Thursday, August 30, 2007

USA Takes Care of Argentina

USA 91, Argentina 76

- Game wasn't as close as the score indicates, but Team USA didn't physically overwhelm Argentina like every other opponent. This game was never in doubt, but Team USA did not look all that impressive, and never really left Argentina in the dust. Even though the defense was pretty good, I would say this was Team USA's most sluggish performance overall.

- Team USA has made the commitment to switch on screens this year, and it was very effective tonite vs. Argentina. The overall ball pressure was top-notch, and helped force 21 TOs. Argentina did not shoot the long-ball well thanks to Team USA (though, Arg. missed some wide-open looks themselves), but they did shoot around 50% on 2pt attempts. So it wasn't a tremendous defensive night for the US, but still mighty good. You could tell Team USA was well-prepared for Argentina's tendencies by the revamped scouting dept.--an extremely underrated factor to Team USA's success. Having Tony Ronzone running things now is a good thing.

- Team USA shot 53% for the game, and a nice 38% from 3pt. But their outside shooting tailed off in the 2nd half (3/12), and the execution was not as crisp. Thought the offense stagnated somewhat in the 2nd half, and it allowed the Argentines to make a mini-run to make the game somewhat respectable. Also, giving up too many offensive rebounds to Argentina let them get below the 20-point threshold. US had issues with turnovers today (21), but it was not just a case of unforced errors--some of the credit has to go to Argentina for breaking on the ball well. US added to the ragged pace by fouling a little bit more than normal. Also, The US lost the rebound battle by 9, which is a rarity.

- Kobe came out on fire with 15 1st quarter points, drilling some bombs in the process. He finished at the rim with ease all night and also threw a few old-school whirling-dervish swoops to the rim that Argentina was hapless to stop. Kobe led the way today with 27 pts on 10/15 shooting, 3/7 on 3pts.

- Bron has rivaled Kobe as an all-around force this tourney, and tonite was no different--Bron filled it up with 15 pts, 6 rebs, 5 assts, 2 stls. Bron's defense has been nearly as impressive as Kobe's this summer, especially his propensity for helping on the backline. Bron did cool off a little from outside, 1/4 from 3pt, now he's only 15/24 from long range. Melo continued to be a scoring machine for 18 pts, while Dwight Howard chipped in with 9 & 9.

- Luis Scola was the best big guy on the floor, the problem was he wasn't on the floor for long because of foul trouble. Scola got almost anything he wanted on the offensive end--Luis was 8/12 from the floor for 20 pts in only 18 mins. (Hollinger must be salivating). He showed off his full arsenal: post moves, mid-range jumpers, few nice finishes off the move. It just sucks he picked up 3 fouls in the 1st quarter--the one with Billups was a joke, and his block on Melo was borderline. He challenged some shots as well on the defensive end.

- Defino continued his erratic shooting & probably launched a few too many bombs, but thought he did some nice things on defense & set up his teammates nicely. Pablo Prigioni had major issues with the size of Kidd & Billups, and the overall pressure forced him to make uncharacteristic mistakes (6 TOs), but did do a great job swiping passes on defense (4 stls). And how bout a shout-out to our boy Feddy Kammerichs. The lovechild of Brent Barry & Borat brought his trademark high-energy to the table, crashing the interior for 5 rebs (3 off) & 9 points, mostly on put-backs. Diego Lo Grippo was his usual scrappy self pitching in 11 points; not bad for a guy who was operating the Tilt-a-Whirl at the Clark County fair just 4 weeks ago.

- Why Coach Sergio Hernandez did not go to more zones looks, I'm not sure. I know the US has been stroking the ball very well in this tourney, but I really feel strongly about the importance of mixing up your defenses in FIBA play. A well-played zone can screw with the offense's rhythm (even with good shooters), and especially should be implemented vs. Team USA, who thrive on creating a rhythm.

The key word is a "well-played zone". I've seen some zones this year, but none have been very well-disciplined staying packed into the lane. The last team I've seen play a well-disciplined zone where their players did not stray to far away from the lane was Germany in the Worlds last year. And that just happened to be one of Team USA's roughest offensive games of the last few years.

If I was playing against the US, my primary defense is either a 2-3 or 2-1-2 zone with the "One-Foot-in-the-Paint" rule for all my defenders. If Team USA is going to beat me, they are going to do it with outside jumpers. Call it the lesser-of-two-evils theorem for dealing with Team USA: Would you rather man-up the US & have them shred you apart & build rhythm or would you rather have them prove themselves from the perimeter? I think the answer is pretty simple. Basically, you have to pick your poison when facing the US, have to sacrifice something. And in this case make them jumpshooters, if they make them, live with it.

- Now on to the semis to play Puerto Rico again, and on to the only game that matters this summer. If the US win, they're in the Olympics. If they somehow lose, they have to drag their butts to a qualifying tourney 6 weeks before the actual Olympics. But that's something Team USA version '07 will not have to worry about.

Brazil Blows Big Lead To Argentina

Argentina 86, Brazil 79 (OT)

- In a sense, Brazil gave this game away after controlling the 1st half & leading by as much as 17 early in the 3rd. Brazil is obviously familiar with their South American neighbor, and looked liked they were prepared for Argentina's precision offense early on. Brazil's defense dictated the action early and made things rough for Arg. to execute like they're used to. But foul trouble (Splitter & Barbosa), TOs, & a rudderless offense doomed Brazil down the stretch.

- Argentina found some rhythm in the 2nd half, and went on a 8-0 run (with Barbosa on the bench with foul trouble) to start the 4th thanks to forcing a handful of TOs. Luis Scola scored 19 of his 23 in the 2nd half, while Paolo Quinteros went off as well in the 2nd. Scola was drawing fouls constantly (something he has done well in Europe), and they were not just when he had the ball, he must have drawn up 4-5 fouls just off-the-ball. Scola scored 13 of his 23 points on the foul line, 12 rebs.

- Why was Coach Ferreira not calling for Nene to post up down the stretch? Arg was going with a downsized lineup with Gutierrez at the 4, and he can't handle Nene on the block. Did go to Nene once with 3 minutes left in the 4th, and Nene hit a nice little turnaround and drew the foul. But that was it, never went back to him down the stretch. Wasn't like he wasn't having a solid game--Nene shot 5/7 for 10 & grabbed 12 rebs (5 off), you can see he could have used more touches.

- Brazil's offense looked lost at the end of the 4th. Terrible execution down the stretch with very little player movement and no sense of organization. Barbosa ended up tossing up two errant 25+ footers to try to beat the shot clock in the last minute of regulation.

