Monday, September 03, 2007

Eurobasket '07 Preview--Group A

• Team-by-team previews in our group breakdowns:
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D


(Teams listed in predicted order of 1st round finish)

GREECE: One of the best teams in int'l ball the last few years. Reigning Eurobasket Champs--if they want to retain their crown, they'll need to offer a little payback to Spain for the drubbing laid on them in '06 Worlds finals.

Everything starts with their defense, probably have the best half-court defense in the tourney (besides Spain). They force a boatload of turnovers, get tons of deflections because of active hands, & rotate nicely--total team affair. They play a tight, controlled pace at both ends of the court and are more than happy playing games in the 60s & 70s--that semi vs Team USA was an aberration. They have great overall size, especially on the perimeter where they have 3 guys who play PG 6-4 or bigger.

The recent Antonios Fotsis injury is a significant blow, where Greece loses their most talented scorer & maybe their best pure shooter besides Zisis. Still one of the deepest teams in Euro '07 even without Fotsis (finger) & Sofoklis Schortsianitis (fatness). Can go with a 3-headed PG look with Papaloukas, Spanoulis, & Diamantidis which can be effective, and might be called upon with the absence of Fotsis.

Theo Papaloukas is of course their catalyst on both ends as a playmaking big guard and harrassing defender; he led Greece to the 2005 Eurobasket crown and the 2006 upset of Team USA, as well as leading CSKA Moscow to the 2006 Euroleague title. Dimis Diamantidis is nearly as good as Theo as a big floor general but he's an even better athlete & shooter. And Dimis is the Bruce Bowen of Europe--best defender outside the NBA who can shut down 1s, 2s, & 3s, and is a steals machine. Arguably the best NBA prospect of European veterans (think he might even be better NBAer than Papaloukas), but the problem is he's been on record saying the NBA does not interest him. Even though he did not get much burn with Houston this year, V. Spanoulis is a key cog for Greece--played great last summer, especially vs. Team USA. He loves to penetrate off the bounce, and lived on the foul line at the '06 Worlds.

Kostas Tsartarsis is a solid role playing forward who provides solid rebounding & defending. Anchored upfront by old-school center Lazaros Papadopoulas, who the Greeks will run offense thru in the mid-post area. Lazaros is a willing passer, and though he barely gets off the ground, he finds ways to get off his patented retro hook shots. Dimos Dikoudis is another useful veteran post presence for Coach Yannakis to go to. M. Kakiouzis is a wily combo forward who can knock down jumpers & might see more time at SF with Fotsis out. Combo guard Nikos Zisis is probably the best shooter on this shaky shooting club, and Greece definitely missed his services in the Spain game last year (out with a broken face thanks to Varejao).

Greece should definitely be shown some zone looks since their outside shooting might be their main weakness (I know it's hard to believe given how they torched Team USA from 3-point land, but that day really was an aberration), and could come back to haunt them. Not the greatest rebounding club as well.

One of the main contenders for a Gold. Not the most explosive offensive squad or even much raw scoring talent, but this team just finds ways to win because of their collective mental toughness. Ultimately, not sure they can topple Spain because the offense could maybe not have enough firepower, especially with Fotsis out.

SERBIA: It's been a rough 5 years for one of the best basketball countries on earth. Plenty of infighting, clashing egos between players, players clashing with coaches/administrators, and massive underachievement, peaking at the last Euro champs where Serbia failed to medal. Did I mention the '05 Euros were in Serbia? Yeah, that sort of really set things off--bad times in bball-mad Serbia. They did redeem themselves nicely last year, by playing solid ball with Darko & Igor Rakocevic as their only high-caliber stars.

Once again, Serbia has been gutted by no-shows. No Peja, Krstic, Rakocevic, Radmanovic, Pavlovic, etc., etc. But they do have the services of Marko Jaric, Darko, & Milan Gurovic (huge vs. US in '02) to go along with plenty of promising youngsters. It's a strange mix of a few vets in their late 20s & many guys in their early 20s; there's no in-between. But they have looked alright in friendly action.

