Early Look At The 2010 FIBA Worlds Field
The field of 24 for the 2010 FIBA Worlds was officially set with the announcement over the weekend that Lithuania, Germany, Russia and Lebanon secured wild-card berths.
Have to hand it to the FIBA brass for picking the European teams who were most deserving of a spot in Turkey. Didn't let Grand Poobah Stern bogart them into choosing Britain for a berth over a more deserving team like Germ., Lith., or Russia.
Would have preferred Dom. Republic getting the non-European berth over Lebanon because the Dominicans could have put a more competitive team on the floor. But can't quibble with the selection too much since Lebanon's fan base showcased voracious grass-roots support.
On Tuesday, FIBA held a draw in Istanbul to split up the 24 teams into four groups of six. Group play begins on August 28th. Each team plays every other team in its group once. The top four teams from each group earn a spot in the single-elimination playoff portion that starts Sept. 4th.
This is how the draw shook out for the preliminary round (listed in predicted order of finish):
Group A: Argentina; Serbia; Germany; Australia; Angola; Jordan
Group B: USA; Slovenia; Brazil; Croatia; Iran; Tunisia
Group C: Greece; Turkey; Russia; Puerto Rico; China; Ivory Coast
Group D: Spain; Lithuania; France; Canada; New Zealand; Lebanon
Quick take on the opening-round groupings:
Really don't see a clear-cut "Group of Death". Think the groupings are pretty well balanced. Group B could be tough if Croatia plays up to its talent level. Team USA will have to face off vs. big frontlines in group play that could hurt them if they choose to run Melo or Bron at the 4-spot.
Greece lucked into a very good situation by being able to avoid USA or Spain until the finals. Though, Turkey or Russia could win Group C instead of Greece. Group C could have five playoff-caliber teams, if Yao goes for China.
I would say the draw worked in Argentina's favor, considering Serbia, Germany and Australia all should be solid next summer, but none great. Also, if everything goes according to form, Arg. gets to avoid Spain & USA until the finals.
Group D looks very top heavy with three legit medal contenders. Just too bad we will be likely robbed of a Team USA-Spain Gold medal game, as they are slated to meet in the semis.
Below we prematurely try to rank the teams into tiers. Obviously we should have a better take on the Worlds' field once the summer rolls around and rosters get set. (Tier I is ranked 1-5, Tiers II-V listed in alpha. order)
TIER I (The Main Contenders):
1) USA (Group B): Probably could put this team in a tier by themselves, or at least in a tier just with Spain. No doubt the heavy favorite for Gold. Mr. Colangelo has not gotten a firm commitment from Lebron, Wade or Bosh, so we'll see how this shakes out over the next few months. No doubt an endless reserve of talent to choose from if some of the big guns sit out. Placed in a fairly tough opening group with probably the best 2-seed team, Slovenia. Will be going up against some big, talented frontlines in Group B that could take advantage of Team USA's propensity to go small at the 4. Expect them to take home the Worlds title for the first time since 1994.
2) SPAIN (Group D): Even if Pau decides to take next summer off, the defending champ still has the goods to be the top challenger to Team USA. Lithuania and France should push Spain for Group D supremacy. Besides Pau's possible absence, Spain could be without the services of Rudy. Still plenty of firepower with Rubio, J. Navarro, Sergio Llull, Vic Claver, F. Reyes, and Marc Gasol at Coach Scariolo's disposal. Not sure if vets like Calderon, Garbajosa and Fran Vasquez will suit up for Espana. Expect uptempo play combined with lots of ball pressure in group play. Keep Sept. 11th clear on your calendar, as that's the date of a probable Spain-US semifinal.
3) ARGENTINA (Group A): Tentatively have them penciled in as the 3rd best team overall, but could see them slipping. Did get a favorable draw as they can avoid Spain and Team USA until the finals (if they make it that far). Manu is still dealing with lingering injuries and will be 33 by the time the Worlds start. Nocioni has balky knees that could force him to sit. Actually, most of Argentina's key guys (Prigioni, Oberto, Scola) will be 30 years old by the time the Worlds roll around--only Delfino is in his 20s. Lots of questions with this roster. Have not really replenished with any type of young talent and don't have much depth.
