2010 FIBA Worlds: Group B Preview
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The 2010 FIBA World Championships tip off in Turkey on Saturday, and run through the medal games at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul on Sunday, September 12. The Painted Area will provide analysis throughout the tournament.
Our preview of the four groups continues with Group B. The top 4 teams will advance to the 16-team knockout stage.
GROUP B (Predicted order of finish):
(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)
- Notable Players: Kevin Durant; Derrick Rose; Andre Iguodala; Lamar Odom; Chauncey Billups; Tyson Chandler; Kevin Love; Rudy Gay; Danny Granger; Stephen Curry; Eric Gordon; Russell Westbrook
- Notable Absences: The entire 2008 team
As we've noted previously, in the NBA era, when Team USA has brought so few players with established All-Star credentials and big-game experience, they have struggled. Beyond that, trying to establish team cohesion in a matter of weeks is a major disadvantage compared to teams like Spain, Argentina and Greece, who have all played together for years.
That said, after some seriously sloppy performances in their first outings, Team USA is starting to come together, with a tough road win over Spain in Madrid followed by today's blowout over Greece in Athens.
As of now, the U.S. and Spain seem on a collision course for a rematch of their epic 2008 Olympic final--a semifinal matchup on Sat., Sept. 11 in Istanbul between two closely-matched teams which ultimately decides the gold-medal winner seems like a good bet.
While Team USA's half-court offense has struggled to achieve cohesion, the team defense has been first-rate from the get go. Athleticism on the perimeter is this team's chief strength--the U.S. has had great success in forcing turnovers to ignite a lethal transition game so far, and will need to continue to do so once the big games hit.
After not looking like himself for Team USA's first few games, Kevin Durant seems to be finding his comfort level and reminding us why he has become one of the best players in the world at the tender age of 21. Offensive production from Durant will be a must against the best teams, as this roster sort of reminds us of the 2002 version in that it's hurting a little for players who create their own shot. There was a lot pressure on Paul Pierce to produce every game.
To that end, Derrick Rose has to be the secondary playmaker on this team, not just as a scorer, but also by playing the drive-and-kick game and turning penetration into open looks from the short FIBA 3pt line.
Team USA's size issues have been well-documented and the interior defense appears shaky. Tyson Chandler has been subpar, which has forced Lamar Odom into more minutes with the main unit, which is not necessarily bad. Though, Odom could be taxed if he has to guard a skilled true center like Tiago Splitter.
Not much in the way of low-box scoring. Odom can score on occasion on the block and Kevin Love's got some post skills, but is unlikely to get much burn.
Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook aren't on this team to shoot, they're here to fly around the defensive end. Iguodala has been especially impressive as a disruptive defender in the pre-tournament games.
Chauncey Billups provides leadership, experience and shooting from the backcourt. Eric Gordon is the designated sharpshooter off the bench. Stephen Curry is another shooter in reserve and provides another capable ball-handler/passer. Rudy Gay and Danny Granger will sub at both forward spots.
Even though they lack traditional size, the rebounding should be alright since Odom, Durant and Iggy are all above-average rebounders for their positions.
While this version of Team USA resembles the 2002-06 editions in terms of talent level and experience playing together, there have of course been some key improvements in the USA Basketball program since that time, with Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski restoring a sense of purpose, pride and professionalism.
Also, this team should be better prepared to face their opponents than they were in 2002, 2004 and 2006, thanks to Tony Ronzone running the scouting dept. and the use of Synergy Sports technology. Very underrated factor in their 2008 triumph.
All in all, we're kind of fascinated to see how this team develops over the next couple weeks, to see how young stars like Durant and Rose respond to the pressure of the international stage, and ultimately to see how Team USA fares in a medal-round matchup vs. Spain, if it materializes as expected.
- Notable Players: Leandro Barbosa; Tiago Splitter; Anderson Varejao
- Notable Absences: Nene
Brazil played some of the best ball they've ever played at the '09 FIBA Americas tourney and defeated Puerto Rico for the gold. A team that many have tabbed as a sleeper medal contender, Brazil has not quite performed up to expectations in the pre-tournament stage, but they've been dealing with a variety of injuries to key players. Varejao is dealing with a bum ankle, Splitter has been held back with leg issues, Huertas's knees are balky.
The recent loss of Nene hurt some, but Brazil should be able to cover fairly well with the tandem of Tiago Splitter and Andy Varejao, who were superb at both ends of the floor last summer. Splitter & Varejao are the best defensive frontline in the tourney. Both guys are comfortable moving away from the painted area and adept at covering pick/rolls.
Another reason for optimism is that Brazil hired Ruben Magnano as its head coach. Ruben was the mastermind behind Argentina's rise to prominence on the int'l scene and he's one of the best coaches in the tourney. Magnano has brought over some of the continuity sets he perfected with the Argentine team.