As usual, Serbia rolls out a roster with great size across the board. Darko Milicic should be the go-to-guy in the post for Serbia. He played extremely well on both ends of the floor in the Worlds last year and will get help on the frontline from two potential draft prospects in Nemanja Alexsandrev & Zoran Erceg. Erceg is a mobile big with a nice shot, while Nemanja is another prototypical Euro big who likes to face-up, but is a solid rebounder as well.

Milos Teosodic is a promising 20-year old PG with great size who should see time either alongside Jaric or subbing for him. 6-7 Milenko Tepic gives this team another big combo guard with savvy playmaking ability & passing. Milan Gurovic will be called upon to bring leadership & plenty of scoring to the table--ask the 2002 US team about his exploits.

Even without a ton of big names, this team still has some serious talent & size. They are more than capable of making it to the final 8, and if the young guys can mesh with the vets, they might have an outside shot at a Bronze.

RUSSIA: Have called upon American David Blatt, one of the finest coaches in Europe, to help steer Team Russia into a new future. Blatt, who played for Pete Carrill at Princeton, is known to be a demanding coach who stresses tough defense.

Defense should be their calling card with their nice collection of versatile wings--A. Kirilenko, Sergei Monya, & Viktor Khryapa. All three guys are good athletes with great length which makes them effective defenders. None of the three are reliable shooters, though Monya's not bad, and outside shooting is a big question mark with this team.

PG spot is a bit of a question mark. American-born JR Holden (ex-Bucknell) will see some time running the show, but he's not really a pure point, so he does not solve their issues. Anton Ponkrashov is a promising young combo guard, whose size (6-7) & keen passing instincts cause problems for opposing guards.

Alexei Savrasenko gives them a decent defensive presence at the center spot. And promising young forward Nikita Shabalkin should see time for Team Russia. Russia should advance to the 2nd round, but their chances at making the final 8 are gonna be tough. Defense should be staunch, but the offensive acumen of this team is uncertain. They will have to find some way for efficiency on offense if they want a shot at the playoffs.

ISRAEL: Secured the last spot in Eurobasket '07 by beating Macedonia & Bosnia in a mini-tourney last week. Odds are against them advancing to the 2nd round & this team might be worn down by having to play 8 qualifying games in the last month.

Combo guard Yotam Halperin led Israel thru the qualifying stage, including a 26-point performance vs. Macedonia. A recent Sonic draftee, Halperin is a very good shooter (6/6 from 3pt vs. Macedonia) with very good pg skills & a knack for picking up steals. Halperin is joined in the backcourt by Meir Tapiro, who is known for his passing, but also expect a fair amount of scoring as well. Tapiro also hits the glass surprisngly well. 6-9 Lior Eliyahu is the other NBA draftee (Rockets) on the roster, and he's a player with nice size & athleticism at the SF spot.

On the frontline, Israel will rely on Yaniv Green, a strong athlete who will clean the glass. Green will get help from another rugged inside presence in the form of Ido Kozikaro. Former Cal-Berkeley standout Amit Tamir, a skilled 7-footer with a deft touch & passing skills, will see some minutes in the post as well.

Israel is the decided underdog in Group A, and it will be tough for them to secure a win. They might have the goods to pull off the upset over Russia, but they're a longshot to move on to the 2nd round.

• Team-by-team previews in our group breakdowns:
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D


At 9:10 PM, Blogger orenseg said...

Go Israel!

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous nohedidnt said...

Wow, that was easily the most accurate and well-written analysis of Euro hoops by a blogger that I've ever read. Thanks, man, kudos to you. Awesome comment on Diamantidis, a basketball purist's dream. Check out
if you want to get a better picture. Btw, the unbelievable block at 3.00 that you see replayed a couple of times took place in the final seconds of the final game of the Greek League Finals...
My predictions: As much as I hope Greece wins it again, I see a Spain-Lithuania final. The Russians and Slovenians will choke, France simply can't beat Greece or Lithuania, and Turkey's chemistry sucks. Italy was my wildcard, too - I really hope Greece doesn't run into them in the playoffs, they can beat anybody on a good day. Oh, and Germany... c'mon, man, did you watch the 2005 final? Pressure their guards and wear down Dirk and it's over. Vamos Grecia!

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Oranda said...

Great analysis.

I am Greek and impressed by your knowledge of Greek players. Well done.

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