- Brazil's defense was excellent in the 1st half, and the linchpin was Tiago Splitter, who was a major interior deterrent all game. He was tough as an on-the-ball defender or in help situations, gave his former Tau teammate, Scola, some problems--Tiago teamed with Duncan is a scary proposition. Can't say enough good things about Splitter's play this tournament, and only Kobe & Dalembert have had more of impact defensively than Splitter.

- Marcelo Machado had a pretty awesome game for Brazil with 19 pts, 7 rebs, 7 asst & 3 stls. He's a very underrated passer--he had 7 assts tonite, including a sweet no-look wraparound job to Splitter. But he was not perfect--he had 6 TOs and he got abused by Delfino in the post twice in OT. Barbosa had 16 pts (3/7 3pts.) & did a decent job creating for others (5 assts), but his shot selection continues to be sketchy, just been in full-on chucker mode this entire tourney. Brazilian guard Valters Da Silva hit some big 3s in the 4th quarter, and finished 4/4 from long-range for 14 pts.

- Carlos Delfino had another nice all-around performance--19 pts, 10 rebs & 5 stls, but continued too be a little streaky on the offensive end. 'Los came up huge in overtime by taking Machado down on the block twice & finishing off two crucial post moves. SG Paolo Quinteros came off the bench for 19 pts on 6/10 shooting. PG Prigioni got his passing going in the 2nd half after a ragged 1st half, and he continued to hit his jumper when needed--Pablo had 11 & 7 dimes.

- Brazil could be in a little danger after this loss. It's a longshot, but if they lose to Uruguay & Canada wins (vs. Puerto Rico), they could be shut out of the Semis. If they lose & Canada loses, you would then have a 4-way tie for 3rd place, and a complicated tiebreaker scenario comes into play. So it's in Brazil's best interest to win & secure the #3 spot tonite.

USA Stays Perfect; Prepares for Argentina

*-USA-Uruguay recap in the lower half of this post.

USA-Argentina Mini-Preview:

- Team USA is now on to undefeated Argentina for the final tune-up before the playoff portion, in a possible Gold medal game preview. This is not the Argentina A-Team that the US will face, but it's still a dangerous squad that is well-versed in the unselfish Argentine style. They are very disciplined in their offensive spacing, and very patient in waiting for screens & passing angles to develop. This team displays the requisite great ball movement we're accustomed to with Team Argentina. The offense has a ton of off-the-ball movement & off-the-ball screens, combined with multiple options on each play & counterplays-a-plenty -- this is the type of offense that has given Team USA fits in the past. The good thing this time around for Team USA: Argentina does not have the overall talent running this offense that they've had in the past.

- Luis Scola is a handful in the painted area and is having a superb tourney so far. He does damage in a variety of ways: very effective playing off Prigioni in the high post and he can drill mid-range jumpers off the screen action; he can take you down on the block; he has a knack for drawing fouls; and he will utilize the baseline picks/cuts of the offense to free himself for high-quality looks. Carlos Delfino is their other main option. 'Los has had a pretty solid if somewhat inconsistent tourney so far. His scoring has come in spurts, but his rebounding, defense, & passing have been consistently good thru-out.

- PG Pablo Prigioni is just a heady floor general with a pass-first mentality. Pablo has always been a great passer, but he has shot the ball well in the tourney, something he's not known for. Paolo Quinteros & Leo Gutierrez come off the bench to provide perimeter shooting. Forwards Carlos Sandes & Diego Lo Grippo are high-energy role players, and you have to locate & get a body on Sandes, because he loves to crash the boards.

- On a side note, Argentina always seems to be the hairstyle trendsetters of the int'l teams, with guys like Oberto & Herrmann bringing a hirsute flair to the table, and this year's team does not disappoint either. Scola & Carlos Sandes are easy to mix up with their Oberto-inspired manes. Not to mention Carlos Sandes reminds me of Mitch from "Dazed & Confused" or maybe he's just the dude who use to play guitar in Extreme. Diego Lo Grippo needs for this tourney to end soon so he can back to his gig as a roadie on the killer Dokken/Night Ranger/Loverboy summer triple-bill reunion tour. And what can I say about Federic Kammerichs, not sure if he lost a bet, but totally concur with the esteemed Rick Kamla that Federic has a Brent Barry resemblance. But I'll take it a step further considering Feddy's prodigious 'stache--he looks like Brent Barry if Barry grew up in Kazakhstan. Think Brent Borat Barry.

USA 118, Uruguay 79

- USA again came out looking disinterested, and even seemed a little tentative on offense early on, believe it or not. Though, can't really expect them sell out & play at a fevered pitch every night, especially on the type of back-2-back-2-back-2-back schedule required in FIBA play.

- Uruguay stayed with the US for most of the 1st quarter, and Esteban Batista was shaking loose exposing the porous interior defense. So Team USA decided to flip the switch in the 2nd quarter once again, and started to open up the lead by pushing it in transition. They would cruise the rest of the night, and Uruguay would not put up much defensive resistance, basically getting out of the way of any USA player who swooped to the rim.

- Did not think the defensive effort was quite as good as we have seen in the 1st round, but still does not really matter when you're playing such inferior comp--Uruguay shot just 37.5% from the floor. Team USA kept up their ridiculously good offensive ways by going 64% from the floor, and continued to look impressive from long-range--13/26 on 3pts.

- Amare was active once again, and too explosive for the Uruguay frontline to handle--Amare had 19, 7 rbs & 3 stls. Tay Prince had a nice all-around effort off the bench with 13 pts, 6 rebs, 4 asst & solid defense. Esteban Batista was the lone source of positive vibes for Uruguay. Showed off a nice little package of baseline moves to finish with 20 pts. He showcased some of his impressive footwork thru-out the tourney, but did not think he would be able to shake loose from the quicker US bigs, but he was surprisingly effective.

- Bron was the one American who had it flowing from the opening tip, and most encouraging was he was drilling his outside jumper once again, he couldn't miss, literally. Bron finished the game shooting 11/11 & 4/4 from 3pt. range for 26 pts, and he didn't play in the 2nd half. We commented on Bron's apparent improved shooting yesterday, and now Bron is shooting 14/20 from 3pt. land for the tourney. He seems to be getting a nice bend in his knees & seems to be avoiding the tendency he has for leaning back on his shooting motion. Has he turned the corner to become a reliable long-ball threat? Not sure, but his play of late is encouraging & possibly scary for opposing NBA teams.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

USA & Argentina Keep Rollin'

USA 117, Puerto Rico 78

- The Tourney of the Americas never really gets me too revved up since it's just strictly a qualifying tourney & the overall competition is lacking, and now Team USA looks bored with the whole thing, and I'm starting to get bored as well. But Team USA shook off their indifference and got back to business in the 2nd quarter after looking like they carried over some of the lackluster effort of the Mex game into the 1st quarter.

