Thursday, August 26, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Group C Preview

• FIBA Worlds overview: Power Rankings, Players to Watch, More
• FIBA Worlds team previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

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 C. The top 4 teams will advance to the 16-team knockout stage.

GROUP C (Predicted order of finish):


    Puerto Rico



    Ivory Coast
FIBA has finally gotten around to handing out punishment for last week's Greece-Serbia brawl. Greece's Antonis Fotsis and Sofo Schortsiantis will each have to sit two games. Greece opens with China, no problem. But then the Greeks have to face a quality Puerto Rico team in Game 2.

Puerto Rico is a deep team with a solid frontline rotation that could make the Greek game a toss-up. If Greece loses that game, it could throw this group into chaos, in which tiebreakers could decide 1st place.

Turkey has looked uneven in exhibition games, but I feel that their talent level (and home-court advantage) makes them legit medal contenders and the 2nd-best team in this group.

The Turkey-Greece game on Tuesday in Ankara should be one of the best games to watch in the Group Stage, as it's not only a matchup of intense rivals, but could also decide Group C.

In a really tough call, I placed Puerto Rico ahead of Russia. Like Puerto Rico's depth and think they can score the ball easier than Russia. Also, Russia's top player, Vik Khryapa, who has excelled in FIBA play, is dealing with injury issues. Russia should get 4th place and its defense will give them a chance to hang with the top three teams in this group.

China and Ivory Coast round out the group, and could have a competitive game to see who gets 5th place.

(Teams listed in order of predicted finish)


- Notable Players: Vasilis Spanoulis; Dimis Diamantidis; Sofo Schortsiantis; Nick Kalathes; Giannis Bourousis; Antonis Fotsis
- Notable Absences: Theo Papaloukas; Panagiotos Vasilopoulos; Kosta Koufas

We're going to stick with Greece as the Group C front-runner, but do it with some reservations. That Puerto Rico game won't be easy without Fotsis and Sofo.

Greece's frontline rotation will be seriously compromised as Fotsis is their starting PF and best pure shooter. Big Sofo split time with Giannis Bourousis at center. Sofo was playing well in the prep phase (happen to be dominating the Serbia game) and his post-ups are big part of Greece's offense. Also, they really can't afford to lose Sofo since Bourousis is not 100% because of his busted finger.

Greece was fortunate that Kostas Tsartsaris was not suspended, since it appeared he was trading blows with Marko Keselj. Tsartsaris and Giorgios Printezis will be forced to play more minutes.

Other than in the USA game, Greece's offense has looked scary good in the prep phase. Coach Jonas Kazlauskas swore he would open up the offense when he took over and has done so with great results.

The offense looked very good last year and looks even better this summer. Coach Kaz has Hellas resembling a vintage team from his native Lithuania, with its crisp ball and player movement. The offensive spacing is nice, with the wings staying wide and sometimes weaving action up high. Not just strictly a heavy dose of pick/rolls, much more off-ball action.

Also, the Greeks are pushing the pace, which was unheard of under Coach Giannakis. They were one of the top offenses at EuroBasket. And they've retained the defensive intensity that was their calling card under Giannakis.

Greece features one of the top backcourts in the tourney with four quality ball-handlers (Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Calathes & Zisis).

Vasilis Spanoulis is the primary playmaker. Spanoulis is one of the top guards in Europe and was one of the top players at EuroBasket last summer. But his main bugaboo is turnovers--he led last summer's EuroBasket with 4 TOs per.

Spanoulis comes off the high screens looking to score, first & foremost. He loves to attack the rim going left or right. 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, he moves his feet well laterally to stay in front of his man.

Dimis Diamantidis is back with the Hellas after a year off to recoup from injury. Dimis is still a top-rate defender with quick hands and long arms. Main drawback is that he's too unselfish. Rarely looks for his own shot--expect him to kick the ball out when he dribbles into the lane. Looks like Dimis will see more minutes at SF since that's Greece's shakiest position.

