Sunday, September 18, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Final: Spain Repeats as EuroBasket Champ

EuroBasket Final: Spain 98, France 85

Wasn't quite as one-sided as the 2009 Euro final in which Spain thrashed Serbia, but Spain was in control for most of the 2011 EuroBasket final and became the first team to repeat as Euro champs since Yugoslavia did it 1997.

It was another impressive run through an EuroBasket competition for the Spanish national team. Spain's only loss came to Turkey with Pau sitting with a bum ankle. Spain outscored its opponents by an average of 13.5 ppg and won eight of its 11 games by double figures.

Over the last decade, Spain has been the undisputed king of European ball. This marked the fourth time in five tries that Spain played in the EuroBasket finals. Easily could have been five in a row, but a Dirk Nowitzki last-second shot in the '05 semis denied a Pau-less Spain a trip to the finals. Spain has now finished at least in the top four spots in the last seven EuroBaskets.

France would make mini-runs at different points of the game but one never got the sense that Spain was ever serious in danger of losing control of the game. Simply too much firepower.

It wasn't like France didn't have a good day on the offensive end, it's just that Spain was even more dominant. Spain shot 55.6% from the floor and was successful spreading the touches around again with five players in double figures.

Another international competition, another sterling tournament for Pau Gasol. Pau capped off a great EuroBasket with another sharp all-around performance vs. the French with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Pau added a 3pt. make on Sunday to finish Euro '11 shooting 7-for-11 on 3PA.

Pau finished EuroBasket third in points (20 ppg), third in FG pct. (54%), fourth in rebounds (8.3 rpg), third in blocks (1.7 bpg). Pretty much does this everytime he suits up for Spain. If there were any doubts about his enshrinement into the Naismith Hall of Fame, they should cease forever. (We covered Pau's FIBA accomplishments after Spain's 2009 Euro final win.)

Don't agree with the MVP vote--Pau should have won over Juan Navarro. Pau was more of a factor of both sides of the floor, with an underrated impact defensively once again. Navarro was clutch in the knockout round for Spain, but was a little off at the start of the tourney while Pau was consistent throughout.

This was a big game so that meant Juan Carlos Navarro (27 pts, 5 assts) would most definitely show up. La Bomba's magical shot-making tricks were on display on Sunday with Juan tossing up pull-ups all over the floor (3-for-7 on 3PA). Juan hit them coming off of ball screens or off-ball screens, plus he added a few of his patented off-balance runners. Juan was also clever accentuating contact for 12 free-throw attempts. Once again Juan Carlos (5th in ppg) was one of the top players in a FIBA tournament.

France had trouble guarding the pick-n-roll all tournament and Spain hurt them in ball screen action, particularly with Navarro as the ball-handler. 19 Navarro pick-n-rolls generated 24 points for himself or his teammates (very good rate).

Jose Calderon (17 pts, 4 stls) looked unusually spry today, very aggressive on both ends of the floor, and even got a dunk out of Jose. Jose had multiple buckets in transition, added a few drives in the half-court, a few pull-ups and stripped the ball from Parker a few times.

Rudy Fernandez's kinetic energy was a boon for Spain once again. Rudy (14 pts) flew around for scores on tip-ins, cuts, fast breaks and off-balance jumpers. Rudy's jumper was off over the last few weeks but he contributed nicely in nearly every other aspect of the game. Rudy is a different player when he's allowed to fly around.

Marc Gasol (11 pts) was solid again with a few jumpers and effective plays on rolls. Maybe the most impressive aspect of Marc's play during Euro '11 was his passing, particularly his passing as the roll man. Marc averaged 13.3 ppg, 7.3 rebs and 2 apg, and should be considered for a 2nd team All-Euro selection.

Serge Ibaka only put up four points, but he was a major presence defensively, blocking five shots in 21 minutes. Serge chased down the ball to make multiple blocks flying in long distances (made a tremendous block on Nando De Colo in transition). Serge has added a much-needed dose of athleticism to the frontline and this could come in handy vs. Team USA in the future.

Tony Parker did all he was supposed to do, leading France with 26 points and five assists. Parker once again did damage with his pull-up jumper inside and outside the arc. His improved jumper has been a key reason France's offense has improved over the last few years. Tony ended the tourney as the scoring leader (22 ppg) and fifth in assists (4.4 apg). Tony rightfully earned a All-EuroBasket First-Team nod.

Nic Batum (10 pts) could not replicate his strong semifinal performance vs. Spain. Nic hit a couple spot-up 3pt. attempts but also missed six of his eight 3PA. Nonetheless, Nic had a nice tourney as a reliable second-option for France and would elect him to the All-EuroBasket Second Team.

Boris Diaw (12 pts, 7 assts, 4 rebs) decided to show up on Sunday, particularly looking unusally inspired in the 2nd half. Boris was effective driving the ball for his own scores or setting up his teammates. Diaw dropped some sweet dimes and knocked down two 3-pointers.

Joakim Noah (11 pts, 8 rebs) might have had his best offensive display on Sunday, finishing off a few rolls and banging home two mid-range jumpers. Noah's inaugural campaign with the French national team was solid as he brought boards and defense every game.

France should be a contender for at least the bronze medal next summer. After years of inconsistent half-court execution, the offense seems to be at a level that can allow France to hang with the big boys.

Spain heads into the 2012 Olympics as Team USA's main challenger. Next year's team could be more formidable than the 2008 version, thanks to addition of Ibaka and the improvement of Marc. In a one-game scenario, Spain definitely has the goods to upset Team USA.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Finals Preview: Spain vs. France

*--Come join at Daily Dime Live as we chat about the Bronze & Gold Medal games starting at 10 AM EST. Both the Bronze medal game, (FYR) Macedonia vs. Russia, and the Gold medal game, France vs. Spain, can be viewed at ESPN3.com in the U.S.

EuroBasket Final: Spain vs. France

Spain returns to the EuroBasket final for the third straight time and looks to defend its '09 title. This is France's first appearance in the EuroBasket final since 1949 (lost to Egypt) and Les Bleus is looking for their first Euro title ever. Spain has been in four of the last five Euro finals. Easily could have been five in a row, but a Dirk last-second shot in the '05 semis denied a Pau-less Spain a trip to the finals.

Won't waste time rehashing the second-round matchup between these teams as France sat Parker and Noah. Would rather look at a game that mattered between these two teams when Pau Gasol played. Last time these two met in the EuroBasket knockout rounds, Spain overwhelmed a previously unbeaten France team in the 2009 quarterfinals, 86-66.

In that game, Spain's scrambling defense gave France major issues, forcing bad passes all over the court. Spain had little concern for France's perimeter-shooting ability. The Gasol bros. paid very little attention to the French bigs. Spain's perimeter players would pressure France, and even overplay sometimes, knowing that the ballhandlers would be met by bigs, who were basically zoning up the painted area.

This would often force the ballhandlers to kick the ball out where Spain had two-to-three perimeter guys (Rubio, Rudy, Navarro) ready to pounce on these passes like a cornerback.

Anywhere Tony Parker went with the ball, extra Spanish defenders followed. Parker rarely had easy access to the rim. Actually, anytime the ball went below the free-throw line, you had extra Spanish bodies flocking to the ball. This forced the French ball-handlers to pass the ball out under duress, often leading to turnovers (19 French TOs). Spain had 13 steals, six of which belonged to Rudy Fernandez.

Pau chewed up the French interior defense in the '09 quarterfinal, scoring 28 points on 11-of-13 and was a major factor in fouling out Ronny Turiaf and Ali Traore in rapid time. Of course, the big difference for France this time around is that they have the services of Joakim Noah. Noah hasn't been much to look at offensively--has had a rough time finishing off shots. But he does give France a better chance at guarding the interior this time around.

The dilemma for France is how they match up with the Gasol bros. If Noah guards Marc, that leaves Boris Diaw on Pau. Not good times. If you reverse assignments, then Marc can go to town on Diaw. And Ali Traore is not much help as he's not much of a defender.

Spain can punish a defense in so many ways. Pau's on target for his second consecutive EuroBasket MVP, averaging 20.4 ppg on 54%, 8 rpg, 1.6 bpg & 1 spg. Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Navarro has been lethal with 61 points in the last two knockout games. After starting the tourney slightly off on his 2PA, has raised his overall shooting pct. to 46.6% (45% on 3PA).

Marc has done a good job all tourney acting as a pressure release in the middle of the floor for Spain's offense. Marc worked well with Serge Ibaka in the semifinal, making a few sweet dimes off of rolls to a cutting Ibaka. Marc is another deadly post-up option next to Pau.

Serge Ibaka has been effective in limited minutes, cutting, blocking shots and boarding. Rudy Fernandez has not been quite as good as he has been over the last few summers (only 30% on 3PA), but his frenetic style on both ends has been a positive for Spain.

Also another problem for France's defense: how do you contain Juan Navarro? Juan has been in vintage "La Bomba" mode over the last few games, lighting up Macedonia for 35 and Slovenia for 26. When Navarro gets into his NBA JAM "ON FIRE" zone he's nearly unstoppable. Just have to expect the barrage.

He's so good at hitting off-balance shots or shots when he's not even squared up. So hard to account for him when he's coming off screens and catch-n-shooting because he can launch his shot immediately going over either shoulder.

France will likely give Nic Batum some reps on La Bomba, hoping his length can effect Juan Carlos. But not sure how well this will work as Batum could be run ragged through a constant stream of screens, which could zap his energy for offense. Think you need to rotate defenders on Juan, and use Mickael Gelabale as well.

France is coming off an impressive victory in which they made a normally stout Russian defense look very ordinary. After years being held back by a ragged half-court offense, France has been as good offensively as they've ever been.

Tony Parker has been one of the most dominant players in the field and if France somehow pulls off the upset, he will likely be awarded the MVP trophy. Parker has been shredding defenses and has been dangerous pulling up in the mid-range.

The ball-handler in France's pick-n-roll action (primarily Parker) has been effective scoring points all tournament, though France's roll game has been a non-factor. This might be good news for Spain as its pick-n-roll defense has been very good, especially curtailing the scoring of the ball-handler.

Looking at the way Spain guarded Bo McCalebb in the semis might give some insight into how they plan to play Parker, as McCalebb plays with a similar style as Parker. Spain made a concerted effort to go underneath Bo ball screens most of the time, which seemed to be the right strategy. Never really hedged hard with their bigs.

Nic Batum has been a valuable second option for France, averaging 14 ppg. NIc has shot the ball much better than he did over the last year--56% overall, 44% on 3PA--and has hit some big jumpers in the half-court and in transition over the last few games. Watch for down screens for Batum on the left side. France has gotten a lot of mileage curling Nic into the lane. Also, Batum loves to drive the baseline and Spain needs to shade him into the painted area.

