Monday, September 07, 2009

Eurobasket 2009 Preview: Group B

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

FRANCE:
Key Players: T. Parker; F. Pietrus; B. Diaw; R. Turiaf; N. Batum; N. De Colo
Absent Players: Mike Pietrus; Jo Noah; M. Gelebale; J. Petro


Took a little longer than expected, but finally qualified for Euro '09. A favorite for a qualifying spot. Very dangerous club, though the key to this team getting a medal, rather than just securing a qualifying slot, relies heavily on whether they have solved their considerable perimeter-shooting woes.

France has somewhat counteracted its perennial offensive woes with great effort on the defensive end & on the boards.

The distinct advantage of being the most athletic team in Europe. France uses this fact effectively to create havoc defensively. Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, and Florent Pietrus can guard multiple positions, and switch assignments. They have the ability to create turnovers, which should come in handy to create transition offensive opportunities.

Obviously France's main line of attack will be to call on Tony Parker to relentlessly attack the painted area. Though that objective is not always easy to accomplish with the non-shooters on the floor with Tony.

In Euro '07, Parker could not get deep penetration very often because defenses were free to load up on him thanks to the severe lack of shooting around him. It's no surprise France can go thru extended lulls on the offensive end in the halfcourt.

Team France should expect plenty of zone and sagging man. The one-foot-in-the-paint rule vs. France would be heavily emphasized if I were an opposing coach.

The strong play of first-time Senior-team members, Nando de Colo & Antoine Diot, was the best surprise from the mini-Qualifying tourney. Recent Spurs draftee Nando de Colo is a 6-5 combo guard who's a terrific ball-handler with great court vision. Nando can slice into the lane to finish. Probably the most important aspect these two young guards offer is that they add a much needed dose of perimeter shooting. Albeit, neither guy is a deadeye, but both are decent shooters.

6-7 Florent Pietrus is an underrated cog on this team--rebounds extremely well for his size, excellent defender, great activity overall. Pietrus has at least been more consistent and active than Boris Diaw has been the last few years.

Boris Diaw & Nic Batum will get a few plays called for them. Diaw's biggest problem in FIBA play has been inconsistent effort; expect a few no-shows. Ronny Turiaf is an active body who can score on turnarounds & will change some shots, but fouls seem to follow Turiaf around.

Backing up Turiaf up front are two 6-10 long athletes, Ali Traore & Alain Koffi. Koffi is an active body on the glass & defense, but raw offensively. Traore can score around the rim a little, but should be a better shot-blocker considering his physical gifts. S.A. Spurs'Ian Mahinmi was a late add to the roster, but don't expect much floor time for him.

The m.o. still has to be to pack the paint and force the French into jumpshot after jumpshot. Even with the shoddy shooting, Les Bleus have proven in the past few years that they can still finish in the top 5 or 6 places of any tourney. If they hit their perimeter looks at a reasonable rate, they have the goods to play in the Gold Medal game.


LATVIA:
Key Players: A. Biedrins; Kris Valters; K. Kambala
Absent Players: S. Valters; Kaspars Berzins


Liking this team as a sleeper; definitely have a shot at one of the six Worlds '10 qualifying slots. With the depleted rosters of Russia & Germany, Latvia has a chance to win this group if they catch France on a bad shooting night (always a good chance of that).

Strong starting frontline combo of Andris Biedrins & former UNLV stud Kaspars Kambala. We know A. Biedrins can finish off rolls to rim, but Latvia will call his number on the post sometimes. Can be successful somewhat because of his quickness, but his dodgy touch makes him erratic.

6-9 Kaspars Kambala is a very physical big (mostly likely to start a brawl at Euro '09) with some decent low-block scoring ability and a turnaround jumper, and can help Biedrins clean the glass. Though, these two guys could be dealing with constant foul trouble.

6-8 PF Uvis Helmanis moves as well as you would expect from a 37-year-old, but he gives Latvia a big who can bomb from deep.

Latvia surrounds its sturdy bigs with a wealth of shooters. Guards Kristaps Valters, Janis Blums, & Kristaps Janicenoks are reliable floor-spreaders. Though, they might be missing their best shooter, Sandis Valters, because of injury.

Kristaps Valters is one of the more talented PGs in the ACB. 6-4 Valters is nice athlete who sharply navigates the pick/roll, where he's a danger to drill pull-ups or get in the lane to drop nifty passes.

Combo guard Armands Skele played very well for Latvia at the last Eurobasket. The athletic Skele is an erratic shooter who sometimes gets out of the flow of the offense.

6-3 Italian League standout Janis Blums is another ball-handler with a quick crossover whom Latvia can turn to next to Valters & Skele. The speedy combo guard is a deadly marksman standing still or off the bounce.

Have a quality frontline that complements their array of perimeter shooters. Gotta keep the bigs out of foul trouble, and the guards need to be focused on the defensive end to take pressure off the bigs. We're not talking a medal, but Latvia can be in the mix for a qualifying spot.


