Batista Opening Some Eyes
Posted Aug 30 2007 2:37AM
LAS VEGAS, August 29, 2007 — Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The U.S. men routed its opponent at the FIBA Americas Championship tonight. The other team fought hard and hung close for part of the first quarter, but the U.S. opened a 28-point lead by halftime. Carmelo Anthony led the team in scoring. LeBron James threw down some nasty SportsCenter Top 10-worthy dunks.
Well, all but one of the above statements is true, as Anthony, the team’s leading scorer, sat out USA Basketball’s 118-79 win over Uruguay because of a sore heel.
On this night, the team wouldn't need Anthony, as his fellow 2003 Draft classmate, James, picked up his slack, going 11-for-11 from the field in the first half – including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc – for 26 points, as the U.S. opened a 66-38 lead and never looked back.
The game wasn’t entirely one sided, however, as Uruguay’s Esteban Batista, a restricted free agent of the Atlanta Hawks, turned in a respectable outing against the NBA talent, keeping his team in the game – for a whopping seven minutes, that is.
“It was really important for us,” Batista said afterward of giving a good showing against the host team, “because for all my teammates and me it’s special to play with All-Stars of the NBA. They’re a great team. We tried to do our best and I think we (played) a good game.”
Rather than describing the art that is the alley-oop, or telling you just how James’ form from long distance has improved – and it has; he doesn’t appear to shoot fading away anymore – let’s talk for a moment about Batista, who may just be playing himself back onto an NBA roster.
“You don’t get a chance to see a lot of these guys play,” Tony Ronzone, Director of International Player Personnel for the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team said earlier this week, “but they go to their national team where they are the star and it helps them in their careers. Their confidence gets back. Esteban played well in the Dominican Republic two years ago and that’s how he got signed by the Atlanta Hawks.”
Batista has again played well for his home country, controlling the pivot against teams with lesser talent there throughout this tournament.
In the team’s opening win over Panama, Batista hauled down 19 boards to go with 26 points.
In its next win, he went for 34 and 15 vs. former Washington Wizard – and generally unimposing figure, despite the 7-3 chassis – P.J. Ramos and Puerto Rico.
Based on those outings alone, some wonder whether Batista could be in contention for tournament MVP honors. I’d be inclined to say yes if his team were able to make the semis and actually challenged for one of the Olympic spots up for grabs. But it can’t at this point. And when you factor in that he struggled against players actually capable of collecting an NBA paycheck – Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert – he’s an unlikely choice for the individual honor.
Tonight’s performance, however, especially in the first quarter, likely opened the eyes of those teams looking to shore up their frontcourt. Batista concluded the first 10 minutes of play with 10 points, on 4-of-6 shooting, and two boards – both off the offensive glass.
“He did a great job,” said U.S. starting center Dwight Howard. “It was something we weren’t accustomed to. He’s really developed into a nice player.”
Shortly after winning the opening tip over Howard, a contestant in this past February’s NBA All-Star slam dunk contest in this very building, Batista showed a number of nice moves – with and without the ball.
“He is a good player,” James said afterward. “I think they have a good player in Batista. He played very well today, very strong. He uses the rim very good. He had a pretty nice game today.”
In particular, Batista found success against the American bigs by getting the ball on the move, working his way from right to left along the baseline and wrapping under the goal to finish with his left hand.
Near the end of the first quarter and with his team trailing only 22-17, Batista received an inbounds pass in the paint, when Amare Stoudemire gambled for the steal. The youngster put the ball on the floor once and threw down a powerful two-handed dunk.
Moments later, early in the second quarter, he caught the U.S. defense sleeping. His teammate, Martin Osimani, recognizing that Batista had a clear back door to the hoop, lobbed the perfect pass, which Esteban threw down in reverse fashion.
The effort, though, was not flawless, as Batista is still a work in progress and was matched up with not one but two NBA All-Stars on this night.
He still needs to work on passing out of the post, as evidenced by the five turnovers he tallied in the game.
Overall, it's been an excellent showing for a kid who must be running on fumes by this point. He’s played every minute – including an overtime session – in three of his team’s seven games and 38 of another. Tonight, with the outcome decided early, Batista got a breather and logged only 24 minutes – likely charging the batteries for tomorrow’s must-win match with Brazil.
At stake – beyond an NBA roster spot – is fifth place in this tournament, ensuring Uruguay another shot at Beijing by playing in the World Pre-Olympic qualifying tournament next summer.