Wednesday, August 31, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Group D Team Capsules

• EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Overview | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D
2011 FIBA Americas Preview

Group D games will be played in Klaipeda from August 31-Sept. 5
(In the U.S., every game can be viewed for free via

Group D
(predicted order of finish - top 3 advance)
1) Slovenia
2) Russia
3) Georgia
4) Ukraine
5) Belgium
6) Bulgaria

Waver back and forth between picking Russia or Slovenia to win this group. Gave Slovenia the nudge, but it's basically a tie between them. Clear dropoff after Russia and Slovenia. Feel pretty comfortable picking Georgia as the favorite for 3rd place and a spot in the second round. Belgium, Bulgaria and Ukraine are roughly on the same level and not that far behind Georgia.

Key Absences: Bostjan Nachbar; Beno Udrih; Primo Brezec; Gaspar Vidmar

This team can hurt opposing defenses in so many ways. A bottomless bucket of offensive options. They have looked very crisp in the exhibitions.

Their spacing has been disciplined. Have shredded defenses with hard cuts (tons on baseline/backdoor) and deft passing. Seems to be a lot more off-ball screens this year. Nothing new for Slovenia as they usually have very crisp ball movement; constantly making the extra pass. But in the prep phase they seem to have taken it up a notch.

Plenty of shooters dot the roster. Can put four guys on the floor together who have range out to 18 feet. Often keep the basket area clear--some 5-out alignments. Will often use handoffs to set up side pick/rolls.

Tremendous speed on the perimeter (Goran & Zoran Dragic, Jaka Lakovic & Saso Ozbolt) makes this team dangerous in transition. The guards have the ability to blow-by into the lane.

If the perimeter guys are off their game, no worries, Slovenia has one of the most offensively gifted frontlines led by.Erazem Lorbek and Matjaz Smodis. Scary how well-rounded and refined these two big guys are.

6-11 Erazem Lorbek was the second-best player behind Pau at EuroBasket '09 and is one of the best non-NBA players in the field. Terrific all-around skill set.

He can put defenders in the blender with an endless array of post moves. Uses impeccable footwork to score on spin moves, lefty hooks, righty hooks, turnaround jumpers, and up/unders. Uses a fake reverse spin effectively either on his post moves or driving the ball.

Can draw bigs to perimeter where he can shoot with range, pass or even drive the ball. The only thing holding him back from NBA riches is a lack of athleticism. Spurs own his rights.

Matjaz Smodis is another multi-skilled big with nice post moves, passing skills & shooting range. Smodis' career has been sidetracked by injuries over the last few years but he's shown in the prep phase he still has a few tricks left. Smodis and Lorbek can pick apart openings with passes. Can run pick-n-pop with both guys.

Goran Dragic leads the speedy perimeter crew and has looked nice in prep games. Dragic will get a big chunk of playmaking duties and his penetration opens up some great looks for his teammates. Expect to see some whirling-dervish type plays in the lane from Goran. Has been passing the ball well in exhibitions. Also allows Slovenia to get out in transition.

Jaka Lakovic is a 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.

SG Saso Ozbolt is a bouncy athlete who can be counted on to make shots off the dribble or off screens.

Combo guard Samo Udrih is not as athletic as the other guards, but he's a nice antidote to the speedsters as he handles the ball with a controlled pace. Samo can hit jumpers.

Real Madrid's Mirza Begic has got some post moves himself. Begic has a nice hook and a soft turnaround. Mirza's 7-3 frame makes him a quality shot-blocker.

Uros Slokar (ex-Raptor) plays the role of a four-spreader (stretch-4) and will occasionally mix in a lefty hook around the rim. Have the ability to really stretch out a defense thanks to bigs who can float out like Smodis, Lorbek, & Slokar.

The small-forward position took a hit when Boki Nachbar had to pull out during training camp. Boki has played very well for Slovenia over the last few years, usually scoring in double figures and grabbing boards. Slovenia will try to fill the void with a Goran's younger brother, Zoran.

SG/SF Zoran Dragic makes an impact in the game with his speed--has a better burst than his brother. Has been effective cutting in the prep phase, particularly backdoor cuts. Zoran's athleticism makes him a nightmare in transition and a disruptive defender.

