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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 FIBA Americas Preview

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

Mar Del Plata, Argentina will host the FIBA Americas Championships from Aug. 30-Sept. 11. Wish this tourney wasn't scheduled for the same time as EuroBasket, seems like a rather weird choice to have them overlap. In the U.S., every game can be viewed for free via

The top two finishers qualify for the Olympics, while spots 3-5 will punch tickets for the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament next summer (12 teams will compete for the last 3 spots).

10 teams will divided into two opening-round groups of five:
    Group A: Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Dominican Rep., Venezuela
    Group B: Argentina, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Uruguay
Each team plays every other team in its group once. The top four teams from both groups advance to the second round. These eight teams form one group and they play four games vs. the teams from the opposite opening-round group. The second round uses an unrelenting schedule of four games in four days. Then, the top four teams move on the knockout phase.


Argentina is the clear favorite to win gold at home in a last hurrah for its "Golden Generation".

Brazil, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are the other top medal contenders.

After an awful Worlds performance (partly due to a rash of injuries), Canada should fare better this year with Joel Anthony and a healthy Andy Rautins leading the way.

Canada will be competing with Uruguay, Venezuela and Panama for the last pre-Olympic qualifying spot. Cuba and Paraguay are in Argentina to see the sights.


TIER I (The Medal Contenders):

Key Players: Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Fab Oberto, Pablo Prigioni, Pepe Sanchez
Key Absences: Roman Gonzalez; Leo Gutierrez

The old gang is back together for one last go-round. Already have them unofficially penciled in for London 2012.

The core of this team has been playing together for many years--they are an extremely potent club because of their tremendous chemistry and raw talent.

Not sure there is a better passing team as a whole than Argentina. Have multiple options on each play, and seemingly counterplays for their counterplays. They often run flex sets to perfection. When their offense is *on*, there's not a prettier team to watch to FIBA ball.

Manu Ginobili is back after sitting out the last two years and having his 2008 Olympics hampered by a bum ankle. Will be interesting to see how new coach Julio Lamas utilizes Manu.

Have to imagine Manu will pick his spots in the tourney, more willing to fill in the gaps when needed than dominate all game. Think Manu is smart enough to realize it's the Luis Scola show now.

Luis Scola is always an uber-efficient monster in FIBA play as he led the Worlds in scoring (27 ppg) and was the best player not named Kevin Durant in Turkey last summer.

Scola will draw extra defenders, draw fouls and shoot a high pct. Loves working the pick/roll, where he will peel off to hit jumpers from the foul line area or work his way to the baseline for jumpers. He's a force near the basket scoring off righty hooks, up/under moves, drop-steps, spins and put-backs. Expect him to be MVP.

PG Pablo Prigioni rarely looks for his shot, as precision-passing is his calling card--the best pure passer in the tourney. Master of the bounce pass. Leads the receiver like a great quarterback.

The Prigioni-Scola pick/roll combo is the deadliest in the tourney. Pablo always plays under control and makes sound decisions with the ball.

Carlos Delfino is coming off a superb Worlds tourney in which he averaged 20 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3 apg & 2 spg. 'Los will be a secondary ball-handler. Expect quality passing, defense, rebounding and finishing from @cabezadelfino.

Andres Nocioni is back this summer after an ankle injury nixed his Worlds participation. Expect Noce to bring his usual spazzy brand of ball, strong rebounding and shooting. Might need Noce to play some PF minutes.

Fab Oberto and Nocioni are great at getting lost on the offensive end. They are masters at finding open spaces while Prigioni, Scola or Delfino have the ball in their hands. Also, Oberto is an underrated passer and a decent post-up option in FIBA play. Oberto, Scola, & Nocioni are very crafty at using the flex screens to get quick seals.

They even coaxed Pepe Sanchez out of national-team retirement to add more veteran firepower. Pepe is another savvy playmaker and most of the other Americas teams wish they had him starting at PG. SG Paolo Quinteros is the designated sharpshooter off the bench--can spot-up or run off baseline screens.

Reserve forwards Hernan Jasen and Painted Area fave Federico Kammerichs. provide Argentina with activity and rebounding at the SF. Jasen did a terrific job on both sides of the court filling in for Nocioni in the starting lineup last summer. We hope Feddie goes with 'stache that made him a legend in '07 this summer.

Little disappointed Argentina didn't include Painted Area fave Roman Gonzalez. Actually not sure why they left him off the roster considering they could use his size off the bench.

The only minor question mark has to do with the lack of frontcourt depth. Not much size or talent behind Oberto and Scola--quite a dropoff. But then again, they've never been particularly deep or big.

Would be a stunning development if they did not get one of the two automatic Olympic bids at home. More stunning than if Spain fails to get to the Euro finals.

Key Players: Tiago Splitter; Marcelo Huertas; Marcelo Machado
Key Absences: Nene; A. Varejao; L. Barbosa

The defending Americas champs will have a hard time repeating without Leandro Barbosa, Andy Varejao and Nene. Brazil has shown in the past they can be competitive without the services of Nene or Varejao. But the big question is: can they be effective without Barbosa?

Barbosa has consistently been their top scorer over the last few years and Brazil could have some issues making up the points in Barbosa's absence. Barbosa was an offensive force at the 2009 FIBA Americas, finishing behind only Scola in scoring average, with 21 ppg.

Brazil has looked impressive in the prep phase, executing at a high level. But that shouldn't surprise since they have the best coach in the tourney, Ruben Magnano, manning the sidelines.

Ruben was the mastermind behind Argentina's rise to prominence on the international 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.

Played pretty good ball last summer in Magnano's first year. Played Team USA tougher than anyone and pushed Argentina to the limit in a classic. Plus he had to deal with injuries to all his NBA bigs.

This summer, Tiago Splitter becomes the primary option. He's a little banged up but should be ready to go. Tiago's deft footwork gets him quality looks around the bucket, though Tiago doesn't always finish off his moves smoothly because his touch can be dodgy. He can finish with both hands and likes to toss up low-angle hooks. Expect a few sweet up-under/step-thru moves as well.

His flat shot hurts him when he tries to step away from the paint and at the FT line. Tiago can drive by his man in a straight-line way from the perimeter.

Underrated passer--can make passes on the move and delivers the ball quickly when he sees an open teammate. Great all-around defender--his lateral movement on the defensive end is as good as any big in the NBA.

Marcelo Huertas is a speedy 6-3 PG who can penetrate and finish with variety of floaters. Many U.S. fans should remember Huertas as he shredded Team USA with dribble penetration last summer (some might remember him missing a key free throw). Has taken his game to another level over the last few years and is one of the best PGs outside the NBA. We're big fans and believe he could be a quality reserve point in the NBA.

Usually not much of an outside threat, but Huertas has improved his deep shooting over the last few years. Huertas likes to go away from ball screens. Can get out of control sometimes, which leads to some forced passes (leaves his feet to pass often) and forced shots.

36-year-old SF Marcelo Machado is probably the most lethal shooter in this tourney--unlimited range. Brazil will run him off screens and he needs just a sliver of space to get his shot up. Often hits jumpers in rapid succession. Not mentioned enough, but Machado is a terrific passer--nice entry passes. Not on the floor for his defense.

Former N.O. 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. Thought Vinicius gave Brazil good minutes last summer, particularly using his length well on the defensive end.

Former Spur/Hornet Alex Garcia is an another experienced vet at Magnano's disposal. Garcia is a powerfully built dude who plays aggressive on-ball defense and can attack the rim. Gets out well in transition. Inconsistent shooter because of awkward release.

Combo forward Guilherme Giovannoni is their designated stretch-4 option. Giovannoni is a smart vet who gets some boards and defends well for guy lacking agility.

Magnano has decided to add two 19-year-old potential NBA draftees from Unicaja Malaga--Augusto Lima and Rafael Freire-Luz--to the mix. 6-10 Lima has all the physical tools you want in a NBA prospect: wide shoulders, long arms, good hops and fluid running motion. His game needs some polish, doesn't really have a post game. Lima will basically be scoring off cuts and rolls for Brazil. Strong rebounder but needs to work on his FT shooting. His minutes could be limited.

PG Freire-Luz is fast with the ball (can get around defender without screen). Has nice mechanics on jumper but for some reason the results vary wildly.

Brazil will try to help Splitter with Rafael Hettscheimeir and Caio Torres, two wide-bodies with soft touches. Both guys can hit out to 18 feet. Hettscheimeir will get some touches in the post where he can hit turnarounds and hooks.

Have all the makings to be tough defensively. Brazil has the ability to wreak havoc with defensive pressure and force an uptempo game. This team is dangerous in transition thanks to great speed across the board.

The only minor concern I have without Barbosa: when they need a crucial bucket, can they get someone to create a good scoring opportunity. I think they will be fine if they just run the sets that Magnano chooses for them.

Don't see any way they take the gold medal out of Argentina's hands. Their goal should just be getting to the finals and securing the automatic Olympic bid.

Key Players: Al Horford; Francisco Garcia; Chaz Villanueva; JM Martinez
Key Absences: Sammy Meija

Finished in fifth place at the 2009 FIBA Americas tourney after a tough four-point loss to Canada, which cost them a spot at the World Championships. If Francisco Garcia had been healthy, they likely were headed to the Worlds.

