Posted on: September 6, 2010 1:04 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2010 1:05 pm
Posted by Royce Young
Some thought Team USA might have been holding something back in group play. Maybe they were, or maybe they're just hitting their stride.
The U.S. obliterated Angola 121-66 in a game that was only close at 0-0. It was 33-13 after the first, 65-38 at the half and in the end, 55 points separated the two teams.
This was easily the Team USA's best offensive performance as the U.S. hit triple-digits for only the second time in the tournament, scored the most points, shot a sizzling 53 percent and knocked down 18 3s on 38 shots. Kevin Durant and Chauncey Billups did most of the damage scoring 17 and 19 points, respectively, with all of Durant's coming in the first half. Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon both added 17 as well.
One of the most impressive and encouraging aspects of the game was the way the U.S. moved the ball. Team USA finished with 28 assists for their 41 made baskets, a pretty incredible number. Plus, the U.S. only turned the ball over four times and didn't have their third until the fourth quarter. It was near flawless offensive execution for the U.S., something that they had struggled with the past three games.
Angola helped some in getting the U.S.'s offense moving though. Angola didn't play hardly any man-to-man defense, but rather deferred to a very soft zone, letting the U.S.'s shooters have almost any look they wanted. Billups, who came in 4-19 on 3s in the previous five games, went 5-7 from deep. Gordon went 5-6 from 3. Derrick Rose hit 3 of 4. It was a shooting gallery for the U.S. and Angola didn't mind.
On top of the soft defense, Angola also never even attempted to control tempo. They were perfectly content with playing at the U.S.'s pace and as a result, didn't have a lot of of offensive consistency. The game was mainly free-flowing, especially on the Angola end. And the Angolans lack of size didn't help either. The U.S. won the boards 43-23 and snagged 19 offensive rebounds.
Angola's top scorer Olimpio Cipriano didn't play because of an injury sustained against Germany, but Joaquim Gomes had a nice night for Angola. He finished with 21 points on 9-12 shooting to lead all scorers.
Moving forward, there's not a ton to take from the game other than it looks like the U.S. is hitting on all cylinders. Which is obviously what you want to be doing heading deeper into the knockout round. The road is going to be much tougher than it was today, with a likely matchup against a quality Russia squad next.
Team USA has off Tuesday and Wednesday and will play the winner of Russia-New Zealand, who play a little later today.
Posted on: September 5, 2010 4:08 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2010 4:10 pm
Posted by Royce Young
The trip to the knockout round for Team USA wasn't an especially tough one. Though most agreed Group B might have been the most difficult at the World Championships, the U.S. cruised through with only one close call and an overall winning margin of 24.8 points per game.
But now it's serious. Now, one bad half, one bad quarter, one bad possession can be the difference between moving on and flying back across the Atlantic. In the knockout round, it doesn't matter how much better you are than everyone else - you can lose. And you can lose to pretty much anyone. The road to the gold medal isn't a cakewalk and it starts Monday against Angola. So what do we know about the Angolans? Pretty much nothing. So let's all try and learn something here.
How did they get here?
Angola went 2-3 in group play in one of the more difficult sets. Their scoring margin was a negative 12.8 points and their two wins came against Germany and Jordan. Angola defeated Germany by four in overtime and Jordan by 14. A big fourth quarter is what got them by Jordan, and without that win, Angola would be headed home.
Their losses were ugly though. Australia and Argentina both beat Angola by 21 and Serbia walloped them by 50, yes fifty , points. And honestly, it could have been 60 very easily. Angola didn't play Argentina all that awful, but the game was really never closer than 10 after the first quarter. But they did outscore the Argentinians 27-19 in a quarter.
Before you go any further, where the heck is Angola?
Angola is an African country located in the south-central region of the country. It's bordered by Nambia on the south, Congo on the north, Zambia on the east and the west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean. Luanda is the capital city. Most people speak Portuguese in Angola.
Do they have a history of ever winning?
In the 2006 World Championships, they went 3-2 in group play losing only to Spain and Germany, and nearly knocked off France in the round of 16. They are historically one of the best African countries in basketball and have competed in the Olympics every year since 1992. Their best ever finish at either the Olympics or Worlds is 10th. Angola has never had a native player play in the NBA.
Who are their best players?