Spain will also need to account for Nando De Colo when he gets into the game. Nando began Euro '11 averaging only 2.2 ppg through the first six games but then ignited to average 14 ppg on 55% shooting over the last four games. De Colo will handle the ball some and is a capable pull-up shooter. Actually, more reliable shooting off the dribble than with feet set.

Reserve center Ali Traore has been a key asset off the bench for France, especially over the last few games. Funny how Traore was originally cut from the training-camp roster then was asked back to the team after Turiaf was injured. Not really sure why he was cut in the first place, as he is one of France's better interior scorers. Likes to go with a lefty hook and can hit the foul-line jumper. Need to force him to go over his left shoulder, few countermoves going over his right shoulder.

France has been one of the more dangerous teams in transition in the tourney. But Spain is the one team that France might not want lure into an up-tempo game. Spain hurt France badly in '09 by pressuring the ball, getting steals and getting out in transition. Spain has multiple guys who like to get out on the break.

France is playing some of its best ball in years and seems to be confident in its abilities to hang with Spain. But Spain's firepower is superior and they can attack the opposition inside and out. Even with Noah, Spain should be able to hurt Les Bleus in the interior.

Just don't see a way France's defense can account for all of Spain's options, while France only has two consistent offensive options in Parker and Batum. I don't think Spain will crush France like they did with Serbia in the 2009 final, but I expect Spain to get its second Euro gold in a row with relative ease.

Friday, September 16, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Quarters Analysis: Russia & France Win To Set Up Semifinal Matchup

RUSSIA 77, SERBIA 67

The close contest that was anticipated never materialized as Russia kept Serbia from ever getting in sync.

Extra possessions were a key to Russia's victory as both teams shot roughly the same percentage from the floor and behind the 3pt. line. 12 Russian steals helped lead to a total of 19 Serbian turnovers while Russia had 13 TOs. Russia also stole some more possessions off the backboards. Both teams grabbed 23 defensive boards but Russia secured 14 offensive boards to Serbia's five offensive boards.

Russia's aggressive defense was once again a factor, taking key Serbs out of their comfort zones. Russia never stayed with any specific defensive alignment for too long, which kept Serbia from getting too comfortable. This is a coach David Blatt trademark. Awesome at mixing up his defensive looks.

Saw a little bit of a traditional matchup zone then saw some of Russia's zone with defenders moving out of their area. Threw some three-quarter-court presses at Serbia during different stretches of the game. The press seemed to give Serbia some issues. Mentioned this many times before, but again want to stress how well Russia swarms to the ball. And Russians also stripped the ball multiple times.

Russia never let Milos Teodosic pick them apart with his passing (only managed three assists). They threw different defenders on Milos and often guys just as tall as him. Russia did a good job harassing him up high and extra help was always lurking when he tried to probe. Milos usually has the size advantage at PG, but not so much today.

Teodosic did end with 20 points but it came on 6-of-15 shooting and 2-for-10 on 3PA. Milos was a big reason for Serbia's turnover troubles--coughed up nine TOs, stripped of the ball a few times. Milos has shot the ball way below his capabilities in this tourney and has turned the ball over more than normal.

Russia got nice contributions from nearly the whole roster once again. Russia did a nice job utilizing the cutting action of their offense and they found the open man well. Have done a good job at Euro '11 scoring off cuts.

Andrei Kirilenko was so active all over the floor, jumping passing lanes, crashing the boards and tracking to the ball on defense. Kirienko led the Russians with 14 points, plenty coming at the foul line (8-of-9), which came from aggressive play. Andrei had a vintage varied stat line: 14 pts, 11 rebs (6 off.), 6 assts, 4 stls & 2 blks.

Like Kirilenko, Vik Khryapa brought his all-around game to the party, putting up 11 pts, 5 rebs, 4 assts, & 2 stls. Also like Kirilenko, Khryapa made some nice dishes to cutters.

Timo Mozgov managed to play only 21 minutes because of five fouls but Timo was productive, especially in the first quarter. Timo scored all of his eight points in the 1st (mostly on rolls) and altered a few shots early as well.

Alexey Shved continued his strong play for Russia with 10 points and five assists. Shved did a great job getting to the rim, particularly in transition (had a nice coast-to-coast drive). Also made some soft drop passes off of pick-n-roll action.

Andrey Vorontsevich (11 pts on 5-of-7 in 16 mins.) had another productive performance off the bench, working off the ball well and splashing in a few jumpers.

One issue that continues to plague the Russians: free throws. Russia shot 8-for-15 from the line and now stands at 62% for EuroBasket (dead last). Definitely something to be concerned about going into the semifinal vs. France, which currently shoots 81% on FT (2nd best).

Serbia made the wise decision to get the ball to Nenad Krstic more in the 2nd half, especially when Mozgov was out of the game. Nenad (13 pts, 5 rebs) took advantage of Russia's lack of a reserve center and did a good job forcing fouls around the basket and got most of his points at the FT line (9-of-10).

Serbia still has a meaningful game left as they play Greece tomorrow for the last pre-Olympic qualifying tournament bid. If Serbia wins, there is a good chance they will get to host the pre-Olympic tourney next summer.

FRANCE 64, GREECE 56

A fairly non-descript game for most of the game that was hard to keep interest in--incredibly dull game. Game got somewhat more interesting in the 4th when France's offense started to pick up.

Greece did a fine job dialing down the tempo and frustrating the French offense for most of the game. Greece led the entire game up until France took its first lead with 8:00 left in the 4th. France finally found rhythm on offense to outscore Greece 24-13 in the final stanza to take the victory.

Nic Batum was fairly quiet for most of the game, but came through big in the 4th. Nic scored 10 of his 15 points in the quarter, including two 3PA. Batum was primarily responsible for the key sequence of the game. Batum made big plays on three consecutive possessions with under two minutes left:
    With 1:50 left, Batum came off a down screen on the left side and made a 17-footer to push the French lead to 58-54. France has been successful all tourney curling Nic into the lane off that left-side screen.

    On the ensuing defensive possession, Batum snuffed out a Nick Calathes drive at the basket.

    Then Nic wentaway from a left-side screen to finish with a short baseline runner to give France a 60-54 lead with 1:15 left.
Tony Parker (18 pts, 5 rebs, 3 assts, 4 TOs) probably had his weakest game of the tourney, shooting 7-for-18 overall and never getting into a flow until he dropped eight points in the 4th. Parker made a couple of mid-range jumpers off of pick-n-roll and made a nifty reverse lay-in of a ball screen as well in the final quarter.

Nando De Colo gave France a much needed boost off the bench late in the 1st quarter. De Colo scored 10 points in a four-minute span in the late 1st/early 2nd. Third game in a row that De Colo scored in double figures after averaging 2.2 ppg over the first six games. Nando hit a couple pull-up jumpers and knocked down two 3PA. Also added a sweet drive in transition.

Though Greece gave up 24 points in the 4th, can't really fault defensive effort as a whole. Did a nice job minimizing France's potent transition game. The Greek bigs were sloughed off in the lane all game, showing no respect for Noah. Rarely let Parker get deep penetration. They were willing to help off shooters to help on Parker's penetration attempts, and this worked for most of the game. Thought they made a few poor decisions guarding Parker ball screens (going over the top or getting hung up too much).

Greece's failure to hold the lead can be blamed mostly on its punchless offense. Greece really struggled to create much separation from French defenders all game and Bouroussis is the only player who occasionally needed double-team help.

It was clearly obvious in this game that Greece desperately needed a capable shot-creator like Vassilis Spanoulis or Dimis Diamantidis. Not surprisingly, Greece's offense has been subpar all tourney without their key options and they connected on only 34% of their shots vs. France.

Giannis Bourousis (17 pts, 11 rebs) was the only Greek player to have much impact on the offensive end. Greece went through Giannis in the post often, where he scored on a few turnarounds and drew fouls. Bourousis also did a nice job rolling and cutting to the basket.

Greece goes on to face Serbia on Friday to determine the final pre-Olympic bid out of Europe.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

EuroBasket 2011 Quarters Analysis: Macedonia Stuns Lithuania; Spain Cruises to Semis

(FYR) MACEDONIA 67, LITHUANIA 65

Well, we got our big upset of this EuroBasket. (FYR) Macedonia continues to be the feel-good hit of the summer as they stunned Lithuania in front of its rabid home crowd.

It's a crushing loss for Lithuania and its fans--might go down as the worst loss in Lithuanian national-team history (I'd put it up there with the loss to Spain at Euro '99).

Lithuania really did give this game away. Lithuania committed two crushing turnovers in the last minute when they had a 65-63 lead each possession. And both were committed by experienced veterans.

Saras Jasikevicius lost the ball after dribbling off a high pick-n-roll and then seemed to slip with 0:35 left. Couldn't tell if Saras tripped over his own feet or if he was nudged by the hedging Macedonian big.

On the ensuing possession, Macedonia's Bo McCalebb missed a lay-in that would have tied the game at 65 with under 24 seconds left. Then Darius Songaila made a colossal error.

Darius secured McCalebb's miss with 20 seconds left and instead of waiting for someone to foul him or make a safe pass to a guard, he proceeded to make a pass across the lane that was congested. Macedonia scooped up the errant pass, had Lithuania scrambling to reset their defense, and eventually found Vlado Ilievski wide open for a game-winning 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

Songaila's pass might go down as the biggest blunder in Lithuanian national-team history. For American fans, think of it as the Lithuanian version of the Joe Pisarcik fumble in the NFL (Miracle at the Meadowlands).

Kind of amazing Macedonia won this game shooting 31% from the floor. But then again, they came into this game shooting 38% through eight games.

Extra possessions were huge for Macedonia and they minimized the impact of the poor shooting numbers. We mentioned in our quarterfinals preview to keep an eye on the turnover disparity in this game. Macedonia came into this game with a terrific -6.3 TOpg margin and they were at -6 in this game.

Macedonia did not generate as many steals as they normally do (five steals), but they kept their turnovers to a minimum (eight TOs). This is something they've been doing the whole EuroBasket. They came into the game averaging only 10.5 TOpg, lowest of any team in the knockout round.

Macedonia's work on the glass garnered some extra possessions as well. Grabbed 18 offensive boards to Lithuania's 32 defensive boards (a very good 36% offensive reb. pct.) which led to 21 second-chance points.

Who would have imagined Macedonia would out-shoot Lithuania from behind the arc? Now, Macedonia's 28% 3pt. pct. was not very good but Macedonia did hit nine 3PA while Lithuania made only 2-of-15 from behind the arc. Lithuania came into this game leading Euro '11 in 3pt. shooting at 45%.