Vet SG Nikos Zisis should see more consistent burn this year with Theo Papaloukas gone. Zisis is one of the best shooters on the team, but more of a mid-range threat. Zisis is the one guy Greece likes to run thru off-ball screens, often curling him off weakside screens.

Nick Calathes will get more minutes this year with a year of national team play under his belt. 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.

Greece's frontline ain't too shabby either (if it stays intact). Some good news for Greece is that its starting center Giannis Bourousis should be able to play. Bourousis has been dealing with a hand injury (and a head injury courtesy of Krstic's chair toss), but he looks like he's been cleared to play in Turkey.

Giannis Bourousis is one of the top centers outside the NBA (he was rumored to be close to signing with the Spurs in the past). Great touch that extends to 20 feet. Has some crafty moves around the rim where he can finish with a hook. One of the best rebounders in Europe. Can get rebounds out of his area. Think hybrid of Memo Okur and Troy Murphy.

Sofo Schortsiantis played some of his best ball ever at EuroBasket 2009, where he only played 19 minutes a game but still managed to be Greece's second-leading scorer & shot 60%. The moment he enters the game, Greece will to set him up on the block and utilize his nimble footwork & massive frame to carve out space. Often demands extra attention and draws fouls at a high rate.

Might seem like he plows his way to the rim, but really has light feet around the goal--effective drop-steps. Still an adventure when he goes to the free throw line, though he looks like he's making tweaks. Has a tough time staying on the floor because of fouls. Picks up fouls sometimes because he doesn't realize his own strength and width

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. Sneaks along the baseline for rebounds. Sometimes he's just too reticent to assert himself.

After the US-Greece exhibition, some might be under the impression that Kostas Tsartsaris is an offensive force, but the outburst vs. Team USA was out of character. Tsartsaris is really just a solid role-playing big who provides solid rebounding & defending off the bench.

Giorgios Printezis (Raptors own rights) is 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. Not a shooting threat.

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.

Beating Puerto Rico won't be easy. If Greece loses, its path to the finals gets more complicated. Greece really wants to win Group C, because they get to avoid Spain & Team USA until the finals.


- Notable Players: Hedo Turkoglu; Ersan Ilyasova; Omer Asik; Semih Erden
- Notable Absences: Memo Okur; Engin Atsur

Turkey has played some uninspired ball over the last few weeks, which has raised some concerns. But I think Turkey has enough talent (especially on the frontline) that they could take advantage if Greece loses to Puerto Rico, which would make a path to the semis easier. Add to this that they're playing at home, and played well at EuroBasket.

The Turks are led by their combo of multi-skilled 6-9 forwards, Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova. Turkey seems to have less off-ball movement than most other Euro teams. Probably because of the isolations allowed for Hedo & Ilyasova.

Ersan Ilyasova was Turkey's best player at EuroBasket, not to mention one of the top players in the tourney. At EuroBasket, Ersan was 4th in ppg (16 ppg), 4th in rebs (7.3), 6th in FG% (51%), 10th in 3pt% (45%) and 4th in blocks (1.3).

Ilyasova can run pick/pop action, he can create shots in the mid-range (step-backs), and he score on the block when needed. Ersan is relentless on the glass and adept at put-backs.

Hedo's EuroBasket was uneven, particularly his shooting, and he needs to regain his swerve this summer. Expect to see Hedo running the offense a good chunk of the time. The Hedo pick/roll causes problems in FIBA ball just like in the NBA.

Turkey's frontline is one of the best in the Worlds tourney. Omer Asik, Semih Erden, Oguz Savas, Kerem Gonlum and Ilyasova can play meaningful minutes. Expect post touches for Erden, Ilyasova and Savas. Asik will get a few touches but don't expect much.

You might see Ilyasova getting more minutes at the 3-spot this summer with Gonlum back. Could see some twin tower alignments like Asik-Savas, Asik-Erden or Savas-Erden.