All of the Dominican Republic's four losses came against the top four finishers of FIBA Americas and all the games were winnable. They lost to Argentina in OT. In their losses to Puerto Rico and Brazil, the games were close with five minutes to go., but their late-game execution was haphazard. The offense couldn't get organized properly and there were too many careless turnovers.

So the Dominican federation called upon John Calipari to make sure they pull through in tight games this year. Calipari will be aided by Del Harris, Orlando Antigua and Rod Strickland.

Biggest question mark for the Dominicans going into the last Americas was the point-guard position. And this still remains a question mark this summer. Calipari hopes former Louisville PG Edgar Sosa is the answer to this team's point-guard issues. I'm not so sure.

Sosa can get into the lane to finish well and has the ability to hit jumpers at a solid clip. But Sosa has never been the savviest of decision makers. Ill-advised shots and forcing passes into clogged areas. That's exactly what this team is trying to avoid.

No surprise that I thought Al Horford was this squad's best all-around player at the '09 Americas. Horford was the anchor of their defense: changing shots, bodying up, shuffling his feet on the perimeter and always being in the right spot as a helper. Al hit mid-range jumpers, made some hooks and displayed his terrific passing skills. Expect the same things this tourney.

Some fans might be unfamiliar with PF/C Jack Michael Martinez but he's nearly as important to this team as the NBA guys. Martinez can score, pass and rebound. He's a beast on the offensive glass.

Martinez likes to methodically back down his man (a la Mark Jackson) where he can score with some nifty moves. Maybe most impressive, Martinez is a very gifted passer, especially out of the post.

Charlie Villanueva's first Americas tourney was a somewhat uneven affair. Chuck scored some points but often couldn't get into a good rhythm because he was saddled with foul trouble. Was the second-best scorer at Centrobasket last year. Villanueva's shooting should complement Horford & JM Martinez's more interior-inclined skills well. Chuckie will work out of isos a bunch.

This squad should own the boards and is particularly dangerous on the offensive glass. Also have the makings of a tough defensive squad.

Francisco Garcia was blazing through the '09 Americas before he busted his finger. Garcia was drilling shots out to 25 feet and was flying around as a help defender deluxe (got a bunch of blocks). Coach Cal will need the same from Franny this year and might even need him to do some ball-handling.

Combo guard Luis Flores did a good job penetrating in '09, finding scores for himself and his teammates. But there were too many incidents of taking sketchy shots & making suspect decisions with the ball.

Former Pitt Panther Ronald Ramon (6-1) is a heady guard for Calipari to turn to off the bench. Ramon will handle the ball some and is a reliable deep shooter. 6-7 Kelvin Pena is a lanky wing who is primarily a spot-up threat.

Orlando Sanchez and Eulis Baez give Calipari two athletes at SF who rebound extremely well. Calipari unearthed Sanchez out of Monroe Comm. College (NY), where he was awesome on the off. glass and is a monster shot-blocker. Don't expect much from him offensively. Baez can handle the ball well enough and dish the ball, but doesn't have a reliable jumper.

Like with his Kentucky teams, Calipari will have the Dominicans running the dribble-drive offense. Smart move since Horford and Martinez's passing skills will be accentuated. It looks like Calipari wants to get in transition as well. Another smart move considering this team's mobility.

Even though the Dominicans finished fifth in '09, they played fairly well. Led the tourney in ppg and shot 38% from long range.

We know there is plenty of raw talent here. Can the talent get organized and mesh properly is the sticking question? They need steady point guard play and crisp execution if they want to pull out the tough wins.

Key Players: JJ Barea, Carlos Arroyo, Renaldo Balkman, Daniel Santiago
Key Absences: PJ Ramos; Angel Vassallo; Nathan Peavy; Carmelo Lee

Puerto Rico usually has the luxury of being one of the deepest teams in the Americas each year. But this could be differnt after that depth was heavily compromised when four keys guys pulled out with injuries. No PJ Ramos, Angel Vassallo, Carmelo Lee and Nathan Peavy. Basically the starting frontline needs to be replaced.

Puerto Rico is coming off a very solid performance at the '09 FIBA Americas tourney, finishing in 2nd place behind Brazil. The good news is that the backcourt rotation should be fine with Carlos Arroyo and JJ Barea around. Likely to see these two guys playing together quite a bit.

Expect Barea and Arroyo to dominate the ball even more this year. Expect an even heavier diet of pick-n-rolls this year with no Ramos in the post. Both guys can dart around causing havoc. Arroyo is the better shooter while Barea is the better slasher.

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.

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

Will have to integrate some players with little senior-team experience into the rotation. They have the ability to pile up steals. Have been looking to get out in transition in the prep phase and they have the athletes to be successful. And the 3pt. shot is a big part of the P.R. offensive arsenal.

Losing Ramos is a considerable blow as he played fairly well last summer. Ramos was their main interior option and was effective scoring on the block.

Aging center Dan Santiago will be forced back into the starting role in Ramos' absence. Dan can do some scoring on the block, and rolls well off high screens, but he's not quite effective as he use to be in FIBA play.

7-foot PF Ricky Sanchez (Nugget draftee) loves to spot-up behind the arc. Sanchez has shown some glimpses of improved driving ability.

Renaldo Balkman is back this year after struggling to get consistent minutes last summer. The coaching change should help, as he did not get along with former coach Manilo Cintron. Expect the same things Balkman brings in the NBA--energy, rebounds and defense.

The SF position is in disarray with Vassallo and Lee out, the top two SFs. Puerto Rico will turn to a trio of former NCAA standouts--Bimbo Carmona, John Holland and Alex Galindo-- to try to fill the void.

Recent Boston Univ. grad John Holland is an explosive athlete who can take the ball hard to the rim in the half-court or transition (though he can get out of control). Holland's jumper is inconsistent but he can get some rebounds and steals.

6-7 Alex Galindo (Florida Int'l alum) has the ability to cause problems with his long arms on defense, just like his predecessor, Carlos Lee.

Former Dayton Flyer Bimbo Carmona (6-5) is a powerful athlete who can get to the rim but his jumper is not reliable. Rebounds well for his size.

They're gonna miss Ramos' interior scoring, as it was a nice complement to Arroyo and Barea's scoring. They're going to need Santiago to turn back the clock every now and again. Also wonder if their outside shooting will be good as it normally is.

Even with a somewhat depleted roster, this squad is on the same level as Brazil and Dominican Republic.


TIER II (Fighting for the last pre-Olympic bid):

Key Players: Carl English; Joel Anthony; Cory Joseph
Key Absences: Tristan Thompson; Sam Dalembert

Coming off an utterly disastrous Worlds performance that had many Maple Leafers calling for coach Leo Rautins' ouster. Rautins has not been great but he had to deal with injuries to key players that sucked dry whatever little offensive acumen this team had.

Same story as always for Team Canada in the post-Nash era: no one to create easy scoring opportunities on offense. Get close-to-no dribble penetration. The offense looks downright brutal sometimes.

What continues to hold this team back is a lack of playmakers, which makes for a constant struggle on the offensive end. No player who really creates anything on the perimeter. Not to mention, not much of a post scoring presence, which makes for a team with no one who needs to be doubled.

Coach Rautins smartly added some more motion to their half-court sets. Leo has figured out a better system (creating shots with player/ball movement instead off the dribble) for his talent.

Like to circle their wings around screens. They might run the least amount of pick/roll of any FIBA team, which is smart since their guards don't do much with the ball screens. Lots of screens off the ball.

Canada hopes the addition of recent San Antonio Spurs draftee Cory Joseph can help upgrade their PG spot. Right now, Joseph is more of a shooter than a deep penetrator.

6-6 Carl English returns after missing the Worlds with injury and is probably their best playmaker. The athletic Newfie will handle the ball some what and is probably the best dribble penetrator, but nothing special. English is a good shooter and he can create quick dribble pull-ups for himself going either way.

NY Knick Andy Rautins is one of top Maple Leafers on the roster and their main sharpshooter. Canada will run Rautins off screens, usually getting him open up high. Rautins can handle some of ball-handling duties in a pinch.

Canada actually has a collection of solid shooters--English, Rautins, Jermaine Anderson, Kelly Olynyk, Aaron Doornekamp & Joseph--they just have no players who draw extra defenders.

Canada usually stays competitive by being a quality defensive unit anchored by a stout interior defense. And Canada should be good inside this year.

Miami Heat's Joel Anthony is an active body who will board & change shots on the backline. Believe it or not, Anthony might see some touches in the post and he can hit a baby lefty hook sometimes. He also likes to turn & face, where he shows nice touch on short jumpers. He does, I swear.

Former Pitt Panther Levon Kendall will start alongside Anthony and provides stout positional defense on the block & timely help. Not to mention, he sets good screens, runs the floor hard, rebounds and can hit the occasional elbow jumper.

Another key returnee is veteran PF Jesse Young. Definitely missed his toughness and smarts last summer. Young moves well off the ball, can sometimes bury a turnaround jumper and will sacrifice his body.

6-1 Jermaine Anderson (ex-Fordham) is an effective jump shooter but can't really penetrate off the bounce, and has little in the way of point-guard instincts.