Macedonia's collective defensive effort was top-notch (held Lithuania to 20 points below its average ppg). Their help and recovery was on point all game--rotations on the backline were tight. They stunted Lithuania's vaunted pick-n-roll action. Their bigs hedged hard and Macedonia rarely ever got hurt by the roller. Plus, they challenged Lithuania at the 3pt. line. Macedonia never let the Lithuanian offense establish any type of rhythm.

Wasn't Bo McCalebb's best all-around game of the tourney (23 pts on 8-of-20, 2 assists) , but his speed off the dribble caused problems for the defense. We mentioned in our preview that McCalebb is very hard to guard on ball screens because he's not only dangerous dribble off the pick but also splitting and going away from the screen. And he hurt Lithuania a few times by splitting and going opposite the screen today.

Bo had two big drives in the last two minutes of the game that help Macedonia get within a bucket, including one where he shook Rimas Kaukenas by using a cross-over to set up a spin move for a left hand lay-in to cut the lead to two points with 1:00 remaining.

PF Pero Antic, as usual, threw up multiple shots with defenders right in his face which led to another poor shooting day (2-for-10). But he was clutch on the defensive end all game, providing great help and disrupting Lithuania's pick-n-roll with hard shows. Antic's help defense led directly to two Valanciunas turnovers.

SF Vojdan Stojanovski (15 pts) came into the game shooting 30.7% from behind the arc but he was clutch today, hitting all five of his 3PA. Besides the game-winning 3pt. make, SG Vlado Ilievski hit a couple more jumpers to end the game with 12 points.

Center Peja Samardziski was a monster on the offensive glass with five offensive boards and it seems like he should been credited for more. Peja also did a good job showing on pick-n-roll.

Lithuania point-guard tandem of Saras Jasikevicius and Mantas Kalnietis were not necessarily bad, but they never could get Lithuania's offense humming like it normally does. Kalnietis (9 pts, 9 rebs, 4 assts) was aggressive in spots taking the ball to the rim. Saras (7 pts, 5 assts, 5rebs) created some good looks for his team but never really picked apart the defense in the pick-n-roll and continued to cough up the ball (4 TOs).

Besides the awful pass, Darius Songaila (12 pts) did make some nice contributions on the offensive end, scoring on a few hook shots and a few drives. Robertas Javtokas gave Lithuania an unlikely boost on offense leading the team with 13 pts on 6-of-6.

Jonas Valanciunas (3 pts, 6 rebs, 5 TOs) had a forgettable game that was plagued by turnovers. Three of his five TOs came on cuts or rolls where the defense impeded his move and he shuffled his feet.

Lithuania needs to get over this crushing loss quickly because they have an important placement game vs. Slovenia on Thursday. The winner gets a bid to the Pre-Olympic tourney, and the loser is out of Olympic qualification.

As great as Macedonia's overachieving run through EuroBasket has been, it likely ends on Friday vs. Spain. They will be a massive underdog and I don't see a way they can survive vs. Spain if they shoot their usual sub-40% from the floor. Regardless, Macedonia has now earned a very surprising spot in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament at worst.

SPAIN 86, SLOVENIA 64

It appeared early that Slovenia was going to make this game competitive when they started the game looking sharp. But that was just a tease. Spain flicked the switch to "eviscerate mode" at the start of the 2nd quarter and took control of the game.

After Slovenia took a 23-16 lead after one quarter, Spain outscored Slovenia 70-41 for the rest of the game. The game was essentially over after the 3rd quarter.

Spain started to take control of this game by holding Slovenia to eight points in the 2nd quarter. Then they battered Slovenia after the halftime break, outscoring Slovenia 36-14 in the 3rd.

Juan Navarro led the assault in the 3rd by scoring 17 of his 26 points in the quarter. Juan Carlos went into vintage La Bomba mode by banging jumpers off of screens, draining spot-ups and tossing up his patented floater 4-5 times. It's fun to watch when Juan starts scurrying around and gets into his lethally-hot NBA JAM-type zone.

Pau Gasol (19 pts, 16 rebs, 3 blks, 2 stls) had a nice all-around game scoring on hooks, turnarounds, drives and drop-steps. Pau changed shots at the rim and cleared the defensive glass.

One minor issue for Spain is the health of Jose Calderon. Calderon (9 pts, 6 rebs, 3 assts, 3 stls) was having a solid game until he came down on the defender's foot after making a 3-pointer.

If Slovenia was going to have any chance in this game, they were going to need to perform much better on the offensive end than they had at anytime in this tourney. They didn't. Slovenia had been underachieving badly on offense for the entire tournament and this game was no different, as they shot 35% overall. Plus they continued to be woeful from behind the arc--6-of-27 on 3PA.

Goran Dragic finally had a halfway decent-game but by the time he started to heat up in the 3rd quarter, the game was out of reach. Goran scored most of his 14 pts when Spain was on cruise control.

Thought we were going to have an interesting matchup between Pau Gasol and Erazem Lorbek when both players came out sharp in the first quarter. But Lorbek scored all of his seven points in the first five minutes of the game and was non-existent the rest of the game.

Slovenia still has something to play for in the loser's bracket. Their Thursday matchup vs. Lithuania will determine one of the last two bids for the Pre-Olympic tourney.

Spain moves on to a matchup with Macedonia in the semis. Expect Macedonia to be brought back down to reality on Friday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Could Bo McCalebb Have Helped the Lakers or the Magic?

Also on The Painted Area:
• EuroBasket Quarters Preview: ESP-SLO/LTU-MKD|RUS-SRB/FRA-GRE
• FIBA Americas Musings: Argentina, Canada & more

Bo McCalebb, a New Orleanian playing as a naturalized citizen of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, has led his team to a 6-2 record in the tournament and a surprise berth in the quarterfinals, where they have the unenviable task of trying to knock off the host Lithuanians, coming up in just a little bit.

The top six scorers at EuroBasket 2011 include prominent NBA names Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker, Deng, Bargnani... and McCalebb. Indeed, the speedy point guard has been a breakout star of EuroBasket 2011, possibly the best guard in the tournament other than Parker, and now his name is featured in a headline on this site for the third time in a week.

I would say that McCalebb is a revelation, but he's actually far from that. Rather, he broke out as a pro in the 2009-10 season as a second team All-Euroleague player, leading Partizan Belgrade to a surprise appearance in the Euroleague Final Four (Jan Vesely was a teammate). On that big stage, McCalebb had 21 points, 4 assists and 4 steals in 40 minutes as Partizan nearly shocked powerful Olympiacos in the semifinals.

In 2010-11, McCalebb made a return appearance to the Euroleague Final Four with Montepaschi Siena, though his season was hampered by a foot injury.

Here are what McCalebb's Euroleague stats look like, translated into NBA per-36 minute numbers using John Hollinger's translations. (The first line are Bo's actual stats, second line are his translated NBA stats.):

2009-10 Partizan Belgrade
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
30.1, 13.4, 2.9, 3.4, 45.7, 17.7
NBA36, 12.0, 4.1, 5.4, 40.2, 12.4

2010-11 Montepaschi Siena
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
20.8, 11.5, 2.0, 2.1, 55.0, 28.3
NBA36, 14.9, 4.1, 4.7, 48.4, 19.8

A few notes for further context on the numbers:
- The reason for the big difference in FG% in the two seasons was three-pointers. Bo shot only 23.2% in '09-10, up to 43.8% in '10-11. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in between - Bo's 34.4% mark on threes at EuroBasket is probably a more accurate gauge of his outside shooting, which is definitely not a strength.

But what's notable to me is that McCalebb's two-point shooting percentages are consistently strong - those are often a sign of athleticism which can translate to the NBA. Bo made 53% of his twos in '09-10, 57% in '10-11, plus a stunning 66% in the weaker comp of Italian League play, as well as 51% at EuroBasket so far.

- Steals are often another marker of athleticism, and McCalebb always has strong numbers here, averaging 2.0 in 30 minutes in '09-10, and 1.8 in 21 minutes in '10-11. At EuroBasket, he's third in this category with 2.3 steals per game, behind only Andrei Kirilenko and Nic Batum.

- McCalebb was off to a fantastic start in Euroleague play in 2010-11 before his injury. In the 10-game "regular season", Bo played 25.7 minutes per game, averaging 15.5 points on 58% FG, including 60% on twos and 47% on threes.

Siena played pretty good competition during this time. In particular, Bo torched powerful FC Barcelona with 41 points in two games on 16-23 FG, and Siena split the two contests, winning by nine at home and losing by one in Barcelona.

*********************************

At this point, I have no doubt that Bo McCalebb is an NBA-quality player. Not saying he's a star or even a starter, but I definitely think he could be a rotation player who could make an impact. Of course, as a role player, so much is dependent upon finding the right fit with a team which has a need for and an understanding of the player's skills.

But if the fit is there... well, take a look at the NBA in 2010-11. As much as teams like the Heat and the Lakers dominated the conversation, there was actually a lot of parity on top - the difference among the top 8-10 teams proved to be quite small. Role players helped make key differences all over the league, including imports from European leagues who fit just right like Gary Neal in San Antonio and Omer Asik in Chicago.

I think Bo McCalebb might have been a difference-maker in 2010-11 precisely because he offered what the Lakers and the Magic desperately needed: athleticism and creativity off the dribble from the perimeter.

McCalebb was sitting there as a 25-year-old free agent available to the basketball world in the summer of 2010 when L.A. and Orlando made what have proven to be disastrous signings to fill their backup point-guard slots. L.A. signed 30-year-old Steve Blake to a 4-year/$16 million contract, while Orlando inked 28-year-old Chris Duhon to a 4-year/$15 million pact.

Blake posted the worst PER in the league (7.6) of any player who played 750+ minutes, and the Lakers actually missed the change-of-pace that Jordan Farmar could occasionally give them because Blake was utterly unable to create anything off the dribble, making just 32.7% of his two-point attempts. You're telling me the Lakers wouldn't have been better off countering J.J. Barea with McCalebb rather than Blake? I'm convinced the Lakers would have been better off signing McCalebb, especially considering Blake is going to stay in decline.

At least the Lakers could put Blake out on the court. Duhon was so bad (5.7 PER in 15 mpg in 51 games) that Orlando not only had to relegate him to the outer reaches of the bench, but he also played into the need to make the franchise-crushing trade which brought the brutal contracts of declining Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu to town while shipping out a prime trade asset in Marcin Gortat.

Certainly, Gortat would have had a tough time establishing the value that he did in averaging a 15-10 for Phoenix after the All-Star break, but quality size is at such a premium in the league that I think Gortat, with his reasonable contract, would be an attractive trade piece this summer (or winter, I suppose, unfortunately), when there are several intriguing players on the market - certainly players far better than Arenas and Turkoglu looking into the future.