Combo forward 6-6 Goran Jagodnik, a tough vet who hustles, brings physical defense and hits open jumpers. 37-year-old Goran wins the award for oldest player in the field.

This team has threats inside and out. They can shoot, attack in the half-court or transition and have a wealth of post-up options. Though, the shooting ability at the SF position is dicey.

Should be a lock for the second round and a spot in the quarterfinals should be expected. A spot in the semis and finals? Sure, a distinct possiblity.

Slovenia were up six points in the '09 semis before losing to Serbia in OT. And that was with an injury-riddled lineup with no Goran or Smodis that was playing back-to-back nights while Serbia had a day off.

Check out NBA Playbook's scouting report on Slovenia

Key Absences: Sasha Kaun; Alexey Zhukanenko

Russia can stay competitive with any team in this field (including Spain) thanks to exceptional team defense and a brilliant tactician on the sidelines, David Blatt. Next to Serbia's Ivkovic, Blatt is the best coach in the tourney.

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. Always shut down the painted area and guard the 3pt. arc as well as any team. You don't get easy shots against this team--they challenge everything.

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. Russia has a deep, athletic squad with good size at every position

Expect Blatt to implement different types of zones, sometimes it's hard to decipher what the hell they're in--amoeba-type matchup zones.

The scary thing is how good Russia has been defensively the last two summers without Andrei Kirilenko and Vik Khryapa, their two best natural defenders. Kirilenko and Khryapa will often be given free reign to float around on defense like free safeties.

The forward rotation of Kirilenko, Khryapa, Sergey Monya and Andrey Vorontsevich is one of the best in field. All are 6-9 athletes who can play multiple positions, pass, rebound and defend.

Would not categorize Sergey Monya as a deadly shooter (though he shot 50% on 3PA last summer), but his jumper is the most reliable of the forwards. Monya is a premier help defender--one of the best at Euro '09.

6-9 Andrey Vorontsevich (CSKA) played well last summer (9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) in the absence of Kirilenko and Khryapa. Andrey's a nice athlete who will crash the offensive glass and post-up on occasion for Russia. Vorontsevich can hit open jumpers at a decent rate, but not great.

What holds this team back from being truly special is the lack of pure scoring threats. Kirilenko will be their primary option offensively. Expect post-ups for Kirilenko, who can be effective down low in FIBA play.

When Kirilenko is your best scoring option, you know there will be extended stretches where points are hard to come by.

To their credit, they run nice offensive sets with nice ball movement--some Princeton-style stuff presumably influenced from Blatt's college days there. Spacing is usually good and they 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.

Timofey Mozgov struggled to adjust to the NBA game, but had a nice Worlds tourney leading Russia with 13 ppg in 20 mpg. But can Timo stay on the floor for extended minutes? Mozgov led '09 EuroBasket in fouls with 4 per game, and averaged 3.4 last year.

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. Timo can be a deterrent defensively but takes too many bad angles which lead to fouls.

The center rotation is a little unsettled with Sasha Kaun out. Kahn's 15-20 minutes will be sorely missed because of Mozgov's attraction to fouls. Khryapa and Kirilenko might see some minutes at center. Reserve Nikita Shabalkin will see some burn at the 5-spot as well.

The athletic Sergey Bykov can get to the rim, but he's just an inconsistent finisher when he gets there. His ball-handling duties need to be monitored as he makes some dreadful decisions with the ball--will just throw passes into traffic. He's a streaky shooter.

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

Starting SG Vitali Fridzon is the best shooter on the team and will get some screens set for him. Reserve guard Dimitry Khvonstov gave them nice minutes running the pick-n-roll off the bench last summer. Can hit jumpers fairly well.

Combo guard Alexey Shved finally won over Blatt after being cut last summer. 6-6 Shved is a rangy athlete who has an advanced understanding how to run pick/roll. Combines a nice handle (crossovers & hesitation dribbles) with good passing skills. He's probably a better pull-up shooter than spot shooter. Has a little spice to his game.

Would not really call this team a good outside-shooting team. They're alright, but some of their guys are inconsistent.