6-7 combo forward Aaron Doornekamp is another reliable shooter on the roster and plays some physical defense. Gonzaga's 6-11 Kelly Olynyk likely won't get much run, but does have 3pt. range, which is nice.

Denham Brown and Jevohn Shepherd (ex-Mich. Wolverine) give Canada some serviceable depth on the wings.
Brown is an adequate shooter and dependable defender. Shepherd is a nice athletic guard who handles the ball some. He can create space for himself (step-back dribbles), just too bad his jumper is broken.

It's doubtful Canada will earn one of the two Olympic berths, though they are capable of finishing in the fifth-place slot which would secure a berth into the qualifying tourney next summer. If they don't get the berth, can't imagine Leo Rautins sticks around.

Key Players: Esteban Batista; Maurice Aguiar

As they have in the past, show that the sum is greater than the parts. Good teamwork on both ends of the floor. Tough defensive unit, particularly aggressive perimeter defense with quick hands.

Have patterned their offense after their successful neighbor, Argentina. Like to run continuity-type sets with some double-high post formation thrown in. Like Argentina, have good cohesion, and often play above their talent level.

But once again, this team lacks depth and this usually catches up with them in second week. Usually play only 6 or 7 players.

Led by ex-Atlanta Hawk Esteban Batista, who's an absolute beast in the interior in FIBA, but he's trying to get healthy. Will often have to navigate consistent double-teams, and draws a ton of fouls. His touch is a little dodgy, and can miss chippies, but has a knack for corralling his misses. If he gets in foul trouble, there is nowhere to turn for interior-scoring help.

Batista badly needs help on the frontline--Uruguay is undersized and usually gets pounded on the glass. They hope 6-9 Reque Newsome (naturalized American) can aid Batista with rebounding and add some active defense Forward Sebastian Izaguire likes to face-up and uses his long, bouncy body to crash the off. glass.

6-6 SF Mauricio Aquiar is an athletic scorer who likes to attack (gets to the FT line often), but lacks a steady jumper. Aguiar will also handle the ball a bit. Aguiar will be the second scoring option and was one of the top players at the 2010 South American championships (3rd in ppg, 17.8).

Big PG Martin Osimani has a nice all-around floor game, and directs the offense with patience. 6-4 Gustavo Barrera gives Uruguay another big PG with nice passing skills. Barrera is another dogged defender on the perimeter.

Leandro Garcia-Morales (ex-Texas A&M) is another combo guard that Uruguay can count on to provide solid shooting & some ball-handling. Garcia-Morales is also a dogged defender on the perimeter, who's a steals merchant.

Have a very good defensive backcourt with Garcia-Morales, Osimani, & Gustavo Barrera. Their ball pressure tends to be good. Very aggressive and have quick hands.

Not a particularly good outside-shooting team, encouraging more doubles/triples on Batista. Acually not sure why more teams don't zone up Uruguay. Collapse around Batista, make them beat you with jumpers.

Will see if Uruguay's lack of depth (especially on the frontline) catches up with them by the end of the week. Have a chance at the last Pre-Olympic bid but they have very little margin for error as not much separates them from Venezuela and Panama.

Key Players: Hector Romero; Greivis Vasquez; Greg Echienque

Disappointed at the last Americas in 2009 by not even advancing out of the first round. Eric Musselman takes over the coaching reins and has a lot of work to do to get Venezuela in range of a pre-Olympic qualifying berth.

Musselman must feel relieved that he got Hector Romero back from injury after it looked like he wouldn't be available.

The aggressive undersized PF Hector Romero was their go-to-guy in '07. Romero (6-7) looks to attack the basket 12-feet & in, and his powerful package draws fouls. Romero was the fourth-best scorer in '09 Americas.

The offense is directed by Memphis' Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is a shifty floor general who makes up for his subpar speed with taut ball-handling & smarts. Vasquez can finish in traffic, but has an erratic jumper. Vasquez helps Venezuela in nearly every aspect of the game.

Venezuela is held back by its inability to spread the floor. Zones can really put a crimp in their strengths: Romero's interior work, and Vasquez & Torres' dribble penetration. Made only 26% of their 3PA in 2009. This is perennially a problem. Also led the '09 Americas in turnovers with 18 TOpg.

Musselman hopes former Marquette guard David Cubillan helps solve Venezuela's deep-shooting woes. Cubillan can handle the ball a little but his main duty will be to try to space the floor.

21-year-old wide-body Greg Echenique (6-10) uses his generous frame to carve out deep post position and score around the rim well. Actually moves his 270 lbs. better than you would expect which allows him to be effective on defense either blocking shots or guarding the post.

Musselman coaxed 34-year-old Oscar Torres to give Venezuela one more summer of national duty. The former Houston Rockets forward shuns the outside shot to attack off the dribble. 6-6 Axiers Sucre provides another tough, undersized forward who's a plus-rebounder for his size.

Heissler Gullient will see some PG minutes behind Vasquez. Guillent handles like he's got the ball on the string and will make some sweet dishes. Combo guard Jose Vargas provides Venezuela with another ball-handler, but is a subpar shooter.

Expect this team to be solid defensively. Musselman has a defense-first philosophy and this team has capable individual defenders. They're gonna have to defend because scoring the ball at an efficient rate could be a chore. They're going to have to piece some decent shooting together. A Pre-Olympic qualifying bid is a reasonable goal.

Key Players: JR Pinnock; Gary Forbes; Jaime Lloreda
Key Absences: Jair Peralta; Joel Munoz

This team simply can't shoot anywhere on the floor. Their offensive play has been putrid over the last two summers--didn't shoot over 40% overall in '09 or '10. This is nothing new, been this way for years. A hapless outside-shooting outfit in the field--awful past 15 feet. Should see a lot of packed-in defensive looks.

They're perennially bad at the FT line as well. Were dead last in FT shooting (53%) at Centrobasket. Second worst at '09 Americas (68%).

Tend to be sloppy with the ball. Poor overall shooting combined with turnovers is a recipe for failure. Not a particularly big team and not much of a bench, either. Keep their head just above water thanks to an active defense and tough rebounding.

Not sure things will get better this year since they will be playing without a true PG. However, there is decent talent here. Some guys who can create offense for themselves.

Led by former George Washington Univ. standout JR Pinnock. Pinnock is an explosive SG who loves to slash, but has a broken jumpshot. Feel free to give him a big cushion. Pinnock played very well in 2009, finishing 3rd in scoring (20 ppg). Rebounds well for his size.

Current Denver Nugget Gary Forbes returns to national-team play after missing the last Americas tourney. Forbes really doesn't solve Panama's shooting woes but he does add rebounding, defense, some tight ball-handling and just overall hustle.

6-4 Jamahr Warren is another guard who can create good scoring opportunities for himself. Warren is a long-armed athlete who is very adept at hitting pull-ups or runners off isolation plays. Long arms help get steals and he rebounds well for his height.

Former LSU standout Jaime Lloreda gives them a solid inside presence who can score on the block & clean the boards. Lloreda can hit short jumpers and is an underrated passer.

37-year-old bruiser Ruben Garces is back to give Lloreda some help up front. Garces is a physical presence who is a bull on the boards, particularly on offensive glass.

There's usually too much one-on-one play and the offense too easily devolves into a sloppy mess. The problem might stem from not having a proper point guard. It doesn't help that Panama is missing its usual main PGs, Jair Peralta amd Joel Munoz.

Panama has not been impressive since their sharp play in 2005 under Nolan Richardson. I think they have an outside chance at a top-five finish just because none of the teams in front of them are all that strong.


TIER III (Not getting out of the first round):

9) CUBA:
Qualified for the Americas tourney with a 4th-place finish at the 2010 Centrobasket. First Americas tourney since 1999, where they finished tenth.

Were not very good in any aspect of the game last summer. Couldn't hit behind the arc or on the FT line. Probably will get hurt on the boards. Good athleticism across the board helps generate loads of steals.

Big men Orestes Torres and Yoan Haiti are the primary options on the frontline. Both guys score and added much-needed rebounding. 6-4 guard Juan Pineiro is the key playmaker on the perimeter, dishing and stealing.

Chances of getting to the second round are miniscule unless they catch Venezuela on a really bad night.

Sorry to say don't know much about Paraguay basketball. Finished fifth at the South American championships and only received a bid when Team USA turned down their automatic Americas bid. First Americas tourney bid since 1989 where they finished tenth.

Led by PG Javier Martinez who scores, passes and rebounds very well for his size. 6-6 forward Bruno Zanotti is the other top player who is a rangy athlete. Zanotti has a smooth release and can hit off screens or spotting up. Forwards Jose Fabio and Guillermo Araujo are capable scorers and good rebounders.

It looks like they rebound well but cough up the ball too much. Not surprising they use a short rotation. If they win a game, it will be stunning. Their games could get out of hand.

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Group C Team Capsules

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

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

Group C
(predicted order of finish - top 3 advance)
1) Croatia
2) Greece
3) Montenegro
4) (FYR) Macedonia
5) Bosnia
6) Finland

The Balkan-heavy group seems to be wide open, as the separation between the teams is not that significant. Leaning toward Croatia to win the group, but by no means are they locked into the top spot.

Greece looked to be in dire straits earlier in the summer but they seem to be rounding into form without some of their stars. Slavic neighbors Montenegro and (FYR) Macedonia are pretty closely-matched and their matchup on the first day could determine 3rd place in Group C.

