Basketball Canada general manager Steve Nash, right, listens as head coach Jay Triano speaks during a news conference in Toronto on July 29. Triano will get to combine NBA talent with global experience at the upcoming FIBA Americas tournament. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
You may think it's a case of viewing the glass as half full, but not
having Canada's two newest NBA players available for the FIBA Americas
tournament has made senior men's national coach Jay Triano's job a bit
easier. With No. 1 overall selection Anthony Bennett and No. 13 pick Kelly
Olynyk out with injuries, it's crystallized the front court situation
You may think it's a case of viewing the glass as half full, but not having Canada's two newest NBA players available for the FIBA Americas tournament has made senior men's national coach Jay Triano's job a bit easier.
With No. 1 overall selection Anthony Bennett and No. 13 pick Kelly Olynyk out with injuries, it's crystallized the front court situation very quickly. Tristan Thompson, selected fourth overall in the 2011 NBA draft (whom Cavaliers' teammate Bennett supplanted as the highest-drafted Canadian this summer) and Andrew Nicholson, chosen 19th overall in 2012, are cast in stone up front for Canada.
In all likelihood Thompson will be seeing major minutes at centre with Nicholson playing the stretch four, and as the team's camp continued in Toronto this week, Thompson said he's impressed with the improvements he's seen from the Orlando Magic forward.
"He's definitely worked on his post moves this summer, being able to finish with his left hand now," Thompson said of Nicholson. "Before he always went right."
For his part from a shooting perspective, Nicholson is looking for the sweet spot that FIBA's international court might give him.
"I know the international (three-point) line is a little closer, and that's usually where I shoot from in the NBA," Nicholson said.
But while the final Team Canada roster that jumps on a plane for Venezuela on Aug. 16 (the FIBA Americas tourney tips off Aug. 30) will likely contain four NBA players, a big key is going to be those other guys who possess international basketball experience. While the much-talked about day when Canada will be forced to cut NBA players for World Cup and Olympic squads is still a few years off, you get the feeling from coach Jay Triano that this is a golden opportunity in itself to combine the young NBA talent of Thompson, Nicholson and Cory Joseph with the global experience of players like Carl English, Levon Kendall and Jermaine Anderson.
"We've told these guys all along, we've got to work together," Triano said last week. "It's got to be a combination of the European players helping the NBA guys adapt to that game and the NBA guys teaching the European guys what it's like to be a professional basketball player in the best league in the world."
In a way, it's paying it forward. Make sure players like Thompson and Nicholson learn those FIBA intricacies now, so they can assist the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Trey Lyles down the road.
And adjusting to that international game is not always easy. Simply stacking a team with NBA names does not generally work in international tournaments, as the 2004 U.S. men's Olympic team can attest. That's why the role of a shooting guard like English is so important to Canada. The 32-year-old Newfoundlander -- once one of the young guns of the national program -- has been playing in Europe since 2005, and just came off a big year with Spanish club Asefa Estudiantes.
"It's those little things," English told me about the nuances he's passing along to the NBA guys. "Mostly footwork and their steps. A lot of things you get away with in the NBA, but overseas it doesn't matter if you're Kobe Bryant or Tristan Thompson, (the refs) don't care. They're going to call the game the way they see it."
Footwork and floor spacing is one thing, but it doesn't help when there are notable rule differences too.
"Something simple like (Triano) pointed out, when the ball is on the rim," English said regarding the FIBA goaltending rule, which unlike the NBA, allows a player to touch a ball the moment it makes contact with the rim. In the NBA, there's that imaginary cylinder that results in those goaltending calls.
Plus, given the height and hops of some on the roster, that could be a good thing for Canada.
"It sounds easy, but once the game starts [I'm afraid] I'll still be thinking like I'm in the NBA," joked Thompson on Tuesday about the goaltending rule. "So I can do it in FIBA but then if I [start thinking like that in the NBA] it could lead to me getting to the bench."
Thompson was serious, however, when talking about keeping cooler heads and not pulling a Chris Webber, for instance.
"Players can't call timeout," he said, referring to the FIBA rule that only coaches can call timeouts and only through the scorer's table, not the refs. "It's definitely an adjustment we're going to have to make, especially in game situations where it's under two minutes and it's crunch time."
As for the camp itself, the chemistry appears to be very good again -- in many ways reminiscent of last summer's Canada Basketball orientation weekend, also at the Air Canada Centre. And before anyone throws rocks out of the greenhouse about player absences, it's worth noting that Bennett and Olynyk were both in attendance Friday to lend whatever support they could.
It's that family thing that general manager Steve Nash is trying to promote.
"Frankly it's not cool to put yourself above the team, and I think our guys understand that," the Los Angeles Lakers point guard said Friday. "Our players understand that, you may not represent the country this year, but you are still on the team."
Canada gets two tune-up exhibition games against Jamaica Thursday and Saturday at the former Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
John ChickAlmost as cynical as a Toronto sports fan can get, John Chick has been around the NBA and other sports in one capacity or another for a decade, working at outlets such as Metro News Canada, Sun Media and TSN. He blogs on the NBA for CBCSports.ca and wishes Charles Oakley still played.