There aren't any NBA players on the roster and honestly, not a ton of great talent either. Olimpio Cipriano is their best player, averaging 14.8 ppg in group play. He dropped 30 against Germany on 11-15 shooting in their big overtime win. Shooting guard Carlos Morais is their best outside shooter, as he hit eight 3s in preliminary play.
On the inside, Angola relies heavily on Joaquim Gomes, a 6'8 center that scores mostly on effort. His best game was against Argentina and Luis Scola, where he put up 16 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. He's not overly skilled, but certainly works hard on the glass to make up for his slight stature.
Nobody really sticks out in terms of superior athleticism or skill. A couple players are capable of scoring, but there's not really a go-to guy or someone they can count on to eat up the boards.
What do the matchups look like?
Angola is similar to the U.S. in that there's little size on the roster. There is nobody over 6'8 on the roster. Their lineup is guard heavy and relies almost entirely on hard cuts, penetration to kick out on and knocking down open shots. There's really no post presence and they don't rebound well. They want to attack using the dribble and players like Cipriano rely on getting looks off that penetration.
But by being so undersized, there is just no way for Angola to defend someone like Kevin Durant. Cipriano who is 6'4 will likely get the call and that's just an insane mismatch. Their guards a scrappy, but still, matching up with stronger players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon will be tough. A guy like Lamar Odom could be a nightmare for Angola because Odom has size but on top of that he can score off the dribble and Angola's bigs don't move especially well.
Does Angola have a chance to beat the U.S.?
One thing you can count on: Angola will play very, very hard. This is that country's chance to make a statement so they will absolutely give everything. But it will take a flawless night from Cipriano shooting the ball and Lutonda will have to be terrific running the offense. They will have to control tempo and limit turnovers, two things Team USA thrives at pressing opponents against.
Does Angola have any chance whatsoever? No, none. There's just no way Team USA drops this game. It could be similar to Iran and Tunisia in the sense that the first 15 minutes are ugly because the U.S. and Coach K are feeling the game out, but by the end, the margin will likely be around 30.
Posted on: September 1, 2010 1:51 pm
Edited on: September 1, 2010 1:53 pm
Posted by Royce Young
In a game that was really decided before it started, Team USA handled Iran 88-51 Wednesday. But despite the lopsided score, there was a bit of a sour taste left after the final whistle.
The first quarter was fairly ugly and the U.S. played relatively sloppy throughout. How does the saying go, you have to walk before you can run? Or something like that? That was Team USA's problem against Iran today, especially in the early going. The U.S. tried to blow out the overmatched Iranians in the first 10 minutes.
It was like they were trying to prove how good they really are in a matter of minutes, instead of just playing within the flow of the game. Everything was rushed offensively, they tried to fast break when it wasn't there, they gambled on passes constantly and forced up a bunch of shots early in the 24. After the first, Team USA only held a six-point lead, 19-13. Commentator Fran Fraschilla compared it well to a 2-seed playing a 15-seed in the NCAA tournament. The final result was likely already decided, but the favored team was just trying too hard.
But eventually the U.S. found its rhythm and started playing its game. What it really took was one player settling down and getting Team USA relaxed and into its game. One would of course expect that to be Kevin Durant, but it turned out to be the other Kevin that provided a much needed spark. In his first four minutes on the floor, Love poured in nine straight points and snagged three boards, as he and Team USA second unit really got the team moving.
The second half was a different story as the U.S. forced turnovers, got in transition and played solid halfcourt offense and defense. Still, it wasn't as crisp as most expect and would like to see, but the fact is Team USA took care of Iran just the way it should. The main positive was the U.S.'s man-to-man defense which was pretty terrific. Iran's slower guards never had a chance to breathe and Hamed Haddadi, Iran's main threat, wasn't able to get many quality touches on the post.
But man, credit Iran. They played as hard as any team I've seen in a double-digit game. Haddadi finished with 19 points and had probably 19 huge smiles. The Iran team had a great attitude throughout and grinded for all 40 minutes. The Iranians deserve a lot of credit for their performance, even if they were on the wrong end of a loss. Iran struggled mightily on offense, shooting only 30 percent and turning the ball over 24 times.