Bosnia is not too far behind the other former Yugoslavic republics and has plenty of players who can put up points. Finland's chances of winning a game are slim, but they have some talent and can really shoot the ball.

Key Absences: Roko Ukic; Marko Banic; Zoran Planinic

Croatia has high-level Euro talent up and down the roster and should be the slight favorite to win this group. Will be without the services of PG Roko Ukic because of a broken leg. But it was quite prescient they decided to naturalize PG Dontaye Draper recently. Draper was the 2011 Eurocup MVP, and should do fine job filling in for Ukic.

He can make up for the loss of dribble penetration with Ukic's absence. Draper is one of the tougher PGs in Europe to contain and his crossover moves often leave defenders in the dust. Though like Ukic, Draper is a shaky perimeter shooter.

Ukic has played well for Croatia over the last few years. Ukic was a big chunk of their offense last year and have to think SG/SF Bojan Bogdanovic will be given even more responsibilities this summer.

Recent NJ Nets draftee Bojan Bogdanovic is coming off a stellar club season with Cibona where he led the Euroleague in scoring. Bojan also played exceptionally well at last summer's Worlds. Bojan averaged 11.6 ppg on 55% overall, 46.7% on 3PA and a sizzling 70% eFG pct.

Bojan can hurt the defense in a variety of ways: running pick/roll, isos, post-ups, shooting off screens, spot-shooting and driving to the rim.

Croatia has been allowing Bojan to isolate quite a bit in the prep phase. Can drive the ball effectively going either left or right and can finish in traffic.

Croatia will post Bojan up and he's one of the better perimeter post-up threats in Europe. Likes to methodically back his defender down usually looking to turn over his left shoulder for a reliable turnaround jumper. Sometimes will shoot a half-hook in place of a jumper. Much smoother going over his left shoulder. I expect big things from Bojan in Lithuania.

Like Bogdanovic, combo guard Marko Popovic is coming off of a sterling Worlds performance. Marko was ridiculously efficient scoring the ball: led Croatia with 14 ppg on 75% eFG% (47% 3PA) in 20 mpg.

Popovic (6-1) runs the offense a fair amount, but his specialty is shooting coming off ball screens. Popovic has the ability to score points in bunches off the bench--the Croatian Vinnie Johnson. Popovic also has an uncanny knack of drawing fouls 20 feet away from the basket. He's not on the floor for his defense.

6-7 SF Marko Tomas brings more potency on the wings as 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. Croatia will place Tomas in some isos and ball screens. Tomas is their best perimeter defender.

6-6 wing Krunoslav Simon will give Tomas and Bogdanovic some rest, and provides another player who can handle the ball. Simon is an erratic shooter but does a solid job on defense.

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. Croatia will also look to exploit the interior skills of 7-footer Ante Tomic (Jazz hold rights).

Real Madrid's Ante Tomic's offensive skill-set is the envy of every big in Europe not named Erazem Lorbek or Pau Gasol. 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.

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. For a guy as long and agile as Tomic, it's disappointing what a non-factor he is defensively.

Have the luxury of backing up Tomic with Stanko Barac (Pacers own rights). Barac hurts the defense with his mid-range shooting ability and he's effective in the pick-n-roll either as a popper or roller (moves better than you would expect). Croatia has been feeding Stanko on the block in exhibitions but he's not that adroit with his back-to-the-basket. Barac also collects rebounds at a high rate and is a deterrent defensively.

Croatia has invited PF Damir Markota (former Milwaukee Buck) back into the fold to replace Marko Banic. Markota's primary objective on Croatia is to act as a stretch-4 option. Reserve bigs Luka Zoric & Luksa Andric might see a little bit of burn and both can hit the offensive glass. Croatia will set Zoric up on the block occasionally where he can hit a turnaround jumper.

Croatia has good depth, multiple shooters and a handful players who can create offense for themselves. Croatia just needs to find a way to take it up a notch. They usually have plenty of top Euro talent on their roster, but they always seem to play so-so ball. Seemingly always end up a middle-of-the-pack team. Never seem to reach their full potential.

The draw sets up very nicely for them and not making the quarterfinals would be a disappointment.

Key Absences: Vassilis Spanoulis; Sofo Schortsanitis; Strat Perperoglou; Dimis Diamantidis; Theo Papaloukas

If I told you I had a firm grasp on what to expect from this team, I'd be lying. Honestly can't get a good read on Greece right now with all the roster upheaval and loss of their two best scorers, Vassilis Spanoulis and Sofo Schortsanitis.

Things seemed bad at the start of training camp with injuries and no-shows piling up. But Hellas' fortunes have slowing been on the ascendency as the exhibition stage has progressed.

They have played solid ball over the last few weeks: the ball movement has been crisp in prep phase and have done a fine job in transition.

On a positive note, they will be getting Nick Calathes back after it seemed he would be sidelined with a bad ankle. And luckily they're in Group C, which is wide-open.

Under former Coach Kazlauskas, Greece got away from the tenacious defense that was its calling card in '05 & '06. New coach Ilias Zouros is trying to bring back the active, physical defense that brought them success under former Coach Giannakis. They've done a very good job keeping their opponents' score down--60s & 70s. That's vintage Giannakis-era defensive numbers.

Expect a physical brand of defense with active hands. Also, Greece contests shots as well as any team (besides Russia).
And they are going to need to be tough defensively since they lack the scoring punch they've had the last few years.

The big question for Greece: how successful will they be generating points with their best shot-creators (Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Sofo) unavailable? When's the last time Greece has not played with either Spanoulis, Diamantidis or Theo Papaloukas running the offense? At least a decade. This is uncharted territory for Greece.

Panathinaikos' Antonis Fotsis is going to have to step up his scoring this summer. The national-team vet can put the ball on the deck, has good passing skills and is an underrated athletic finisher. Also an underrated defender who moves his feet well when he guards on the perimeter. Sneaks along the baseline for offensive rebounds. Sometimes he's just too reticent to assert himself.

Coach Zouros has tapped Fotsis to be his primary option. Not sure how that's going to work out. I just don't think Fotsis has the mentality to be go-to guy. He lacks assertiveness and will disappear for stretches--this has been his m.o. his whole career. He's more comfortable as secondary option. He has looked good in exhibitions, so we'll see how this pans out.

What's interesting is that they are running Fotsis off of screens more than I ever remember. Looks like Coach Zouros has installed some baseline screen action where Fotsis pops out either to the corner or top-o-key for a jumper. In general, Greece looks to be using plenty of off-ball screen action.

Giannis Bourousis (Olympiacos) is one of the most coveted free agents in Europe by NBA teams. One of the best rebounders in Europe. Can get rebounds out of his area. Great touch that extends to 20 feet.

Wouldn't call his post game amazing but has some crafty moves around the rim where he can finish with a hook. And Greece is going to need the big fella to score some points in the post with Sofo gone.

Denver Nuggets center Kostas Koufos will split time with Bourousis. Koufos will get a few post touches where he's alright with a hook and he can face-up.

Nick Calathes (Mavs hold rights) will be thrust into the role of primary ball-handler with Spanoulis and Diamantidis gone. On top of that added pressure, Calathes is trying to work his way back from injury. Calathes played solid ball at Worlds and helped Panathinaikos to the Euroleague title. Calathes sees the floor very well and has been running the pick-n-roll with savvy since his Florida days.

Veteran combo guard Nikos Zisis will have to take on more ball-handling duties than usual. Zisis can ably run the point for limited stretches, but he's more suited for the off-guard spot, looking for his mid-range jumper. Zisis likes to run thru off-ball screens, often curling off weakside screens.

6-2 PG Costas Sloukas will spell Calathes off the pine and provides shooting that Calathes can't--can hit jumpers and runners off the dribble. Sloukas is fast and shifty with the ball in his hands--uses hesitation, spin and behind-the-back dribble effectively.

Reserve PG Vasilis Xanthopoulos is not much of a scorer or shooter but he can run the pick-n-roll with a controlled, steady hand. A nifty passer--great at waiting for angles to open up before he delivers the pass.

SG/SF Kostas Vasileiadis is a fiery vet who'll finally get some burn with the senior team. Vasileiadis is a solid athlete who can drill jumpers off the dribble or catch-n-shooting--Greece will run him off screens.

Reserve wing 6-5 Mike Bramos, who was '09 MAC P.O.Y. at Miami (OH), uses his freakishly long wingspan to cause havoc on the defensive end--deflections, steals and a great shot-blocker for a guard.

Also missing Strat Perperoglou, who was nothing spectacular but would often start at SF over the last few years. 6-8 Kostas Papanikolaou (Olympiacos) will try to fill the void at SF. The agile lefty can knock down open jumpers and you'll have the Mon-chi-chi song in your head when he's on the floor.

6-8 combo forward Kostas Kaimakoglou (Panathinaikos) makes a positive impact on the game with his relentless activity. Kaimakoglou doesn't mind throwing his body around, which helps him grab boards and be a constant nuisance on the defensive end.

Greece did a great job keeping its turnovers low last summer, which was kind of a surprise with Spanoulis and Sofo on the team. That bodes well for this tourney since Spanoulis and Sofo aren't around.

