Eurobasket 2009 Preview: Group A
(Teams listed in predicted order of 1st round finish)
Key Players: Roko Ukic; Mario Kasun; Marko Popovic; N. Vujcic
Absent Players: Marko Tomas; Damir Markota
This team is loaded to the gills with talent, and might have their deepest team of recent vintage. Have a well-balanced roster that can compete for a medal, and is a favorite for a qualifying spot. Though, their SF position is a little shaky with the recent injury of Marko Tomas.
Usually, Croatia looks to generate most of its offense on the perimeter, trying to free their guards to drive-n-kick and unleash their shooting acumen. Though this year, Croatia will look to exploit the interior skills of Vujcic, Prkacin, & Kasun some more.
Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic give Croatia two tall playmakers who are adept at getting in the lane. Ukic can finish, while Planinic is looking to dish. Both are shaky shooters. Meanwhile, combo guards Davor Kus & Marko Popovic will also handle the ball some, but their specialty is to shoot coming off ball screens.
SF Mario Stojic will try to fill the hole left by Marko Tomas. Stojic is adept at posting and can drive the ball from the mid-range.
They have a deep frontline rotation with great size & bulk. They won't overwhelm you offensively, but all their bigs give a good effort defensively, especially helping on screens, & will board hard. This team was a strong rebounding team the last few years, and now they've added more support with Vujcic & Kasun. Croatia is very dangerous on the offensive glass.
Bruising big Nikola Prkacin likes to methodically back in his defender, a la Barkley, often looking to finish with an old-school lefty hook. 6-9 Marko Banic gives Croatia another banger who throws his weight around on defense & the glass.
Valuable reserve Kresmir Loncar crashes the boards & will look for elbow jumpers. Sandro Nicevic has decent footwork to get some low-box points, and is another good help defender.
Quality bigs 7-0 Mario Kasun & 6-11 Nikola Vujcic (Olympiakos) have rejoined the national team, and add even more options up front. Kasun is an athletic finisher and rebounder. Vujcic has been one of the best bigs in Europe in the '00s--he can pass from the high post and likes to show off a hook in the low post.
Really improved their defensive play the last few years, which has brought more consistent play. Good help & recovery, and their bigs are very physical.
Just trying to divvy out minutes might be the toughest thing for Coach Repesa. We'll see how much they miss Tomas on the wings. Give a slight nod over Greece to win Group A, but it's probably a toss-up.
At the '07 Euros, Croatia beat Spain, played Lithuania tough, and lost to Greece on a 30-footer buzzer-beater from Spanoulis to win, so this team can definitely hang with the big boys.
Key Players: V. Spanoulis; G. Bourousis; A. Fotsis; K. Koufos
Absent Players: T. Papaloukas; D. Diamantidis; K. Tsartsaris; P. Vasilopoulos
Even without their decorated vets, Greece is still a dangerous club who can challenge for a medal. Greece has plenty of talent on hand but their two best facilitators are not in Poland, so there are question marks surrounding this year's team.
Greece has to deal with some upheaval this summer. First, Euro-Legends Theo Papaloukas & Dimis Diamantidis chose to take a break from national-team duty. Second, Greece closed the chapter on the successful Coach Yannakis regime and selected former Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas to man the sidelines.
With the change of coach, there has also been a change of style. Yannakis' teams were built on a grind-it-out, rugged defensive style. Kazlauskas wants to open things up, and try to push pace when applicable. We'll see how the players respond; they looked impressive in exhibition play.
No doubt Vasilis Spanoulis takes over as the primary playmaker. Spanoulis comes off the high screens looking to score, first & foremost. He loves to attack the rim, and draws fouls. He's extremely dangerous as a pull-up shooter, but less effective when forced to be a standstill shooter. He's just better when he gets a little rhythm into his shot. Defensively moves his feet well laterally to stay in front of his man.
Nick Calathes will be thrown into the fire in his first Senior team appearance. He will be part of the 3-man PG rotation along with Spanoulis & Zisis. The good news for Greece is that Calathes has looked steady running the offense in the exhibition stage. What helps Calathes is that he ran a lot of pick/roll at Florida.
Though the Greece perimeter is lacking some veteran talent, the frontcourt is very impressive with the likes of G. Bourossis, A. Fotsis, Big Sofo, K. Koufos, A. Glyniadakis, & G. Printezis. One of the deeper fronts in the tourney.
Big Sofo Schortsianitis is in the best shape he has been since the '06 Worlds, and has looked impressive so far this summer. They will set him up on the block, and utilize his nimble footwork & massive frame to carve out space.