- Wasn't quite an overall devastating defensive effort like the first few games--some doubles were split again & a few dribble penetrations that should have been contained better--but can't complain too much when the oppostion shoots 36% & 7/22 from 3pt. Though, Puerto Rico helped these numbers by missing a fair amount of good looks on their own.

- Team USA started to pick things up in the 2nd quarter on both ends of the floor, particularly moving the ball better vs. the zone. They had players flashing from all angles & were looking to go thru the post as well. They were rather successful because Puerto Rico was extending their zone too far similar to Mexico, not to mention P. Rico's rotations were incredibly slow. Also, Ramos of Puerto Rico would only decide to move his feet one in every 5 possessions, and put up exactly no resistance if Howard wanted to post-up.

- Team USA did not get out in transition quite as much as the last game. Puerto Rico was making a concerted effort early on to be methodical with their possessions, looking very cautious of not turning the ball over. One thing to be of minor concern was 11/23 free throw shooting nite for Team USA. This was an issue that hurt them last year, and something to keep an eye on.

- Looks like Bron has been working on his jumper the last 2 months--another impressive outside shooting display by Bron. Bron was 3/5 from deep, and 8/10 overall for 21 pts, 4assts & 4 rebs. Kobe returned to form on the defensive end tonite, but thought he did more damage roving in help sitautions as opposed to on-the-ball. Though, he was pretty effective hounding Ayuso as well, but probably fouled him a little too much--Kobe had 14 pts, 2 stls, & 2 blks. Melo (17 pts) & Redd (15 pts) kept up their strong scoring ways, and Amare was particularly active flingling his body all over the floor, especially on the offensive glass (5 off)--Amare has 12 & 8. Deron Williams pushed the pace while he was in the game opening up looks for his teammates--Deron had 7 assists & was 4/4 for 8 pts.

- US will face upstart Uruguay today. Uruguay is like Argentina-lite where they run a similar set but they just don't have the wealth of talent of Argentina. Former Hawk Esteban Batista is their focal point, but he is largely effective by just bullying guys around in the post with his strength; he won't have that advantage vs. Team USA. Have to keep track of SG Nicolas Mazzarino because all he needs is a tiny bit of room to get off his automatic jumper. PGs Martin Osimani (ex-Duquense) & Leandro Garcia-Morales (ex-Tex A&M) do a solid job for Team Uruguay--Garcia-Morales can be a pest on defense.

Argentina 85, Canada 70

- This game was over early, and the final score does not indicate how Argentina completely shredded Canada, particularly in the 1st half. Argentina was a machine in the 1st half on both ends of the floor, and went in at halftime up 46-16. Canada could get nothing going on offense in the 1st half, and shots would not drop at all. Give some credit to Argentina's strong team defense which rotates & helps as good as any team in the tourney. Always been an underrated factor about Argentina's national team--they get a ton of praise for the precision offense (rightfully so), but their defense has always been impressive thru-out their recent run of success.

- Argentina's offense was fantastic in the opening half with the usual great spacing and impeccable ball-movement, not to mention they had their outside shooting flowing. Scary combination. Early on it was a two-man game between Prigioni & Scola, then Delfino & others got involved in the festivities. Paolo Quinteros & Leonardo Gutierrez came off the bench drilling jumpers, and helped Argentina shoot 7/16 from 3pt in the 1st half (Argentina shot 12/30 from deep for the game)

- Luis Scola had his way on the offensive end, scoring his 23 pts off of jumpers, post-ups, & lay-ins. Scola was often set-up by the pinpoint passes of Pablo Prigioni, who was masterful once again driving the Argentina offense--Pablo dropped 11 dimes.

- Carlos Delfino had another solid performance with 15 & 6 rebs, and center Roman Gonzalez pitched in 11 pts & 11 rebs & kept Dalembert occupied. Have to mention forward Carlos Sandes' effort as well--he has been doing a great job crashing the boards the whole tourney, and he pitched in with 5 rebs (3 off), 3 assts, & 3 stls today. The aforementioned L. Gutierrez was 4/9 from 3pt for 12 pts and P. Quinteros had 10 pts.

- It looked like Team Argentina phoned it in the 2nd half allowing Canada to cut into the lead, but Canada would never seriously threaten. It was almost the tale of two halves for Team Canada, they were a different squad in the 2nd half, but the game was too far out of reach for it to matter.

- Canada found the range on their shooting in the 2nd half after a brutal 1st half where they shot 7/28 from the floor--they shot 21/40 overall in the 2nd half, and 7/12 from 3pt. after only 1/4 in the 1st. They also compounded their 1st half problems by turning the ball over 13 times, they only had 6 TOs in the 2nd half. Forward Dave Thomas (13 pts, 3/3 3pts.) & PG Jermaine Anderson (10 pts) found the range on their jumpers in the 2nd half. Sam Dalembert did have 9 pts & 16 rebs, but he had very little impact on the defensive end. I think it had to with Argentina's big man Roman Gonzalez's ability to step away from the rim, and the double-high post look Argentina will implement.

- Big matchup today with Argentina facing their South American rival, Brazil. These teams know each other very well & Brazil should be prepared to defend vs. Argentina's offense. Brazil might need this victory to clinch the 3-seed and avoid the US in the semis.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Canada Holds Off Uruguay

Canada 95, Uruguay 88

- Canada controlled the 1st half action, and looked to be too deep for Uruguay to handle. But Uruguay made one of their patented 2nd half comeback (they did vs both Panama & P. Rico), and they made a run at the start of the 3rd, and kept the game competitve til the end. Canada's overall size eventually made the difference, and Team Canada commanded the boards (+18 on the boards), and had their way offensively, shooting 56%.

- Dalembert was once again a factor in the interior discouraging looks in the paint. Uruguay took nearly as many 3pts attempts (31) as 2pt attempts (33), I think Sammy had a big reason to do with it. Dalembert had a big follow-up slam late in the 4th to stunt Uruguay's comeback. Sammy had 10pts, 5 rebs & 3 blks for the game.

- Team Canada made a concerted effort to feed Jesse Young on the block, and the hoser delivered with 22 pts on 10/16. Canada's other PF, Levon Kendall, brought his usual workmanlike effort in the interior with 9pts, 9 rebs (6 off), and solid defense. He was always a solid role player at Pitt, and I'm wondering if he might not be able to carve out a niche in the NBA as bench player who sets good screens, rebounds a little, has a decent jumper and provides solid defense. PG Jermaine Anderson (ex-Fordham) had his patented jumper working again today for 3/5 from long range--Jermaine ended with 13 pts, 4 rebs, & 4 assts.

- I have to ask where the hell was sharpshooting Nicolas Mazzarino? Mazzarino sat out most of the 2nd & the entire 3rd quarter didn't return until the 7:00 min of the 4th. He only played 20 mins, but still managed 17 pts (3/5 3pt). Sometimes you'll hurt your brain trying to figure out the rotation patterns of some of these int'l coaches.

