Jasikevicius shows substance over style in dominating effort
Posted: Saturday August 21, 2004 7:24PM; Updated: Monday August 23, 2004 11:17AM
Sarunas Jasikevicius was too small or too slow or too earthbound or too something when he came out of Maryland several years ago. That's what the pro scouts thought anyway. So despite his reputation for being one of the best pure shooters in college basketball, he was not drafted by the NBA.
So there he was Saturday night, emerging from Lithuania's 94-90 victory over the United States as the best player on the floor. Jasikevicius whizzed no-look passes past the ears of his defenders (the word is used loosely in the case of Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury), yo-yo dribbled his way into the lane, and, finally, hit seven 3-pointers, including a gut-busting four-point play down the stretch. When he finished, his 28 points were better than the collective efforts of America's three point guards (Iverson, Marbury and Dwyane Wade), and he would have collected far more than four assists had his teammates been able to finish on several of his pinpoint passes.
I'm not suggesting that the presence of Jasikevicius on an NBA team would turn it into a instant contender, nor am I suggesting that he would torch Iverson on a nightly basis. (Marbury is another matter.) But the fact that a guard almost unknown in America could outshine NBA superstars speaks volumes about the differences in the makeup of these international teams and the way the global style works against an American team selected from an NBA pool.
Jasikevicius is a shooter; Iverson and Marbury are scorers. Jasikevicius is proficient in using screen-setting teammates to free himself; Iverson and Marbury break defenders down off the dribble. Jasikevicius knows how to get into seams and move the ball against a zone; Iverson and Marbury are clueless about how to play against anything but a man-to-man, where quickness and shake-and-bake moves will win the day. This Olympic tournament means everything to Jasikevicius; Iverson and Marbury make their name, and their endorsement money, in the NBA.
If there was ever a wakeup call for American basketball, Saturday night was it. The Americans played well and lost simply because Lithuania was better, mostly because a guy with an unpronounceable name was unstoppable. The game made me think of something Kevin McHale, the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, told me a while back. McHale said he gets reports from his scouts all the time that say, "We've got to draft this kid. He can jump out of the gym and he's incredibly quick," and McHale will ask them: "Yes, but can they play basketball? Can they shoot? Can they dribble?"
In our compulsion to look for athletes, we've forgotten about basketball players. A very good one beat the U.S. on Saturday night.