FIBA Worlds Update: Team USA's Spanish Weekend, Injuries & Other Musings
In advance of the FIBA World Championships (which start Aug. 28), here's a quick preview of the U.S.'s upcoming weekend games, plus an update on other teams around the world who are moving up and down the power rankings in pre-tournament action, led by the impressive Greeks:
What Team USA should expect this weekend:
Team USA is in Spain for a couple of pre-tournament friendlies this weekend. First, the Americans face Lithuania on Saturday at 3 pm ET (ESPN/ESPN3.com). Then, a highly-anticipated matchup vs. Spain tips off at 3 pm est on Sunday (NBA TV/ESPN3.com). Both games will played in Madrid at the La Caja Magica (The Magic Box).
Let's take a quick look at Team USA's opponents for this weekend:
--LITHUANIA: This year's version of the perennial Baltic basketball power won't be as potent as past clubs. Many familiar names like Jasikevicius, Siskauskas, Songaila, Kaukenas and the Lavrinovic Bros. have decided to stay home, so Lithuania chances at medaling are slim.
But this team should be competitive this summer. Finding quality replacement players is easy thanks to the country's seemingly endless pool of b-ball talent. It's no surprise the Lithuanian roster is littered with dependable shooters.
Linas Kleiza is the primary option who will look to iso and post-up. Kleiza will often get screens to set up his post-ups. SF Jonas Maciulis could be considered a poor-man's version of Kleiza with his combo of strength and athleticism.
Mantas Kalnietis, Tomas Delininkaitis and Martynas Gecevicius will share ball-handling duties. Delininkaitis and Gecevicius are dangerous shooters off ball screens. Gecevicius possesses a textbook stroke on his pull-ups. Kalnietis is a non-shooter but does use his athleticism to attack the rim in the half-court or transition.
Robertas Javtokas has been scuffling with injuries so he might not suit up. This means more minutes for Paulius Jankunas. The US bigs need to be cognizant that Jankunas will float out to the perimeter, where he likes to release his awkward, yet effective, jumper.
Sharpshooter Simas Jasaitis and former Mavs draftee Renaldas Seibutis add more talent on the wings. Coach K will also be reunited with former Dukie Martynas Pocius, who should get some floor time on Saturday,.
If Cavs and Bulls fans are wondering what became of Martynas Andriuskevicius, you should get your answer on Saturday. The big fella should get some quality floor time with Javtokas ailing.
--SPAIN: Spain might not want to show its full arsenal to Team USA in an exhibition game. Team USA could be planning the same thing, so we might not be able to glean much from this matchup. Plus, Marc Gasol has been dinged up lately and might not suit up.
However, there could be pressure on Spain to appease their home crowd. We'll see if Coach Scariolo goes full throttle trying to topple Team USA or plays his cards close to the vest.... and to the potential semifinal matchup on Sept. 11.
Spain likes to overplay on the perimeter and force an uptempo game. Will be interesting to see if they go with a more conservative approach vs. Team USA.
Primary line of attack in the half-court offense is to run Navarro and Rudy thru off-ball screens all game. Navarro & Rudy will also run some pick/rolls sometimes--a few La Bomba floaters are likely.
Calderon and Rubio like to push pace at every opportunity. Sergio Llull will back up Navarro but will get to handle the ball a little as well. Llull has great speed and has improved his outside shooting. Vic Claver, Fernando San Emeterio and Alex Mumbru will have to share what's left of the SF minutes that Rudy doesn't use.
Felipe Reyes and Jorge Garbajosa will split time at PF. Spain will mix in some post-ups for Marc and Reyes. Often set up their post-ups with high-lo action.
We should get a true test of Team USA's ability to force turnovers in this game. Because if they overwhelm Team España with their ball pressure, then they have the ability to fluster any team in the tourney.
Greece: Wanted to discuss the hottest team in the Worlds prep phase. Greece's offense has looked scary good in the prep phase. Coach Jonas Kazlauskas (a Lithuanian) 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 Lithuanian team with its crisp ball and player movement. Also, the Greeks are pushing the pace, which was unheard of under Coach Giannakis.
They just destroyed a solid Slovenia team by 24 pts. on Wednesday and demoralized Canada on Tuesday, 123-49. Earlier this month, they beat Russia by 38 pts and Germany by 28 pts. Their closest game so far was a 9-point win vs. Croatia.