- Esteban Batista was not quite as effective against the solid frontline of Canada, and could not just overpower them like he has done to other teams--the former Atlanta Hawk had 16 & 6 rebs. Back-up Leandro Garcia-Morales brought his usual all-around energy in the 2nd half, and ended with 17 pts, 3 assts, & 2 stls.

- Canada has a big matchup today vs. Argentina that could go a long way to determining who ends up with a Top 3 seed going into the playoff portion; good idea to avoid the #4 seed which have to face the US in the Semis. Will see if Canada's solid interior defense can put the clamps on Luis Scola.

Monday, August 27, 2007

USA Runs Past Mexico

USA 127, Mexico 100

- "Cuarenta minutos de Infierno" never really materialized for Mexico, but Nolan's style did induce Team USA into a fast-breaking frenzy that covered up there lackluster defensive effort. But Team USA has so much room for error this summer, mediocre defense will not effect them too much--they still won this game by 27, and were never seriously challenged.

- Definitely the most uninspired defensive preformance by Team USA so far--Mexico shot 46% overall, and a sizzling 15/28 from 3pt. They did not seem to have the same intensity that has powered them thru the tourney in the 1st round. A letdown in intensity is to be expected when you are playing games nearly every night, though.

- Saw a few too many times where guys were standing straight up on defense, and did not seem to want to move their feet.
Double teams were split often, rotations were slow, and the hedging on the screens was not up to snuff. Don't mean to make excuses, but some of the players looked a little gassed out, especially Kobe. He was not as active on defense as he has been, and even though he scored 21 pts, he looked like he was a step slow out there.

- Team USA still was able to win the game handily because they were a transition machine--they were flying out off of misses & off the 19 TOs of Mexico for an endless parade of easy looks. Not sure how many fast break points Team USA had (Fiba does not display them), but it felt like they had about 30+.

- I know Nolan's style for Mexico has been to extend pressure in their half-court zone look, but maybe a better idea would have been to keep his players near the paint vs. Team USA. There trapping out of the zone opened gaping holes for Team USA to exploit. Team USA ended with too many dunks & uncontested finishes to count in the half-court set.

- Team USA had very little problem scoring the ball tonite, shooting 58% overall & had little problem moving the ball thru the extended zone of Mexico. Were not quite as proficient from the 3pt. line as they have been, but were still solid (36%).

- Melo led the way once again on offense with 28 pts, mixing his jumpers with aggressive finishes at the rim. He got some scoring off his offensive board work as well--3 off, 5 overall for Melo. Bron gave Team USA's best all-around effort tonite with 19 (6/7), 5 rebs, 5 assts, & 2 blks. Bron was even burying his outside jumpers--3/3 from deep--and he was the one US player whose defense was pretty solid.

- Dwight Howard pitched 19 on 9/10, pretty much all dunks. Mike Redd continued his strong play with 15 pts. And no surprise Jason Kidd took to the open-court game Mexico wanted--Kidd had 7 assists & 3 steals.

- I liked what I've seen of Romel Beck(Castro) so far in this tourney, and felt before tonite's game he probably deserved a NBA training camp invite, but after tonite, he's definitely should be getting some calls. Beck is a long, lanky athlete with a nice shot & solid ball-handling skills, and he presented some problems for Team USA tonite with 20 pts on 6/12, 4/8 from downtown. He even shook Kobe with a quick crossover into a 3pt. shot a la Iverson vs. MJ.

- Ex-Cal Irvine center Adam Parada showcased some of his nice post skills & touch down low with 17 pts on 8/12. He maybe even garnered a training camp invite considering he's a 7-footer with solid passing skills as well. Fat Lever's son, Anthony Lever-Pedroza, had another strong game with 19, 4 rebs, & 6 assts. And veteran sharpshooter Victor Mariscal was stroking from deep just like the Puerto Rico game--5/8 from 3pt for 19 pts. Beck, Pedroza, & Mariscal combined to shoot 13/22 from 3pt range.

- Next up for the US is Puerto Rico. P. Rico might be the most inconsistent team in this tourney where they blow out Panama by 40 one night then squander a double-digit lead to Uruguay the next. And now they just pull off a mini-upset by pounding Brazil after going 1-3 in the 1st round; not sure what we got here with this P.R. squad.

Their backcourt is their strength with Carlos Arroyo & Larry Ayuso leading the way, and Juan Barea & Rick Apodaca providng some talent off the bench. Arroyo & Ayuso can score the ball in FIBA play, and both have given the US trouble in the past.

P. Rico has actually played the US tough the last few times they have played: they were competitive with them last year only losing by 11, they crushed the US in '04, and even provided one of the few rough outings for the '03 Team USA in the Semis.

But can't foresee a competitive contest this year because PR's frontline is not packing much punch. PJ Ramos is huge and has flashed glimpses of some potential, but he can never seem to sustain any type of consistency. Angelo Reyes is the only other interior player of note, and he's just a dirty work, rebounder type. 7-footer Ricky Sanchez (Nuggets) will only look to shoot 3pts & not much else.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

USA Waxes Brazil

USA 113, Brazil 76

- In Team USA's 1st legit test (and maybe the only one besides the finals) they shook off Brazil in the middle of the 2nd quarter, and proceeded to thrash them the rest of the game like every other opponent this year. Brazil was hanging with Team USA for the 1st quarter and a half, and it wasn't fluky--they looked liked they could physically hang with the USA, especially inside. Splitter & Nene were a definite presence in the painted area, actually having more impact than Team USA's bigs.

- This might have been Team USA's most impressive outing in the last 7 years or so. Tonight was a perfect confluence of dedicated defending & deadly accurate shooting, a combo that makes the US bullet-proof. Team USA scorched the nets for 19/36 from 3pt. land. & 55% overall. Hit 8 3pts in the 3rd quarter & blew this game off the hinges in the middle quarters--outscoring Brazil 69-28 in the 2nd & 3rd quarters.

- Still can't believe Brazil only had one more TO (15) than the US (14) for the game, it surely felt like Brazil had at least 20+ TOs by game's end; I figured the TO margin was significant.

- Nice to see Team USA was selling out for the entire shot clock--forced a handful of shot-clock violations & last-second rushed shots. Again, Team USA showed hard on screens, switching often, & strategically doubled the ball. Though they were not without some fault: some issues in the 1st half with baseline cuts & the Brazilian bigs getting loose near the basket, and they could have done a little bit better job containing Garcia & Splitter early in the game. But that's nit-picky stuff.

