Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 4:44 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow @CSNBullsInsider
Instead of vying for minutes in Tom Thibodeau's rotation, it was national pride that was at stake when Joakim Noah and Omer Asik faced off Wednesday. France outlasted Turkey, 68-64, in the quarterfinal round of EuroBasket competition, giving Noah bragging rights whenever the NBA lockout concludes and the two Bulls centers return to the Berto Center.
Asik, however, won the individual battle, finishing with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds, against the man he backs up in Chicago. Coming off a fractured fibula suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals, the defensive-minded Asik has improved throughout the event and while he can't be considered an offensive force just yet, this international experience is affording him opportunities for low-post touches -- although Turkey's offense primarily revolves around NBA forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova, as well as a veteran cadre of guards -- and a chance to regain his conditioning from the injury.
Noah, whose role for France is similar -- Tony Parker is the team's unquestioned go-to player, while fellow pros Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw also have prominent roles -- struggled offensively and with foul trouble in the early going, compared to Asik, who notched six points and five rebounds in the first quarter alone. But the ever-active big man bounced back and made key plays on both ends down the stretch to help France survive a late Turkey run.
For Noah, who has cemented himself as one of the upper-echelon players at his position in the NBA, playing in EuroBasket is a positive based on his participation alone, as it can only help his conditioning after an injury-plagued campaign. On the other hand, Asik can use the tournament as a way to continue his development, similar to how Derrick Rose and other players on last summer's USA Basketball triumphant team at the FIBA World Championships did prior to this past NBA season.
Aside from Asik -- and Luol Deng, who led the event in scoring in the first round and led his Great Britain squad to a pair of wins, despite not advancing to the next round -- here are a handful of other NBA players who might use EuroBasket as a springboard to success next season (whenever that comes), based on their performance thus far:
Nicolas Batum, France: The Portland small forward has long been highly regarded as one of the bright, up-and-coming talents in the league, but has failed to consistently produce at the level some observers expect of him. Playing second option to Parker, Batum's assertiveness has been evident, as he doesn't seem content with taking on a passive role offensively. Defensively, his versatility and athleticism have always been there, but if he can become a reliable nightly scoring threat, it can make a transitioning Blazers team -- still somewhat in limbo with the health issues of former All-Star Brandon Roy, let alone perennially injured center Greg Oden -- that much more dangerous.
Marc Gasol, Spain: No longer just "Pau's little brother," the Grizzlies center is fresh off helping to lead Memphis on a surprising playoff run. An upcoming free agent, Gasol is a veteran of international play and it's showed in his effectiveness. Quickly becoming one of the best players at his position, his size, strength, touch, rebounding, feel for the game and relative youth make him a force on any continent.
Chris Kaman, Germany: A former All-Star, Kaman struggled with injuries last season and reportedly has been on the trading block, as the Clippers supposedly value the services of fellow seven-foot center and free agent DeAndre Jordan over him. While Jordan's potential, youth and athleticism may ultimately lead to Kaman eventually relocating, his stock should be back on the rise after EuroBasket. Teamed up with Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, simply proving he hasn't lost a step and relishing in doing the dirty work down low will make him even more coveted in a league deprived of true centers.
Enes Kanter, Turkey: The Jazz first-round draft pick needed the tournament perhaps more than any other player in the event. After a season playing against sub-par competition at a California prep school, Kanter was forced to sit out his freshman year at Kentucky due to NCAA regulations before being picked by Utah and walking right into a lockout, which took away the benefit of playing summer league. Playing behind Asik and Ilyasova, Kanter has shown flashes of brilliance with a nice mid-range touch and a physical nature that should serve him well upon arrival into the NBA.
Tony Parker, France: Just a few seasons ago, Parker was regarded as one of the league's elite point guards, but a highly-publicized divorce, injuries and an aging Spurs team all factored into falling out of the limelight. But if there was any doubt that he's still a game-changing talent, that's been erased with his play in Lithuania. Parker has been at his penetrating, finishing and playmaking best, leading a team with a reputation for underachieving to an undefeated mark so far and likely putting a smile (or at least wiping off the grimace) on the face of San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.