Greece can legitimately challenge Croatia for Group C supremacy. Though, still not sure what to expect from this team offensively once the real games start. A knockout-round berth is in the cards.

Key Absences: Suad Sehovic; Peja Drobnjak

Montenegro's only been on the FIBA Europe scene for two years but are not wasting any time making their presence known. Next to Britain, have been the most impressive team during the EuroBasket qualification process over the last two summers.

The frontline rotation is high-quality, and it's huge. Very good rebounding team. Montenegro's top option is man-mountain Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic struggled in his first year in the NBA but he's a force in the painted area in Europe.

The primary line of attack for Montenegro is to pound the ball in to Pekovic. Pek was unstoppable in the Euro qualifiers, averaging 20 ppg on 63% and 5 rpg (2.5 off) in 24 mins/game.

Pekovic can establish deep post position anytime he wants--physically owns everyone. Draws tons of fouls and demands extra defenders. Pek grabs offensive rebs, but could increase defensive board output. Pek also has a tendency to get in foul trouble.

Recent Sixers draftee Nikola Vucevic will back up Pekovic and might see some minutes playing alongside Pekovic as well. Vucevic (7-0) has a reliable mid-range jumper, can score in the post with a hook and pounds the glass.

The massive 7-6 Slavko Vranes can be an interior presence in limited minutes simply because of his size. Slavko can't move, but is a defensive deterrent in the vein of Yao Ming. Takes up so much space.

Longshot NBA free-agent prospect 6-9 Vladmir Dasic is an inside-out threat who can play both forward spots. Montenegro will put Dasic is all types of offensive situations. His shooting ability allows him to be a threat in pick-n-pop action and isolation where he can hit pull-ups.

Dasic can put the ball on the deck and drive both directions. Likes to start his post-up on the perimeter, then will methodically back down his defender. 6-6 wing Milos Borisov will back-up Dasic at SF and can hit shots off the bounce or off screens.

Starting PF Vlad Dragicevic is a nice complement to Pekovic as he moves well off the ball--most of his points come off cuts. Dragicevic always shoots a high pct. (shot 82% last summer), grabs rebounds (especially off. rebs) and uses strength & anticipation to be an asset on defense.

Former St. John's standout Omar Cook is a top-flight PG in Europe and is consistently one of the top assist leaders. Not much of a shooting threat but has the ability to blow by most defenders.

Combo guard Goran Jeretin will handle the ball quite a bit himself regardless of whether Cook is on or off the floor. Jeretin's ability to drill pull-ups makes him very effective in the pick-n-roll. Jeretin is a quality passer but has issues with TOs.

The lack of depth on the perimeter is a significant concern. Montenegro will have to call upon a relic of the old Yugoslavian national teams, Vlado Scepanovic, to eat up some minutes while Jeretin sits. I believe the 35-year-old Scepanovic is the oldest player in the tourney and the only player, besides Saras Jasikevicius, to play at the '98 World Championships. Vlado's slowing down but he's still a deadly shooter.

Run some unique sets. A lot of off-ball movement when the ball-handler goes in motion. It's not so much about off-ball screening as players clearing areas or moving to open spots. This team cuts very well and gets plenty of points off cuts.

A shaky outside-shooting team; something to keep an eye on as the tourney moves along. Struggled from the 3pt. line last summer--32.3%. Scepanovic and Borisov are reliable, but Jeretin and Dasic can be inconsistent from deep. Need to keep the defense from collapsing on Pekovic.

This squad seems to have chemistry and they execute well. They have one of the most dominant players in the field in Pekovic. They can push Greece and Croatia for a top spot in the group and have a legit shot at getting to the quarterfinals.

Key Absences: Riste Stefanov

At the last EuroBasket, (FYR) Macedonia overachieved a bit by advancing to the second round. And they have a legit chance to again advance to the second round.

Like Montenegro, they have a solid frontcourt rotation paired with a naturalized PG from the US, Bo McCalebb. McCalebb is one of the better PGs currently playing in Europe and he was arguably the best player during last summer's Euro Qualifying tournament.

Would not really consider McCalebb a good perimeter shooter, though he shot the ball well in Siena during his club season. Would still dare him to shoot from the outside. Dynamic in the open-court. Doesn't need ball screens to shake free--can penetrate at will. One of the fastest players in the field.

Big, physical frontline rotation with the likes of Pero Antic, Peja Samardziski and Todor Gecevski. All three guys are tough on the offensive glass. Antic and Gecevski have legit 3pt. range while Samardziski can go out to 17 feet. Each give (FYR) Macedonia capable pick-n-pop options. This team is quite foul-happy--Antic is a foul machine.

6-9 PF Pero Antic is a nice athlete who gets plenty of touches. Loves to face-up and can knock down jumpers from way downtown. Antic will iso on the perimeter and can take other bigs off the dribble going left or right (uses ball fakes well). Sometimes jacks ups some dubious shots. Antic is not a great post threat, but he's OK with a turnaround.

Predrag "Peja" Samardziski is a 7-foot wide body who can hit the elbow jumper. Peja shoots a high pct. from the floor but struggles at the FT line. They've been pounding the ball in to Samardziski during the exhibitions and he likes to finish with a right hook.

Lumbering 7-footer Todor Gecevski is also a post option where he likes to go with a hook shot as well. Reserve big Kiril Nikolovski comes off the bench to pound the boards.

Guards Darko Sokolov and Vlado Ilievski will aid McCalebb in ball-handling duties. Sokolov is the most consistent shooting threat on the perimeter.

Like McCalebb, Ilievski causes problems for the opposition with his dribble--fast & shifty with the ball. Ilievski is a dangerous pull-up shooter going in both directions.

6-4 Vojdan Stojanovski will likely start at SF since (FYR) Macedonia is hurting for a true SF. Vojdan's twin, Damjan Stojanovski, will see minutes at both wing spots and can handle & drive the ball a little. Both brothers are subpar shooters.

(FYR) Macedonia smartly runs some Princeton-style sets that take advantage of their bigs' shooting and passing skills. Often see both bigs in double-high post alignment and they adjust into a hi-low set. Not sure I would call this team a great outside shooting team. Definitely adequate, some of their guards can be erratic and Ilievski can be streaky.

Closely matched with their Slavic neighbor, Montenegro, and the matchup of those two teams on the first day of EuroBasket could determine who gets the last second-round bid out of Group C.

Key Absences: Ratko Varda

Fairly talented roster with multiple players who have played well in the Euroleague. This team has plenty of players who can put points on the board. Mirza Teletovic, Henry Domercant, Ninad Dedovic, Kenan Bajrimovic and Nemanja Gordic. are proven scorers on the Euroleague level.

Somewhat peculiar why this team was not better in qualifiers. The problem seems to be these guys don't mesh together well; too many guys want to be the main option.

Bosnia was dealt a blow when veteran bruiser Ratko Varda chose to leave the team during training camp (believe he had to get back to his male modeling career). Bosnia will miss Varda's toughness and ability to score in the post.

Over the last few years, the offense has featured a fair amount of post-ups. But with Varda out, Bosnia's back-to-basket game might suffer a little. This team can drill shots on the perimeter and has multiple bigs who can float out.

Bosnia hopes PF Mirza Teletovic can replace Varda as the top option after sitting out last summer. Caja Laboral's Teletovic is simply an elite shooter--one of the best in Europe. See shades of Peja in Mirza: a 6-9 solid athlete who can bury shots coming off screens, off of quick dribble pull-ups, step-back pull-ups and can drill shots with defenders in his face. Bosnia will also post Mirza up. Believe he can be rotation player in the NBA.

Chicago-born SG/SF Henry Domercant (2003 NCAA leading scorer at E. Illinois) is another top option for Bosnia. Domercant will have the ball in his hands quite a bit either running pick-n-rolls or isos. Great all-around shooter who can hit pulling-up, spotting up or off screens. Well-built athlete who will defend the opponent's best player.

Possible NBA draft prospect Ninad Dedovic's strength is aggressively driving the ball to the rim --great finisher in half-court or transition. 21-year-old Dedovic had a solid season with Lottomatica Roma, averaging 9.3 ppg, 3 rpg & 2 apg in 27 mins. of Euroleague action. Dedovic's jumper is not reliable, but he can handle the ball well enough to be effective in p/n/r where's he a willing passer. Definitely should sag off him.

Dedovic's Lottomatica teammate, Nemanja Gordic, is another young up-and-comer for Bosnia to turn to in the backcourt. Gordic (6-3) can drive the ball to the rim going either way and finish in traffic. 23-year-old Gordic was also productive in Euroleague, averaging 10 ppg & 2.5 apg in 22 mins/game. Often looks off-balance on his jumper, but he's still an effective shooter, if a bit streaky. Sometimes is looking score too often instead of looking to distribute.

Sasa Vasiljevic (6-0) is more of a classic point guard than Gordic in the sense that he thinks pass first. Sasa runs the pick-n-roll with veteran savvy and will knock down jumpers when given the opportunity. Reserve wing Goran Ikonic's primary purpose is to spot up.

Lietuvos Rytas' leading scorer Kenan Bajramovic has a knack for finding ways to exploit the defense. Kenan will get some post touches where he has an effective turnaround jumper over his right shoulder and a decent hook shot.