I think most were hoping for a tidy blowout to feel better about the close call against Brazil. And while the U.S. definitely didn't necessarily ease any concerns, in the end it was a 37-point dispatching of an overmatched Iranian squad. The starters didn't play much at all in the second half and after the first two minutes of the second quarter, the game wasn't ever in question. Nobody really stuck out statistically for Team USA as Durant led the way with 12 points, Love 13 and Derrick Rose 11.
Team USA goes to 4-0 and wraps up Group play against Tunisia at 9:30 a.m. ET Thursday.
Posted on: August 30, 2010 4:58 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2010 5:04 pm
Posted by Royce Young
It took a couple of missed free throws and two missed layups from Brazil inside of five seconds left for Team USA to squeak out a 70-68 victory Monday. The game was close throughout, with Brazil actually leading for a large portion. But Kevin Durant's 27 points and 10 rebounds powered the U.S. past Leandro Barbosa's talented and scrappy Brazil squad.
While obviously a win is what is important, there are a few concerns to point out here. Brazil controlled the tempo of the game and nearly pulled off the win playing without two of its best players in Nene and Anderson Varejao . Plus, we really saw is how vulnerable Team USA can be. While Durant was obviously excellent, there were times in the second half where it was hard to picture where the U.S. would get points from. The crucial possessions became a lot of one-on-one with little ball movement or even really, penetration. It felt like everyone was waiting for a talented teammate to make a play. Team USA scored just nine points in the final frame. The good news is, Brazil only scored nine as well.
It was also interesting how Coach K went with one consistent lineup throughout the entire fourth quarter, and really most of the second half. These guys have played three games in three days since arriving in Turkey and instead of utilizing a really deep bench, the starters stayed in almost the entire 40 minutes. Lamar Odom was clearly fried late in the fourth, Derrick Rose was huffing and puffing and there just wasn't a ton spirit in their steps late. Coach K used Tyson Chandler for a short spell on Tiago Splitter in the third which worked well, but never came back to him. Kevin Love, who was outstanding yesterday, only played a handful of minutes. There was little Rudy Gay, little Eric Gordon, no Stephen Curry, little Russell Westbrook and no Danny Granger.
But thank goodness for Durant. Without him, Team USA truly wouldn't have had any idea where the points would've come from. Chauncey Billups had 15, but a few questionable pull-ups from him nearly put the U.S. in a tough spot. Example: With about 20 seconds left and time on the shot clock with the U.S. up two, instead of running the offense throughout Durant, Billups handled the ball almost exclusively and hoisted a long 2-pointer. It clanged and gave Brazil a chance to tie or win.
Team USA couldn't get its lightning quick transition game going and therefore, was stuck toiling away in the halfcourt . Billups interestingly ran point over Rose, and honestly, there was just a lot of dribbling, one pass and then a contested shot. It was the kind of offense that surely Jay Triano (the U.S.'s offensive coordinator) had to pull what little hair he has remaining out. Team USA turned the ball over 21 times, with Durant giving it away eight times. I'd call it sloppy, but really it was just bad offense with no fast break opportunities. Brazil only had seven offensive rebounds and tried to limit U.S. run-outs by not crashing the offensive glass and instead getting back. And it clearly worked.
Brazil started out red hot, hitting 12 of its first 16 shots, including five 3s in the first quarter and 7-11 at the half. But the green and gold cooled, finishing around 42 percent and 10-27 from deep. Barbosa , who hit his first three 3-pointers, finished with 14 points on 5-18 shooting, including 3-13 from 3. Marcus Vinicius who spent a little time with the Hornets, had 14 points hitting on 4-5 3s, and Spurs signee Tiago Splitter showcased some of his ability, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Splitter used both hands extremely well and ran the pick-and-roll beautifully. Save for some foul trouble, Splitter had a very nice game.
If anyone is stunned by the close score or how Team USA looked very beatable, you shouldn't be. This U.S. squad isn't invincible. It's very good and in the right kind of game, darn near unbeatable. But against a smart, tactical unit like Brazil with players like Vinicius who can shoot, Splitter who can post and a coach like Ruben Magnano (who was the architect of the 2004 Argentina team that took gold) who is one of the best at game-planning for one specific team, Brazil posed a tough test.