- Bron shot the ball as well as I've seen him in FIBA play--21 pts on 8/11 overall, 4/6 from 3pt. Melo kept up his stellar offensive output by also killing it with his jumper--21 on 8/13, 3/4 3pt. Although Melo fell asleep on the defensive end a few times, including 7-foot Splitter taking him off the bounce twice. Actually, both Melo & Bron had some difficulty when forced to match up with Splitter. Also, Mike Redd kept his duty as the designated marksman, shooting 4/7 from 3pt for 16 pts.

- Kobe's Operation Shutdown for tonite was Barbosa, and another mission accomplished for the Mamba--Barbosa, who was the Tourney's leading scorer, had 4 pts on 1/7 shooting. Kobe also brought some offense to the party with 20 (3/6 3pts), and helped spark a huge 17-0 run early in the 3rd with 2 3pts. that officially wrapped up the game.

- Tiago Splitter was the best big on the floor tonite, and lone bright spot for Brazil. He was a huge presence on the defensive end where he knocked 2-3 shots off the rim, blocked a few shots (I'm including the stuff on Amare), changed a handful of USA forays to the bucket, & even stayed in front of Kobe to draw a charge. Tiago even surprised with some nice dribble drives to the bucket, and also had a few tip-ins off of his 9 boards.

Life really is not fair that the Spurs grabbed him at #28 this year. There are 10-15 teams/GMs (Kings & Sixers come to mind) who really should rethink their strategy in that they passed on Tiago because they would have to wait a year for him to come over. Think it's sort of shortsighted--you're gonna have to wait a few years on most of this year's draft picks to develop anyways, so why not wait for Tiago. Teams passed on a lottery-level talent that is on the same level as Joakim Noah. As usual, the Spurs win again.

Let's say I'm a Kings fan right now, I'm even more pissed than I was on draft night that I decided on Hawes than a player like Splitter--a guy who provides the interior defense & rebounding Sacto desperately need. (We had Tiago tabbed as our #12-ranked prospect, maybe should be a few slots higher, but still felt he was a definite lotto talent.)

- Now on to Stage 2 of the tourney where Team USA will face Mexico first then P .Rico, Uruguay, & Argentina. Mexico is implementing Nolan Richardson's "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno" to quicken the pace of the game. Mexico's talent level is just not there to cause problems for Team USA, but do watch for former UNLV product, Romel Beck (Castro) & the full-figured former Sun, Horacio Llamas, who has a nice soft stroke that belies his size. Argentina does have the style of great spacing, constant off-the-ball movement, & various counterplays that might cause issues for Team USA. Argentina has played well so far (besides the Panama game where they fell asleep until 2:00 mark of the 4th), but they just don't have the depth this year, and USA will just wear them down.

Team USA Crushes Canada

USA 113, Canada 63

- This game was a little bit better test of Team USA's true prowess since they were playing a solid squad who has the talent to at least qualify for the pre-Olympic tourney. And Team USA didn't skip a beat, they pounded Canada much the same way they pounded Venezuela & Virgin Islands.

- Melo is playing like he did in Japan with his jumper nearly automatic, and he even looked fairly impressive on the defensive end deflecting balls on a few occasions. Mike Redd was brought to this team to be a deep-shooting threat, and he has not failed to disappoint in this tourney--Redd is shooting 12/24 for 3pt in the tourney, & 2nd on the team in scoring at 19 ppg. Redd dropped 19 on Canada, 5/10 from 3pt. Team USA ripped it up from the outside--shooting 15/30 from 3pt. land, and even went 91% from the free thrw line--when Team USA shoots like this it usually bad news for their opponent.

- Team USA's defense was mighty impressive stifling Canada all game (Canada shot 33% overall). Coach K looks like he's made the commitment to switch most of the screens on the perimeter, and Team USA did a fair amount of double-teaming in their half-court set. Though Team Canada's offense is not that explosive lacking any real dynamic scoring option, specifcally no one who really puts pressure on the defense with good dribble-drive ability, and also lacking a true PG who can direct an offense.

- Today I was most impressed with Dwight Howard's effort on the defensive end. Not only challenged shots in the interior, he really showed hard on perimeter screens, and just great activity all-around. He never really let Dalembert become a factor after Dalembert had been having a nice tourney. Kobe's all-around effort was top-notch once again, and put the clamps down on Carl English, not to mention had his jumper flowing for 15 pts. Bron seems quite content with others taking the scoring load while he fills in the holes around them--Bron had 10, 8 rebs, & 4assts.

- Olu Famutimi was the lone Canadian to impress with 17 pts on 6/12 shooting, 3/5 from deep. Famutimi showed why he was considered a top-flite high school star by drilling jumpers in a variety of ways, and the NBDL star made a case for an NBA training camp invite. Former Pitt Panter Levon Kendall had a solid game with 10 & 9 rebs, and made a few nice hustle plays in transition.

- Tonite's tilt vs. Brazil is most likely a preview of the Americas final. Brazil does have the ability to neutralize Team USA on the frontline, so it will be left up to the perimeter players to make the difference, which should be little to no problem for the US. I imagine Kobe will have the assignment of checking Barbosa. It will be interesting to see if Coach K pairs Amare & Dwight on the frontline together tonite because Brazil could be throwing out Nene & Splitter together. Team USA's also has to keep track of Marcelo Machado, who is a threat to go off from long-range. It will interesting to see if Brazil tries to push the pace vs. the US; Brazil's has pretty good team speed, and they are succesful when they look to go up-tempo. This will probably be one of the rare occasions that Team USA actually gets tested this summer.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

FIBA Americas--Day 2 Recap & Analysis

USA Rolls Over V.I. & Venezuela:
Not gonna waste your time breaking down these games, pretty pointless exercise to me. Not sure you can take much away from these games--Venezuela & VI are probably the two worst teams in this competition. Really hard to gauge exactly how well the US is playing on the the defensive end since they're matched against such inept offensive teams. So I'll wait til the weekend's over to get a better picture where Team USA stands after games vs. Canada & Brazil.

Argentina 90, Uruguay 69

- A fairly non-descript game in the 1st half where the defenses controlled the action and both teams combined for 25 TOs. Argentina looked to be working out the kinks in their 1st game of the tourney, But then Argentina cranked it up a whole other level in the 3rd quarter & busted the game wide open by outscoring Uruguay 29-14 in the quarter. The offense started to resemble the usual well-oiled machine we expect from the Argentines.

- The Argentine defense was pretty solid in the 1st half, but they tightened the screws even tighter in the 2nd half, and shutdown Uruguay's primary weapons. After 26 pts vs. Panama on Wednesday, Esteban Batista was held to 7 on 3/10. and Uruguay's other main option, Nicolas Mazzarino, was totally shutout--0 pts on 0/5--afther 25 pts on 7/11 vs. Panama. Mazzarino was targeted once again, and given very little breathing room to get off his deadly jumper.