4) GREECE (Group C): Medal contender that could be the 3rd best team at the Worlds if Argentina can't overcome its age & injury issues. Theo Papaloukas and Dimis Diamantidis have stated they will be heading to Turkey next summer, which adds more firepower to a team that would be potent without these two vets. Greece took home the Bronze without them at last summer's Eurobasket, led by the dynamic play of V. Spanoulis. Always had been known for their aggressive half-court defense, but showed this year that they could be equally dangerous on the offensive end. No filler on this roster--deep upfront and in the backcourt. Guys like Sofo Schortsanitis, G. Bourousis, Antonis Fotsis, K. Koufos dot the frontline. Have three top-notch playmakers in Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Papaloukas. Next summer could be the best Greece team we seen in their recent run thanks to maturation of Spanoulis, Big Sofo and Bourousis.
5) SLOVENIA (Group B): This team is ready to slide into the upper echelon, really liking this team. Right now, think this is the 5th-best team in the field (if at full strength), and is probably just as good as Greece. And they could be headed for a matchup vs. Greece in the quarters. If they can get most of their main guys healthy next summer, they can compete for a medal. Thought they were the second best team at Eurobasket and had the 2nd best player in the tourney, Erazem Lorbek. Think they would have beaten Serbia if Goran Dragic was healthy. Jaka Lakovic had to go too many minutes in the semis and he made some crucial blunders down the stretch. Snake-bitten by injuries last summer: Matjaz Smodis barely played, Dragic had to sit out the last few games, not to mention Beno Udrih and Sani Becirovic had to sit the whole tourney out. This team has a wealth of options and can put five deep shooters on the floor together thanks to Smodis & Lorbek's range. Lorbek & Smodis are two of the most fundamentally sound bigs outside the NBA. Bostjan Nachbar is a great option at SF and might pair with promising prospect Emir Preldzic (Cavs own rights). If they have the fortune of bringing most of top players, they can could slide above Argentina. Will see how the recent departure of Coach Jure Zdovc effects this team considering the strong job he did with a short-handed lineup last summer.
TIER II (Could win a game or two in playoff rounds):
BRAZIL (Group B): After underachieving the last few years, Brazil played some of the best ball they've ever played at the FIBA Americas tourney. The tandem of Tiago Splitter and A. Varejao was superb at both ends of the floor at the FIBA Americas. Best defensive frontline on the int'l stage. And if Nene joins next summer it adds more potency to this defensive front. L. Barbosa was an offensive force at the FIBA Americas finishing behind only Scola in scoring average with 21 ppg. The switch to Moncho Monsalve as head coach paid dividends right away, after some problems with the previous coach. Monsalve brought better flow and movement on the offensive end. Monsalve also made a concerted effort to get plenty of post-up action for his bigs, something his predecessor failed to do. Will be interesting to see Barbosa's status by next summer, since he has struggled to stay healthy in the first six weeks of the NBA season. This team is dangerous in transition thanks to great speed across the board. Marcelo Huertas and Alex Garcia add more quality speed next to Barbosa in the backcourt. Not an incredibly deep team and Coach Monsalve only seemed to have faith in 6-7 players--used a short rotation last summer that could be taxed by tough comp day-after-day at the Worlds.
FRANCE (Group D): Though they finished in 5th place at Eurobasket, France's only loss of the tourney came in the quarters vs. Spain. Should continue to be a strong defensive unit and tough on the boards. We harped ad nauseum that this squad's outside shooting ability holds them back from consistent medal contention. But we might have to start to soften that stance since France shot the ball fairly well at Eurobasket and seem to be improving its collective perimeter marksmanship. The roster should not be hurting for talent next year with names like Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, Ronny Turiaf and Florent Pietrus likely headed to Turkey. Will see if Mickael Pietrus, Roddy Beaubois and Joakim Noah join Les Bleus next summer. If they can finally add consistent shooting to their arsenal, the Frenchies will be a formidable force in Turkey.