But in the end, the U.S. won the game and moved to 3-0. Don't disrespect Brazil by thinking the Team USA nearly choked one away. It was a good game because Brazil has a very good team. There's not a ton of excuse for the lapse in offensive execution, but still, the U.S. improved to 3-0 taking control of Group B and also care of its three toughest group games in three days. Now it should be able to cakewalk to a 5-0 finish by dispatching Tunisia and Iran in the last two.
Team USA has the day off Tuesday and faces Iran Wednesday at 12 ET.
Posted on: August 29, 2010 12:56 pm
Posted by Royce Young
Team USA used pressure defense, a massive edge on the glass and some hot shooting to roll past a quality Slovenia squad 99-77 Sunday. Kevin Durant keyed things offensively for the U.S. with 22 on 8-13 shooting while Kevin Love anchored the interior with 10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
What worked for the U.S. today against Slovenia was again the formula the Americans have used in previous international games - defense that turns to offense. The U.S. forced turnovers and immediately went into the transition game, but the other thing they did was force almost all long jump shots which led to long rebounds and run-outs. Slovenia had NBA player Primoz Brezec on the inside, but a combination of Love and Lamar Odom did a solid job limited low post touches for the big Slovenian.
And while the U.S. is famously undersized with only one true center on the squad, they outrebounded a much bigger Slovenian team 51-24. Besides Love, Odom added nine boards, Derrick Rose six, Russell Westbrook five and Durant four. It was a lesson in team rebounding and Team USA had everyone hitting the glass, grabbing rebounds and then immediately breaking out into the open court.
Durant showcased how electric and unguardable he can be, scoring 22 points in only about two and half quarters of play. But again, his passing continues to be impressive. He finished with four assists, but as Slovenia focused more on Durant, he dumped off to teammates cutting to the basket. Everyone understands how ridiculous Durant can be as a scorer, but I think the NBA is about to be introduced to a much more well-rounded KD this October.
And while Durant was absolutely stellar, Kevin Love probably gets the game ball. He provided instant energy off the bench, fought on the glass and was able to give some semblance of a post game for the U.S. Tyson Chandler was brought on to play the big man for Team USA, but Love not only played his way into the regular rotation, but might be pushing for a starting spot.
Slovenia planned to rely on Goran Dragic to get his offensive game going, but never did get on track. The Phoenix Suns point guard only had seven points on only 2-8 shooting. Team USA focused on him, hounding him with a combination of Rose and Westbrook, a duo that never let Dragic breathe enough to get his offense going.
Things could have gotten a little tight for the States early as Slovenia cut an early 14-point U.S. lead to five early in the second quarter. The U.S. was in foul trouble almost across the board but weathered a quick Slovenian spurt and busted out of the halftime break with a quick 13-0 run which put Slovenia away.
Team USA will face its toughest test tomorrow against Brazil at 2:30 ET on ESPN.
Posted on: August 28, 2010 2:24 pm
Posted by Royce Young
As soon as the rumblings of a 2004 Puerto Rico flashback started with Croatia leading near the end of the first quarter, Team USA cranked it up. Cranked it up in a pretty big way.
The U.S. ran Croatia out of the building, holding them to only six second quarter points en route to a 106-78 blowout in the opening game for both teams of the World Championships. At the end of the first quarter, the U.S. led just 22-20, but then went on a 84-58 to finish the game. Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 14 points, Eric Gordon had 13 and Chauncey Billups finished with 12. Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia led all scorers with 17.
Early on, it appeared as if the U.S. might be looking at a tough game against the Croatians. Team USA wasn't playing bad, but Croatia was really utilizing its superior size, hammering the ball down low to talented post player Ante Tomic. But the Americans locked down, started forcing turnovers and got out in transition. After that, it was a 46-14 run by the U.S. that really put the game to bed.
Any time you have a blowout like this, there's not a ton to take from it. But this was a potentially dangerous game for this young American squad. Croatia has quality players and was salivating at the chance to make an opening game statement. It was close early, but te U.S. cranked things up and pulled away.
Durant was excellent, hitting 5-11 from the floor, but he played his role as the center of Team USA perfectly. He had six rebounds, but he was best when drawing Croatian defenders only to drop off a couple beautiful passes to cutting teammates. He had three assists and put a lot of pressure on the Croatian defense constantly.