Instead, the Magic are desperate to make a big move to keep Dwight Howard happy, but they have nothing else that anybody wants. Orlando's ship has sailed, and they are dead in the water.

Where would the Magic be if they had simply signed a different Louisianan? McCalebb is clearly better than Duhon, and I believe that he's also better than the Gilbert Arenas of today and tomorrow. And, obviously, cheaper, too.

Would the Lakers or the Magic have won the 2010-11 NBA championship if they'd signed Bo McCalebb instead of the Blake/Duhon disasters? I mean, I'm not trying to go that far and oversell Bo. But I do believe that the Magic organization would be in a healthier place if they'd done so, and held off on their trades.

And c'mon, another similar guard we've seen in FIBA play, J.J. Barea, was a legitimate difference-maker in the 2011 Playoffs, certainly in the Mavs-Lakers series. After what we've seen from McCalebb in the EuroBasket and in the Euroleague, you think that he couldn't have provided that same kind of boost?

I'm not saying the Lakers would have beaten Dallas with Bo, but I believe the Mavericks won their NBA title by leaving no stone unturned in trying to find every possible edge they could, ultimately winning it all with a narrow margin for error. By keeping their eyes closed to McCalebb, the Lakers left a stone unturned, and they're stuck with slow Steve Blake for three years, and still desperate for an athletic young player who can create shots off the dribble from the perimeter.

Also on The Painted Area:
• EuroBasket Quarters Preview: ESP-SLO/LTU-MKD|RUS-SRB/FRA-GRE
• FIBA Americas Musings: Argentina, Canada & more

EuroBasket 2011 Quarterfinals Preview (Part II): Russia-Serbia, France-Greece

We previewed the Wednesday quarterfinals matchups (Spain-Slovenia & (FYR) Macedonia-Lithuania) on Monday. Today we look at Thursday's quarterfinals with Russia vs. Serbia and France vs. Greece.

(Both games can be viewed at ESPN3.com.)

RUSSIA (F-1) vs. SERBIA (E-4)

Probably the most anticipated game of the quarterfinals between two closely-matched teams. Should be a tightly-contested game that features arguably the two best coaches in EuroBasket, Serbia's Dusan Ivkovic and Russia's David Blatt.

Should be interesting to see what type of adjustments each of these coaches have cooked up for the opposition. Two of the best tactical minds in the field.

Both teams are deep and both have good size at each position. Would say Russia has the advantage athletically.

Russia comes into the game 8-0, but did need two game-winning buzzer-beating jumpers by Sergey Monya to stay undefeated. Serbia is 5-3, but those losses came to Spain, France and Lithuania. Russia has not played the level of competition Serbia has.

Russia's defense has been in fine form as usual and David Blatt has used his roster well, getting contributions from nearly everyone. The Russians leads the field in points allowed, 63.6 ppg, and points per possession, 63.5 per 70 poss, and are second in defensive FG pct, 40.2%.

You don't get easy shots against this team--they challenge everything. Russia swarms to the ball when it gets 10 feet & in. Their backline help is always superb. Then you have to be careful because Russia has someone coming from behind to change your shot while you're being held up by the interior help. Multiple long-armed athletes pounce on the man with the ball.

Blatt's a great bench coach adept at in-game adjustments. Expect Blatt to implement different types of zones, particularly a shape-shifting matchup zone where defenders will move out of their designated areas.

This year's Russian offense might be the best ever under Blatt. They are currently shooting 49% overall (2nd best). But they hurt themselves a bit on the offensive end by struggling at the FT line (62%). This was a sore spot last year as well.

Russia makes up for its lack of creative shot-makers by creating openings using back cuts, baseline cuts and back screens in Blatt's Princeton-inspired sets. Russia gets a decent chunk of their points off of cuts. Their spacing is usually good and they generally keep the basket area open. The ball movement is crisp.

The forward rotation of Andrei Kirilenko, Vik 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.

All the forwards are great help defenders. Kirilenko and Khryapa will often be given free reign to float around on defense like free safeties.

Kirilenko (14 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2 apg) has been all over the floor on both ends, cutting off the ball, crashing the offensive glass, changing shots and jumping passing lanes (his 2.8 steals/game leads Euro '11). Kirilenko will post up some as well.

As usual, Vik Khryapa (7.4 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 spg) has been an all-purpose threat defending multiple positions, rebounding and passing. Khryapa often functions as a de facto point-forward and his entry passing to cutters is tight.

SG Vitali Fridzon (10.5 ppg) has been Russia's best pure shooter over the last few years and this year is no different, as he's been smoking from deep--58.6% on 3PA. Russia likes to curl Fridzon off of pin-downs.

Sergey Monya is Russia's other reliable outside shooter (he's been really reliable at the end of games with two game-winning buzzer-beaters already). Reserve forward Andrey Vorontsevich has been effective in limited minutes crashing the glass.

Timo Mozgov (9.4 ppg on 65% FG, 3.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg) has not been quite as good as he was at Euro '09, but he's been solid. Timo has been effective cutting or rolling to the rim and will post up a bit, but he's had trouble with TOs down low. Has kept his fouls in check (for him) and Russia needs him to keep them down, as he's the only true center on the roster.

Russia hasn't gotten great play from its PGs, but at least they have kept their turnovers to a minimum. Blatt has put more faith in combo guard Alexey Shved (9 ppg, 3 apg) this summer, allowing him to run the offense some. Combo guard Sergey Bykov has thankfully handled the ball less and has somehow kept his ridiculous TOs down.

Serbia has been pretty solid on the offensive end, averaging 81 ppg, and 76.5 points per 70 possessions, on 46% shooting. But there have been a few more lulls in their play this summer as opposed to last summer. Not quite getting enough contributions from some of their role players like they did the previous two summers.

Next to Jasikevicius, Milos Teodosic (12 ppg, 6.4 apg) has been the most creative passer in the tourney. Milos generates so much offense for his team off the dribble. So good at waiting for better passing angles to develop.

But Milos has not been shooting the ball as well as he can (35% overall, 31% on 3PA), and it has hurt Serbia's effectiveness somewhat. Also, Milos' decision-making has been a bit sketchy, as he's been chucking up some bad shots and forcing bad passes. But Milos has proven he's a dangerous shooter in the past and his shooting heroics in the '09 semis put Serbia in the finals.

Nenad Krstic is having another strong FIBA tourney leading Serbia in scoring (16 ppg on 61%). Nenad will get his fair share of post touches where he has been effective with hooks. Nenad will be used a popper and a roller as well.

Forward Dusko Savanovic has been a terrific third-option for Serbia, pitching in 14.6 ppg on 53.7%. Dusko uses smarts, good ball-handling and sharp footwork to make up for poor physical attributes. Savanovic is very crafty getting into shots in the mid-range and finds ways to sneak to the rim. Serbia will run Dusko off screens and post him.

SF Marko Keselj has been a deadly spot-up threat (54.5% on 3PA) for the second straight year, plus he's clever moving to open spots. Keselj and Savanovic have been the only consistent deep shooters for Serbia. They need Teodosic and Alex Rasic to step up their shooting.

One of the strengths for Serbia over the last few years has been a stout team defense. But for whatever reason, Serbia's defense has fallen off to a degree this summer. Have not guarded the pick-n-roll all that well and are allowing their opponents to shoot 46.4% from the field. Need to get this rectified pronto.

Extremely hard to pick a winner in this one, but leaning toward Russia. You can count on their defense every game, can't say the same for Serbia. They can rotate four different forwards on Savanovic who can give him trouble and take him out of the game. Keep an eye on the FT line as Russia is subpar and Serbia is solid. Should be a dandy.

FRANCE (E-2) vs. GREECE (F-3)

Some might have France already penciled into the semis, but Greece has the goods to challenge France. Greece is missing some of its top players but they have meshed together nicely and have regained their defensive swagger.

Greece knew they wouldn't generate points as easily without Vassilis Spanoulis and Sofo Schortsanitis around. So they made a concerted effort to get back to their old grind-it-out, defense-first ways. And Greece has been one of the top defensive units at EuroBasket. They are currently holding opponents to 66 ppg (5th best) and 68 points per 70 possessions (6th) on 40.3% shooting (3rd).

Those are former Coach Giannakis-era numbers. Keeping the scores in the low-70s/mid-60s. Though this year's team doesn't generate quite the number of turnovers that those mid-2000s Hellas teams did. Like Russia, Greek players help each other and contest shots well.

After years of ragged half-court offensive play, France has been successful in this EuroBasket playing some of the best offensive ball they've ever played. They are currently shooting 48.7% overall (3rd best) and putting 81 ppg and 77 points per 70 possessions on the board (both 4th best).

Tony Parker has led France by abusing every defense he's come in contact with over the last two weeks. Parker has been getting anywhere he wants on the court either in pick-n-roll or iso action. Parker is the top scorer left in the tourney (22.3 ppg). But Tony's 3pt. shot has been way off (27%).

Why teams have continued to pick up Parker up high, and failed to go underneath Parker ball screens, not sure. It's been a bit maddening. You want to keep Parker from turning the corner and living in the lane at all costs. And a zone or sagging man can best prevent Parker from shredding your defense.

Hopefully Greece has watched how France's opponents have tried to guard Tony, then do the opposite. Saw too many times where the defender was coming out 25+ feet to meet Tony. If you choose to go over the screen with Parker, your bigs better show hard to string out Parker laterally toward the sideline.

After starting the tourney shooting well, France's 3pt. shooting has slowly crept back toward reality--currently shooting 34.5% on 3PA. And we still think this is the area that other teams need to expose when preparing their game plan for defending France.

We've beaten this into the ground before but 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 still a team that you test. Mickael Gelabale is the one guy you have to locate. But make the rest of players prove they can make their jump shots. If they make jumpers, then that's how you lose.

Why teams haven't stuck with zone longer vs. France, not sure. Thought Germany's zone was giving France issues in the first half of their opening-round game, but Germany inexplicably went away from it.

Turkey went with a 2-1-2 zone in the 4th quarter vs. France. They held France to 2-of-17 from the field in the quarter and Turkey almost made up a 15-point deficit in the 4th. France looked awful clanging shot after shot.

We've always wondered why France has never really committed to pushing the ball more. This year things have changed as France has looked to increase tempo, and their transition has been good. Expect Greece to give fouls when France is trying to get out in transition.

Nic Batum has been a quality second option behind Parker. France has gotten good mileage curling Batum into the lane and Nic is always a danger to drive baseline. Batum has been a defensive menace as usual and his 2.4 steals/game puts him behind only Kirilenko on the leaderboard.

Joakim Noah (9.6 ppg, 8 rpg) has brought his active brand of ball across the Atlantic and has been a factor on the boards. Noah has been terrific guarding the post, helping and guarding pick-n-roll.