- Tau Ceramica's Pablo Prigioni proved why he's one of the top PGs in Europe by leading Argentina with a great all-around performance. Pablo plays under control and is just a savvy, settling influence who sees the floor wonderfully. Pablo pitched in 20 pts & 5 assts, also played the passing lanes very well for 3 stls that usually led to easy transition pts. He even knocked down 3 3pts, something he's not known for.

- Carlos Delfino had a very rough game where he looked out of sync on the offensive end--had some bad TOs, maybe lingering effects of his recent injury. But did have some impact on the defensive end, particularly blanketing Mazzarino when matched up against him, and was a big reason for Mazzarino's no-show.

- Antonio Porta came off the bench to pitch in 14 on 5/5 shooting, mostly on strong drives to the goal. Luis Scola had a solid all-around showing with 16, 6 rebs, 4 asst, & 2 stl. He had a few nice post scores showcasing his nice footwork, and could have had 20+ pts, but he had 2-3 shots barely rim in & out. Center Roman Gonzalez was left wide open with all the attention on Prigioni, Scola, & Delfino, and the big fella responded by knocking down jumpers & chippies to finish 7/10 from the floor for 15 & 8 rebs.

Canada 80, Venezuela 73

- The Maple Leaf Brigade escaped with a key victory since they still have to play Team USA in group play. This game probably should not have been as close as this, but Canada could never pull away because their offense could not build any kind of consistency. But Sam Dalembert saved the day for the Canucks with his dominating play at both ends.

- Dalembert had a superb all-around game. Was his usual interior deterrent by blocking 5 shots and forcing many kickout passes as well, which would force Venezuela to reset their offense. Dalembert's defense is to be expected, but it was his offensive play that was a nice bonus, and key to Canada's victory. Sam made two huge buckets late off strong post moves, including a huge plus-1 to give Canada the lead late. Sam also hit a couple of turnaround jumpers earlier in the game, and finished off a few dunks as well.

- But maybe Dalembert's most impressive play came during a routine stretch of the 1st half: Canada was trying to enter the ball into Levon Kendall, but the guard was finding it tough to find a passing angle, so Sam took it upon himself to flash to the high post to create a hi-lo situation, and the guard entered the ball to Sam, then Sam made a nice lob into Kendall for an easy 2 pts. Actually, Canada got some mileage (oops, kilometerage) on offense from hi-lo action between their bigs.

- Mentioned yesterday that Canada got virtually nothing from the PG position vs. Brazil. The PGs still did not do much in the way of running the offense, but Jermaine Anderson did do damage with his shooting (something he's known for)--Jermaine had 17 pts, 3/5 3pts. Anderson hit some big perimeter jumpers in the 2nd half, including a huge long 2-pointer to push Canada to a 76-73 lead with about :40 secs left.

- It was nice to have Anderson's great shooting display, but Team Canada's overall offense went thru lulls once again and lacks any type of continuity. Like we mentioned in our preview, Anderson is more of a shooting guard, and Team Canada really has no one adept at directing an offense. Carl English is the only guy adept at dribble penetration, this keeps Team Canada's free throws down, and pretty much makes them a perimeter shooting team.

- Even though English had 14 pts, he has to take his game up a notch, and look to score in the 20s since Canada's is lacking any explosive scorers. Forwards Juan Mendez & Dave Thomas could not duplicate their strong Day 1 performance on offense, both guys helped out on the boards combining for 13 rbs, 6 off. Ex-Razorback Olu Fatutimi got into a little groove in the 1st half stroking mid-range jumpers, but was non-existent in the 2nd half.

- Can't complain about Canada's defense, it was impressive once again with Dalembert as their anchor. They had a few breakdowns here & there, but they held Venezuela to 38% shooting, after holding Brazil to 41%.

- Venezuela's go-to-guy Hector Romero was an all-around force putting constant pressure on Canada either with his strong drives or outside shooting. Romero finished with 23, getting to the line 10 times (8/10), and knocking down 3/5 3pts. with his unorthodox release. Athletic center Miguel Marriaga showcased some of his promise today with 11 & 6rebs. Marriaga who's known for his shot-blocking & rebounding, surprised a bit with his ability to face-up from the perimeter & just his overall activity. Maryland's Greivis Vasquez had a quietly effective game with 9 pts, 6 assts, & 4 rebs.

Mexico's Pressure & Pace Lead to Upset

FIBA AMERICAS-- Mexico 100, Puerto Rico 89

Nolan Richardson's leadership & "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno" is already paying dividends with Mexico's 100-89 upset of Puerto Rico as proof. Was very impressed with Mexico's ball movement, and they did a good job of trapping/pressuring out of zone looks. Mexico was scrambling all over the floor which helped force 27 TOs leading to many transition opportunites. A little surprised P. Rico's battle-tested backcourt looked this sloppy vs. Mexico's pressure. Puerto Rico's 27 turnovers did not help their cause, and their free throw shooting--23/40--just compounded their problems. Still early, but this game could give Mexico the tiebreaker for the 5th spot & utltimately punch their ticket for the Pre-Olympic tourney.

Star of the game was 35-year old Victor Mariscal, who was on fire in the 1st half scoring 22 of 30 pts in the half either on his Brent Barry-style set shot or living at the foul line (15/18 fts total). He also chipped in 6 rebs & 4 assts. Former Phoenix Sun Horacio Llamas' silky touch belies his generous physique--he hit a few long jumpers as part of his 18 pts & 11 rebs. Llamas is sort of fun to watch--he reminds me of a very poor's man version of Sabonis, he ambles down the court, but has nimble footwork, a nice touch, & a willingness to pass. Fat Lever's son, Anthony Lever-Pedroza, pitched in with 13 pts for Mexico.

Puerto Rico did not get the type of game they needed from their established leaders. Carlos Arroyo probably had the worst game in his illustrious FIBA career--4 pts on 0/10, & 5 TOs--though he did seem to be laboring with an undisclosed injury. Larry Ayuso really never got on track, and only finished with 11 pts & 5 TOs. Dallas Mav Juan Barea added some energy off the bench that helped in P. Rico's 2nd half comeback, but overall he was erractic as well, adding 6 TOs of his own to go with the 10 combined of Arroyo & Ayuso.

Ex-Wizard behemoth, PJ Ramos, played pretty well in the 1st half, and looking more spry than in the past. He did do some damage in the paint (13 & 7 on 6/9), but was sidetracked by foul trouble in the 2nd half, and still had some rough spots where he blew 2 dunks. Rick Apodaca (ex-Hofstra) gave P.R. a much needed jolt off the bench since their main backcourt players were underperforming--Apodaca had his jumper flowing (3/6 3pt.) & ended with 15 pts & 4 assts.

