As the Nigerian Senior Men’s Basketball team head into the final leg of their U.S based training camp, check out our analysis of the teams’ progression so far.
Improved outside shooting: At Afrobasket 2015, D’Tigers shot 31.7% from beyond the arc as a team, a figure that would have been much lower if not for the shooting heroics of Afrobasket MVP Chamberlain Oguchi. Take out Oguchi and the team shot a poor 24.34%, converting only 24 of their 115 three-point attempts. This summer, D’Tigers have relied heavily on the outside shot. It was a vital part in their victory over Argentina on July 18th. D’Tigers connected on 15 three-pointers on 43% shooting with seven different players hitting at least one three-pointer. With captain Ike Diogu’s return, Coach Will Voigt was able to throw out lineups of five players who all have the ability to knock down the outside shot. It’s fair to say three-point shooting will no longer be the biggest weakness. The negative aspect of this is that the team tends to fall in love with the outside shot and sometimes it will take the team out of the game as it did against Argentina in the second friendly and the Stankovic Cup.
Ben Uzoh can cause problems for opponents at point guard: Aside from the gifted athletes on the U.S. roster, there is no point guard as strong and athletic as Ben Uzoh in the Olympic tournament. Uzoh’s ability to finish through contact, rebound, create off the dribble, and cause havoc defensively is a major reason why he had a stint in the NBA. Uzoh’s 6-foot-3, 205 pound stature allows him to slide down to shooting guard if needed for defensive purposes. Uzoh has been a starter as of a late but could move back to the sixth man role once Al-Farouq Aminu is cleared to play. The Argentine and Chinese guards struggled to stay in front of Uzoh when he had a full head of steam going towards the rim.
Bench strength: Although we don’t know who Voigt will elect for the final Olympic roster, this may be Nigeria’s deepest squad of all-time. Players like Ekene Ibekwe, Ebi Ere, Josh Akognon have each had solid performances off the bench in the first six exhibitions played. In his first and only exhibition appearance, recently drafted Detroit Piston Mike Gbinije contributed 10 points off the bench in the win over Argentina. Diogu’s return will most likely see Shane Lawal or Alade Aminu coming off the bench to bolster the 2nd unit. In addition to their experience, Stan Okoye and Jamal Olasewere have shown stretches of strong on-ball defense while Andy Ogide gives Voigt another option of a big man who can stretch the floor.
Height may be a weakness but versatility is not: As of right now, D’Tigers’ tallest player in camp stands 6 feet 10 inches tall. That may be a problem when matching up against international 7-footers like Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Pau Gasol (Spain), and Nene (Brazil)but Nigeria’s versatility could play a big role in those type of match-ups. Will Voigt has the ability to counter with length and athleticism. For example, a lineup of Uzoh, Gbinije, Al-Farouq Aminu, Alade Aminu, and Lawal will feature no one shorter than 6-foot-3 inches and tremendous length and quickness. Versatility will be one of Nigeria’s strengths going into Olympic play.
Defense is a work in progress: With players building chemistry on the court and still getting a feel for each other and the system, the Nigerian defense had its struggles defensively in the first six exhibitions. D’Tigers were hurt inside by France’s frontcourt and repeatedly torched by Argentina’s outside shooting in all of their three matchups. It’s not a major issue as of right now with many players settling in but there’s not a lot of time before the first game in Rio. Their best defensive performances came against China as D’Tigers held the Chinese to 67.5 points per game in their two Stankovic Cup meetings. The defense has looked a step slower and out of sync but Voigt and his staff will use these last two weeks to iron out those wrinkles.