Monday, September 07, 2009

Eurobasket 2009 Preview: Group D

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

Key Players: L. Kleiza; R. Javtokas
Absent Players: S. Jasikevicius; R. Siskauskas; D. Songaila; R. Kaukenas

Like Greece, this perennial power is missing its primary playmakers, Saras Jasikevicius & Ramunas Siskauksas. It was assumed earlier in the summer that the loss of these Euro studs would derail Lithuania's medal contention. But quality play in the exhibition stage has confirmed this country will be a major player this year.

There were never any worries about their frontline--one of deepest in the tourney. The big question centered about what they would do in the backcourt. Not only are Saras & Siskauksas gone, but Lithuania is also without their top shooting guards, Rimantas Kaukenas & Arvydas Macijauskas. Lithuania's roster is rather lopsided with only four guards on the roster.

The dropoff from Saras to any other Lithuania PG is precipitous. And not having Siskauskas hurts because he often functioned as a point-forward. Really don't have an experienced playmaker on this year's roster. They can have some issues with extended defensive pressure, even had problems with that when Saras was around.

Lithuania, at its best, plays the prototypical Euro-style system of crisp ball movement & off-the-ball player movement, with plenty of 3-point attempts as the scoring weapon of choice. And they always have multiple guys who can flat-out bury jumpers, including some bigs who can pop out & cause problems for opposing defending bigs. As usual, Lithuania has no shortage of perimeter shooting power.

Lithuania will turn to a point guard-by-committee set-up. Mantas Kalnietis ran the PG spot the last time Saras was absent, at the '06 Worlds, with mixed results. 6-5 Kalnietis is a big, fast guard who likes to push & attack the rim. He's a subpar shooter that makes careless decisions sometimes.

5-11 Andrius Mazutis is a pesky defender who will split time with Kalnietis at PG. 6-3 Tomas Delininkaitis will be forced into some PG duties. The athletic Delininkaitis is more of 2-guard who can shoot.

SG Mindaugas Lukauskis is a long-armed athlete on the wings who can shoot coming off screens and can finish in transition. SF Simas Jasaitis is another sniper who sneaks to open spots. Jasaitis might have to swing over to the SG some.

Even without Songaila, they still have a solid frontline who can hit the glass hard. The Lavrinovic twins (Krystof & Darjus) are both active, athletic 7-footers who can float out to the perimeter & will hit the glass. 6-11 Robertas Javtokas is a big, strong athlete who will hit the glass & defend, but gives nothing much on offense besides some dunks. Well-built Marijonas Petravicius gives Lithuania another serviceable big body who likes to bang & has solid footwork to score close to the basket.

Linas Kleiza should emerge as this unit's primary threat. We know Linas can shoot, but he also has an explosive first step and does a nice job cutting off the ball.

Even with a suspect backcourt, Lithuania needs to be taken seriously. Standing somewhere on the medal platform is a realistic goal. Actually, getting a 2010 qualifying spot this summer is probably not necessary since this country has a wild-card berth locked up if they need one.

Key Players: Marcin Gortat; David Logan; Maciej Lampe; L. Koszarek
Absent Players: Filip Dylewicz

Feeling this upstart group as a minor sleeper. Don't think this team can medal, but a qualifying spot is well within reach. A 2nd-place finish in Group D is a reasonable proposition, especially if Turkey's not motivated.

The primary offensive option is 2005 NCAA Div. II Player of the Year, combo guard David Logan. Logan is a top scorer in Europe, and Poland will put the ball in his hands in iso or pick/roll situations. Next to Logan, the speedy PG Lukasz Koszarek is an aggressive penetrator with reliable shooting prowess. Lukasz is creative with the pass as well.

Great size on their starting frontline with 7-foot Marcin Gortat, 7-foot Maciej Lampe, and 6-9 SF Michal Ignerski. M. Gortat's offense is limited to finishing at close range on offense (dangerous on rolls), but he is a tremendous presence on defense & the glass. Former NBAer Maciej Lampe gives Poland another mobile big next to Gortat. Lampe likes to face-up and can hit turnarounds on the blocks.

Former Buck draftee 6-11 Szymon Szewczyk provides Poland with another athletic big who rebounds well, blocks some shots & has a reliable jumper. 39-year-old Adam Wojcik is making one last Euro appearance--he's a multi-talented 6-10 big with good face-up skills.