One good sign for Puerto Rico was their ability to hit the boards--they outrebounded Mexico 50-36, grabbed 19 off. A lot of the dirty work was done not surprisingly by Angelo Reyes--14 pts & 12 (7 off). P. Rico really will need Reyes to continue to provide his interior toughness since their frontcourt options are lacking.

FIBA Americas-- Uruguay 88, Panama 84 (OT)

- Was not the easiest game to watch with so many fouls called which led to a very choppy game, and poor shooting by both teams did not help. But things started to pick up late in the 4th, Atlanta's Esteban Batista came up big with a runner to send the game into overtime. The Uruguay took over in overtime executing sharply to finish off Panama.

- Panama really killed themselves at the foul line going 17/36, with plenty of misses down the stretch; though, this is not too surprising since that haven't been good on the line in recent years. Combine the 47% ft shooting with 25 TOs, and usually good times don't follow. Uruguay might have made it easier on themselves if they would have just decided to switch to zone in the 1st half. Panama was doing all their damage off of attacking the paint or post-ups from Lloreda. While it was obvious Panama has no one who can shoot from past 15 feet, so why we saw no zone from Uruguay, I'm not sure.

- As we mentioned in our preview, Panama is a poor shooting team, and they really lived up to it today--3/19 from 3pt. It's not that they just shoot a bad pct., it's that all their players just have very ugly shooting mechanics. Though, Panama did a nice job on defense for most of the game. They did as good as a job collapsing onto Batista as you can ask & they did a tremendous job shadowing Mazzarino, and gave him very little daylight.

- Esteban Batista did a horrible job finishing off close shots in the 1st half, he might have finished with 40 if he just converted some of these chippies. He did have multiple defenders around him all game, but he still had plenty of clean looks that he just blew. But his big body allowed him to be a bull on the boards (19 total, 7 off) & draw fouls all game.

- SG Nicolas Mazzarino's hair-trigger release came in handy because he had defenders draped all over him for most of the game. I liked how he did not force things too much only taking 11 shots, but when he did shoot, he's pretty automatic--7/11 overall, 4/6 from 3pt for 25 pts. Panama did do a great job hounding Mazzarino, not giving him much space, and it's just a testament to how good he is that he managed 25 pts under tough circumstances.

- Big PG Martin Osimani (ex-Duquense) had a nice floor game (10 pts, 7 rebs, 3 asst, & 3 stls), and especially came up big in the 2nd half controlling the offense & wisely picking his spots to score--had a few nice drives late & 7 pts in OT. And Leandro Garcia-Morales (ex-Tex A&M) was the catalyst for Uruguay's 2nd half comeback, thanks mostly to his superb defensive play. Uruguay came out after halftime and really turned up the pressure in the 3rd which led to a boatload of Panama TOs. Garcia-Morales led the Uruguay run with his relentless ball pressure & all-around tenacity that led to 4 steals. Mauricio Aquiar also pitched in 12 pts, and some big offensive plays late in the game.

- Former LSU standout Jaime Lloreda was tough inside & out in the 1st half, but he cooled off in the 2nd half partly because of foul trouble--Jaime ended with 21 & 8 on 10/14. Uruguay had a hard time dealing with JR Pinnock's athleticism, and he got to where he wanted in the 1st half--JR ended with 16 & 9 rebs. But when Uruguay did a better job keeping Pinnock on the perimeter his major weakness was exposed--he was 0/6 from 3pt.

FIBA Americas--Brazil 75, Canada 67

Also See: The Painted Area's FIBA Americas team-by-team preview, ranked from 1-10

- Barbosa was basically a one-man wrecking crew on offense for Brazil. He dropped 30 of Brazil's 75, with Tiago Splitter (12 & 9rebs) the only other player in double digits. Barbosa was not shy, chucking up 26 shots all over the court, probably rushing a few, but he did damage with jumpers & unstoppable drives. He also did a nice job creating for others off the bounce & his speed led to 11 ft attempts (9/11).

- Both teams actually played pretty solid defense. Brazil was a little bit better on the boards in this battle of 2 physical frontlines, and the 6 extra off. boards. helped their cause. Both teams did not shoot the long-ball well today combining for 9/41 3pts., and Canada was dealt a blow with a knee injury to their main marksman, Andy Rautins.

- A little odd that Nene came off the bench today, and did not enter the game until the 8:00 mark of the 2nd. He looked a little rusty, but was still a physical presence on both ends. Splitter, per usual, provided his usual workmanlike effort on the boards, and did a solid job finishing at the rim just like he did last year at the Worlds.

- Undersized PF Juan Mendez was a huge offensive spark off the bench for Canada with 18 pts on 7/14, 3/6 from 3pt. Can say not to surprised with Juan's outside shooting display, we saw him play at Niagara a few times, and although he did most of his damage in the paint, he would often flash glimpses of his face-up ability. Actually, Canada got good perimeter shooting from their forwards tonite--NBL(Australia) standout Dave Thomas showcased his silky smooth jumper for 10 pts, and ex-Pitt Panther, Levon Kendall, showed his touch a few times.

- Like I mentioned in my preview, think Brazil is much more potent when they look to push pace, and they were doing this early in the 1st half, and they were very effective in transition leading to 25 1st quarter points. But Canada slowed them down after the 1st & slowly crawled back into the game.

- Mentioned in my preview that the PG position was the main question facing Team Canada, and the problem was rather apparent today since both their points were pretty much non-existent today. Thought the offense was sparked in the early 4th quarter by Carl English taking the reins of the offense in a point-forward capacity. English was having a rough time finding his range (4/13 overall, 1/7 3pt), but he did a nice job setting up teammates, particularly Dalembert during a key 4th quarter run. Think Coach Rautins needs to explore letting Carl run the offense more often because their point guard rotation is not up to snuff. Also, need to get Dalembert involved earlier on the offensive end--Sam finshed 4/5 for 10 pts & 10 rebs, and came on strong in the 4th.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

'07 FIBA Americas Championship Preview

The FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament tips off later today in Vegas. Here's our preview and power rankings for the ten competing teams.

The first 2 spots qualify for the Olympics, spots 3-5 punch a ticket for the Pre-Olympic qualifier tournament next summer (12 teams for the last 3 spots).

Format goes like this: 10 teams split up into 2 groups of five. Opening round is round-robin -- play each team in group once -- and the team with the worst record in each group is dropped. The top 4 teams in each group advance to the 2nd round where they form one group of 8 teams, and you play each team from the opposite opening group once for 4 second round games. Combine the records of the 1st & 2nd round, top 4 teams advance to the all-important semifinals, which will determine the two teams who'll be guaranteed spots in Beijing.

Brazil is really the only legit hope of denying Team USA a Gold medal this year & Brazil is looking to defend their '05 Americas title. They are capable of beating the US in a one-game scenario, and more than likely have two shots at trying to pull off the upset (prelims and finals). Don't totally sleep on Argentina -- even without some big names, could see this team giving the US trouble.... and I'm starting to come around on Canada....