As usual, this team has great speed in the backcourt, not to mention their bigs run the floor hard. Thought they were more dangerous at the '06 Worlds when they played uptempo, and scrambled defensively.
Really think this team could wreak havoc with defensive pressure and force an uptempo game like Team USA. Have all the makings to be tough defensively.
Recent Spurs signee Tiago Splitter will be their featured interior player. Tiago's deft footwork gets him quality looks around the bucket. Has an effective righty hook and Tiago can finish with his left hand as well. Expect a few sweet up/under step-thru moves as well.
Tiago's touch can be dodgy but it seems to be more hit than miss these days. Sometimes his post-up attempts look fluid, other times his scoring attempts look ragged. His shooting stroke is still not easy on the eyes and his touch remains his main flaw. His shot comes off flat which is a factor in below-average free throw shooting.
We have mentioned Splitter's strong passing skills before but we feel it's necessary to reiterate what a terrific passer he has become. Not to mention, Tiago can make passes off the move and delivers the ball quickly when he sees an open teammate. His lateral movement on the defensive end is as good as any big in the NBA. Not to mention, he runs the floor hard.
Andy Varejao does same stuff he does in the NBA for Brazil: terrific all-around defense, rebounding and constant activity. Andy will even see a few post plays called for him.
Leandro Barbosa was an offensive force at the FIBA Americas, finishing behind only Scola in scoring average, with 21 ppg. Though, he did have issues with his 3PT shooting (30%). Brazil runs Barbosa in pick/rolls, isos and a few off-ball screens. This team is dangerous in transition thanks to great speed across the board.
Some minor concerns about the small forward position. It looks like former Spur/Hornet Alex Garcia will get the starting nod like he did last summer. Garcia is a powerfully built dude who plays aggressive on-ball defense but at 6-3 you're asking a lot for him to guard most SF.
Marcelo Machado is one of the top deep shooters in this tourney, not to mention a terrific passer. But he is 35 and has always been a liability defensively.
Former NO Hornet Marcus Vinicius has raw talent but tends to be inconsistent. Vinicius is a capable pull-up shooter as well, particularly going to his left.
Marcelo Huertas is a speedy 6-3 PG who can penetrate and finish with variety of floaters. Huertas has always been adept at ball pressure and his feisty on-ball defense was effective against Prigioni and Rubio in the ACB playoffs. Played a huge role in Caja Laboral's strong season and stunning upset of Barca in the ACB Finals. Usually not much of an outside threat, Huertas shot 45% from long range for Caja this year.
Barbosa might be known as the Brazilian Blur but reserve PG Welington Dos Santos might be blurrier--this kid can burn. Dos Santos ain't much of a shooter but he can blow-by in the half-court and in transition.
18 year-old PG Raul Neto made the final cut but doubt we will get to see much of future 1st round prospect. Terrific ball-handler with great passing skills. Brazil might need to play Huertas heavy minutes since the PG reserves are unproven at this level of competition.
Combo forward Guilherme Giovannoni is their designated stretch-4 option. Former Gonzaga PF JP Batista is a wide body with nimble footwork on the block. 6-10 Murilo Becker is a serviceable big with 3pt. range and strong off. rebounding skills.
Subpar free throw shooting remains a minor concern; the foul line killed them in '06. The backcourt has the speed to hang with Team USA but can they handle the pressure defense? If the guards can withstand Team USA's initial wave of pressure to get into the half-court offense, Brazil has a chance.
- Notable Players: Goran Dragic; Boki Nachbar; Sani Becirovic; Primoz Brezec
- Notable Absences: Erazem Lorbek; Beno Udrih; Matjaz Smodis; Sasha Vujacic; Rasho Nesterovic
If only this country could get all its top players together at once. Key players like Beno Udrih, Erazem Lorbek, Domen Lorbek, Matjaz Smodis and Sasha Vujacic chose to sit the Worlds out for various reasons.
The absence of Lorbek is a huge blow and pretty much sinks their hopes of medalling. I thought Slovenia was the second-best team at EuroBasket 2009, and had the 2nd-best player in the tourney in Lorbek.
Still should be a solid team in Turkey thanks to a nice backcourt rotation of Sani Becirovic, Goran Dragic, Jaka Lavovic and Samo Udrih, who can all handle the ball and shoot.
Plenty of shooters dot the roster. Can put a starting lineup out there in which all five guys have range out to 18 feet. Very crisp ball-movement and constantly making the extra pass. Like to go with double high-post sets. Will often use handoffs to set up side pick/rolls.
An underrated factor in Slovenia's rise up the FIBA ladder has been its stout defense over the last few years. Thought they would suffer some with Rasho Nesterovic retiring from int'l play, but they held up well on the defensive end last summer. Slovenia was first in both FG% defense and 3pt. defense at EuroBasket.