After having little impact off the bench in the first six games, combo guard Nando De Colo came out of nowhere to drop 21 points on Turkey, then put up 10 points vs. Spain. De Colo is an erratic shooter, but he can make plays off the dribble (clever passer).

Reserve big Ali Traore will likely see some time subbing for Noah, and Traore can score a bit with either a lefty hook or foul-line jumper.

Who knows what you're going to get from Boris Diaw. When he's tuned in, he offers France its best post option either scoring or passing out.

Not too surprising Greece has been subpar offensively without Spanoulis, Sofo and Dimis Diamantidis. Greece really does not have a go-to guy. Antonis Fotsis (11.5 ppg on 59%) leads Greece in scoring but he's not really a shot-creator. Fotsis is primarily a stretch-4, who Greece will run off screens and spot-up.

Greece has added more off-ball screening to the offense and they have been very successful with their cutting action in the tourney. Besides jumpers, Fotsis has gotten many of his points on cuts.

Greece has gotten solid play from its center tandem of Giannis Bourousis and Kostas Koufos. Greece likes to run some offense though Bourousis in the post. Bourousis (10 ppg, 5.3 rpg) can score with a hook, but he's nothing spectacular down low. Bourousis has passed the ball out of the post well. Would like to see Greece move Bourousis away from the paint more to take advantage of his 20-foot range.

Kostas Koufos has been very productive in 17 minutes/game (9 pts, 4.4 rpg, 1.3 bpg). Koufos has done most of his scoring on cuts to the rim. Koufos will get a few post touches as well, where he's been scoring with a hook. Koufos has been a factor on the boards and on the backline of Greece's defense.

Nick Calathes and Nikos Zisis will share ball-handling duties. Calathes has done a nice job controlling tempo, but he remains a shooting liability.

Zisis is more of a steady, conservative playmaker rather than a dynamic guard. Zisis' normally reliable mid-range jumper has been off so far (35% overall, 30 on 3PA). Like Fotsis, Zisis will be run off screens.

Keys for Greece have to be to keep France out of transition and keep Parker out of the lane. Keep that paint packed, force standstill jumpers. If Greece can stay disciplined defensively and get France clanking jumpers like they did vs. Turkey, they have a great shot at the upset.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

FIBA Americas Musings on Argentina, Canada, More

• Also on The Painted Area: EuroBasket Quarterfinals Preview:
Spain-Slovenia, Lithuania-(FYR) Macedonia

What a fun weekend of basketball down in Mar del Plata, Argentina, with the FIBA Americas semifinals and final. On Saturday, Argentina survived Puerto Rico and Brazil outlasted Dominican Republic to claim the federation's two automatic bids to the 2012 London Olympics. On Sunday, Argentina held off Brazil to win the tournament before an passionate full house at home. Tourney MVP Luis Scola was magnificent, scoring 59 points on 24-35 FG in the final two games, and averaging 21.4 points on 56.5% shooting in 29.2 minutes per game overall in the tournament. Here are a few of my big-picture thoughts related to the tournament:
    Contents:
    1. Argentina: Looking Like the End of the Line
    2. Canada: FIBA Americas Sleeping Giant of the Future?
    3. Whither Splitter?
    4. Grande Sounded Great
    5. FIBA Americas Spitting Images
1. Argentina: Looking Like the End of the Line
Ever since Argentina's Golden Generation burst onto the international basketball scene with their shocking dissection of Team USA at the 2002 FIBA World Championships, they've been one of my favorite teams to watch at any level of basketball, with their often-gorgeous and always-cohesive combination of player movement and ball movement out of their flex sets on offense. (Jesse Blanchard from the Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell posted an eloquent appreciation of this era of Argentina basketball yesterday that's worth a read.)

The decade-long run looks like this:
    • 2002: Worlds Silver
    • 2004: Olympics Gold
    • 2006: Worlds 4th
    • 2008: Olympics Bronze
    • 2010: Worlds 5th
But now, it looks like it's all coming to an end, as Argentina really looked old despite winning the FIBA Americas tournament. All things considered, I would be surprised if Argentina is in serious medal contention at the 2012 Olympics.

Granted, Argentina came into this FIBA Americas tournament with the kind of expectations usually faced by a Team USA. Playing at home and with essentially their full complement of stars, they were largely expected to run through the tourney with little challenge.

Yet, the Argentines were surprisingly knocked off by Brazil in the group stage, barely survived an upset bid by Puerto Rico in the semifinals (I'm still shocked that P.R. did not put the ball in the hands of J.J. Barea down two points and needing to go the length of the floor with 6.6 seconds left), and then had to dig down deep for a fourth-quarter comeback over Brazil in the championship game.

A changing of the guard in South American basketball now seems not only inevitable but imminent, as Brazil has plenty of room to get better - Nene, Andy Varejao and Leandro Barbosa could all be added to the squad, and there are several intriguing young prospects in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Argentina desperately needs reinforcements, but none are on the way. Their team had 10 players over 30, no player under 27, and little depth forced those top greybeards into heavy minutes.

The whole story of Argentina basketball is really amazing to me: seemingly out of nowhere, they developed a generation with an excellent depth of quality NBA players - Ginobili, Scola, Nocioni, Oberto, Delfino - and now, there appears to be very little talent behind them. Argentina did finish in 4th at the recent FIBA Under-19 World Championships, but without any elite-level individual talents.

The players remain confident. Carlos Delfino said this about the Olympics after the win over Brazil: "We are getting old but we've got a big heart and big guts. God willing, we will play a great tournament and get a new Gold."

I mean, I was certainly pulling for the Golden Generation this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be doing the same next summer at the London Olympics, but Argentina desperately needs an injection of a couple 25-year-old talents which is not coming. All things come to an end.

Still, we celebrate the Golden Generation for one more golden performance, and leave the last word to Manu:
    "We are united, a group of friends, we are all really happy about Luis Scola earning the MVP prize after such a tough recovery he had or Nocioni playing with his ankle absolutely injured and these are only a couple of examples we can name. Let the legend continue."
2. Canada: FIBA Americas Sleeping Giant of the Future?
Team Canada flamed out of the FIBA Americas tournament, not even able to get into the top five and claim one of the spots for the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, which cost coach Leo Rautins his job. (Don't blame it on Steve Nash, by the way.)

While Brazil certainly seems well-positioned for FIBA success in the near future, and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico should be competitive, it's worth noting that Canada could become a FIBA power later in the 2010s, if they can harness all of the talent coming down the road.

The 2011 NBA draft featured Canadians PF Tristan Thompson in the lottery and PG Cory Joseph later in the first round.

PG Myck Kabongo should follow the Canada-to-Texas pipeline into an upcoming first-round, and big men Khem Birch (Pitt), Dwight Powell (Stanford) and Kris Joseph (Syracuse) could be first-round picks, too.

Further down the road, PF Anthony Bennett is rated as the no. 7 player in the 2012 high-school class, and SF Andrew Wiggins may be the best prospect of all, currently ranked as the no. 1 player in the class of 2014, and yes, that's ahead of any American high-schooler.

There should be plenty of talent for Canada to compete for medals not only at the FIBA Americas level, but at the World Championships and Olympics, as well. Frankly, by the late 2010s, Canada may have more basketball talent than any country outside the U.S.

The key issue, however, is getting all these players together to actually play for Team Canada. As Lawrence Dushenski noted to me on Twitter: "Most of these kids spend more time in the States than in Canada - hard to convince them to come play".

Canadian columnist Michael Grange wrote a full piece on the topic as well, leading with the following comment: "Until our players truly want to play for Canada, the basketball program will continue to suffer."

3. Whither Splitter?
In Monday's edition of 5-on-5, three of the five panelists suggested that Tiago Splitter would be a player who would make a great leap in 2012.

It should be noted that Splitter really did not look good for significant stretches of the FIBA Americas tournament. He was hampered by foul trouble, yes, but the Brazilian offense often seemed to function better with reserve big Rafael Hettsheimer in the game instead of Splitter.

In Brazil's group-stage win over Argentina, Hettsheimer was the star, with 19 points and 8 rebounds on 9-11 FG in 22 minutes, while Splitter had just 1 point on 0-6 FG in 18 minutes.

In the semi vs. the Dominican Republic, Splitter scored just 3 points on 1-5 FG in just 11 minutes (Hettsheimer had 14 points on 6-10 FG in 20 minutes), and often seem overpowered by Dominican revelation Jack Michael Martinez.

In the final, Splitter played better, with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists on 5-10 FG in 22 minutes after once again battling foul trouble.

All told, Splitter may have been miscast as a primary scoring option. He really struggled to convert offensively, and often had his shot blocked. Overall, he averaged 8.7 ppg on 49% FG and an abysmal 43% FT mark in 21 minutes per game.

Yet, as Jay Aych has noted in his analyses, Splitter still contributed strong efforts as a rebounder (6.6 per game), defender, and passer (2.2 assists per game).

Still, after Splitter's exceptional 2009-10 season as the MVP of the Spanish ACB, we were expecting him to follow in the footsteps of former ACB MVPs like Luis Scola and Marc Gasol, and make a bigger impact on the NBA.

Back in San Antonio, Splitter will probably be placed in a role which suits his strengths and weaknesses better, but considering he's a key player in the team's future, it has give Spurs fans some pause that the Brazilian national team often seemed to function better in key games with Splitter on the bench.

4. Grande Sounded Great
Sean Grande and Fran Fraschilla called the FIBA Americas games on ESPN2 in the U.S. Certainly, we're appreciative of Fraschilla for all the support he's shown The Painted Area, and despite our bias, we genuinely think he does a great job analyzing FIBA games.

But we just wanted to take a second to give a shout-out to Grande, who's been the Celtics' radio broadcaster for several years, for outstanding work. Grande has everything one would want in a play-by-play man: good voice, eloquence with language, impeccably well-prepared with background knowledge, evident love of the game.

Even though these FIBA Americas games were far off the radar of the American sports landscape on the opening weekend of the NFL, Grande still treated them as significant events, understanding that the dozens of us lunatics who DVR'd the semis in the middle of the night and watched the final ahead of the Cowboys-Jets game did, too. I appreciated that.

In my mind, Grande should be a major national TV broadcaster for the NBA somewhere, without question.

5. FIBA Americas Spitting Images
A little FIBA frivolity before we go. Every time there was a cutaway to the Argentina bench, we couldn't get over the sense that Argentina coach Julio Lamas bore a striking resemblance to Keith Olbermann:

Lamas doesn't draw up plays during time outs, he issues SPECIAL COMMENTS.