Granted, these games are only exhibitions with missing players on all sides and coaches experimenting. Also, Greece has played nearly all its game at home, so that has to be factored in. But Greece is experimenting as well and has still found ways to roll through the competition.
Greece can beat Spain or Team USA in a one-game scenario. And they will avoid both teams until the finals if everything holds to form.
The one lingering issue that could have a major impact on Greece's medal chances is the status of center Giannis Bourousis. Some reports have him out 10 days, others say the injury will force him to miss the Worlds. Greece did crush Slovenia & Canada without him, but if they want to beat Spain or Team USA for the Gold, they will likely need the rugged big guy.
In a Worlds tourney already lacking some major star power, a slew of injuries in the ramp-up phase threatens to shrink the talent pool further.
Andres Nocioni tipped off the cavalcade of injuries sidelining key players and now we see other top players catching the injury big over the last few weeks. We already mentioned injuries to key bigs like Marc Gasol, Javtokas and Bourousis.
Brazil was ready for a big summer, but those plans might be nixed if its formidable trio of bigs can't fully recover. Nene and Splitter have seen very little live game action and now Varejao will be out for a week with an ankle injury. None of the injuries sound serious, but this does put a damper on Brazil's preparation.
Slovenia is a team that really can't afford anymore absences but now they could be without combo guard Sani Becirovic. Add to that, Boki Nachbar is dealing with a bum ankle.
Ranking the medal contenders:
Summary: Keeping Spain as the slight fave but that might change after this weekend. We put Greece at #3 but that should come with an asterisk since Bourousis' status remains unclear. Argentina and Serbia will fight for Group A supremacy. Moved Serbia ahead of Brazil because we think they have more balance up & down their roster. Even if Brazil's bigs are relatively healthy by next Saturday, we would still give Serbia the edge.
Putting Turkey at #7 could be dicey since they've performed poorly in prep games. Still think Turkey has enough talent (especially on the frontline) where they could take Group C (if Bourousis can't go), which would make a path to the semis easier. Add to this that they're playing at home and played well at Eurobasket.
From what we've seen, though, Ersan Ilyasova seems to be a non-factor so far. He seems to be struggling to figure out his role. Coach Tanjevic has been experimenting with some twin-tower lineups and Kerem Gonlum's return eats into Ilyasova's minutes. Ersan was Turkey's best player last year, so Tanjevic can't afford to alienate him.
A few thoughts on the Greece-Serbia fracas:
The celebrated FIBA fight between Greece and Serbia yesterday could have implications on how the Worlds tourney ultimately shakes out since both Serbia and Greece are legitimate medal contenders.
The good news is that these two teams could conceivably meet again in the semis if they win their respective opening round groups (though Serbia would have to beat Argentina). Also, if both finish first in their groups, they get to avoid Spain or USA until the finals.
This fracas started as a good old-fashioned disagreement between Panathinaikos (Antonis Fotsis) & Olympiacos (Milos Teodosic). The normally quiet and docile Krstic decided to treat the back of Big Sofo's head like a speedbag. The best part was when Krstic realized that he might have picked the wrong guy to annoy and started to retreat as Sofo strolled over. Then, Nenad made things worse with an errant chair toss that injured an already injured Giannis Bourousis.
We'll have to wait to see how FIBA brass doles out punishment. Have to imagine Krstic gets a game or two. Teodosic and Fotsis maybe a game each for igniting this tapdance and a game for Sofo as well.
Also, Serbian reserve SF Marko Keselj (#16) and Greece's Kostas Tsartsaris (#12) had a battle of their own going on in the middle of the scrum. Wait to see if they get red cards as well.
As Mr. Ziller of AOL Fanhouse astutely points out, Serbia could come out of this relatively unscathed as they start the tourney with Angola and Germany. Teodosic and Krstic are Serbia's top two guys, but Serbia should handle Angola without them. Though, Germany could provide a challenge if both Serbs have to sit a 2nd game.
Greece might not be so lucky if stiff penalities are handed down. Greece's frontline rotation could be seriously compromised as Fotsis is their starting PF and Tsartsaris is a reliable reserve 4/5. They really can't afford to lose Sofo since Bourousis might not play at all. Sofo has looked good in the exhibition stage and was dominating in this game.
Greece has less room for error than Serbia since they're in a tougher group. Though, the Greeks do get an easy opener vs. China. But a deep Puerto Rico squad awaits in Game 2.