After getting slammed in the first game of the 3-game series against Valencia, Cajasol returned home to Seville for the second game, and your faithful correspondent decided to drop some euros, get himself a good seat and watch a possible future Wizard try to keep the season going at least one more game.
This he did (sadly, Cajasol dropped the final game of the series on a last-second 3 pointer) and while the stat line is hardly spectacular (1-5 FG, 0-2 3pt, 6 reb, 5 ast) I came away more impressed than in other occasions that I’ve seen Tomas play. His showed clear leadership skills, controlled tempo, played smart and defended actively against an assortment of opponents from PGs to SFs. Most importantly, he showed sharp court vision on a number of assists when the defense leapt out to trap him on aborted pick and rolls and when he could beat his man and then kick out to the 3-point line. On the negative side, he shot infrequently and poorly and while he is much better at beating his man with a quick first step (and a nice crossover!), he lacks a certain explosiveness which allows defenders to close off on him after being initially beaten.
A few illustrative comments and highlights:
Valencia started the game trying to post Tomas up on their first 3 possessions with a barrel-chested SG. Good position defense and Valencia goes 1-3. Throughout the game, Tomas guarded and was guarded by a wide variety of types: speedy PGs, burly SGs and traditional SFs. Throughout, Tomas was solid on D, very active at helping out and closing off driving lanes, only getting beat once while watching the ball and not his man. On offense, he was able to get the offense set when playing at PG (he occasionally plays off the ball). As mentioned above, his court vision when both defenders came out to trap him after an attempted pick and roll was excellent and led to one spectacular alley-oop and a sweet bounce pass for a layup to his man rolling to the hoop. As you might expect given his height, he rebounded well and that helped get the team out on the break.
Only two 3 pointers taken during the game, one a key possession with the game close and less than 3 minutes left. Both missed. For a 6-7 point guard, you would like to see some post-up skills, but in the two attempts down low he missed and really didn’t look comfortable. He had one nice basket on a drive after taking some contact.
In the open court on the break he’s fast but at one speed. Still, he didn’t force anything and was consistently able to pick up teammates setting up at the 3-point line. Received his 3rd foul towards the end of the first half when he crashed into an opponent after nicely speeding down court after grabbing a rebound and finding a man for the corner 3. Bad call but to his credit, he played the whole second half with three fouls and hardly seemed tentative.
Smart plays: quickly recognized a mismatch and found the PF being guarded by the PG. Easy two. On D, switched very well after a pick and roll, and as the ball swang to the other side of the court, he grabbed the PFs jersey and dragged him to the ground. Shot went up, PF on ground and Tomas grabbed board.
Dumb plays: A wild alley-oop attempt thrown in from under the basket. A clumsy turnover with less than 3 minutes.
Intangibles: He’s the leader and it showed. The team suffered without him especially missing how he shut down passing and driving lanes on D and handled pressure with the ball.
As it turned out, this most likely was his last game in Seville after coming to the team in 2009 as a 17-year old, and after the victory, the crowd sent him off in style as the whole team, led by Tomas, took a victory lap after the game, reaching into the crowd for deserved congratulations. A classy, sentimental moment of mutual appreciation for both Tomas and the crowd.
Is he ready? Maybe not until he can start shooting better. Having said that, I learned a lesson with Ricky Rubio's jump to the NBA after a pretty drab season with Barcelona. I had gone from a big Rubio fan to pretty skeptical but a wise buddy of mine pointed out something that might apply to Tomas: some European players' game transition better to the NBA than others. Rubio, despite his horrid shot, is much better in the NBA than Europe because he can better take advantage of his elite skills: vision and passing. It may be that Tomas is better off in the more wide-open NBA game, but right now he lacks an elite skill. In any case, it seems that what Tomas wants is minutes. Perhaps it would be better for both Tomas and the Wizards if he takes one more step up the European ladder before coming over.