Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympic Basketball preview

With the mens Basketball tipping off tommorow it's now time to look at a quick preview of each and every contestant. As per usual, the US team is the prohibitive favorite but there are more than a few teams who could take from them their birthright as the world’s best basketball team.


Angola is pretty much the team everyone expects to beat by a Cricket score and it's no surprise here. With 6'8" players posing as centers and 6'7" players manning power forward, Angola will be in for a struggle against the likes of Spain and China. Outside shooting and overall team depth are two other categories the African champions will need to work on before making more headway international progress. The only real positive is that Angola has finished in the top 11 in the last two world basketball championships.

Expected finish Tenth and last place but watch out for Gomes-Cipriano scoring duo, complemented by the shooting of Morais,. Might be the slim chance of them making any noise


Three Countries have won a gold medal in the Olympics USSR, America and Argentina who won it in 2004 the defnding gold medalists. In complete contrast to Angola the firepower Argentina has is largely NBA dominated material Luis Scola of the Houston Rockets, Manu Ginobilli of the San Antonio Spurs (staus is questionable because of an ankle injury) ,Fabricio Oberto, Andrés Nocioni make up the rest. With little youth talent coming through the pressure is on Ginobilli and if time has not yet caught up to this older team. Scola and Oberto are both good bigs in the international game with their ability to hit jumpers, make unselfish passes and do all the cutting, screen-setting and rolling that their offense will generally require.

Expected Finish Defintely a medal but will need to ride their starters into the ground to get gold again.

Croatia Croatia strikes me as the classic "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" type team. The Croatians love to run and gun and can be carried by a different player on any given night. Like the Australians, I would not predict them to medal. At the same time I would not count them out against any team. Forget the days of Toni Kukoc or Drazen Petrovic (RIP) the days of Croatia throwing out waves of NBA ready talent is gone. Some of their top players include 3-point bomber Marko Popovic, deft ball-handler Roko Ukic, scoring swingman Marko Tomas and Zoran Planinic, a solid point guard with NBA experience.

Expected Finish Probably get to the Quarter finals and get some kind of decent draw otherwhise the lack of firepower will be their undoing


Remember in 2000 when the Lithuanians were one missed 3 point shot away from beating the US. At that time my favourite Lithuanian center of all time - Arvydas freaking Sabonis was on that team. Just a quick Youtube plug

Now back to the team. Scoring guard Arvydas Macijauskas and forward Darius Songaila have been important parts of this team for several years but won’t play in Beijing. They still have players like Euroleague MVP Ramūnas Šiškauskas, a trio of good big men (Robertas Javtokas, and brothers Darjus and Kšyštof Lavrinovič) and star point guard Šarūnas Jasikevičius. Basically three concerns for Lithuania ball handling and the play of Jasikevičius. Against the US, Lithuania struggled in even bringing the ball up the court and were constantly under duress.

Expected Finish A Bronze medal not much hope for any other achievement really.


The lack of any Euorleague/NBA player on this roster is unfortunate and looking at their friendly results shows they should be the uncompetitive for this Tournament. . They've lost to Australia thrice by 29, 44, and 23, they've lost to Croatia twice by 22 and 21, and they've lost 75-46 to China. Sure, they had a pretty close showing against Gold Medalists Argentina (10 point loss), but overall they're not a terrific international team. Samad Bahrami is a 6’7” swing man who is the best Iranian player and Hamed Sohrabnejad is their undersized shooting power forward. Center Hamed Hadadi, who is 7’2”, gives Iran some inside punch and will likely be playing in the NBA soon.

Aside from those three Iran mostly boasts a fleet of guards under 6’4”, some of the shoot-first variety and some pass-first. They did beat a Serbian team with some name players in a pre-Olympic tournament but also got destroyed by China.

Expected Finish Ninth this squad could eventually become decent though with Bahrami and Hadadi could lay the foundations for a potential international powerhouse in the years to come but now they are too young and a short on talent.


This is a wildcard team no more no less. They played great against the US, are coacched by American David Blatt who went to Princeton and his team upset the Spannish and Greeks in the EuroBasket Tournament. Players to watch would be JR Golden (a made for TV Movie waiting to happen and an American who picked up Russian citizenship after finding a home on top club team CSKA Moscow, Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa, a talented player with range who just finished a four year stint in the NBA. The rest of the roster is filled out by role players, many also from CSKA, including Sasha Kaun who was a member of the NCAA Champion Kansas Jayhawks last season. The Russian offense is relatively complex with a lot of off-ball cutting and screening that can exploit defenses which don’t maintain focus. There defense is a matchup zone which is a sort of zone-man hybrid.