Giannis Bourousis is one of the best bigs in Europe, who has range to 20 feet and will hit the glass. Jazz center Kostas Koufos gives Greece a big who can set up away from the paint. Andreas Glyniadakis is a serviceable 7-footer who will see limited minutes as a physical defensive option.
Panathinaikos' Antonis Fotsis might be the best 3pt shooter on the roster. The 6-9 PF can put the ball on the deck, has good passing skills and is an underrated athletic finisher. Sometimes he's just too reticent to assert himself.
Giorgios Printezis was a nice pickup by Toronto because he's a nice athlete who can play both forward spots. Often will seal into quick post-ups in the offense, and can attack off the dribble, where he loves to finish with his left hand. Makes quick, decisive moves all the time & goes hard to the glass.
Panathinaikos' Strat Perperoglou will step in for the injured P. Vasilopoulos at SF. Perperoglou ain't the aggressive defender that Vasilopoulos is, but Strat's a decent shooter. Vet SG Nikos Zisis should see more consistent burn this year with Theo & Dimis gone. Zisis is one of the best shooters on the team, but more of a mid-range threat.
We'll see how these guys adjust to the coaching change & absence of their leaders, Theo & Dimis. It will be interesting to see if they retain the defensive intensity that was their calling card under Yannakis, especially with no Dimis. Whatever the case, Greece still has enough talent & chemistry to make a push for a qualifying spot and possibly a medal.
Key Players: Y. Halperin; Y. Green; L. Eliyahu
Absent Players: O. Casspi; M. Tapiro
Israel will try to build on its '07 Euro experience, where they made some noise by knocking Serbia out of the tourney. Was liking Israel as a sleeper pick for the qualifying spot, but their underwhelming exhibition play gave me pause.
Israel suffered a ding to their talent base when Sacto King Omri Casspi decided to skip out on '09 Euro to prepare for his new NBA gig.
Combo guard Yotam Halperin (Olympiakos) is a very good shooter with very good pg skills & a knack for picking up steals. Halperin can sometimes be indecisive when playing point, and seems more comfortable off the ball.
Houston Rocket draftee Lior Eliyahu is a superb athlete with long arms. The 6-9 combo forward Eliyahu is not a shooting threat, but can get to the rim, where he will finish hard.
Swingmen Tal Burnstein provides Israel with another shooter next to Halperin. Guy Pnini can also shoot the ball on the wings, and adds some dogged defense to the mix.
The frontline is led by uber-athletic Yaniv Green, who is a tenacious rebounder & strong finisher in the paint. Green will get help from another rugged inside presence in the form of Ido Kozikaro. Former Cal-Berkeley standout Amit Tamir provides Israel with a 7-footer with a deft touch & passing skills.
Giving Israel a slight edge over Macedonia to advance to the 2nd round. A longshot for one of the six qualifying spots.
Key Players: Jeremiah Massey; Vrbica Stefanov; Todor Gecevski
Absent Players: Vlado Ilievski; Darius Washington
The only other Eurobasket appearance for this young country was 10 years ago, when they didn't win a game. Have shown promise with some competitive play in the friendly stage. Very closely matched with Israel and could easily beat them out for a spot in the 2nd round.
A quality frontline led by former Kansas St. forward Jeremiah Massey. Massey uses his athleticism to crash the offensive glass and finish emphatic dunks. Not a reliable shooter, but is a danger to dribble-drive by bigs.
6-10 C Todor Gecevski brings perimeter shooting and a sweet ponytail to the mix. Gecevski is tough on the off. glass, and will sometimes score with a righty hook. 6-9 PF Pero Antic is another good athlete up front, who provides some more rebounding & a decent mid-range jumper.
Have a solid frontline rotation that should rebound well. Former NBA draft prospect Predrag Samardziski is a 7-foot wide-body who can hit the elbow jumper. Not very mobile, but can rebound some and block a shot or two.
Their backcourt depth has been compromised some with the loss of Vlado Ilievski & Darius Washington. The former U. of Memphis star was left off the roster because Massey took the naturalized slot.
Savvy vet Vrbica Stefanov controls the offense with a steady hand. Stefanov is a solid shooter who makes impeccable decisions with the ball. Next to Vrbica, SG Riste Stefanov is the designated deadeye marksman.
Macedonia is right there with Israel, and their 1st-round matchup should be hotly-contested. They can advance to the 2nd round, but don't foresee any way they can grab a qualifying spot for the Worlds.