Russia should have little difficulty moving on to the second round. Then, expect Russia to earn a playoff-round spot in the quarterfinals out of Group F. From there, things get tougher. Blatt worked magic in 2007 and this roster is probably just as good. A top-six finish is very doable and a medal is a possibility.


Georgia has benefited as much as any team from the luck of the draw. If they were in Group A or B, no chance at advancing to the second round. But being placed in Group D gives them a great shot at the second round. Phoenix Suns asst. coach Igor Kokoshkov leads this team with multiple shooters and impressive athletes.

Zaza Pachulia is Georgia's main man. Plenty of post touches for the big-headed banger. Is effective getting deep post position and can turn middle or drop-step. Zaza's hard to keep off the off. glass and guards the block, not bad defending p/n/r either.

Tornike Shengelia and Viktor Sanikidze give Georgia a nice tandem of athletic combo forwards who are strong rebounders. Shengelia is a possible NBA draft prospect who's coming off a dominant performance in the European U-20 championships.

Shengelia combines his mobility with a solid handle (good spin moves) to effectively drive to the rim in the half-court or transition. His jumper needs to be refined. 6-8 Vik Sanikidze (Spurs hold rights) is a reliable shooter and uses his length to finish strong.

Possible NBA free-agent prospect Giorgi Shermadini (7-0) shoots a high pct., rebounds at a high rate and gets some blocks. Shermie has a solid touch out to 17 feet, can occasionally drive the ball with a fast first step and will score well off cuts or rolls. Great hands--snatches ball out of his area.

Wing Manuchar Markoishvili is another athlete at Georgia's disposal. Georgia will count on Manuchar to drill jumpers spotting up or coming off screens. Manu just needs to keep his TOs and fouls in check.

PG George Tsintsadze is a very creative passer out of pick-n-roll action, but throws as many bad passes as great ones. Also, he can't make jumpers. Explosive guard Marquez Haynes can attack the lane off the bounce and rises up high to get off his solid jumper.

Former NBA lotto bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Vladimer Boisa give Georgia two stretch-4 options

Have great shot of securing the 3rd place in this group and advancing to the second round.

Key Absences: Sergey Gladyr

Mike Fratello (plus asst. coaches Brian Hill and Ed Pinckney) will try to get Ukraine past the first round for the first time.

Major question marks on the perimeter especially after they lost Atlanta Hawks draftee Sergey Gladyr to injury during training camp. A big blow to their perimeter scoring and playmaking ability. Ukraine already struggles with PG play and Gladyr's ball-handling will be missed.

Natural shooting guard Steve Burtt, Jr. (Iona alum) will be forced to direct the offense most of the time. Burtt uses hesitation dribbles to great effect and can hit pull-ups or leaners over defenders.

A quality frontcourt rotation of the likes of Sergey Lishchuk, Ky Fesenko and Ole Pecherov. Great size and strong on the glass.

Serhiy Lishchuk has proven himself to be a quality big at the highest level of Euro ball. The 7-footer can knock down mid-range jumpers (a pick-n-pop threat for Ukraine) and can add some post scoring. Lishchuk's mobility allows him to be a good all-around defender and a very dangerous put-back artist.

Vyacheslav Kravtsov uses his nice combo of size (7-0, 250) and solid athleticism to attack the offensive glass and cause problems defensively. Just don't expect much from him on offense besides dunks and put-backs.

Utah Jazz big Kyrylo Fesenko will pitch in with some blocks, rebounds, high post passes and sheer Fes-ness. Also expect fouls, TOs and sloppy finishing from Fes.

Former Washington Wiz Oleksiy Pecherov can do work inside and out. The Czar will set Ole up in the post where he likes to go with a turnaround. Gives Ukraine a popping option on pick-n-rolls.

Young PG Denys Lukashov will split ball-handling duties with Burtt and rebounds well for his size. Good shooter and nice passer but can get careless.

SF Maksym Pustozvonov gives Fratello an aggressive player on both ends. Sort of has a slingshot release which leads to variation on his jumper.

Wing Oleksandr Kolchenko is a decent shooter (kind of streaky) but is another guard with turnover issues. Ukraine has major issues with losing the ball (17 TOs in qualifiers).