The biggest question for the Russians is the health of Khryapa. He has a ligament injury in his ankle and his presence on the floor gives them more offensive options and flexibility. Without him, Kirilenko and Holden shoulder more of the offense, a burden which will reduce their effectiveness.

Expected Finish Silver medalists they have good coaching and a good system but their overall talent level means that they probably won’t be able to pull enough upsets to earn gold


Tommorow we see what the Chinese is all about. In the past they have struggled because of the one man show burden but this year will be all different. Yi Jinlan and Sun Yue have developed into somewhat decent second and third options but yao Ming is the go to guy in this one. does have a number of good shooters on its roster (Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu) and a fair amount of height (three 7-footers). They however do struggle mightily on defense and have an underwhelming collection of guards, whose biggest flaw is that ability to handle the ball.

Their offense will probably around getting the ball to Yao and allowing him to work for shots or find one of the many shooters on the team if the defense concentrates on him. In fact all hopes lie on Yao and his potential 30 points and 15 boards per game otherwhise they would struggle on teams who run the full-court press because of a mediocre backcourt.

Expected finish: Quarter Finalists


Absolutely loaded with Forwards who can shoot the three the short 3 point line is definetely an advantage for Dirk. Newly acquited Chris Kaman is also on the team who is a very good low post scorer who will block shots while Nowitzki is a multi-talented scoring/rebounding/shooting/offensive machine. Howvever don't expect much for the germans the serious weakness is at the Point Guard spot. one defensive minded, and one tiny point guard simply won't cut it against the Jose Calderons of the world. The only shooting guard on the roster is 6'1" and known more for his defense than his offense. This German team can pack a punch on the defensive side of the ball, but it has one of the most one-dimensional offenses of any participating team.

Expected finish Quarterfinals, they need to be better than China to get out of pool play. Two stars are better than one so they probably make it. Beating Lithuania, Russia or Argentina in the quarterfinals is not as likely.


There was the concern with this team that the coaches would rely on Andrew Bogut like the Chinese do on Yao and ultimate face an early exit. After their performance against team USA it’s clear that the Aussie coaches do know what they’re doing.

The Australian team, often called the Boomers, is constructed relatively simply. Bogut is the centerpiece and he is surrounded by talented complementary players. In the front court boasts Euroleaguers Matthew Nielsen and David Anderson (one pf the best big men on the old continent) as well as former NBA player Chris Anstey. Anderson, Bogut and Anstey are all capable of steeping out and hitting jumpers from the international three-point line as well as fighting for rebounds and scoring in the post.

Many have criticized their backcourt but there really is some talent there. C.J.Bruton can run the show, feed the post and the like, while Patrick Mills had a great game against the US despite not hitting jumpers. Brad Newley is a nice slasher from the 3 spot and he is backed up by a plethora of players who seem to fit well in the offense, hitting a few open shots, making the right cut and other things that make the action run smoother.

Expected Finish I think this team could be ready for a medal. They have the talent and coaching for a sustained run but will need to jump Russia, Lithuania or Argentina to avoid a quarterfinals game against the US, Spain or Greece which they would almost surely lose.


Fresh off defeating the US in the 2006 World Championships The team comes to being with a more experience and a few minor alterations as one of the top contenders.

Gone from the 2006 squad is dreadnaught center Lazaros Papadopoulos. In his stead is a three headed monster at the center spot. Ioannis Bouroussis provides shot blocking and defense while Kostas Tsartsaris can shoot and provide finesse scoring. Sofoklis Schortsanitis brings power post scoring, is excellent in the pick-and-roll and uses his 375 pounds to set some very solid screens.

Antonis Fotsis is a supremely talented power forward who can shoot, score and rebound and Panagiotis Vasilopoulos plays the role of defensive menace. The best scoring guard on the team is slashing guard Vasileios Spanoulis who spent time in the NBA and has improved his long range shooting tremendously in the last two years.