Derrick Rose quietly has a nice game, running the offense and moving the ball well. Kevin Love had 10 boards and seven points, Gordon hit three 3s and Lamar Odom was energetic early, contributing six points. Westbrook led Team USA with four assists. One player from Croatia that was especially impressive was Jazz property Ante Tomic. The 7'2 center finished with 12 points on 4-6 shooting and added eight rebounds. He clearly had a developed post game and quality footwork, but it's a matter of getting stronger. It's not hard to picture his game translating to the NBA.
What's obvious is that few teams will be able to hang with Team USA in transition. Croatia was constantly reaching in and fouling the Americans to break up the run-outs. While Croatia had a lot of size, those big guys just couldn't keep up. In general, the U.S. transition game is just lovely. One break in particular was especially beautiful. With a little under four minutes left in the second, Durant snagged a long rebound and zipped a pass to a streaking Rose. Rose then immediately fired a bullet to Russell Westbrook in stride and in the blink of an eye, the ball was flushed through the net by Westbrook. The whole break literally took three seconds. I timed it. Literally three seconds.
Team USA shot 54 percent from the field, hit 12 3s and only turned the ball over seven times despite running a lot in the open floor. The defense was strong and despite a sluggish start, there's no reason to be discouraged after this one.
Next up for Team USA is Slovenia tomorrow at 9:30 ET. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.
Posted on: August 27, 2010 6:09 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2010 10:09 pm
Posted by Royce Young
This is a question I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks. We’re so good at it and we’re about to compete against other countries… yet we don’t give a flip. Which is so weird to me.
For us Americans, you slap “USA” across the chest of anything and we’re rooting for it. I found myself watching hours of curling in last year’s winter Olympics. We root on Michael Phelps in a sport nobody cares about. We act like we’re soccer crazy during the World Cup. But when Team USA laces up the sneakers and takes things to the hardwood, we just don’t seem to care. And I have no idea why.
Rob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm looked into this and asked it in an even more interesting manner: Why do people like the Oklahoma City Thunder so much and not Team USA when they are so, so similar? Rob and I started chatting about this and some thoughts came to mind for me.
One reason is I think a lot is that the perception (at least in my mind) is that players don’t care about these games. Everyone just assume that Kevin Durant saying that he’d rather win a gold medal than an NBA title is all for show in an effort to pronounce some sort of manufactured patriotism through basketball. I don’t think people believe it. We think players are saying it because it’s the right thing to say, not because they actually are playing for country.
Why do we feel such a sense of pride when Team USA performs well in the World Cup? Why do we all gather in bars and restaurants and 9 in the morning to watch soccer every four year? There’s no reason the World Championships shouldn’t be somewhat as big as the World Cup. Obviously soccer is more popular worldwide, but why do people go soccer crazy here in the US and not for basketball, something we’re awesome at?
My theory is that Americans, for whatever reason, love to play up the underdog. We fall in love with Landon Donovan and the US soccer group because it’s the world’s game and we’re supposed to suck at it. It’s like it’s in our nature to want to say, “We’ll show you guys who sucks at soccer…” Everyone flipped for the Miracle On Ice because we beat the big bad Russians. This past winter, everyone loved the U.S. hockey team again as they took on Canada in the gold medal game. We wanted to beat Canada so badly, the team that supposedly owns hockey.
It’s like it’s this inherent thing Americans are born with. When someone says “You can’t,” we say, “We’ll show you.” And in basketball, there’s nothing to that. We’re supposed to be great. We have the biggest, fastest, strongest players. If we win, what did we prove? That we’re still the best?
Honestly, this sounds absolutely stupid, but I think the 1992 Dream Team might’ve done more harm than good in terms of our interest in international basketball. Before that, we didn’t send our pros and we were just one of the regular teams. But after the ’92 Dream Team, our mindset changed. Our perception was after those Olympics was that everyone else sucks at basketball and we’ll win by 40. At at least, that we should . We no longer respected international basketball because there was no way other countries could compete.
And I don’t think the casual fans have realized that the rest of the world has completely caught up internationally. The 2006 bronze wasn’t a fluke. Team USA just wasn’t good enough. And if we lose this year, the excuse will be because we didn’t send our best. There was no Kobe, Chris Paul, LeBron or Dwyane Wade. Well, the reality is, a lot of the other countries competing don’t have their best players either. So it’s really not a great excuse. Do people not realize it’s been 16 years since we’ve won a World Championship gold? The U.S. hasn’t won since 1994! And how are we not taking this personally?