Goran Dragic has looked superb in prep games. His vastly improved jumper has ignited a confidence that has made him a rising stud. Dragic will get the good chunk of playmaking duties and his penetration opens up some many great looks for his teammates. Expect to see some whirling-dervish type plays in the lane from Goran. Also allows Slovenia to get out in transition.
Everyone knows about Dragic, but Sani Becirovic might be just as important to Slovenia's fortunes. Becirovic is a combo guard who's a very steady decision maker with a good handle. Sani is a dangerous shooter and adept at hitting off-balance runners. Even see Sani post-up sometimes. The only issue for Slovenia is that Sani's status is up in the air because of injury.
Jaka Lakovic is veteran combo guard who's a danger to shoot coming off screens. Lakovic can run the point for short stretches but you need to cap his PG minutes. Lakovic can sometimes make careless decisions with the ball--gets too sped up. Samo ain't Beno, but the lesser-known Udrih is a serviceable guard who can handle the ball and hit his open looks.
Bostjan Nachbar is a great option at SF and was Slovenia's 2nd-best player last year. Boki's athleticism helps him finish strong and rebound well for a SF. Slovenia will post Boki some and let him iso, where he can score off of pull-ups. Boki will be backed-up by 6-6 Goran Jagodnik, a tough vet who hustles, brings physical defense and hits open jumpers.
The projected starting frontcourt of Primoz Brezec and Uros Slokar is OK, but it's clearly a dropoff from Lorbek-Smodis. They might need to play Nachbar some minutes at the 4-spot.
Brezec can take his jumper out to 17 feet and is a capable roll/cut man. Brezec might not tear up the NBA, but he tends to be a solid performer for Slovenia. Slokar (ex-Raptor) plays the role of a four-spreader (stretch-4) and will occasionally mix in a lefty hook around the rim.
PF Miha Zupan, or as we like to call him, "the Slovenian Scalabrine", can hit an open jumper and provides nice activity. 6-10 Hasan Rizvic bring boards and blocks. Gaspar Vidmar is a big boy with some post skills and a quick first step on drives.
Their quality perimeter players and overall ability to shoot should allow this team to advance to the knockout phase. Though, Slovenia could be dealt a blow if Becirovic can't go--might have to drop them below Croatia.
- Notable Players: Marko Tomas; Ante Tomic; Roko Ukic; Bojan Bogdanovic; Zoran Planinic
- Notable Absences: Mario Kasun; Nikola Vujcic
The coaching change from Jasmin Repesa to Josip Vrankovic was much needed as the players seemed to tune out Repesa last year. Croatia's similar to its Slavic neighbor, Slovenia, in that its strength lies on the perimeter with five to six guys who can handle the ball.
Really missed the services of swingman Marko Tomas last summer. Tomas' return, coupled with the addition of Bojan Bogdanovic (possible NBA prospect), makes the SF position considerably better than last summer.
In the past, Croatia looked to generate most of its offense on the perimeter, trying to free its guards to drive-n-kick and unleash their shooting acumen. Though this year, Croatia will also look to exploit the interior skills of 7-footer Ante Tomic (Jazz hold rights).
Ante Tomic's offensive skill-set is the envy of every big in Europe not named Erazem Lorbek, but Ante moves better than Lorbek. Could consider Tomic a poor-man's version of Pau. Combines deft footwork with a feathery touch to do damage on offense. Can bury hooks with both hands. Can hit jumpers out to 17 feet. Good offensive rebounder. Pretty good passer who puts good zip on the ball.
Tomic's issues revolve around his narrow frame--not sure he can add much weight. Ante is often pushed off his spots on both ends of the floor. Tomic does not enjoy contact and has a tendency to disappear for extended stretches. Croatia will try to establish Tomic early on the block.
The PG combo of Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic was the one consistent element for the Croats last summer. Both are adept at getting in the lane. Ukic can finish & dish, while Planinic is mostly looking to dish. Both guys don't always need screens to shake themselves free. Both are generally shaky shooters, but Ukic shot the ball well last year.
Ukic has looked sharp in the prep phase and continues to show an improved outside touch. Planinic is trying to work his way back from injury. Sometimes Planinic will run the offense out of the post. Croatia likes to get their guards working off of side ball screens, particularly Ukic.
Meanwhile, combo guards Davor Kus & Marko Popovic will also handle the ball some, but their specialty is to shoot coming off ball screens. Popovic has the ability to score points in bunches though he might have to curtail his instincts as he should see more time at PG this year, given Planinic's shaky health.
6-7 SF Marko Tomas is a dangerous shooter on the catch or off-the-dribble. Adept at quick dribble pull-ups. Tomas is a solid athlete who can put the ball on the deck to the left or right & finish in the lane. Good ball-handler who ran plenty of pick/roll with his club team, Cibona. Croatia will place Tomas in some isos and ball screens.
