Eurobasket 2009 Preview: Group C
(Teams listed in predicted order of 1st round finish)
Key Players: Gasol Bros., Rudy, Ricky Rubio, JC Navarro, more
Absent Players: Jose Calderon; Sergio Rodriguez; Fran Vasquez
Overwhelming favorite, probably even more this year than in '07. Have to imagine Spain is on a mission to redeem itself after a stunning upset to Russia at home in the 2007 gold-medal game.
With key absences to other heavyweights Lithuania & Greece, Spain is on the top tier all by itself. Not having Calderon is no big deal since they have some kid named Rubio to fill in at PG.
If you made it to this site, then you're well-versed at what most these players can do. A bottomless basket of offensive options. Can feed Pau, Marc, or Felipe Reyes in the post. Pau can do whatever he wants in the post area. Marc Gasol has some moves as well--watch out for his quick baseline spin on the left block. Felipe Reyes has some nifty footwork himself.
Can run Rudy & Juan Navarro off of ball screens or off-ball screens. Navarro will bomb from all over and throw up some of his patented floaters. Also can put the ball in Ricky's hands and let him do what he wants.
Portland Blazer draftee Victor Claver joins the Senior team and adds an athletic SF with a good shooting touch & finishing ability. Rubio will be backed up by Carlos Cabezas & Sergio Llull. Llull is a speedy combo guard who likes to defend.
Like Russia, Spain does a great job of mixing up its defensive looks--they play probably the best zone in FIBA, and sometimes employ def. sets that are hard to figure out. Pau does a great job at the backline of the defense, while Jorge Garbajosa is still one of the better help defenders in Europe.
Pau might feel the need to redeem himself more than any other Spaniard. He struggled badly down the stretch of Spain's shocking 59-58 loss at home to Russia in the 2007 Eurobasket final. Pau was just 3-8 at the FT line, with 3 TOs, in the fourth quarter of that game. He missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, and committed a costly TO with his team up one in the final 30 seconds. Though that one nightmare quarter should not cloud the fact that Pau was a stud at the Euros overall.
Pau found redemption for the 2008 NBA Finals in 2009. If he can do the same at the Eurobasket, his 2009 will be complete as a smashing success.
The Gold Medal is waiting for Spain.
Key Players: M. Smodis; B. Nachbar; E. Lorbek; G. Dragic; J. Lakovic
Absent Players: B. Udrih; S. Becirovic; Sasha Vujacic; Rasho
Was projecting this team as the 2nd-best team next to Spain earlier in the summer, but I've slowly cooled on their prospects. The deep pool of talent has been slowly eroded away in the last month with departures of NBAers Beno Udrih & Sasha Vujacic. The best player, Matjaz Smodis, is ailing as well, and mignt miss the first round. Still plenty of talent on hand, but also still questions about how well it will mesh.
Some folks tend to forget how well Slovenia played in the early stages of Euro '07. The defense carried them to a 5-1 record. But all of the goodwill built in the prelims was erased by a spectacular collapse to Greece in the quarterfinals. All it took was a terrible 3 minutes.
I have questions about whether this team can replicate the stout team defense that was key to their strong early play in '07. My skepticism lies mainly in the fact that there is no Rasho Nesterovic this summer. Rasho has always been an underrated defender in the NBA, and he was absolute force in the interior last Eurobasket.
PF Matjaz Smodis is one of the top bigs in Europe. He's a multi-skilled big with nice post moves, passing skills & shooting range. Smodis has developed into a reliable post defender and he's the leader of this team.
Shooting guard position could have been potent if Vujacic & Sani Becirovic were on board, but Slovenia will have to make due with Domen Lorbek & Samo Udrih (Beno's bro). The 6-5 Lorbek's primary role is to be a floor-spreader, same with Samo.
Losing Beno is no big deal, since Slovenia did pretty well in '07 with a PG tandem of Jaka Lakovic & Goran Dragic. Lakovic is the more offensive-minded point, who's a danger to shoot coming off the pick/roll. Lakovic can sometimes make careless decisions with the ball--gets too sped up. Phoenix's Dragic ain't a shooter, but he's a pest on the defensive end.
Have a quality SF platoon of Boci Nachbar & Goran Jagodnik. Nachbar is an underrated athlete who can shoot, rebound, & finish strong. Wily vet Jagodnik is a live body who hustles for rebounds, runs the floor hard, and can hit jumpers.
6-11 Erazem Lorbek is coming off a terrific campaign with CSKA, where he teamed with Smodis upfront. Similar to Smodis, Lorbek is a threat to work you over in the post with nice footwork or to step away to hit jumpers.