For guy who's a subpar athlete, Bajrimovic (6-9) is surprisingly effective iso-ing up his defender on the perimeter and driving the ball to the rim. Savvy at leaning his body into the defender to draw fouls. Physical on both ends of the floor. Is a capable mid-range shooter.

Edin Bavcic (Sixers own rights) is another stretch-4 option for Bosnia. 6-11 Bavcic is a big who basically just wants to stand behind the arc; occasionally uses a quick first step to drive the ball.

Elmedin Kikanovic is another 6-11 big who prefers to shoot jumpers but fails to put his size to good use on the boards. 6-10 Ermin Jazvin is a mobile big who can be effective as a roll man and tough on the offensive glass.

For a team with decent size they don't rebound all that well. Only shot 32.6% from beyond the arc in qualifiers but don't think those numbers are indicative of how well this team can shoot the ball.

This team definitely has the raw talent to compete with any team in this group. They just haven't properly meshed as a cohesive unit on the court yet. Think they are very close to Montenegro and (FYR) Macedonia, and 3rd place is well within their reach.


Finland returns to its first EuroBasket since 1995 after going 4-0 in the Additional Qualifying tourney. Finland has a heavy NCAA-flavored roster with five key guys having played college ball in the States.

Former German coach Henrik Dettmann we'll try to get this sweet-shooting team to perform better than they did last summer (1-7 in qualifiers). One way he hopes to achieve this objective is by adding NBA draftee (Portland '07) Petteri Koponen back to the mix after sitting out last summer.

Combo guard Petteri Koponen (Mavs own rights) is Finland's featured player, whose 14 ppg and 5 apg led them in the qualification stage. Koponen (6-4) is effective at both guard spots and alternates ball-handling duties with starting PG Teemu Rannikko. Petteri is the one guy on the team who can attack the rim--very aggressive driver who finishes well. Petteri was off on his 3pt. looks in qualification, but in general, he's a capable shooter with his feet set or pulling up.

Teemu Rannikko is a savvy PG who has proven his worth at the top levels of European basketball for the last decade. Rannikko and Koponen will split ball-handling duties. Rannikko's smooth stroke makes a dangerous shooter. In pick-n-roll, Rannikko is a danger to pull-up but rarely takes the ball to the rim.

Former Old Dominion star Gerald Lee is their main interior option. Finland likes to milk Lee on the right block where he prefers to finish with his left hand. Solid post footwork and can make hooks with both hands. Lee is a subpar rebounder for size and needs to be more assertive. Finland needs him to use his size since he's their only quality center.

No surprise, the main weapon of Finland's offensive arsenal is the jump shot. Don't have too many guys who can drive the ball to rim and this team doesn't finish at the rim well, besides Koponen. Will feature a fair amount of post-ups, but they're almost exclusively called for Lee.

Tuukka Kotti and Kimmo Muurinen are both good athletes who play with great activity. Both PFs are strong defensively (Kotti has quick hands) and rebound well. Kotti (Providence alum) scores points off of cuts while Muurinen (Ark.-Little Rock alum) can hit from behind the arc.

Former Valparaiso wing Shawn Huff is another shooting threat for Finland who also serves as Finland's top perimeter defensive stopper.

20-year-old guard Sasu Salin's smooth mechanics make him a deadly floor-spreader. Salin has a little Euroleague experience playing for Union Olimpija and put up 10.6 ppg (46% on 3PA) in 20 mins/game for Finland during qualification.

Coach Dettmann coaxed former Atlanta Hawk/Utah Ute PF Hanno Mottola out of retirement for a last swan song with the national team. Mottola is not the player he once was and will be more of a tertiary player. Hanno can still knock down some mid-range jumpers and score a bit on the block.

Another Euro team with multiple shooting threats. Need to curtail its TOs--Koponen and Rannikko can get careless. This team needs to tighten its defense, particularly in pick-n-roll & transition.

Finland is not a pushover; there's some talent here. Koponen and Rannikko are solid players in the Italian league. Wouldn't be too surprised if they stole a victory by raining jumpers on the opponent.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Preview: Group B Team Capsules

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

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

Group B
(predicted order of finish - top 3 advance)
1) Serbia
2) France
3) Germany
4) Italy
5) Israel
6) Latvia

Some major NBA talent in this group. This group is close to being as good as Group A--four playoff-quality teams. Serbia has no current NBAers but they are rich with European talent. Serbia has been a top-flight team over the last two years and they should be tough again.

France has multiple NBA players and have the goods to compete for a medal. Germany has Dirk back in the lineup, so that's reason enough to consider them a contender to grab a pre-Olympic qualifying spot.

Israel couldn't get Omri Casspi healthy in time, so its second-round chances are heavily compromised. Latvia is without most of its key players and are forced to go with a young, overmatched team.

(Listed in predicted order of finish)
Key Absences: Novica Velickovic; Darko Milicic; Miroslav Raduljica

At the last EuroBasket, Serbia surprised by taking home the Silver medal. And they are serious medal contenders once again. They kept basically the same lineup intact for the third straight summer--a lineup that got to the last EuroBasket final and was a few kooky plays away from last summer's World final. Though, the recent loss of Novica Velickovic is an underrated blow, particularly on the defensive end.

A very deep team that does not lose much when they go to their bench. Coach Ivkovic masterfully juggles his lineup getting contributions from nearly every player. All 12 guys played at least 12 minutes per game.

Serbia can cause problems thanks to great size at every position. The main reason for their continued excellence is the commitment to sturdy team defense under Coach Ivkovic. Serbia's defense was superb last summer and the backline help is tight. Also have great size at every position.

Terrific play on the offensive end at the Worlds, finishing second in both ppg (89) and FG pct. (49.6%). Also had the third-best 3pt. pct (39.6%) in the field.

Serbia was somewhat surprisingly effective in transition last summer after being a more conservative team at Euro '09. Serbia runs some great stuff offensively--this team has excellent ball movement and they stay disciplined in their spacing.

PG Milos Teodosic was one of the top players at the last EuroBasket and kept his great play going last summer. One of the best playmakers in the tourney and generates a boatload of points for Serbia. Terrific at running pick/rolls, where he's a danger to drill pull-ups or thread passes. Best shooter on the team, with a very quick release. Milos is also run around some off-ball screens as well. Should be one of the top players in this year's tourney.

The other leader of this team is former NBAer Nenad Krstic. Nenad was one of the best bigs at the Worlds last summer and led Serbia in ppg & rpg. Serbia likes to give him plenty of post touches, and will also utilize Nenad's face-up ability to their advantage as well.

Former NBA reserve Kosta Perovic gets the center minutes when Krstic goes to the bench. Perovic gave Serbia nice minutes off the bench last year changing shots, grabbing off. boards and finishing at the rim.

Combo forward Dusko Savanovic barely made the national team last summer but he surprised with a superb Worlds performance. Not to mention, Savanovic excelled in Euroleague this season, earning an All-Euroleague 2nd-team nod.

Savanovic is not athletic, not strong and looks like he has a vitamin deficiency (something old-timey like rickets or scurvy). But don't be fooled by his sickly appearance--he can ball. Terrific footwork and smarts allows him create shots in the mid-range and on the post.

Recent Timberwolves draftee 6-8 Milan Macvan will see more minutes in Velickovic's absence. Macvan makes up for his lack of athleticism with a high b-ball IQ and well-rounded game. Macvan can pass, face-up, post (a effective fadeaway turnaround over his right shoulder) and draw fouls aplenty.

Nemanja Bjelica is another T-Wolves 2nd-round draft pick who will get the starting nod at SF. Has point-forward skills (great at running p/n/r) but won't see the full range of his playmaking abilities as Bjelica will mostly be relegated to spot-shooting duty. He has a tendency to disappear.

Forward Marko Keselj will split minutes with Bjelica at small forward. Like Bjelica, Keselj's role is to spot-up and occasionally come off screens. Keselj played very well last summer, drilling jumpers (60% on 3pts) on the wings and using his good hops to finish strong. Keselj is very smart moving to the open spots. He was ridiculously efficient, averaging 11 ppg on 82% eFG pct. in 19 mins/game.

SG Alexsandar Rasic gave Serbia an unexpected lift last summer averaging nearly 10 ppg on a sizzling 71% eFG pct. Rasic is mostly called upon to shoot (spot-up & off screens) and provide solid defense. But Rasic will handle the ball a little and he's a clever passer.

6-7 combo guard Milenko Tepic will be a secondary ball-handler and can defend multiple positions. 6-5 Stefan Markovic gives Serbia another quality PG whose athleticism helps him shine on the defensive end. Neither Tepic nor Markovic is much of a shooting or scoring threat.

Love this team's chemistry, depth, talent and coaching. Don't think they can beat Spain, but have all the goods to win Silver, earning the second automatic Olympic bid.

Key Absences: Ronny Turiaf; Roddy Beaubois; Mickael Pietrus; Antoine Diot; Ian Mahinmi

This could be one of the better French rosters assembled in awhile thanks to Tony Parker returning and the inclusion of Joakim Noah. This year's team looks better on paper than the '09 team that finished 5th--and might have finished higher if they did not have to play Spain in the quarters, France's only loss of Euro '09.