Finally, we were excited that scrappy Argentina big man Guillermo Kammerichs brought back his moustache styling for the tournament final, as it allows us to re-run our favorite obscure FIBA lookalike from a few years ago, which goes something like this:



Borat + Brent Barry

=

Guillermo Kammerichs (Argentina)

Thank you. We'll be here all week.

• Also on The Painted Area: EuroBasket Quarterfinals Preview:
Spain-Slovenia, Lithuania-(FYR) Macedonia

EuroBasket 2011 Quarterfinals Preview (Part I): Spain-Slovenia, (FYR) Macedonia-Lithuania

• Also on The Painted Area: FIBA Americas Musings on Argentina, Canada, More

The round-robins are over and now its time for the win-or-go-home portion of Euro '11. After group play, Spain remains the prohibitive favorite for gold with either Russia, France or Serbia likely to meet Spain in the finals.

The quarterfinals start on Wednesday with Spain vs. Slovenia and Lithuania vs. FYR of Macedonia. The winners will meet in the semis on Friday. Russia vs. Serbia and France vs. Greece follow on Thursday with the winners moving on to Friday's semis.

Would not be surprised to see all four Group E teams in the semis. Russia is the one Group F team that might be considered a favorite in the quarters, but they're a slim favorite over Serbia at best, as that game looks to be biggest toss-up of the quarters.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the loser's bracket as the four losing quarterfinals teams will fight for the two last Pre-Olympic bids. The losers of Wednesday's games meet on Thursday to determine one bid. While the losers of Thursday's quarters meet on Friday for the last bid. The two EuroBasket finalists will qualify directly for London.

We'll focus on the Wednesday quarterfinal matchups in this post.

SPAIN (E-1) vs. SLOVENIA (F-4)

When Spain is locked in, they can blow any other team in this tournament out of the gym. With the way Slovenia has been (dys)functioning on offense, can't see how Spain has difficulty in this game. Slovenia has been one of the more disappointing teams in Euro '11, especially on the offensive end where they have played way below capabilities.

Slovenia is only averaging 68 ppg on 40% shooting. Slovenia has scored over 70 points in a game only once in eight games. Slovenia has been abysmal from long range--26% on 3PA--and this has hurt the slashing ability of the guards.

Slovenia has too much talent to be putting up these numbers. Expected the outside shooting numbers would go down a little with Boki Nachbar being replaced by non-shooter Zoran Dragic, but it been much worse than anticipated.

Goran Dragic reverting back to his pre-'09 shooting ways has had a significant impact. Goran is only shooting 39% from the floor and is currently 4-for-27 from behind the arc. This has hindered Goran's ability to slash into the lane, which further complicates things offensively. Also guards Jaka Lakovic (34%) and Saso Ozbolt (21%) are shooting the 3pt. shot below their capabilities.

As for Spain, they look primed for another romp through the playoffs similar to '09. Pau Gasol has been one of the top players at EuroBasket, as usual, and is in line for his second consecutive EuroBasket MVP, averaging 20.4 ppg on 61%.

Marc Gasol has worked well in the starting lineup next to his brother, pitching in 14.6 ppg on 54% and leading Spain in rebounding (7.4). The bros have been clinical in the post and have moved the ball well. Likely to see some them working some hi-lo action as well.

Juan Navarro has been off the mark inside the arc but has been his usual deadly self behind the arc (42% on 3PA). La Bomba will wear defenders out running through an endless phalanx of screens. The Navarro pick-n-roll has been very successful generating points for himself and his teammates in Euro '11.

Rudy Fernandez hasn't been quite as productive as last year but he still makes an impact with his frenetic energy. Rudy will be run off screens as well, and like Bomba, he will handle the ball some.

Serge Ibaka has been productive, providing strong finishes on cuts, put-backs and blocks in his 17 minutes of floor time (7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) but has been foul prone.

Very intriguing matchup between Slovenia's Erazem Lorbek and Pau. Lorbek is basically Pau just a little smaller and less athletic. Lorbek and Pau were the two best players at Euro '09, but Lorbek has not played quite as well this year.

He has not been converting at his normal rate throughout the tourney. Only shooting 41% overall which is keeping his scoring to a modest 11.4 ppg. Lorbek's scoring is down also because has been dealing with more double teams since his teammates can't hit jumpers. Lorbek has hit his 3pt. attempts and Slovenia should have him drag Pau away from the lane.

7-3 center Mirza Begic has been been a godsend since Matjaz Smodis is a shell of his former self. Begic (8 ppg on 62%, 6.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg) has been very productive in his 17 minutes per game banging the boards (especially off. glass), hitting hook shots and being a deterrent on the backline of Slovenia's defense. Begic will be matched up with Marc Gasol. Begic has the length to bother Marc but not the girth.

Slovenia has great speed on the perimeter that can keep up with Spain's perimeter speed. Slovenia can be dangerous in transition but don't think its wise to get into an uptempo game with Spain.

I expect Spain will apply pressure on the perimeter and try to induce Slovenia's guards into miscues. Slovenia's guards can easily get out of control and I bet Spain will prey on this vulnerability.

Slovenia will likely get dispatched easily by Spain, but they still have a shot of staying alive in Olympic qualifying if they win their first loser's bracket game.

(FYR) MACEDONIA (F-2) vs. LITHUANIA (E-3)

In FYR of Macedonia's first-ever appearance in the EuroBasket knockout phase, they have the unenviable task of trying to beat Lithuania in front of their home fans. I think Lithuania is the better team and they will be very tough to beat at home.

Macedonia (6-2) is coming off a last-second loss to Russia and its only other loss came in OT to Montenegro on the opening day. Lithuania is 6-2 as well, but they've gone up against stiffer competition than Macedonia.

The contrast in offensive efficiency is jarring. Lithuania has one of the deadliest offenses in the field. Lithuania leads the tourney in ppg (85) and FG pct. (53%). As usual, Lithuania has been deadly behind the 3pt. line--45%, which also leads the tourney. It's been vintage Lithuania: crisp ball movement, exacting pick-n-roll action and multiple players drilling jumpers.

The simple fact is that Macedonia's offense is not that great as a whole. Macedonia is the worst shooting team in quarters at 37.5% from the floor and are only 30.6% from behind the arc. But Macedonia does have Bo McCalebb, who can carry his team in spite of the poor shooting around him.

Next to Tony Parker, Bo McCalebb has been the toughest guard for defenses to contain in the tourney. He can blow by any defender without a ball screen. And when in pick-n-roll he's not just a danger to dribble off the pick and turn the corner, but he's also dangerous splitting or going opposite of the screen. Can finish with either hand at the rim.

PF Pero Antic (11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has been a decent second option to Bo. Antic can float out to the 3pt. line. Antic is a pop option and will occasionally run pick-n-roll himself. Antic can iso opposing PFs up and he can drive the ball (uses a ball fake well to set up his drives). Though, Antic has a tendency to chuck up some dicey shots and is currently shooting 35% overall.

Macedonia could be without starting center Todor Gechevski, who missed the Russia game, which would hurt as he's Macedonia's third best scorer.

Combo guard Vlado Ilievski can create a little bit off the dribble and hit pull-ups, but he tends to be streaky. The rest of the perimeter players don't offer very much. Center Peja Samardziski can score in the post a little (hooks & turnarounds) but won't overwhelm the opposition.

None of Lithuania's guards can physically keep up with McCalebb. so good team strategy is key. What's promising is that the Lithuanian bigs did a decent job showing hard on Parker ball screens and prevented him from turning the corner with impunity.

If Lithuania does decide to go over the top of screens with McCalebb, they have to have their bigs show hard to string him out toward the sideline. Think it's better to go underneath screens since McCalebb's jumper is subpar.

Expect to see some zone from Lithuania to make McCalebb a shooter and cut down on his penetration. Plus the rest of Macedonia's perimeter players are erratic shooters.

The keys to Macedonia neutralizing their poor shooting is that they keep their turnovers down (10.5 TOpg) and they lead the tourney in steals (9 spg). Macedonia has won the turnover battle in every game besides the Finland game. They come into the quarterfinals with a sterling -6.3 TOpg margin. They couple this a with Defensive FG pct. of 41.7%.

The Lithuanian guards do have a tendency to be careless with the ball, this is a perennial problem, and they've struggled with turnovers this year. Lithuania does not necessarily have a good history handling extended ball pressure. So this is an angle that Macedonia needs to exploit. Keep an eye on the turnover disparity.

Saras Jasikevicius (10.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 57% overall, 53% on 3PA) has been very effective in limited minutes (18 mpg) and still runs the pick-n-roll as well as point guard in the field. He can still deliver perfect passes and he's a danger to pull up for jumpers going left or right. He already seems to have meshed well with Jonas Valanciunas to create a deadly pick-n-roll tandem. But Saras can also still get too cutesy and fling passes away.

Starting PG Mantas Kalnietis has had a solid Euro tourney as well and has shot his jumper better than he normally does. But like Saras his turnovers are little high.

Toronto Raptors lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas (10.4 ppg) has acquitted himself quite nicely in his first senior team season. Jonas has done his damage rolling or cutting to the rim, where he finishes at a high rate (71%). As mentioned above, his two-man game with Saras has been fun to watch.

Simas Jasaitis (10.4 ppg, 5 rpg) is on this team to drill catch-n-shoot jumpers and that's just what he's done this summer--60% overall, 52% on 3PA. Veteran guard Rimas Kaukenas has also shot the ball very well (12 ppg on 70%) and will also do a bit of ball-handling.

If Lithuania keep its turnovers in check, don't see Macedonia being able to hang with the home team.

• Also on The Painted Area: FIBA Americas Musings on Argentina, Canada, More

Sunday, September 11, 2011

FIBA Analysis (9/11): Serbia Advances; Argentina Takes Americas Title

EUROBASKET: SERBIA 68, TURKEY 67

In what amounted to a play-in game for the knockout round, Serbia escaped with the win after Ersan Ilyasova could not convert a short jumper off an in-bounds pass with four seconds left. Serbia gets a little redemption for its one-point loss to Turkey last year.

With the win, Serbia earned the 4th seed in Group E and will play the winner of the Russia-Macedonia game. And Turkey's EuroBasket ends on a sour note after an exciting run to the Worlds final in 2010.

You could make the case that Turkey lost this game at the FT line: shot 16-for-29. Turkey was awful from the FT line last year but it never really cost them. This year was a different story: shot 64.6% from the FT line.

The one thing that Turkey had no problem with last year was making its 3pt. attempts. They led the Worlds in 3pt. accuracy at 43%. This let them cover for poor FT shooting last summer.

But this year they couldn't find their touch from deep and it hindered their play. Turkey only made 3-of-17 3PA on Sunday and finished the tourney shooting 27.5% from long range.