LITHUANIA (Group D): Were forced to gain entry through the wild-card process after underachieving at Eurobasket. Their only win came against Bulgaria. The crux of Lith's problems last summer revolved around a patchwork backcourt that could not come close to replicating the playmaking brilliance of Saras Jasikevicius and Ramunas Siskauskas. Saras and Rimantas Kaukenas have indicated they will be available next summer, which is huge for Lithuania's fortunes. Though, it looks like Siskauskas has retired from national-team duties. His loss can't be taken lightly, considering he was Lithuania's secondary playmaker next to Jasikevicius. Frontcourt rotation is one of the best in the world. Spurs draftee Robertas Javtokas should be back and the Lavrinovic twins are currently playing well in Euroleague action. 6-9 Marijonas Petravicius gives Lith. an old-school bruiser who happened to be Lithuania's most consistent player last summer. Linas Kleiza can play inside & out and is playing superb ball right now for Olympiacos. As usual, Lith. will have shooters everywhere and expect crisp ball-movement to return with Saras back. If Saras can play like he did a couple of years ago (a big if), Lithuania becomes a legit medal contender.
RUSSIA (Group C): Coach David Blatt squeezed as much as you could ask from his undermanned Russian club last summer. Finished in 7th place without its two best players, one spot short of automatically qualifying for a Worlds spot. With Kirilenko and Vik Khryapa back in the fold next summer, Russia becomes a major player again. Very strong forward rotation of AK47, Khryapa, Sergey Monya and Kelly McCarty--all terrific defenders. Promising young big Timo Mozgov gives Russia an athletic, physical presence inside. Though, Timo is still rather raw and has trouble staying out of foul trouble. Need to get more consistent play from their PG tandem of Sergey Bykov & Anton Ponkrashov. Still could see some dry spells on the offensive end, but expect stellar defensive effort. Can compete on the same level as Greece and Turkey in Group C.
SERBIA (Group A): Coming off a surprising 2nd place finish at the 2009 Eurobasket. Went with a youth movement last summer and that really paid off. Serbia got great effort from nearly the whole roster. PG Milos Teodosic had a breakout tourney and Nenad Krstic was solid throughout. Serbia even saw some strong efforts from NBA castoff Kosta Perovic at Eurobasket. Teodosic got solid help on the perimeter from combo guard Milenko Tepic and sharpshooter Uros Tripkovic. Multi-skilled forward Novica Velickovic was a key contributor as well. Velickovic is one of the better potential NBA free agent targets in Europe, who's currently thriving with Euroleague power Real Madrid. Could steal 1st place in Group A if Argentina can't come healthy.
TURKEY (Group C): Started the '09 Eurobasket strongly but kind of lost steam as the tourney progressed. The Turks are led by their combo of multi-skilled 6-9 forwards, Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova. Have had issues with getting steady play at the PG spot in the past, but got nice contributions from Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan last summer. 7-footer Omer Asik gives Turkey an athletic presence in the painted area. Though, the Bulls draftee sometimes needs to be pulled late in games because of his dreadful foul shooting. Not sure if Memo Okur will join Hedo & Ersan. Though, even without Memo, this team is a formidable bunch who has the advantage of playing at home.
TIER III (Should advance out of group play):
AUSTRALIA (Group A): Impressive frontline rotation that could include A. Bogut, Dave Andersen, Nathan Jawai, current Vandy standout Andrew Ogilvy and former Wazzu bruiser Aron Baynes. Made the Round of 16 in 2006 where they were bounced by Team USA. Portland Trail Blazer Patty Mills should also be on board and made a quite a splash the last time he performed on the int'l stage. Right now, see the Aussies finishing with the 4-seed in Group A, but could get a 2-seed since I don't feel Serbia or Germany is much better than them. But Australia could easily be upended by Angola and fail to advance to the Round of 16. Though, they look to be in good shape vs. Angola because of their wealth of 7-footers.