Joakim Noah finally makes his Senior team debut, and just in time with Ronny Turiaf being injured in training camp. This team is usually very tough defensively and they could be even better with Noah in the fold.

The one area where the defense needed improving in the past: guarding centers one-on-one. Having Noah aboard should solve that problem and make the defense even stronger. Next to Russia, France should have the best defense in the tourney.

Les Bleus have the distinct advantage of being one of the most athletic teams in Europe. France uses this fact effectively to create havoc defensively. Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus are all good defenders who can guard multiple positions, and switch assignments. They have the ability to create turnovers, which should come in handy to create transition offensive opportunities.

It's curious why the French club has not put enough emphasis on playing uptempo in the past. Les Bleus is built for speed and they usually have rough time in the half-court offensively. Seems like uptempo would be a no-brainer for France.

The good news is that Collet has France getting out in transition at a high rate in the prep phase. And they've been converting at an excellent rate. They must keep this up once the real games start.

But the same annual question remains: can France find consistency on offense. France can still go through extended lulls on the offensive end in the half-court--they had some brutal stretches last year. Consistent production in the half-court offense could be an adventure again, even with Parker back.

France has historically struggled in the half-court offensively over the last decade primarily because they couldn't space the floor. They have perennially been one of the worst outside shooting teams in FIBA ball. Teams would pack the paint for most of the game.

The team's outside shooting has slowly improved over the last few years. They have shot close to 38% from behind the arc the last two years after perennially being in the low 30% range. But I'm still skeptical about this team's shooting prowess. Simply, there are too many inconsistent outside shooters on this team.

Obviously France's main line of attack will be to call on Tony Parker to relentlessly attack the painted area. Though that objective is not always easy to accomplish with France usually surrounding Tony with hapless outside shooters.

Many times Parker can not get deep penetration because defenses are free to load up on him. Team France should expect plenty of zone and sagging man. The one-foot-in-the-paint rule vs. France would be emphasized if I were an opposing coach.

Boris Diaw will likely move between both forward spots and France will run offense through him either in the post or on the perimeter. Diaw's biggest problem in FIBA play, as in the NBA, has been inconsistent effort; expect a "one game on, next game off" pattern from Boris. Diaw's superb footwork makes him France's best post scorer.

Nic Batum will start at SF, but might also see minutes at the 2-spot. France will also have Batum handle the ball a little--run him in p/n/r or isos. The explosive young Blazer loves driving the baseline. Batum gives France another quality defender who can guard four positions. Batum is coming off a down shooting year--34% in NBA, 32% at '10 Worlds--after nailing 40% of his threes in '09-10.

Ex-Sonic wing Mickael Gelabale returns to national-team duty and adds more versatility on the wings. I would say Gelable is Les Bleus' most reliable perimeter shooter. Gelabale has post-up ability as well. Can guard both wing spots effectively.

Nando De Colo is a 6-5 combo guard who's a terrific ball-handler with great court vision. Though his development has stagnated and he did not do a good job trying to run the offense last summer in Parker's absence. Nando has not shoot the ball well over the last year after a few years of solid shooting.

Andrew Albicy, a longshot NBA prospect, will give Parker a breather when needed. The speedy 5-10 guard had his moments in Turkey, but he tends to force the action sometimes and is another erratic shooter for France.

6-7 Florent Pietrus is an underrated cog on this team--rebounds extremely well for his size, excellent defender & great activity overall. Pietrus can play both forward spots but will mostly play the 4. Not a good shooter.

Ali Traore was originally axed from the French roster earlier in the summer but was called back into action after Turiaf went down. Good move, as he's France's best scoring option at center.

Traore (6-10) is a very capable scorer on the blocks. Can't do much over his left shoulder, but he's quite effective turning over right shoulder--turnaround jumper and loves to go with a lefty hook. Also, can consistently hit foul-line jumpers.

Washington Wizards reserve Kevin Seraphin will back up Noah and Diaw up front. Seraphin is a physical specimen but has a rather raw skill set. Interesting to see France feature Seraphin quite a bit in the post in the prep phase. It looks like post-ups for Seraphin will be a part of the offensive game plan. Seraphin is not particularly fluid down low but he has a decent half-hook.

Usually a good rebounding unit, though they struggled last year. Expect them to be fine on the glass this year with the addition of Noah. Keep an eye on the free throw pct. as well. France surprisingly shot 73% last summer. But up until last year they were a bad FT shooting team. Was last summer a fluke?

The m.o. vs. France still has to be to pack the paint and force the French to beat you over the top. They've improved their collective shooting ability over the last few years but they are a team that you test. If they make jumpers, then that's how you lose. I would try to keep Parker out of the lane (Diaw & Batum as well) at all costs. Make those guys beat you with jumpers.

If (a big if) France can consistently knock down their perimeter shots, they have a shot at a medal.

Key Absences: Demond Greene; Elias Harris

Germany vaulted into qualifying contention the moment Dirk Nowitzki (and Chris Kaman) signed on for the summer. In the last two EuroBaskets Dirk played in, he led Germany to a fifth-place finish in '07 (and ultimately qualified for the '08 Olympics) and a silver medal in '05.

Without Dirk over the last two summers, Team Deutschland really struggled to score the ball with any consistency, which was not all that surprising. Last summer, their late-game execution was hapless as they didn't have a shot-creator to turn to in the 4th. But Germany was able to stay competitive with an undermanned roster because of longtime coach Dirk Bauermann's acumen (one of top coaches in the field).

The Germans space the floor very well. Always a dangerous shooting team and shot 40% from long range last year. Also have great size--will often have two 7-footers on the floor at once. And often, they team those bigs with a 6-10 SF, 6-5 SG and 6-5 PG.

The frontcourt rotation has some other quality talent besides Dirk and Kaman in Jan Jagla, Tibor Pleiss and Robin Benzing.

Germany might have the best collection of post scorers in the tourney. We know Dirk can do damage and Kaman has some skills. But Jagla and Benzing can also score some points with their backs to the basket.

Tend to have less off-ball movement than other Euro teams--more isolation/posts. Germany likes to dump the ball into the post a ton and they often screen guys into their post-ups.

NBA fans know Dirk and Kaman are capable jump shooters, but their other bigs can face-up as well. Jagla, Pleiss, Benzing and Ohlbrecht all have range out to at least 18 feet.

Ex-Penn St. Nittany Lion Jan Jagla goes from being Germany's primary option the last two years to being Dirk's back-up again. Interesting to see how Jagla responds to be demoted to second unit after being Germany's primary option the last two summers.

Thought Jagla played well for Germany in Dirk's absence in '09 & '10. Jagla was the only German in double figures last year (14 ppg), shot the ball very well (52% overall, 65% from 3pt.), rebounded well (6 rpg) as usual and defended well.

Bauermann needs to find minutes for Jagla, as minutes at PF will be scarce with Dirk back. Would like to see Jagla playing alongside Dirk. Jagla is mobile enough to even play some minutes at the SF, giving Germany a lineup with three 7-footers.

Tibor Pleiss (OKC Thunder own rights) will be called upon to finish off plays mostly in pick/rolls. Pleiss (7-0) has a smooth stroke he can take out to 18 feet plus he's a strong rebounder and shot-blocker.

6-10 Robin Benzing can cause matchup problems at the SF. Can put the ball on the deck with a quick first step. Possesses decent post-up skills and Germany will look to set Robin up the block quite a bit--likes turnarounds on left block. Solid shooter but a poor rebounder for guy his size.

PF/C Tim Ohlbrecht and Sven Schultze provide Germany with some other bigs who can float to the 3pt. line. Don't expect these guys to get off the bench too much.

6-5 Steffan Hamann is a big point who can penetrate and finish well at the rim, but will sometimes force the action too much. Hamann rarely looks to take jumpers. Uses his athleticism & size well on the defensive end.

6-0 PG Heiko Schaffartzik is a very dangerous shooter pulling up off of ball screens who can go thru extended hot stretches (had multiple microwave moments at Euro '09). Heiko will split time with Hamann at the PG, and sometimes play alongside Hamann.

Besides the post-ups, Hamann will run the pick-n-roll. Germany can be very dangerous in pick-n-pop action with its smooth-shooting bigs. Hamann and Kaman have worked well in the p-n-r in prep phase--Kaman has been a dangerous roll man.

The backcourt has never been particularly strong during Dirk's tenure. The shooting guard position is a big question mark with veteran Demond Greene out with injury. Greene was usually Germany's top perimeter scoring threat and neither of his replacements score that much. Schaffartzik is the best natural scorer in the backcourt but he tends to be very streaky.

Former Iowa St. Cyclone Lucca Steiger and former West Virginia combo guard Johannes Herber will try to fill the void left by Greene at SG. Lucca's strictly a catch-n-shoot threat. Meanwhile, Herber plays a heady floor game but is an erratic shooter.

Germany is good enough to beat any team in this group. Dirk can kind of one-man gang Germany to wins--he's done it in the past (see 2005). But can Germany find enough auxiliary scoring around Dirk, particularly from the backcourt, to make a push for a knockout-round bid? It'll be tough to make the playoffs with only four spots available to the teams in Group A & B.

Key Absences: Angelo Gigli; Andrea Crosariol

NBA Playbook scouting report

Team Italia returns to EuroBasket after failing to qualify in 2009. After underachieving over the last five years, Italy is looking to regain its footing in the upper echelon of Euro teams. Danilo Gallinari joins Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli after being sidelined the last few summers.