Run some nice stuff. Looks to be Princeton-inspired in spots. Sometimes see all five guys set up foul line & above. Also, the obligatory Horns set (double-high post) that every Euro team uses.

The Czar has his work cut out for him with no Gladyr. He's going to have to lean on Burtt and his experienced bigs to get by and possibly push Georgia for 3rd place.

Key Absences: Axel Hervelle

Drama-filled week for the Belgium. First, they decide to cut DJ Mbenga (either for health or ego reasons). Then their best player, Axel Hervelle, goes down with a bum knee. So, Belgium decides to ask Mbenga back after seeing their normally solid frontcourt rotation in tatters. Will see how Mbenga responds.

Mbenga is ok, but Hervelle was their top option and his loss severely limits their fortunes.

DJ Mbenga will provide some blocks, boards and dunks but can't face-up like Hervelle. While Euroleague vet Tomas Van Der Spiegel's length makes him a factor on the offensive glass and as a shot-changer.

6-9 Christophe Beghin is Belgium's only effective low-post option. Beghin has a solid post game where he loves to spin (or drop step) baseline on either block.

Belgium had rebounding problems last summer--have to do a better job protecting their defensive glass. Not having Hervelle should not help their glass work for this year.

Very dangerous outside-shooting team. Belgium plays a controlled style that minimizes mistakes. A minor concern is the lack of size on the perimeter.

PG Sam Van Rossum (6-2) will be the primary ball-handler and he runs the offense at a controlled pace. Good pull-up shooter (especially to his left) and can finish with either hand.

SF Marcus Faison is their main scoring threat on the perimeter. The former Siena Saint is a quality shooter with his feet set or off a few dribbles. Faison gives a Belgium a nice athletic boost on the perimeter, particularly on the defensive end.

6-1 Goel Moors will start next to Van Rossum but is not much of a shooter. Combo guard Dimitri Lauwers (6-2) is the best shooter on the team and can make jumpers coming off screens or off the dribble. Guards Guy Muya and Jonathan Tabu add a jolt of speed off the bench. Tabu is another capable shooter.

Belgium just missed out at qualifying for the '09 Euro and they were one of the top teams in the qualification tourney last summer.

Hard to judge Belgium's prospects for EuroBasket since so used to seeing this team with Hervelle. They can go to Beghin somewhat, but the perimeter will have to do the heavy lifting if they want to succeed.

Missing Players: Todor Stoykov

The weakest team at the last EuroBasket and won't be much better this year. Went 0-3 in their last EuroBasket appearance. The chances of winning a game this time around are better since Belgium and Ukraine are nothing special.

PG Earl Rowland is the main option and primary ball-handler. Can cause problems with his penetration and can finish in a variety of ways. An erratic deep shooter.

Former Western Kentucky wing Filip Videnov provides accurate shooting next to Rowland in the backcourt. Starting SG Chavdar Kostov is another sweet shooter on the perimeter. Main job is to spot-up and run off screens.

Swingman Zlatin Georgiev is a long athlete who can bury jumpers. Georgiev's agility allows him to disrupt defensively, but sometimes gets over-aggressive, which leads to foul trouble.

Bulgaria's frontcourt ranks are fairly shallow, and rely on the play of the Ivanov twins. Spanish League forward Kaloyan Ivanov is a mobile big who's comfortable playing away from the basket area and can put the ball on the deck. His brother, Dejan Ivanov, can do similar things. And both are menaces on the boards (especially on off. glass).

6-10 wide-body Nikolay Varbanov compiles rebounds at a high rate and gives Bulgaria some semblance of post scoring on occasion.

This team can definitely bang down jumpers and is dangerous on the offensive glass.

Bulgaria should be more competitive than they were in '09. They could easily finish in 4th place ahead of Belgium and Ukraine, but don't think they're ready to beat Georgia for the 3rd spot.

• EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Overview | Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D
2011 FIBA Americas Preview


At 3:56 PM, Anonymous jollyrogerwilco said...

jay, what do you know about Lorbek's defense? It's one of my main points of curiosity about him, since most of what I've read about him is from the offensive end.

Is that because he doesn't play much, or because Slovenia isn't much of a defensive team?

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