CANADA (Group D): Canada earned a trip to Turkey by slipping past Dom. Republic (Fran Garcia didn't play) 80-76 for the last qualifying spot in the Americas Zone. Always a quality defensive unit anchored by a stout interior defense. Solid on the boards as well. Matt Bonner is expected to be added to a decent frontline rotation of Joel Anthony (Miami), Jesse Young & Levon Kendall. What holds this team back is a lack of playmakers since Steve Nash stopped playing internationally, which makes for a constant struggle on the offensive end. Carl English is their #1 option. English is a nice player (good shooter), but when he's the best scoring option/playmaker, you're in trouble offensively. Added some more movement to their half-court sets last summer, which helped to a degree at the FIBA Americas. Why Leo Rautins is interested in adding Jamaal Magloire to the mix, I'm not sure. Should be more concerned with adding some scoring to the mix or a true point guard. He might need to tap some of the promising young prospects from the Great White North like Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph or Myck Kabongo. Bring Kabongo or Joseph as a back-up PG. Expect them to secure the 4th seed in Group D.
CROATIA (Group B): Next to Lithuania, might have been the biggest underachiever at '09 Eurobasket. Even though Croatia finished in 6th place, they finished 4-5 overall and played uninspired ball throughout the tourney. The players seemed to tune out Coach Repesa and his recent departure might help this team refocus. Endless supply of quality big bodies who crush the boards, though some of the bigs are slowing down, like Nikola Vujcic & Nik Prkacin. Really missed the services of swingman Marko Tomas this past summer. The PG combo of Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic was the one consistent element for the Croats last summer. Raw talent to compete with the upper-echelon teams. Tough draw for Croatia and need to stay focused vs. Iran to grab a 4th-place finish.
GERMANY (Group A): Have to imagine the German federation is relieved to finally secure a wild card after the push Britain was getting from the NBA. The Germans only won one game at Eurobasket, but were competitive in every game with a severely undermanned unit. Coach Bauermann did a terrific job integrating a handful of newcomers into the German lineup. All of sudden, Germany looks to have a bright future after Dirk retires, with the likes of 6-10 Robin Benzing, SF Elias Harris (Gonzaga), Tim Olbrecht and PG Heiko Schaffartzik displaying tons of promise at Eurobasket. Nowitzki says he expects to be in Turkey, which automatically makes Germany playoff-caliber. No idea on the status of Chris Kaman. Could finish in 2nd place in Group A.
PUERTO RICO (Group C): Strong showing at the FIBA Americas tourney, finishing in 2nd place behind Brazil. A very deep team that likes to bomb the 3-ball. Quality playmakers in the backcourt with Carlos Arroyo, JJ Barea and Larry Ayuso likely on board next summer. Three servicable 7-footers in PJ Ramos, Dan Santiago & Ricky Sanchez. Think their Round of 16 status heavily hinges on if Yao suits up for China. If no Yao, P.R. should easily slide into 4th place in Group C. If Yao goes, it could be a tighter race for the last playoff spot.
TIER IV (Outside shot at a Sweet Sixteen playoff berth):
ANGOLA (Group A): An undersized, scrappy bunch that is never an easy out for their opponent. Made it to the Round of 16 in '06 where they pushed France to the brink, losing 68-62. Would not be stunned if they stole a spot from Australia or even Germany. Gave Germany quite a scare in 2006 in group play in a triple-OT classic.
CHINA (Group C): If Yao can't go next summer, a Round of 16 berth could be a tough get. Iran routed a Yao-less China in the Asian Championships that was played in China. Should be somewhat competitive with Yi Jianlian and Wang ZhiZhi leading the way.
IRAN (Group B): Definitely a rising squad on the int'l scene led by Memphis Grizzlies' reserve Hamad Haddadi. Were impressive in the Asian Champs., where they finished 9-0 and crushed China (with Yi Jianlian & Wang ZhiZhi) 70-52 in the finals. Getting the 4-seed in Group B will be a tough task, but could trip up Croatia if the Croats play like they did last summer.
NEW ZEALAND (Group D): Won the Oceania Zone title this summer over Australia. Doesn't mean much since the Oceania Zone set-up is a joke and Austraila brought their B-team. Very unimpressive play in their last Worlds appearance in 2006. Snuck into the playoff portion at the '06 Worlds only because they were in the weak Group B. Don't expect much from the Kiwis and should be eliminated after group play.
TIER V (Slim chance of getting past group play):
IVORY COAST; JORDAN; LEBANON; TUNISIA