Recent Bulls signee Omer Asik will try to replicate his strong '09 EuroBasket play (led the tourney in FG pct.) back in his homeland over the next few weeks. Does most of his damage rolling to the rim or moving to open spots. Very mobile 7-footer with good rebounding and shot-blocking ability. Uses chest and legs to guard the post well. Little in the way of post skills besides a rare up/under. Major liability at the free throw line--15 for 47 for Euro '09. Turkey had to pull him late in the 4th and all of OT in its quarterfinal loss vs. Greece. Looks to have tweaked his form, but something to monitor.

Newly-minted Celtic center Semih Erden gives Turkey more ammo on the frontline. Has good passing skills and a very good handle for a big. Likes to drive left and finish with his left hand. Has good footwork to get into good scoring opportunities, but doesn't finish his moves with any consistency. Like Asik, he's quality finisher on cuts or rolls.

C Oguz Savas can score with some crafty moves, but he lacks mobility, which limits his effectiveness. Veteran forward Kerem Gonlum returns after having to sit out last year because of a PED suspension. Gonlum is an active athlete off the bench.

PG Kerem Tunceri is nothing spectacular, just has a great floor game and rarely forces anything. PG Ender Arslan does a nice job turning the corner to get into the lane, where he will often unleash a dangerous floater. Both PGs are outside shooting threats.

The shooting guard position could be a weak link. Omer Onan will start at SG, but he's mostly a role player with an erratic shot. Reserve guards Cenk Aykol and Sinan Gular give Turkey two 6-5 athletes who can handle the ball in a pinch.

Turkey needs to improve on guarding the 3pt. arc--they gave up the most 3PA per game at Eurobasket as their opponents shot at a 38% clip.

One concern from the prep phase, Ilyasova seems to be struggling to figure out his role. Coach Tanjevic has been experimenting with some twin-tower lineups and Gonlum's return eats into Ilyasova's minutes. Ersan was Turkey's best player last year, so Tanjevic can't afford to alienate him.

Should be intense when they play Greece (always is between these rivals) and the winner is the likely Group C 1st-seed. Turkey has the goods to get to the semis, and could be playing for gold at home, as they could avoid Spain or USA if they win Group C.


- Notable Players: Carlos Arroyo; JJ Barea; PJ Ramos; Renaldo Balkman
- Notable Absences: Larry Ayuso

Puerto Rico is coming off a very solid performance at the '09 FIBA Americas tourney, finishing in 2nd place behind Brazil. A very deep team (can go two deep at each position) led by two-headed NBA PG duo Carlos Arroyo and JJ Barea.

Plenty of long-distance weapons on the P.R. roster--Arroyo, Barea, C. Lee, AD Vassallo, D. Huertas & R. Sanchez. And the 3pt. shot is a big part of the P.R. offensive arsenal.

Both Arroyo and Barea will share ball-handling duties and will get plenty of ball screens. Both guys can be dangerous scorers in FIBA play.

Though, Puerto Rico offense can sometimes devolve into a sloppy mess. Arroyo and Barea can treat sections of the game as their personal one-on-one competition. Both are guilty of getting tunnel-vision and will abandon sets to go into chucker mode.

The frontline rotation--PJ Ramos, Dan Santiago, Ricky Sanchez, Renaldo Balkman and Nathan Peavy--is not bad and doesn't lose much when they go to the bench. .

7-3 big PJ Ramos has played very well in the exhibition stage and gave P.R. good minutes last summer. Puerto Rico will dump the ball into him and he has surprisingly spry post moves. Ramos has a nice touch around the rim and does demand extra attention sometimes. Though, PJ is prone to prolonged lapses in concentration, particularly defensively.

Dan Santiago can do some scoring on the block, and rolls well off high screens. 7-foot PF Ricky Sanchez (Nugget draftee) loves to spot-up behind the arc. Also, Sanchez has shown some glimpses of improved driving ability.

Puerto Rico's usual deep roster has been bolstered further by the addition of Renaldo Balkman and Nathan Peavy. Expect the same things Balkman brings in the NBA--energy, rebounds and defense. Former Miami (OH) Redhawk Nathan Peavy is a power forward who can hit jumpers, put the ball on the deck and defend on the ball.

