overachieving, but now they face tougher opposition. There's Ayon's Mexico that comes first and I now have them replacing the disappointing Brazil (bye bye) as the country that finishes top 4 now. 'Goose' is averaging 17.8 ppg - WHERE THE HELL WAS THIS IN O-TOWN?! -  on 63% field goal shooting.

The hosts Venezuela have 2 victories because of what little home fan advantage they have over their opposition. Seriously, Caracas has been a pitiful host even by FIBA Americas standards. Canada needs to win that. Then comes the toss-up against the Dominican Republic. Beat the D.R. and I don't think the final matchup against Argentina matters when it comes to getting into the Semis. It'll be all about seed positioning, which can lead to odd player rotations and accused tanking.

I think your top 4 will end up being (in order) Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada, and Mexico. So that means Puerto Rico v. Mexico and Argentina v. Canada are your knockout matchups. Winners in bold. I'll then take Puerto Rico beating Argentina in the gold medal match and Canada over Mexico for bronze. Our northern neighbors would go maple crazy if they came away from Caracas with a medal. It's feasible for certain. For that to happen, it means Nicholson needs to keep posing as a massive offensive threat while not being a defensive liability. So far so good.

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