Didn't think this game was particularly well-played and seemed to lag in spots. Probably had to do with a total of 50 fouls called. Serbia did shoot 46% from the floor but the offense did not seem to have its usual crispness. Turkey shot only 38% but was able to hang around because they had eight less turnovers.

Milos Teodosic made plays all over the floor vs. Turkey to end the game with 20 pts, 8 rebs, and 5 assts. Scored multiple buckets on runners/floaters and buried two 3PA in transition. Milos tempered some beautiful feeds with some overly difficult pass attempts that led to six turnovers.

Dusko Savanovic's crafty brand of ball was on display again. Dusko scored twice on baseline spins that he set up nicely. Had a few sneaky drives to rim as well. Also made a crucial basket after cutting to the rim as Teodosic drew defenders. His smarts and footwork make up for his poor physical skills.

Serbia got decent support from its center tandem of Nenad Krstic and Kosta Perovic. Both guys were effective as usual providing backline help. Perovic was quite productive in pitching in 8 pts and 6 rebs in nine minutes. Krstic had eight points as well.

Serbia got a big lift from combo guard Milenko Tepic's strong offensive play. Tepic (12 pts, 8 rebs) is normally an offensive afterthought but he aggressively sought out scoring chances, usually scoring on pull-ups.

We mentioned in our preview that Turkey's offense probably has the least amount of off-ball movement of any Euro team. And the action offensively vs. Serbia was much of the same. Partly has to do with Hedo Turkoglu's propensity to iso.

Turkey really needed Hedo to have a big game today but he failed to deliver (like he did for most of Euro '11). Once again Hedo's shot selection was sketchy, leading to a 3-for-10 day. Hedo missed his two 3PA vs. Serbia to finish off a abysmal shooting performance during Euro '11--5-for-32 on 3PA. Hedo shot 39% overall.

Besides the good board work (7 rebs), Ilyasova had another uneven game of 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. He was also errant at the FT line, missing four of his eight FTs. Ersan was one of the best players at Euro '09 and was very good for most of the Worlds. The past few years, Turkey could count on these guys to generate offense and make big plays when needed. But this year, both guys were subpar.

Enes Kanter was impressive in his limited minutes once again. Kanter scored off a few put-backs and a few rolls. Used a nifty reverse spin move to score on one of his rolls. Liked how he threw his body around in the painted area and he drew six foul shots for his effort (though, he only was 3-for-6).

Similar to the Germany game, found it puzzling that Turkey did not try to get the ball to Enes more down low. Savanovic couldn't handle him physically .

SG Omer Onan (11 pts) helped Turkey by scoring six points in transition and knocking down a few pull-up jumpers. Emer Preldzic (8 pts) came out strong in the first half by making plays off the dribble for himself or his teammates. Used a nifty cross-over move to get into a pull-up and made a few nice feeds. But he was fairly non-existent in the 2nd half.

Wouldn't be surprised if that was the last time Hedo suited up for Turkey. Might be time to hand his SF spot over to Preldzic and feature Kanter as the go-to-guy. Both young guys played solid ball in their first tour with the senior team. 6-9 Preldzic can replicate some of what Hedo brought to Turkey over the last decade--a big ball-handler. Kanter can start alongside Asik for many years to come and he can bring the offense while Asik does defense.

FIBA AMERICAS FINALS: ARGENTINA 80, BRAZIL 75

Even though both teams already accomplished their goals to reach the Olympics, there was still pride to play for between these natural rivals. Argentina did not want to disappoint its home crowd and this was the swan song of their Golden Generation. Argentina won its first Americas title since 2001.

After nearly getting upset the night before by Puerto Rico, Argentina was in danger in the 4th quarter for the second night in a row.

Brazil made things interesting by taking a six-point lead early in the 4th. But Argentina responded with two clutch plus-one lay-ins from Luis Scola midway through the 4th to regain the lead and momentum.

Brazil made some costly mistakes late in the game that were fatal. Three unnecessary turnovers came when Brazil tried to push the ball in transition in the last five minutes of the 4th.

You know the drill with Luis Scola by now. He hurt the defense to the tune of 32 points on 12-of-18 by popping and posting. Scola also generated a bunch of scoring opportunities for his teammates from the extra attention he drew. He had four assists, but also had passes that initiated sequences that led to scores. Scola was rightfully named MVP, making this his third consecutive FIBA Americas MVP trophy. Scola led the Americas in scoring (21.4 ppg) for the second straight time.

Manu Ginobili (8 pts, 4 rebs, 3 assts, 6 TOs) was not quite as magical as he was in the semis and forced the action sometimes, like he has from time to time in this tourney. Manu looked a little worn out in this game which is understandable since his 34-year-old body played 10 games in 13 days. Manu still did enough to be considered a first-team All-Americas selection--averaged 16 ppg, 4 apg, 3 rpg, 1.5 spg, 2.7 TOpg, 46% FG pct. and 46% on 3PA.

Carlos Delfino finally found the range on his jumper--3-of-7 on 3PA--and pitched in 16 pts & 9 rebs. Carlos had his typical FIBA tourney: good rebounding, good defense, good passing off the dribble and erratic shooting.

Kind of funny that Pablo Prigioni, a reluctant shooter for most of his career, led the Americas in 3pt. pct. (61%). Pablo went 2-for-2 on 3PA in the finals on his way to 10 points.

As we mentioned in yesterday's post, Ruben Magnano's Argentine teams were underrated defensively and Brazil had one of the best defenses in the Americas. And they held an Argentina team that was averaging 49% going into the finals to 43% today. It doesn't hurt that Magnano knows Argentina as well as any opposing coach.

Tiago Splitter's struggles in this tourney have been well-documented but he was not too bad today. Splitter (12 pts, 5 rebs, 3 assts) hit two righty hooks and was able to score a few times by scooping up loose balls around the rim. Tiago's defense was on point again and he drew two charges. Tiago moved his feet well on defense the whole tourney--does this as well as any NBA center.

Reserve center Rafael Hettsheimer (10 pts, 5 rebs) was a nice asset off the bench again giving Scola some problems down low. Rafael hit a couple baby hooks and used his bulk to create space.

SF Marcus Vinicius (Viera) had his jumper working all game long to finish the game with 17 pts. PG Marcelo Huertas (7 pts, 2 assts) never got on track vs. Argentina. but he didn't really hurt Brazil considering his minimal bad passes.

Argentina definitely looked like they were showing their age in the second week of the Americas. The Americas schedule was relentless with six games in seven days on the second week and Argentina had three games that were closer than anticipated. You wonder how Argentina will fare next summer.

All their main players will be over 30 by next summer and their bench ain't young either. The frontcourt rotation is a major question mark plus Fab Oberto and Andres Nocioni might be limited by next summer. Could see opposing frontcourts exposing them.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

2011 FIBA Americas Semifinals Analysis (9/10): Argentina & Brazil Earn Olympic Bids

ARGENTINA 81, PUERTO RICO 79

Was not expecting this game to be competitive but Puerto Rico had a chance in the last minute to pull off the shocking upset. But Argentina survived to play for the Americas championship on Sunday, and also earn an automatic bid to the Olympics.

Give Puerto Rico props for pushing Argentina to the brink at home. Puerto Rico easily could have folded after Argentina made runs in the 1st and 3rd quarter. But Puerto Rico chipped away at leads in the 2nd and 4th quarters to hang around.

Thought that after Argentina started to gain momentum in the 3rd that they would eventually leave Puerto Rico in the dust and end up beating them by 15-20 points. But Puerto Rico responded well in the 4th and had a few chances to take the lead in the last two minutes.

Argentina started the game sizzling and scored 29 points on 13-of-17 shooting in the 1st quarter. Luis Scola led the rampage with 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting in the first stanza.

But Argentina slowed their roll in the 2nd quarter only scoring 11 points and Puerto Rico was able to take a 44-40 lead going into halftime. Scola sat most of the 2nd quarter and Puerto Rico's zone gave Argentina some issues.

Argentina continued to look shaky at the beginning of the 3rd, and Puerto Rico upped its lead to eight points. The Argentines looked tight.

Then energy forward Federico Kammerichs made the play of the game when he grabbed a loose ball and squeezed his way to the rim for a plus-one lay-in. That play changed the momentum of the game. Definitely pumped life into the crowd and the Argentine squad went on a 26-12 run to close out the 3rd.

Manu Ginobili (23 pts on 7-of-11) was the leader of the 3rd quarter run, burying four 3PA in the quarter. Manu netted two more 3PA early in the 4th which gave him 18 points in a 10-minute stretch. Manu also made a huge trailing block on Arroyo with just three minutes to go in the game. Manu hit multiple jumpers off of quick dribble pull-ups.

Scola was a mid-range machine as the majority of his buckets came between 12-to-15 feet. He hit multiple jumpers popping or coming off baseline screens. Scola hit four baseline jumpers in the 1st quarter. Luis led Argentina with 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting.

Pablo Prigioni (16 pts, 5 assts, 5 rebs) is a reluctant shooter but he wasn't going to turn down the wide open looks he got today. Prigioni teamed up with Manu to rain down 3pts. on Puerto Rico in the 2nd half and made 5-of-8 3PA overall. Also dropped a beautiful bounce pass to a trailing Scola in transition. He's one of the best bounce passers in the world.

Carlos Delfino (5 pts, 8 rebs, 2 stls) could not capitalize on some great looks from the perimeter and ended 2-of-10 from the field. Delfino's shooting has been erratic this summer (31% on 3PA, 43% overall); tends to be his pattern in FIBA play.

The shooting numbers skewered heavily in Argentina's favor. Argentina shot 52.6% overall and 13-for-28 from 3pt. range while Puerto Rico shot 43% overall and 8-for-16 from 3pt. range. The main reason Puerto Rico stayed in the game was because they crushed the offensive glass.

Both teams had the same number of defensive boards (22) but Puerto Rico grabbed 16 off. boards to Argentina's six off. boards. Those extra possessions let Puerto Rico double up Argentina on FT attempts.

Carlos Arroyo (15 pts) and JJ Barea (20 pts) punished the Argentine defense with pull-up jumpers all over the floor. But both guards sprinkled their requisite sketchy shots into the mix.

Dan Santiago's size gave the undersized Argentine frontline some problems, particularly in the 2nd half--14 of his 16 points in the 2nd half. Santiago was able to score a couple nice drop-steps, a turnaround banker, a hook and drew fouls (6-for-8 FTA) down low. Puerto Rico went through Santiago in the post late in the game with decent results. However, Dan had a costly TO with a chance to take the lead with just over a minute left.

Renaldo Balkman's activity was a positive for Puerto Rico tonight. Balkman made plays off the ball (10 pts) and led Puerto Rico's assault on the offensive glass (5 off., 12 total rebs). Former Boston University standout John Holland (11 pts) is not known as a shooter but he helped his team with three 3pt. makes.