Have underrated combo at the SF position in 6-7 Carmelo Lee (ex-Long Beach) & recent VA Tech star, AD Vassallo. Lee is a reliable shooter, and his long arms wreck havoc on defense. The 6-6 Vassallo gives Puerto Rico another solid outside shooter, not to mention an athletic finisher off the bench.

The departure of Larry Ayuso hurts their vaunted depth some. Ayuso is a very good scorer in FIBA ball and could score points in bunches. They've added two athletic 2-guards in his place, David Huertas & Guillermo Diaz.

Former Ole Miss Rebel Huertas (6-5) is another deep shooting weapon for P.R. and rebounds well for a guard. Diaz is an explosive athlete but lacks shooting ability. Cat-quick reserve PG Filiberto Rivera (ex-UTEP) is a crafty passer, but ain't much of a shooter.

Puerto Rico can hang with any team in this group. They have some pretty nice options on offense. They have a great shot to make noise in this tourney if they take out Greece.


- Notable Players: Vik Khryapa; Timo Mozgov; Sergey Monya; Sasha Kaun
- Notable Absences: Andrei Kirilenko; Kelly McCarty; JR Holden; Alexey Shved

Don't write this team off because of Kirilenko's absence. David Blatt squeezed as much as you could ask from his undermanned Russian club last summer and expect the same this summer with an even better roster.

It all starts with defense for Russia. Should have one of the best defenses in the field of 24. Their help & recovery is always tight. They were terrific last year and did their usual strong job of shutting down the painted area. And that was without Khryapa, the Euroleague Defender of the Year. And Blatt is a master at mixing up his defensive looks.

Expect Blatt to implement different types of zones, and even have looks where it's hard to decipher what the hell they're in--amoeba-type matchup zones. You might even see Khryapa freelance in zone, looking like a free safety.

Blatt's willing to try all types of things, especially on the defensive end. And he's a great bench coach adept at in-game adjustments. Good athletes on this roster and Blatt uses them well on defense.

What holds this team back from being truly special is the lack of pure scoring threats. Not really sure who to consider as their #1 offensive option. Khryapa is their best player but he's no great shakes as a scorer.

To their credit, they run nice offensive sets with nice ball movement--some Princeton-style stuff presumably influenced from Blatt's college days. Spacing is usually good and generally keep the basket area open. This offense does help open up some easy looks, but it can only do so much with this talent.

Another Euro team where the ball doesn't stick--good ball movement. It's just that they don't have anyone who can create much offense off the dribble. Many times last summer Russia had a hell of a time trying to get into their offense and were often fighting the shot clock.

Vik Khryapa returns to the roster after sitting out last year. Vik is one of the best all-around players in this tourney. Vik's a poor man's AK47--he provides passing, rebounding, steals, blocks and overall defense.

Let's just say the PG play was erratic last summer. The athletic Sergey Bykov can get to rim, but he's just an inconsistent finisher when he gets there. Sometimes tries to force passes thru traffic. He is a reliable shooter and he is coming off a stellar year with Dynamo Moscow.

Bykov will split time with Anton Ponkrashov, a big, methodical PG with superb distributing skills. Ponkrashov is not a good athlete but is a sneaky driver who can draw fouls.

Shot the long ball well last summer but not ready to call this team a good outside shooting team. Russia's free throw shooting was somewhat dicey last year at 66%.

Russia has never been known for its offense over the last few years. Expect extended lulls in the offensive execution.

Sergey Monya is a nice athlete who is another terrific defender and rebounder on the wings. He was one of the best defenders at EuroBasket, particularly as a help defender. Similar to Khryapa but with a more reliable outside shot.

NY Knick reserve center Timofey Mozgov was the breakout star of the '09 EuroBasket. Timo is a finishing machine as a roll man. Also, dangerous on the offensive glass where he's adept at put-backs. Otherwise, limited on the offensive end. Did a good job as a defensive deterrent in the painted area last summer. But can Timo stay on the floor for extended minutes? Mozgov led EuroBasket in fouls with 4 per game.

Sasha Kaun (Cavs own rights) gives Russia another athletic option at center. Kaun won't create points on the block but he's an able finisher on cuts/rolls.