Have the ability to really stretch out a defense thanks to bigs who can float out like Smodis, Lorbek, Brezec, & Slokar. Can put five shooters on the floor at the same time.
Reserve big Uros Slokar (ex-Raptor) is strictly around to spread the floor & rebound a little. New Philly center Primo Brezec played well last time he was on the national team at the '06 Worlds, and has the ability to bury mid-range jumpers.
Slovenia must have a healthy Smodis if they want to challenge for a medal. A qualifying spot could possibly be had without Smodis, but the margin error is very small.
Key Players: Nenad Krstic; Milos Teodosic; Uros Tripovic; Milan Macvan
Absent Players: Igor Rakocevic; Darko; Peja
Since the 2002 Worlds title, Serbia's Senior team has fallen from the upper echelon of European basketball. Serbia is looking to regain its mojo this summer, and there are definitely some positive vibes after strong exhibition play in August.
The good thing for Serbia is that they can access endless reserves of raw talent filtering thru their youth systems. No surprise this team has multiple shooters, including bigs who like to float out.
OK City's Nenad Krstic is the lone NBAer on the roster, and will be an offensive point of emphasis. They will look to feed Krstic on the block some, and utilize 20-foot range in pick/pop action. 7-2 former Golden State center Kosta Perovic is only effective in short stints, but can score with his hook shot & cause problems on the offensive glass with his size.
Multi-skilled combo forward Novica Velickovic is one of the better young players in Europe, who has a nice all-around game. 6-9 Velickovic can shoot from distance, put the ball on deck, pass off the dribble, and score on the post a little.
6-8 Milan Macvan is another multi-talented forward Serbia can turn to up front. The beefy Macvan can face-up, score down low with old-school moves, and will hit the glass. Expect him to do the dirty work for this squad.
Olympiacos' Milos Teodosic will get the nod to run the offense most of the time. Teodosic deals with bouts of inconsistency, and was a non-factor in '07. Teodosic has played all right in August and can knock down open jumpers.
6-7 combo guard Milenko Tepic ran the offense for Partizan with a restrained grace this year, and he will get his chances to run the Serbia offense some. Tepic is an average shooter who likes to drive right.
Serbia will also employ Boban Popovic at the point. Boban is not much of a shooter, he's on the floor for his defense. Wing Uros Tripkovic is here to do one thing--that's to shoot the snot out of the ball. Serbia will look to run Uros off screens.
Serbia can easily overtake Slovenia for 2nd place, especially if Smodis doesn't play in the 1st round. Not sure Serbia is medal-contender quality, but they can surely fight for a qualifying spot.
Key Players: A. Betts; N. Reinking; N. George; Joel Freeland
Missing Players: L. Deng; B. Gordon
There were high hopes for Britain's first Eurobasket appearance since 1981, but those hopes have been submarined by the absence of Luol Deng & Ben Gordon. Even with Deng & Gordon on board, it would have been a tall order to win a game in this year's "Group of Death". Without the NBAers, Britain's chances for the 2nd round are slim to none.
Have to say the frontcourt rotation ain't that bad. Pair two wily, physical vets (Andrew Betts & Robert Archibald) with two younger athletes (Joel Freeland & Pops Mensah-Bonsu). Rob Archibald can score around the rim and is a sneaky driver when faced up 12-15 feet away. 7-0 Andrew Betts is a crafty big with clever footwork who can score with his back-to-basket off of spin moves & sweeping hooks on the left block.
Portland Blazer property Joel Freeland likes to float out for his soft jumper, and use his mobility to change some shots. Recent Hou. Rocket signee Pops doesn't have much in the way of refined skills, but his uber-athleticism leads to boards, blocks, & dunks.
In place of Deng, the Brits will turn to former VCU standout Nick George & ex-Villanova wing Andrew Sullivan to provide athletic options at SF. The chiseled 6-6 George is an OK shooter, and his physical gifts allow him to be an effective rebounder & defender. 6-7 Sullivan also provides some rebounding and top-notch defending on the wings.
Britain will count on two lefty combo guards to lead its backcourt. Nate Reinking will be called on to handle the brunt of the point guard duties. 6-0 Reinking (Kent St.) can knock down shots, but can get used on defense. 6-3 Mike Lenzly is probably more of a streaky shooter than Reinking, but he's a better athlete who rebounds well for his size. Dartmouth grad Flinder Boyd is a diminutive distributor with great court vision off the pine.
Not really seeing how they win a game unless they catch Slovenia or Serbia napping. A wild-card berth is not totally out of the question, however. If the British federation can assure FIBA by December that Deng & Gordon are committed to play in 2010, FIBA might want to have the 2012 host country team in Turkey to build up interest in Britain.