Puerto Rico played solid ball in the Americas considering they were missing multiple key players, including center PJ Ramos. They get to participate in the pre-Olympic tourney next July and like the Dominican Republic, have a legit shot at one of the three bids.

BRAZIL 83, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 76

Expected this game to be competitive and it did not disappoint. Brazil lost to Dominican Republic in a close game in group stage but Brazil returned the favor today.

With the win, Brazil earned an automatic bid to London for its first basketball Olympics since 1996. A nice showing by a Brazil team that was missing Andy Varejao, Nene, Leandro Barbosa and had to deal with a subpar tourney from Tiago Splitter. Coach Ruben Magnano did another masterful job making adjustments and getting contributions up and down his roster.

Every aspect of the game was basically a wash between the two teams besides the 3pt. shooting. Both teams shot roughly 40% but Brazil made 10 3PA while Dom. Rep. made five 3PA.

Marcelo Huertas once again created great scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. Marcelo's 17 pts came on a couple pull-up jumpers, a few floaters/runners and a few driving lay-ups. Marcelo's tendency to jump in the air to pass worked both ways for him today. Made a few nice feeds (7 assts) but also made some mistakes when he left his feet (4 TOs).

Old man Marcelo Machado can still drop long bombs. One of the deadliest shooters in FIBA play buried five 3PA off the bench to lead Brazil with 20 points. Machado hit two 3pt. makes coming off screens with barely any room to get the shot off. Machado also made things happen with his dribble drives, dropping a few nice assists off the bounce.

Tiago Splitter had another rough outing where he was limited to 11 minutes because of foul trouble. Tiago had trouble finishing his shots (1-of-5)--got his shot blocked 2-3 times. This has been a recurring theme for Tiago during the tourney--he has struggled to find his bearing offensively and finish off his shots cleanly. Though, he has been productive on the boards (6.7 rpg in 20 mins) and good defensively.

Rafael Hettscheimer's soft touch was a boon for Brazil's offense once again. Rafael hit hooks with both hands, hit two 15-footers and had two put-backs on his way to 14 pts on 6-of-10 & 8 rebs (4 off.).

Brazil did another fine job on the defensive end, holding Dom. Republic to 42% from the field. This has been an underrated aspect of Magnano-led teams. His Argentine teams will always be remembered for their exacting offense, but their defense was stout.

The frontline of Dominican Republic did the heavy lifting once again. Al Horford and Jack Martinez have been the most consistent players for Coach Calipari and they both gave great effort today. Calipari was milking the hi-lo action, which was smart considering Horford and Martinez's passing skills.

Horford was the focal point as usual and he delivered with 18 points (7-of-20) and 7 rebs. Horford was adroit on the blocks, scoring on three turnaround jumpers that he set up with slight shoulder fakes in the opposite direction. He also made a tough runner across the lane. Horford has done a nice job facing up and putting the ball on the deck in this tourney.

JM Martinez (18 pts & 15 rebs) was a menace 8 feet and in, scoring around the rim, drawing fouls (6-of-7 FTA) and pounding the offensive glass (5 off. rebs). JM made a couple nifty post scores (nice up/under), but he also missed a handful of point-blank shots. Horford also had a few close shots roll off the rim.

Former Pitt Panther guard Ronald "Razor" Ramon gave Dom. Republic a much needed dose of machismo on the perimeter. Ramon kept D.R. close late with all of his three 3pt. makes coming in the 4th.

Dom. Republic's other NBAers, Francisco Garcia and Charlie Villaneuva, did not play up to their capabilities once again. Both guys scored eight points today, but were ineffective for long stretches of the game.

Garcia seemed to be heating up with two 3pt. makes off screens in the 1st half, but Cisco offered no points in the 2nd half. Garcia played well in '09, drilling jumpers and blocking shots, but he could not find the range on his jumper this summer (38% overall, 32.7% on 3PA) and was not quite as effective overall.

Chuckie V. had an uneven tourney in '09 and this summer was even more ragged. Chuck was out of shape and still looks uncomfortable with the FIBA game.

The Dominicans still have a chance at the Olympics as they will be in the pre-Olympic qualification tourney next July. A Dominican team at full health and with another training camp with Calipari should be able to contend with the four European teams for the three Olympic berths.

EuroBasket 2011 Analysis (9/9): Germany Gets Must Win; France Stays Undefeated

GERMANY 73, TURKEY 67

Germany earned a big win in Group F action and kept its knockout-round hopes alive. If Germany beats Lithuania on Sunday and Turkey beats Serbia, Germany earns a quarterfinals spot. But if Germany wins and Serbia wins, a three-way tiebreaker between Germ., Lith. and Serbia will determine the last two playoff seeds in Group E

Chris Kaman led the Germans with 20 points on 9-of-16. Kaman was tough all over the offensive end hitting multiple mid-range jumpers, scoring off of rolls & cuts and converting some nice post moves, including a nice drop-step that drew a foul for a key three-point play.

Kaman once again provided nice backline support, altering shots (3 blks) and forcing Hedo into some tough shots when switched on him late in the game.

Dirk Nowitzki (19 pts, 7 rebs, 3 assts) was on his game once again, knocking down perimeter jumpers and adding two sweet turnaround bankers into the mix. Guard Heiko Schaffartzik (10 pts, 5 rebs, 5 assts) made things happen in pick-n-roll action, hitting multiple pull-ups and finding open teammates.

Reserve SF Philip Schwethlem played a crucial role knocking down open jumpers down the stretch. 11 of Schwethlem's 14 points came in the last five minutes of the game. Hit all of his three 3PA in that span, including a big make with 0:50 left that gave Germany a 67-62 lead.

Germany's defense under coach Dirk Bauermann is usually good, if not a tad too physical. Sometimes Germany's defense gets overlooked but they have been solid throughout Euro '11. Currently sixth in defensive FG pct. (41.6%). Held Turkey to 39% shooting overall and 29% from long range.

Turkey continues to be off from deep--currently shooting 28.7% on 3PA. Quite a contrast from last year when they led the Worlds in 3pt. shooting at 43%.

Turkey was able to stick around because of quality glass work. Pounded the offensive boards: had 17 off. rebs. to Germany's 28 defensive rebs. But they put those extra possessions to waste by shooting 45.5% from the FT line. Turkey got to the FT line nine more times but made two less than Germany. Turkey was bad at the line last year and they're currently at 66%.

Omer Asik's 19 pts came on rolls, cuts and put-backs. Omer even added in a 18-footer. Omer was great on the offensive glass again (7 off. rebs), including three that led to put-backs in the last three minutes of the game. Turkey's best offense down the stretch seemed to be to throw the ball up at the rim and let Asik track the ball down.

Enes Kanter was a factor in the post using his up-n-under moves to great effect. Kanter was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor for 11 pts in 19 minutes. Kanter was hot early in the 2nd quarter, scoring seven of his 11 in a few minutes. But it was puzzling that Turkey did not try to feature Enes more in the 2nd half.

Another game where Turkey just did not get enough from its starting forward tandem, Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova. The past few years, Turkey could count on these guys to generate offense and make big plays when needed. But this year, both guys have been playing lower than expected.

Hedo forced up too many questionable shots with hands in his face (especially late in the game) and ended with nine points on 4-of-15 shooting. Hedo missed all of his four 3PA today to keep his cold shooting snap going--Hedo is shooting 40% overall, 5-for-30 on 3PA.

Besides the good board work (7 rebs), Ersan had another quiet game of four points on 1-of-7 shooting. Ersan was one of the best players at Euro '09 and was very good for most of the Worlds, but he seems to be a bit out of sync this year. Might have something to do with Kanter coming into the rotation.

Turkey goes to 1-3 and will play Serbia, also 1-3, on Sunday. Turkey needs to win that game if they want any chance at a playoff bid. If they win and Lithuania beats Germany, they advance. But if Germany wins, Turkey get eliminated even if they win.

FRANCE 73, LITHUANIA 67

After a nine-point 3rd quarter that allowed Lithuania to grab the lead, France flipped the script and piled up 30 points in the final quarter to stay undefeated.

Lithuania could not really contain Tony Parker (19 pts) any better than any other team. Tony hit multiple floaters, a few short pull-ups, some transition scores and gave Lithuania problems going away from ball screens. Though, Lithuanian bigs did a decent job showing hard on Parker ball screens and prevented him from turning the corner too often.

France got a huge game from combo guard Nando De Colo (21 pts on 8-of-14), who came off the bench and immediately had impact. Along with Parker, De Colo was clutch in the 4th, scoring 13 of his 21 in the quarter.

De Colo hurt Lithuania with his pull-up jumper and had a few scores off of well-timed baseline cuts. Also, his five steals led to multiple points in transition.

De Colo's biggest play came when he stripped Saras Jasikevicius and proceeded to score a transition lay-up to cut Lithuania's lead to 48-45 early in the 4th. Lithuania had momentum at the time after a run in the 3rd gave them a lead going into the 4th. Up until that point, France had only scored five points in roughly 10 minutes. De Colo stripped the ball from Saras another time which led to Nando getting fouled in transition.

Joakim Noah brought terrific energy to the floor as usual. Noah grabbed 13 boards (6 off.) and defended the pick-n-roll well. NIc Batum had another solid all-around game with 9 pts, 4 stls, and 3 assts.

France's defense humbled the normally exacting Lithuanian offense. Lithuania's offense came into this game leading Euro '11 in ppg, FG pct. and 3pt. pct. France held Lithuania to roughly 20 points below its average.

The normally sweet-shooting Lithuanians could not find the range from deep--30.4% on 3PA. They came into the game smoking from deep--50% on 3PA. And they had been shooting 56% overall and France held them to 40%. France is one of the top teams at producing steals and picked off 13 today.

Sharpshooter Simas Jasaitis led Lithuania in scoring by knocking down jumpers (3-for-7 3PA). Jonas Valanciunas (12 pts) was productive in his floor time finishing on cuts, rolls and put-backs.

Lithuania got spotty play from its point guard tandem, Mantas Kalnietis and Saras Jasikevicius. Saras made some nice feeds (6 assts) in the pick-n-roll but neutralized those dimes with some lazy pass attempts and careless ball-handling (5 TOs)--got stripped a few times. Kalnietis had little positive impact and had three TOs of his own.

France will play Spain on Sunday to determine the first seed in Group E. Not sure what to expect from that game as Spain might not care about their seeding and rest some guys. Lithuania falls to 2-2 and plays Germany next. If Lithuania wins, they earn third place in Group E. If they lose and Serbia wins, a three-tiebreaker between them, Germ. and Serbia goes into effect.