Italy can really the space the floor with a shooting threat at every position. Can put four deep shooters on the floor at once, sometimes all five players. Last summer Italy was very effective scoring off post-ups and around the basket in general.

Putting the ball in the basket should not be difficult for this team, with Bargs, Gallo and Belli each capable of scoring 20+ points any game. Gallo will get his fair share of isos and Bargs will get plenty of isos/extended post-ups as well. Belinelli will iso some and run plenty of pick-n-roll.

They've shown in qualification and prep phase that they are cutting hard into the paint with great effectiveness. The crisp passing and off-ball movement that was prevalent on the successful mid-2000s teams seems to be back.

Offense is not the issue, it's the lack of a traditional interior presence. Italy has been hurting for inside help for years and losing Angelo Gigli and Andrea Crosariol does not help things. No Gigli is an underrated blow to Italy--going to miss his activity on defense and on the glass.

Rebounding has been an issue for the Italians last few years, and Italy should get blasted on the boards once again. Also really question their ability to guard the interior. These two issues could prevent them getting far.

Gallinari will likely start at the 4 with Bargnani at the 5. And there is very little quality help behind them. Expect Gallo and Bargs to play heavy minutes.

Bargnani is gonna get his points in the post and on jumpers. But if he really wants to help this team, he needs concentrate on rebounding & defending the paint.

For Team Italia, Marco Belinelli is more than just the shooting specialist role he plays in the NBA. He puts his ball-handling skills and elite athleticism to good use in the FIBA game. When he keeps his flashy tendencies in check, Marco is a tough player to stop. But expect some forced off-balance jumpers and errant passes from Marco.

Athletic SF Stefano Mancinelli gives Italy a pretty nice 4th-option behind the Big 3. Stefano has great post-up ability for a SF and is a good finisher. Likes to work on the right block and can score with a lefty hook. Stefano has a solid handle and can make some plays and passes off the bounce. Not much of a deep shooting threat.

6-8 Luigi Da Tome (Lottomatica Roma) is a long, slender athlete with a multi-faceted game. Luigi is a solid shooter that can come off screens or hit pull-ups off a few dribbles. Da Tome's combo of length and mobility allows him to crash the off. glass, disrupt defensively and finish in transition. Mancinelli and Da Tome might have to log some minutes at the 4-spot.

Italia has been a searching for an adequate player to fill a glaring void at point guard for awhile. They hope former USC guard Daniel Hackett is the answer to their point-guard problems.

Hackett does a great job driving to the rim where he finishes at a high rate. Can get by his defender going both directions without a ball screen. Strong defender and has turned himself into a respectable outside shooter. However, Hackett can be inconsistent.

Chicago-born Antonio Maestranzi will split point-guard duties with Hackett. The diminutive Northern Illinois grad is a strong shooter, particularly pulling-up for 3-pointers off ball screens (going left or right). He rarely looks to drive the ball to the rim and longer PGs seem to bother him.

AJ Milano's Marco Mordente is a veteran combo guard who can drill coming off screens and will do a little ball-handling. SG/SF Marco Carraretto is another shooting threat off the bench whose main duties are to spot-up and come off screens.

Forwards Andrea Renzi and Marco Kusin will try to give Italy some sort of contributions off the bench, but don't expect much. 6-10 Kusin can score a little with a turnaround jumper in the post and as a roll man.

Coach Simone Pianigiani is going to have to find a way to get this team to increase its defensive effort. No doubt Italy's struggles over the last few years can be somewhat attributed to subpar defense.

Pianigiani's Siena teams are renowned for their active defense that forces turnovers, though he does have better individual defenders to work with in Siena. Pianigiani does have some decent perimeter defenders to work with, but the interior could be a lost cause.

Can't complain about the talent and skills Italia brings on the offensive end. No trouble finding ways to score. If Italy wants to advance to the second round and onward, they will have to find ways to keep the rebound battle close and give quality defensive effort.

Key Absences: Omri Casspi

Israel had a disappointing showing at the last EuroBasket, where they failed to advance out of the opening round. The recent loss of Omri Casspi really put a crimp in their plans of advancing to the second round this summer.

Even without Casspi, the forward rotation is pretty good. Lior Eliyahu, Guy Pnini and David Blu (formerly Blutenthal) are all solid players who have proven their worth at the highest levels of European ball. All three were key contributors on Maccabi Tel Aviv, 2011 Euroleague runner-up.

Israel will turn to Eliyahu (Rockets own rights) to be its primary option. Lior's not a perimeter shooting threat but is a strong finisher 10 feet & in thanks to his array of unorthodox runners/flip shots a la Antawn Jamison. 6-9 Eliyahu mostly does damage cutting/rolling to open spots, though he will also drive the ball on occasion. Eliyahu will get some post-up touches as well.

The Maccabi wings, Pnini and Blu, provide accurate shooting on the wings. 6-6 Pnini plays a heady brand of ball on both ends of the floor--smart moving off the ball. Pnini can also shoot the ball on the wings, and adds some dogged defense to the mix. Blu is another decent defender who can post up on occasion.

Combo guard Yotam Halperin is a very good shooter who will also handle the ball quite as bit. Halperin's playmaking duties should increase this summer with Casspi gone. Halperin can sometimes be indecisive when playing point, and seems more comfortable off the ball. Has a knack for picking up steals.

Swingmen Tal Burnstein is another experienced vet who provides Israel with a shooter alongside Halperin. The crafty Burnstein is very creative getting into shots off the dribble, not to mention a clever passer.

This team has no problem knocking down outside shots. I think this team needs to make a concerted effort to push the ball. Israel was very effective in transition last summer.

This team likes to iso more than most Euro teams. Though, without Casspi, the iso action should lessen this summer. Halperin will be Israel's top isolation threat.

All the isolation was successful in spots but the downside was that Israel's ball movement tended to stagnate. They need to find a better flow going forward.

A continuing sore spot for the Israelis is the lack of a true interior presence--don't have a rotation player over 6-9. And their bigs don't really create many scoring opportunities.

6-9 Yaniv Green is an active athlete who'll crash the glass and finish strong around the rim. Uri Kokia will spell Green at the center position but he's only 6-8 and merely a limited role player who rebounds, scores on cuts and provides physical post defense.

Likely starting PG Yogev Ohayon won't put up a lot of points but should rack up the assists. Ohayon's not a great deep shooter but is dangerous pulling up in the mid-range. Ohayon can make plays out of iso action and uses an effective left-to-right crossover to shake his defender.

Israel's defense needs some tweaking heading into group play. During qualification had some difficulties containing pick-n-roll action and didn't defend post-ups well.

Israel has been trying to break through to the upper echelon of Euro ball but they can never quite bust through. Things (the draw & no Casspi) just broke bad for them this year. But I still expect them to be competitive because they have a handful of Euro vets (Halperin, Eliyahu, Pnini, Blu) who have played in plenty of big games in the Euroleague.

Key Absences: Andris Biedrins; Kaspars Kambala; Kristaps Valters; Kaspars Berzins

Pretty safe bet that Latvia won't be advancing to the second round, and even winning a game in Group B is highly unlikely. Andris Biedrins and Kaspars Kambala--Latvia's starting frontcourt in '09--are no-shows this year. While other valued starters PG Kristaps Valters and Kaspars Berzins won't suit up either.

One of the weakest teams in the field, though it's one of the younger teams at EuroBasket. Recent Spurs draftee SF Davis Bertans (18 year-old) likely won't see much floor time, but when does, his role is strictly as a jump shooter.

The one bright spot for this team: its collective ability to knock down jumpers. Latvia likes to utilize a lot of off-ball screening action. Plenty of pin-downs, flares and stagger screens in the Latvian offense.

Their perimeter options are not bad and the have some quality ball-handlers. Veteran Janis Blums is the only player with any significant experience playing at the Senior national-team level. Blums is a speedy combo guard with a quick crossover who is a deadly marksman standing still or off the bounce.

PG Janis Strelnieks is neither a great athlete nor a reliable shooter, but he does have a knack for getting into the lane and can finish well. Really understands how to run the pick-n-roll--good distributor who drops nice bounce passes to his roll man.

Dairis Bertans is another quality option at PG. Like his brother, Davis, has great mechanics on his jumper either with his feet set or off the dribble. Good athlete who turns the corner hard and can finish at the rim (sometimes with impressive dunks) in the half-court or transition.

Former Arizona St. forward Rihards Kuksiks is a dangerous shooter at the wing positions. Kuksiks will be asked to handle the ball some and run through plenty of off-ball screens.

There's not much happening on the frontline with Rolands Freimanis the only player of note, and he's nothing special. Don't expect many points coming out of post-up action.

Freimanis is a long, fluid big with a nice touch on his jumper. Also, adept on the offensive glass. Loves to float out to the 3pt. line (though is numbers aren't great). 6-8 PF Arturs Berzins is another big who can face-up (out to 3pt. arc).

This squad is very foul prone and turns the ball over a bunch. All the Latvian bigs tend to be foul prone.

Not much should be expected of this inexperienced roster in a tough Group B. Maybe they can push Israel a little bit, but every other team should handle them easily.

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