Bojan Bogdanovic is sort of a younger version of his Croatian teammate, Marko Tomas, but 6-7 Bojan might be a tad more athletic. Can drive the ball effectively going either left or right and can finish in traffic. His club team, Cibona, would sometimes let him run pick/rolls, but don't expect to see him in many ball screens with Croatia. Will mostly be a spot-up shooter. His minutes could be inconsistent in Turkey as he will primarily spell Tomas.
PF Marko Banic is a smart player who always shoots a high pct. and does a great job at finding the open spots in their offense. Effective scoring off cuts and can knock down mid-range jumpers all over the floor, but particularly likes to set up shop on the baseline for short corner jumpers. Banic is great on the offensive glass but stinks on the defensive glass. Banic uses his body well to be a physical post defender.
Croatia will also get valuable contributions from PF/C Kresmir Loncar. The 6-10 Loncar has a little bit more range on his jumper than Banic and can sometimes bury 3pts. Loncar is another good off. rebounder on the frontline. Reserve bigs Luka Zoric & Luksa Andric might see a little bit of burn and both can hit the offensive glass.
Croatia needs to get back to the strong defense they played prior to last year. Part of Croatia's subpar EuroBasket play can be blamed on bad defense--FG defense (46.7%) & 3pt. defense (38%). Croatia is usually tough on the offensive glass.
If Croatia can get assertive play from Tomic every game, they could finish ahead of Slovenia and push Brazil for 2nd place.
- Notable Players: Hamed Hamadi; Samad Nikkah Bamrani; Arsalan Kazmani
- Notable Absences: Hamed Afagh
Were very impressive at the '09 Asian Championships, where they finished 9-0 and smushed China 70-52 in the finals. Getting the 4-seed in Group B will be a mighty task, however.
Led by Memphis Grizzlies' reserve Hamad Haddadi up front while SG Samad Nikkah and PG Mehdi Kamrani bring speed & skill on the perimeter.
Very impressed with how this team collectively passes the ball. Smartly run some Princeton-type sets that pull Haddadi up to high post. Are somewhat effective in transition as well.
While 7-2 Hamed Haddadi might not have much impact in the NBA, he's a major factor in FIBA ball. Hamed led the '09 Asian championships in rebounding (13 per) and blocks (4 per game). No surprise Iran calls some post-ups for Haddadi. His best asset is his passing ability, which is accentuated in Iran's system.
SG Samad Nikkah Bahrami might be just as valuable to Iran as NBAer Haddadi--Samad can ball. Bahrami effectively uses pick/roll and isolations to get shots off all over the floor. Samad's a good athlete with a very good handle and great passing skills. He's not shy about getting his shots up either.
Nikkah shares ball-handling with two speedy guards Mehdi Kamrani and Javad Davari. Iran's outside shooting (which was not great last year) could be compromised a bit with sharpshooter Hamed Afagh on the shelf.
SF Arsalan Kazemi starred at Rice this past season, where he was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team. Kazemi is an explosive athlete who finishes strong and crashes the glass--averaged 9 rpg, 2nd best in C-USA. His offense is still raw and he's strictly a finisher at this point.
6-5 Oshin Sahakian and Asghar Kardoust are quality rebounders. Rebounding is a strength of the Iranians. Though, their FT shooting needs work.
This team is not bad. But just can't picture them finishing ahead of Croatia or Slovenia. They might stay competitive with those teams for a spell but can only win if they catch either team on a very off-night.
- Notable Players: Amine Rzig; Salah Mejti; M. Kechrid
- Notable Absences: Abdulai Jalloh
What little we've seen of the Afrobasket bronze medalist is enough to know they are the weakest team in the field. Not really sure how they finished ahead teams like Nigeria, Cameroon or Senegal.
Really like to jack up the long ball and shot the ball at a decent clip last year (34%). Did a very poor job rebounding last summer at Afrobasket and expect the rebounding woes to continue this year.
SF Amine Rzig is the featured player of this North African club. Rzig is good athlete who has a nice all-around game. He can rebound, pass and shoot. Look for Rzig to post-up and iso somewhat.
7-1 Salah Mejri is skinny and slow but does have the length to be an effective rebounder and shot-blocker. Undersized team outside of Mejri, which explains the bad rebounding. 5-9 Marouana Kechrid is a speedy playmaker with a reliable shooting stroke.
SG Atef Maoua is their designated sharpshooter. SF Naim Dhifallah will also look to get jumpers up and Tunisia sometimes sends him off screens.
Tunisia's only remote shot at a victory is vs. Iran. If they can keep that game respectable, they should feel good about their Worlds experience.
• FIBA Worlds overview: Power Rankings, Players to Watch, More
• FIBA Worlds team previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D