This is something that will never make sense to me. Heck, I’m as guilty about it as anyone. I’m definitely not as pumped about tomorrow’s action starting as I was for the beginning of the World Cup. And I don’t know why. Sure, we get a bit more excited for the Olympics, but still, it’s nothing to the level of the World Cup or even just a playoff game featuring our favorite team. There’s just no real passion, no enthusiasm for it. Coach K and Jerry Colangelo have done their best to change this, but it’s just some sort of arrogance that Americans have that prevents them from deeply investing in the World Championships.
It’s been 16 years since the Star Spangled Banner played at the end of the World Championships. It’s fine if we don’t care. I guess as long as the 12 wearing red, white and blue do, we should hearing it again anyway.
Posted on: August 27, 2010 1:44 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2010 1:46 pm
Posted by Royce Young
The 2010 FIBA World Championships tip off tomorrow and let's be honest, outside of Team USA and a handful of NBA players scattered around other teams, we all don't know a ton about it. So here's your cheat sheet to catch up on the important parts of the games:
10 NON-NBA PLAYERS TO WATCH
Miroslav Raduljica, Serbia - The big Serbian was going to play a large role in this year's games before Nenad Krstic was suspended for three contests. Now, Serbia's early success may very well hinge on Raduljica. He runs the floor well, has soft hands and is one of the most improved players in Europe. He's eligible to enter the NBA draft next year and with a big showing in Turkey, might see his stock skyrocket.
Tibor Pleiss, Germany - Pleiss is property of the Oklahoma City Thunder and was taken in the early second round of this year's draft. He's 7'1, skilled with a lovely jumper that stretches out near the 3 and has an improving post game. He's already a quality rebounder and shot blocker, though as is the case with most young European big men, he needs strength. He's definitely an NBA caliber player at some point and he's one of Germany's top players. If Germany makes some noise in Turkey, it'll likely be because Pleiss did some breaking out.
Juan Carlos Navarro, Spain - Ah, the elusive JCN, or La Bomba as he's endearingly called in Spain. He's known in the States because of a brief stint with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2007-08, but is known across international basketball as one of the most crafty, creative and skilled guards in the world. The lack of superior athleticism is what held him back in the NBA, but he has an array of runners, floaters and running jumpshots, plus is deadly when he's open. He's one of those players that's basically just fun to watch.
Ioannis Bourousis, Greece - Bourousis is coming back from a hand injury that forced him to miss most of Greece's exhibition games, but should be ready to go in Turkey. He's a massive seven-footer that weighs in at 280 pounds. Like Tim Duncan, he trained to be a professional swimmer before getting to big for the pool. He's surprisingly smooth on the post and at 26, has improved his game a lot since 2006 when the U.S. played Greece.
Victor Claver, Spain - Property of the Portland Trail Blazers, Claver is a classic swingman that prefers to run the floor and shoot jumpers. He's not strong and not a great ballhandler, but does finish well at the rim. He's huge at 6'10, but only weighs about 215 pounds. Teams with physical forwards will beat him up, but running the floor with Ricky Rubio will give him a chance to showcase his talents in the open court.
Matthew Nielsen, Australia - The Euro Cup Final Four MVP for Valencia last season, Nielsen is an accomplished international player. He's 32 and has spent time on multiple national teams for Australia. He's not overly skilled, but he's big at 6'10 and moves well. He scores outworking players inside, but is a quality post-up threat.
Tiago Splitter, Brazil - He counts here because he's not in the NBA yet. A recent signee of the Spurs, Splitter will be a player that NBA fanatics will have a close eye on these next few weeks. We've all heard about his skills for the last few years, but most haven't had a chance to see them in action. He's incredibly gifted around the basket and if he plays well, Brazil may make a run to the semi-finals.
Timofey Mozgov, Russia - Same as Splitter, Mozgov will be in the NBA next year with the New York Knicks. He's a true big man at 7'1, but runs the floor well. He's not especially polished offensively, but he uses his big body well. A lot of people have compared him to Marcin Gortat or Andris Biedrins because he scores a lot by playing physical inside. He'll be a project for the Knicks, but he'll be a feature for the Russians.
