On Friday all eyes in the sporting world will turn to London England as the Olympic Games officially begin. Here in Toronto there are many athletes we will be watching closely from runner Simon Whitfield and tennis star Milos Raonic, to cyclist Clara Hughes and kayak star Adam Van Koeverden. On a larger stage we will be watching star athletes like Michael Phelps and the unparalleled speed and talent of Usain Bolt.
Most basketball fans will turn their attention to the Dream Team, seeing if Lebron can add a gold medal to his championship year. Or whether Spain has enough to hand the Americans an upset defeat.
Raptor fans too will turn their attention to the basketball court. Sadly the Canadian Men’s team will have to wait another four years for the opportunity to represent this beautiful country. But there are still plenty of players of note for the Raptors and their fans to keep their eye on and who could have a large impact on the tournaments final outcome.
Jonas Valanciunas C – Lithuania
Raise your hand if you’re excited to see this guy play. Yeah, me too. When not watching Canadian athletes fight for medals I will be watching every game I can see that features Lithuania and Valanciunas.
In many people’s eyes he holds the future of the Toronto Raptors in his 7 ft, 250 pound frame. He has been exciting fans with his excellent play at the U19 World Championships earlier this year and throughout the season with his Lithuanian league team, Lietuvos Rytas.
Now he is on the biggest stage of them all and Raptor fans will be watching with bated breath to see if Jonas is the saviour they all hope he can be.
So far, in lead-up games, he’s played very well, but now he’s going to be matched up against the toughest competition he has ever faced.
How will he respond?
Jonas’s performance in this tournament will be one of the most talked about aspects of the Olympics here in Toronto. It could culminate in a celebration for the Lithuanian team as well as Raptor fans everywhere.
The Lithuanian team has a real shot at a medal and maybe even at the Final. They have one of the most unified teams and most of the players have been playing with each other for a number of years at international tournaments.
Jonas will be the rookie of this squad, but with his exciting play and large frame defending the paint, he is likely to play a large part in whether this team excels or has an early exit.
What will be of most interest to Raptor fans is how Jonas handles his defensive duties against players that have, for the most part, spent time in the NBA. Will he hold his own? or show typical rookie rust? Will he defend well or resort to fouling his opponents?
As a player that will be depended on to defend the basket next year at the ACC, coach Casey and Bryan Colangelo will be watching his defensive effort closely.
We will all have a much better gauge on how Jonas will perform this year after the Olympics.
Jose Calderon PG – Spain
Poor Jose. He’s had a rough deal the last year or so. Trade rumours, injuries and finally being replaced in Toronto’s starting lineup by Kyle Lowry.
Raptor fans will be interested to see how Calderon plays because if he plays well, it may increase his trade value. It will also be interesting to see how he has healed from the injury he sustained at the end of last season. As a backup next year he’s going to have to adjust to less minutes on the floor and playing in the second unit.
For Spain, Calderon takes over as the leader of arguably the second most talented team in the Olympics. With the injury to Ricky Rubio Calderon has been given his spot as starting point guard back. Something he should remember when he gets to training camp. He is only an injury away from being back in charge of the Raptor offense. Things can change.
It will be interesting to see how Calderon leads a team with the talent of Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rudy Fernandez. If he performs well there could be an increased trade market for his services.
Then again, if he plays well, there is also added reason for the Raptors to keep him.
Should be interesting.
Linas Kleiza F – Lithuania
I remember when the Raptors first acquired Kleiza. I didn’t know much about him, other than what I read in the paper and on blogs. Then I saw him play in the World Championships in Turkey that summer. He was incredible.
Kleiza averaged close to a double-double and was arguably the best player on the court in almost every game he played with the exception of the matchup against the US.
I was excited about what he could bring to Toronto, I imagine most fans were as well.
Over the last two seasons however, he hasn’t played up to that level. He’s only shown flashes of that dominance in his time as a Raptor and fans have wondered where that player from the World Championships went.
Kleiza is a strong performer in International tournaments and he is likely to be a key contributor once again for a very deep Lithuanian squad.
For Raptor fans, they will likely be left to wonder once again which Linas Kleiza will show up during the regular season.
It will also be fun to watch the moments when Kleiza and Valanciunas are on the floor together. A prelude of what is to come during this coming NBA season.
Pops Mensah Bonsu F – Great Britain
He’s no longer a Toronto Raptor, but he will always be a dino in my mind. Pops will get a chance to strut his stuff for the host nation at this Olympics. He is likely to be one of their main offensive threats (with Luol Deng) and regardless of the outcome of the games, he should have the English fans on their feet.
Pops plays a style of basketball that a fan can’t help but love. He grinds it out on the court and never puts forth anything less than his best effort.
Though Great Britain is not expected to win more than a game or two, let alone a medal, I have a feeling that their games on the hardwood will still be must watch material. Mensah Bonsu will likely be part of the reason.
It’ll be nice to see Pops play as well. He is missed in Toronto.
Anthony Davis F – USA
The US team will offer many stories in their Olympic run. Who gets the ball? How will Durant and Lebron play together? How many shots will Carmelo Anthony take? But the most interesting thing to look for in this Olympic tournament may actually be the debut of first overall pick Anthony Davis.
How will he match up against NBA calibre talent? How involved will he be? Will be look as dominant as he did in college?
In the end he will likely be as involved as Christian Laettner was in 1992, but hopefully for NBA fans, specifically those in New Orleans, Davis’ play will offer a glimpse of what is to come.
Obviously there will be plenty more to watch at this tournament and other teams like Argentina, France and Brazil will have strong squads focused on the Silver and Bronze medals. Team USA will be analyzed like no other and we will all have the pleasure of watching a team with the two best players in the world play together in Lebron James and Kevin Durant.
Regardless of how it all shapes up, this will be a phenomenal tournament to watch and something great to discuss in the slow, dog days of the NBA off-season.
The Zan Tabak Herald