They will post-up Kaun and Mozgov somewhat. Why? Not really sure, we guess to mix things up. Neither center can do much with his back-to-basket.

Starting SG Vitali Fridzon is the best shooter on the team and will get some screens set for him. Reserve guard Dimitry Khvonstov will handle the ball some and is a danger to drill from outside.

Andrey Vorontsevich will back-up Khryapa and Monya at the forward spots. Andrey's a nice athlete who will crash the offensive glass and post-up on occasion for Russia.

Would love to tell you to watch out for NBA prospect Alexey Shved in this tourney but Blatt opted to make the flashy 21-year-old playmaker his final cut.

Russia's defense lets them stay competitive against any team. Can compete on the same level as Greece and Turkey in Group C.


- Notable Players: Yi Jianlian; Wang Shipeng; Sun Yue; Wang ZhiZhi
- Notable Absences: Yao Ming; Zhu Fangyu

China punched its ticket to Turkey last summer after a strong Asian championships performance that ended poorly in the finals.

China will lean on Yi Jianlian to lead this Yao-less group. China will run him in the post often, run him off some screens, let him iso and put him in plenty of pick-n-pops. Yi still has an affinity for settling for jumpers one-step inside the 3pt. line, even with the shorter int'l arc.

But when your primary scorer can't finish off shots with any consistency, your team's hopes of getting out of the first round are slim.

Even with top shooter Zhu Fangyu out, China is a strong outside-shooting team. Another positive, China has good size and rebounds well.

Just think the decision-making on the perimeter is sketchy. It seems like the guards will take off with the dribble without any clear objective. PG Liu Wei is the main culprit of ponderous perimeter play-making.

Sun Yue is China's secondary ball-handler and is another quality shooter. It's nice to have a 6-8 guy who runs pick/roll effectively.

6-7 Wang Shipeng is their top shooting threat and can create mid-range shots for himself. Uses his height advantage to post-up 2-guards.

Forward Zhou Feng possesses an inside-out game that causes matchup problems for the opposition. He can create pull-ups for himself and hit turnaround jumpers on the block.

7-0 Su Wei will start in the middle and brings little to the table besides being big. The Dodger, Wang ZhiZhi, comes off the bench to post up a little and space the floor. Watch for him to pop out after setting screens on the perimeter.

China will have its hands full with Ivory Coast. If China's outside shooting happens to be off vs. Ivory Coast, they're in trouble.


- Notable Players: Souleyman Diabate; Pape Amagou; Mohamed Kote; Herve Lamizana

The Elephants are appearing in their first Worlds tourney after winning the silver at last summer's Afrobasket. A pretty athletic unit but their bigs aren't all that big and lack bulk. Look to attack in transition. They don't mess around, head full-bore to the rim. Have multiple guys who can penetrate in the half-court as well.

Bad rebounding club that got crushed on the boards last year. But think the rebounding numbers project to be better this summer with the addition of Assie and Lamizana.

Made up for the poor rebounding by forcing turnovers in bunches (-4 TOpg margin at Afrobasket). Though, the forced TOs were against lower comp in Africa and not sure the Elephants can pile up the TOs vs. the higher level they will face in Turkey.

6-2 guard Souleyman Diabate is the primary ball-handler who combines good speed with a nifty handle (hesitations, crossovers). Very effective at turning the corner to get into the lane and disrupting things defensively.

Pape Amagou and Stephane Konate will also be called upon to run the offense sometimes. Both are capable shooters who can dart into the lane. Current BYU Cougar Charles Abouo can knock down jumpers and rebounds well for a 6-4 wing.

The frontline is led by Mohamed Kone, a great rebounder who will float out. 6-7 Brice Assie has a soft touch on his hook shot and should help Kone on the boards. Former Rutgers center Herve Lamizana is shot-blocking machine who likes to float out to the perimeter, where he can pass and hit jumpers.

Ivory Coast is not bad for a 6th-seed team. Really believe they can challenge China for 5th place in Group C.

• FIBA Worlds overview: Power Rankings, Players to Watch, More
• FIBA Worlds team previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D