RUSSIA:
Key Players: Sergey Monya
Absent Players: A. Kirilenko; Vik Khryapa; JR Holden; A. Savrasenko; S. Kaun


No Kirilenko, no JR Holden, no Khryapa, no chance of repeating as Euro champs. Just getting out of the first round will be an accomplishment this year with their depleted roster. Coach David Blatt can only make up for so much.

Will be missing 3 key cogs of their Euro '07 Gold medal team in A. Kirilenko, JR Holden, & A. Savrasenko. And for a team that can't afford any more no-shows, they've been dealt a lethal blow in the form of a knee injury to Vik Khryapa.

Vik was huge for Team Russia in '07 (we thought he should have been first-team All-Eurobasket) as their 2nd best player. Viktor was a poor man's AK47 in '07--passing, rebounding, defending, and even knocking down his outside looks as the tourney progressed. At the '07 Euros, Vik was 2nd in steals, 4th in rebs & 5th in assts overall.

Have no idea how this team will score. Russia was never known for its offense the last few years. They did just enough on the offensive end to win in '07, and that was with Kirilenko & Holden being their top options.

Sergey Monya might be thrust into #1 option role if Khryapa can't go. Monya is a nice athlete on the wings who is an able defender and a decent shooter, not great but needs to be respected.

Kelly McCarty will help on Monya on the wings with active defense & some solid shooting. CSKA's Andrey Vorontsevich provides more shooting prowess at the forward position.

Center Timofey Mogzov is an impressive physical package of strength & athleticism at 7-1, who can be a defensive deterrent at the rim. He might have to be their interior offensive option, though he's not very polished. The center spot took a hit when former Kansas Jayhawk Sasha Kaun was scratched from the roster recently with an injury.

Combo guard Sergey Bykov will be thrust into the PG role in the absence of JR Holden. The athletic Bykov gives Russia a much-needed boost in the perimeter-shooting department. Bykov will split time with Anton Ponkrashov, a big PG with nifty passing instincts, but is a shooting liability.

Run nice offensive sets with nice ball movement--some Princeton-style stuff presumably influenced from Blatt's college days. This offense does help open up some easy looks, but it can only do so much with this talent.

Even without Khryapa & Kirilenko, expect the defense to be solid. They guarded the interior wonderfully at Euro '07. Their help & recovery was tight. Expect Blatt to implement different types of zones, and even have looks where it's hard to decipher what the hell they're in--hybrid, amoeba-type looks. Blatt's willing to try all types of things, especially on the defensive end. And he's a great bench coach, who's adept at in-game adjustments.

Russia is very lucky they're placed in the same group with Germany, a team equally lacking offensively. Just can't see anyway they can grab a qualifying spot with this depleted roster. Though, Blatt has worked magic before.


GERMANY:
Key Players: Demond Greene; Jan Jagla
Absent Players: Nowitzki; C. Kaman; A. Okulaja


This is the first time the Germans have gone into summer battle without Dirk this decade. Dirk was the only German to average more than 10 ppg at Euro '07. It's going to be real interesting to see how this team generates points. Should fight with the other offensively-challenged Group B team, Russia, for a 2nd-round entry. The over/under on the Russia-Germany game should be 80 pts.

Not really sure what the offense is going to look like since the last 10 years has revolved around getting the ball to Dirk. No idea who qualifies as a #1 option. I guess SG Demond Greene is the go-to-guy, but he's really just a shooter.

Coach Bauermann has decided to infuse a much-needed dose of youth into the German roster with two 20-year-olds, Robin Benzing & Elias Harris. Gonzaga recruit Elias Harris provides an athletic punch on the wings and gives Germany another above-average rebounder at the SF. 6-10 Robin Benzing can put the ball on the deck on the perimeter and cause mismatch problems.

6-5 Steffan Hamann is a big point who can penetrate and finish well at the rim, but will sometimes force the action too much. Hamann uses his athleticism & size well on the defensive end. PG Heiko Schaffartzik is dangerous shooting off the dribble. The athletic Schaffartzik will split time with Hamann at the PG, and sometimes play alongside Hamann.

Ex-Penn St. Nittany Lion Jan Jagla brings nice activity off the bench, and loves to crash the glass. Vet 7-footer Patrick Femerling was coaxed out of retirement to fill the void left by Kaman. Femerling is no great shakes, but he does provide a decent defensive presence.

6-7 Konrad Wysocki is an active body who rebounds well for a SF and can defend well. Germany at least projects to be a good rebounding team once again, even with Dirk & Kaman's absence.

Like Jagla, Sven Schultze provides Germany with a 6-11 guy who can float to 3pt. line. Another guy to keep an eye on is Tim Ohlbrecht. Was being hyped few seasons ago as a lottery pick, probably premature, but the young 7-foot athlete shows some promise.

A bit of positive news for Germany is they could be in line for a wild-card berth. Germany has been consistently good over the last 5 years or so. Though, if Germany wants to persuade FIBA that they deserve a wild-card berth, they might need to confirm Dirk intends to play next summer by December.

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