Ante Tomic, Croatia - Tomic is a gifted big man that has drawn comparisons to Pau Gasol because of his excellent footwork, soft touch and passing ability. He has range that stretches out close to the international 3, and is a player Croatia will likely center their offense around. He's rail thin though and his lack of strength is what really hurts him when talking about taking his game up a notch.
Ricky Rubio, Spain - Everyone knows about the flashy passes. Everyone's seen the YouTube mixtapes. Everyone knows he has a ton of talent. But not a lot of people have seen him actually play a full basketball game, outside of 2008's gold medal game. With Jose Calderon out, this team is Rubio's. He'll play the bulk of the minutes and run the show. He's a bit turnover prone and his stat line never seems to impress, but it's all about watching him. A game where he scores five points, dishes out four assists and has four steals may not seem like much, but he seriously impacted the game.
THE UNITED STATES GROUP PREVIEW
Most consider Group B to be the toughest in Turkey. Obviously there's Team USA, but Brazil, Slovenia and Croatia are all capable squads that should advance out of this group.
NBA players: Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa, Tiago Splitter, Nene (out with injury)
Prior to Nene's injury, Brazil was becoming a trendy pick to make the semi-finals and possibly the finals. The talent is there and it's not just in NBA players only. Former NBA players Alex Garcia and Marcus Vinicius clearly have skill, but Marcelo Machado is an excellent sharpshooter, Marcelo Huertas is a crafty point guard and Wellington Dos Santos may actually be faster than Barbosa.
Former Gonzaga star J.P. Batista has the ability to anchor the interior with Splitter and Varejao and with a combination of size and speed, Brazil is a team to take notice of. They want to play up-tempo and high pressure defense, and they have the players to do it.
NBA players: Roko Ukic
The Croatians are a squad that doesn't have a ton of top tier talent, but is deep and filled with quality players. The aforementioned Ante Tomic is the key. If he plays well and stays consistent throughout, Croatia could be a team that goes deeper than expected.
NBA players: Hamed Haddadi
This isn't a bad team. They aren't good, but they aren't that bad. They likely won't advance out of the group stage, but they definitely are a candidate to win a game or two. Teams like the United States will steamroll them, but they could definitely sneak up on Croatia and Slovenia, potentially making a little noise to finish in the top four.
NBA players: Goran Dragic, Primoz Brezec
As it is now, Slovenia is good. But if it had its entire roster with players like Beno Udrih, Sasha Vujacic, Rasho Nesterovic and Erazem Lorbek it could be really good. Slovenia should battle Croatia for third in this group, but is definitely good enough to get to second. It all hinges on Goran Dragic. He needs to score and create and if he can continue his good play, Slovenia should be fine.
NBA players: None
This is easily the worst team in the group. Its goal should be to maybe beat Iran and then keep games within 20. There's simply not enough talent on the roster to stay competitive. Honestly, Team USA could let Jim Boeheim and Nate McMillan start and it would still be a cakewalk.
NBA players: Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Lamar Odom, Tyson Chandler, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Stephen Curry
The clear favorite to win Group B and a favorite to win the whole thing. Obviously, Team USA has the most talent in the entire field. But playing together is the key. Coach K has done a fine job of establishing roles for players, but the lack of interior size could hurt the Americans the deeper the tournament goes. A game against Brazil in this group could be the only hangup, but Croatia and Slovenia aren't pushovers.
Despite this group probably be the toughest in the tournament, anything less that a 5-0 start for Team USA would be disappointing.
1. United States
FOUR GROUP STAGE GAMES TO WATCH
Saturday, August 28: Spain vs. France - Two traditional soccer powerhouses field pretty solid basketball teams. Spain should win, but Nicolas Batum has emerged as a go-to player for France to seeing him compete and defend the Spanish roster will be fun.
Monday, August 30: Brazil vs. USA - The winner of this game will likely win the group. It should be a fun game to watch too as both teams play pressure defense and prefer to push the pace. This one could easily have 200 combined points.
Monday, August 30: Croatia vs. Slovenia - A European rivalry game with the winner surely locking in a place in the tournament, and probably third place in Group B.
Tuesday, August 31: Greece vs. Turkey - Someone might be killed during this game. No, seriously. Both these teams HATE each other. I don't know if this will so much be a basketball game, as a 40-minute hip-checking contest.