The best part of this team is its point guard unit which ranks with the US and Spain as the best in this world. Dimitris Diamantidis is a tall point guard known for his tenacious defense (he blocked a Tim Duncan shot in an exhibition) and can effectively play both guard spots.

The best Greek player is veteran Theodoros Papaloukas who at 6’7” can play the one, two and three spots and is considered one of the best players not in the NBA. His 12 assists helped slay the US in 2006 and he will likely cause matchup issues against smaller American players.

In terms of style the Greeks can throw a lot at opponents. They play great defense and, with the departure of Papadopoulos, can now employ more aggressive presses. They also are running more (in the past they reserved running for key games like facing the US) and are no slouches in the half-court either.

The Greeks crushed everyone they faced in the qualifying tournament, winning every game by at least 20 points. One of the biggest edges Greece has is the ability to slow the game down and force top teams like the US and Spain out of their comfort zones.

Also, Fran Fraschilla call them the best team in the world, emphasizing team every time he says it. What this means for them is beyond me, but it is worth noting.

Expected Finish: Gold, this is the best defensive team in Beijing and has proven that they can hang with the Americans.


Talent is the key for this team as they have the second most in the Olympics behind Team USA. They simply boast a bevy of current former and future NBA players, many whose games are built for international play.

They like to play fast, relying on aggressive zones and presses to force turnovers. They key for the team, however, is just how loaded they are at every position.

Swingman Rudy Fernández is a pure scorer and with guard Juan Carlos Navarro give Spain penetrating ability and shooting.

Felipe Reyes, Jorge Garbajosa and the Gasol brothers are a versatile front court which will be important against the smaller US power forwards. Pau Gasol is a force in the post but Garbajosa may be the key as his ability to run pick-and-pops and post skills will cause fits for opposing power forwards.

Many are keeping and eye on Ricky Rubio, a young point guard who may go first in the 2009 draft, since he can make eye-popping plays. José Calderón’s performance, however, will be much more important as he will be trusted to run the offense against a slew of aggressive defenses.

If, against the US, he can show the same care with the ball (i.e. few turnovers) that he did in the NBA, it could be game changing because the Americans rely heavily on running after turnovers. Take away those takeaways and the US scoring machine will sputter badly.

This team got to Beijing with wins over Greece and Argentina in the World Basketball championship. Their last Olympic trip was a nightmare as they went 5-0 in pool play with wins over gold and silver medal winners Argentina and Italy but were upset by a 3-2 US team in the quarter finals.

Best case finish: Gold, they have the talent, but do they have the will and the coaching to get it done?


Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

For the US team that crown is the expectation of this team’s destiny. They are expected to beat every team like they are Angola. Any moment of weakness is jumped on as a sign that they are not as good as their predecessors and why America is falling behind in its own game.

Gold is seen as this team’s birthright and few teams before have dealt more with a situation where second place is indeed first loser.

Is this fair? Probably not. But the team seemed to take it as a challenge, calling themselves the “Redeem Team” and promising to reclaim gold and the superiority that comes with it. Our game can be ours for another four years before the world comes after it again.

The newest question for them is about the construction of the team. Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer were added because they were skilled power forwards, but then LeBron and Carmelo Anthony where played at the four spot.

Only one shot blocker (Dwight Howard) was taken to Beijing but after a few games it seems that more shot blocking is needed since this team tries so frequently to jump passing lanes.

This team as it is currently built plays smaller than its predecessors but is also more versatile. It still doesn’t run much of an offense but there is usually more patience in forcing the zones to move and looking for holes instead of driving blindly into three or for opponents. A large number of their points come from runouts and open court plays made after turnovers, block and even made baskets.

The addition of Michael Redd provides the dead eye shooting the US lacked in 2004 and has already shown a feel for finding open spots in the perimeter of zones.

Defensively this team is as it always is, not adapting to opposing offenses but looking for quick takeaways to feed the running machine. At times in the exhibition season they used their size and strength to throw off cutters, harass dribblers and disrupt rather than gamble. If coach K can harness that and apply it consistently, the US will be much further on its path to gold.

With players like Kobe Bryant, James, Anthony, Wade, Chris Paul and Howard the US should be the favorite and rightly is. It’s still a Tiger Woods situation, the US against the field. The difference is that there are three knockout round games the US needs to win.

They control their own destiny in that they will likely be better in terms of talent than any team they face. One slip up, however, and the humiliation and questions abound for another four years

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