Michal Ignerski's primary purpose is to spread the floor for Logan & Koszarek to operate. The former Miss. State standout Ignerski can hit shots coming off screens as well.

PG Krzysztof Szubarga looks like Jon Kitna, so he's got that going for him. Szubarga can't shoot like Koszarek, but can ably set-up teammates.

This team has much more promise than the '07 version that relied a little too much on aging Polish legend Wojcik. They added more firepower & athleticism this summer and can make a push for a qualifying spot at home.

Key Players: Hedo; E. Ilyasova; K. Tunceri; O. Asik
Absent Players: M. Okur; K. Gonlum; S. Erdogen; K. Pekar

Play in the prep games has been a mixed bag. Wonder if you will see cohesion and urgency from a team that has been lacking these attributes in the past. Especially have to be skeptical considering Turkey is already qualified for the 2010 Worlds.

Underachieved at the '07 Eurobasket, where Hedo was the only productive Turk. The shooting was just atrocious--36% field goal pct. for the tourney & 57% from the FT line. They were often painful to watch and lacked any direction on offense.

One continuing thread thru the last few years of subpar national team action has been lackluster play at the PG position. Ender Arslan & Engin Atsur struggled to make any type of imprint in '07, and this put undue pressure on Hedo. Will likely see a 3-man PG platoon of Atsur, Arslan & Kerem Tunceri.

On a positive note, Tunceri is probably the most stable playmaker of the available points. And maybe the PG struggles have been because Tunceri has been absent from int'l play the last few years. We'll see if Tunceri makes the offense sail smoother; still think Hedo should take the brunt of the ball-handling duties.

At least no worries at the forward position with Hedo & Ersan Ilyasova around. In '07, Hedo was a force, creating shots for himself or for his teammates off the bounce. Wasn't Hedo's fault that his teammates failed to knock down their open looks.

Ersan Ilyasova had himself a superb year with FC Barcelona, helping lead his team to the Euroleague Final 4. Ilyasova can run pick/pop action, he can create shots in the mid-range (step-backs), and he score on the block when needed. The 6-9 athlete was one of the best rebounders in the Euroleague.

Turkey is going with a youth movement on the frontline. C Oguz Savas can score with some crafty moves, but he's lacks mobility limits his effectiveness. 6-10 Omer Asik is not as polished as Savas, but is much more athletic, which makes him a defensive presence & rebounding star. 6-11 Semih Erden used to be considered a NBA prospect but has never really progressed as hoped.

Decided to pass on the services of sharpshooting guards Serkan Erdogen & Ibo Kutluay. Omer Onan will be asked to fill the SG void--better athlete than Erdogen, but not a better shooter.

Turkey has enough talent to be in the mix for a top-6 finish. Hedo & Ilyasova are good enough to carry this squad. I guess it comes down to how bad does Turkey want to win, or are they just treating Eurobasket as an early practice session for next summer's Worlds.

Key Players: Earl Rowland; Todor Stoykov; Filip Videnov
Missing Players: Ibrahim Jaaber

Probably the weakest team in the field and will be a surprise if they win a game. Didn't make it out of the 1st round in their last Eurobasket appearance in 2005, and don't see them doing any better this time. Lost one of their best players when PG Ibrahim Jaaber decided Euro '09 conflicted with his religious beliefs.

Their strength lies on the perimeter. PG Earl Rowland is a danger to penetrate and can finish in a variety of ways. SG Filip Videnov provides accurate shooting next to Rowland in the backcourt. Videnov is a former Western Kentucky Hilltopper, who's not a bad athlete himself. Swingman Todor Stoykov has been a prolific scorer in Europe for a decade. The 32-year-old is a solid athlete who can shoot and score off the dribble some.

Bulgaria's froncourt ranks are fairly shallow, and relies on the play of the Ivanov twins. Spanish League forward Kaloyan Ivanov is a mobile big who's comfortable playing away from the basket area and can put the ball on the deck. His brother, Dejan Ivanov, is a tenacious rebounder (especially on off. glass). Burly big Vassil Evtimov (ex-Tar Heel) can be counted on to throw his weight around and grab some boards.


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