United States - The most talent in the field, though maybe the least chemistry. The U.S. squad will have to find its identity and find it fast.
Spain - A chic pick to win gold, Spain has the talent, chemistry and leadership to win. Losing Jose Calderon hurts only the sense that backcourt depth is light. But if Spain is to seriously make this run, a player like Rudy Fernandez is going to have to elevate his game and play well.
Greece - The smallest player on the team is Vassilis Spanoulis, and he's "only" 6'4. So in other words, the Greek's are big. Greece is massive and what they lack in athleticism, they make up for in size and skill.
Argentina - The USA's old nemesis, Argentina has NBA talent in Carlos Delfino, Luis Scola and Fabrico Oberto. They'll surely miss Andres Nocioni and Manu Ginobili, but this is a team that should make an easy run to the quarters, probably the semifinals and possibly the finals.
Serbia - The suspensions to Nenad Krstic and Milos Teodosic definitely hurt, but there is enough on this roster still to get out of the group. And once they're full strength, this is a team that's good enough to be in the semifinals.
Brazil - The Brazilians seem to be flying a bit under the radar, but with a group of speedy, skilled players, they should get to the quarterfinals with ease and then past that, they're a tough matchup for anyone.
Turkey - The host country always seems to do well because the boost from a home crowd always helps. But Turkey has players too. There's Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, Semih Erden and Omer Asik, all NBA players. Some are taking Turkey to get to the finals based only on the fact they're hosting, but they might get there because this roster has some serious talent.
Canada - Don't sleep on Canada. While not a lot of names on the roster jump out and there's no Steve Nash, they have all decent players and a few NBA guys in Joel Anthony and Andy Rautins. Canada beat Serbia and France in friendlies and isn't a walkover by any means.
Puerto Rico - This feisty group has three NBA players in J.J. Barea, Renaldo Balkman and Carlos Arroyo and has played well in exhibitions. They should get out of their group and in tournament play, they have the players to make a small run.
Australia - The Australians have slowly been building better basketball teams and this might be one of their best yet. There are two NBA players in David Andersen and Patty Mills, plus quality guys like A.J. Ogilvy and Matthew Nielsen. They lack athleticism, but if Mills can get his game going, Australia might sneak up on a few teams.
PREDICTION (see the full bracket)
Group A winner: Argentina (Serbia, Germany, Australia advance)
Group B winner: United States (Brazil, Slovenia, Croatia advance)
Group C winner: Greece (Turkey, Puerto Rico, Russia advance)
Group D winner: Spain (Lithuania, France, Canada advance)
Round of 16: Argentina defeats Croatia, Puerto Rico defeats Lithuania, Greece defeats Canada, Brazil defeats Germany, United States defeat Australia, Turkey defeats France, Spain defeats Russia, Slovenia defeats Serbia
Quarterfinals: Argentina defeats Puerto Rico, Brazil defeats Greece, United States defeat Turkey, Spain defeats Slovenia
Semifinals: Argentina defeats Brazil, United States defeat Spain
Third place: Spain defeats Brazil
Finals: United States defeat Argentina
Some don't like Team USA winning gold. But it's hard not to like them. The way the bracket sets up, if both Spain and the U.S. win their groups, they'll meet in the semifinals. So if the U.S. gets by Spain again, beat whoever comes their way in the gold medal game shouldn't be a huge issue.
The thing with Team USA is, they have more talent than anyone. They have more skill. They have more strength. They have more speed. They have more athleticism. The one thing they lack is size, and that's just in a traditional sense. Nobody can properly match up with the likes of Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay. Even figuring out how to guard Team USA's second unit would be tough. While no, this isn't a team full of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, this is a quality unit with a ton of talent. There will be some tough games for sure and the U.S. will rely on Rose and Durant to carry them through. But these guys should be up to the task to bring home gold for the first time since 1994.
Tags: 2010 World Championships, Anderson Varejao, Brazil, Carlos Arroyo, Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Ersan Ilyasova, Fabrico Oberto, Greece, Hedo Turkoglu, Kevin Durant, Leandro Barbosa, Lithuania, Luis Scola, Nenad Krstic, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Russell Westbrook, Serbia, Stephen Curry, Team USA, Turkey