Without further ado, our FIBA Americas Preview (in order of expected finish):

1) USA:
Key players: Everyone

If you've found your way to this site, I'm sure you're thoroughly familiar with Team USA's personnel, so we'll keep this short. The only area where the US is a little shaky is on the frontline. Only have 3 guys who are true post guys, so guys like Melo, Bron & Prince will have to spend some time at the 4. Don't foresee it being a big deal, though it will be interesting to see if Brazil & Canada can cause some problems, since both teams have solid, big frontlines.

Team USA added a few deadeyes to the roster this year in M Miller & Redd to strengthen their shooting, which will be tested with a likely steady diet of zone & sagging man. Actually, Team USA could be the best outside shooting team in this competition, at least one of the best.

We'll see how the team defense fares this year (covered USA's past defensive woes here), but even if it's still mediocre, don't think it will matter too much since they have wide margin for error this summer. Expect them to go 10-0, and have a relatively easy Vegas Vacation with only Brazil being their main competition, and maybe Canada & Argentina making their games competitive for part of the game.

Players to watch: Nene; T. Splitter; L. Barbosa; M. Machado

Had high hopes going into the Worlds last year, but were one of the bigger underachievers. Though they were in the brutal Group C last year, and easily could have won a few more games. They are Team USA's main comp, and showed last year in the exhibition stage they can push the US to the brink & possibly beat them in a one-game scenario.

Even without Varejao & Araujo (neither has a pro contract at the moment), the Brazilian frontline is still formidable with Nene & Tiago Splitter on board. Also, recent Gonzaga bruiser JP Batista comes off the bench to provide some beef & underrated post skills. Both Nene & Splitter can defend on the block, and will hold their own vs. Amare, Dwight, & Tyson.

This team has the ability to push the pace with the speedsters in the backcourt like Barbosa, Huertas, & Garcia. I really think Brazil has to look to pressure the ball on the defensive end -- they have great speed across the board. I think they play better when they look to cause chaos -- it worked great vs. Greece last year.

PG Marcelo Huertas provides a nice spark off the bench with his speed & disruptiveness. Former Spur/Hornet Alex Garcia is another valuable combo guard who adds even more speed to the table for Brazil. Marcelo Machado was the MVP of the '05 Americas, and he is the designated sharpshooter for Brazil. Marcus Vinicius Viera, a recent Hornet draftee, is a multi-dimensional talent who's teams with Italian league vet Guilherme Giovannoni to solidify the SF position.

Really need to shore up their foul shooting--it absolutely killed them last year, especially late in games. They really did not shoot the 3pt well last year, but they do have capable shooters in Barbosa, Garcia, Giovannoni & Machado, so I don't expect a repeat of last year's poor shooting. Main question mark with this squad is they don't really have a true pure PG to run the squad. They have to find someone or some combo of guys to steer the offense if they want a shot at upsetting the US.

Key players: C. Delfino; L. Scola; P. Prigioni; P. Quinteros

For an already depleted Argentine squad (missing Manu, Nocioni, Fab Oberto, Pepe Sanchez, Herrmann), the recent knee injury to Delfino is not good news. Carlos re-injured his knee in Puerto Rico, and he might be missing some of the opening round games. I really feel like Delfino could be the breakout star of this tourney. Carlos played great last year at the Worlds, just great in every aspect of the game: shooting, defending, passing, & finishing. What really stood out about his play at the Worlds, was his ball-handling & passing off the dribble--he was like a point-forward, and it would be nice to see Coach Hernandez let him loose again this year.

Luis Scola is a flat-out beast, who was until recently the best post player in the world outside of the NBA. He's a force in the painted area either on the low block or high post, and always shoots at a high pct. Pablo Prigioni takes over the starting PG role from Pepe Sanchez, and is one of the top PGs over in Europe--great distributor, not much of a shooter, though. Veteran Federico Kammerichs is in the mold of Nocioni & Herrmann: Kammerichs is a strong, 6-8 combo forward who is aggressive on both ends & on the boards.

I have some questions about their shooting. If they want to run their patented flex with precision, they have to prove that they can consistently hit shots, or opposing teams will sag off into their passing & cutting lanes. Veteran SG Paolo Quinteros & Antonio Porta will be called upon to provide Argentina with a deep threat. Even without the majority of their big guns, this team is still mighty dangerous, and have a great shot of finishing ahead of Brazil.

Key players: S. Dalembert; C. English; D. Brown; L. Kendall

Have underachieved the last few years in FIBA play (a putrid 9th place finish in '05), and Team Canada has been on shaky ground ever since Steve Nash opted for some well-deserved summer rest, and also since Canadian legend Leo Rautins took the head coaching reins from Jay Triano.

But things seem to be on the upswing lately, as evidenced by Canada's strong play in Puerto Rico last weekend. The last-minute additon of Sam Dalembert (recently naturalized in Canada) has added some depth to an underrated frontline, which also features former Pitt standout Levon Kendall & undersized PF Juan Mendez, who was one of the finest players on the Mid-Major scene during his tenure at Niagara. Back-up PF Dave Thomas is a another solid rebounder added to the mix, who is a top player in Australia.

Another key cog to the Canuck attack is former Hawaii star Carl English, a nice athlete who can stroke the ball from deep. English will be paired on the wing with defensive-minded Denham Brown, former UConn Husky & ex-Sonic. Ex-Razorback Olu Fautimi adds another athletic presence on the wings & is a solid rebounder for his size. Current Syracuse SG Andy Rautins (Leo's son) will be the designated zone-buster.

One big question mark for the Maple Leafers is the PG spot -- they really miss a certain someone here, and I ain't talkin' about Greg Newton. They rely heavily on former Fordham standout Jermaine Anderson, who is a good long-range shooter, but is more of a combo guard than true point.

This team has the frontline talent to crush the boards hard & provide interior defensive resistance, and they showcased their rebounding prowess in Puerto Rico. If this team can just get steady PG play, I think they can justify this Top 4 prediction. Or maybe this lofty prediction is just blind faith in Canada, since I just polished off a smoked meat sandwich (Schwartz's, of course) with a side of poutine, & washed it down with a Molson Export. Or maybe it's my blind allegiance to all things Leo Rautins since being mesmerized by his summer basketball camp lectures where he would drain flat-footed 30-footers while giving his speech while sporting the finest Perma-Mullet this side of Jack Sikma.

Key players: C. Arroyo; J. Barea; L. Ayuso; PJ Ramos

The recent retirement of Daniel Santiago is an underrated blow to the Puerto Rican squad--Dan always did a nice job in FIBA play, and with the recent retirement of Puerto Rican legend Jose "Piculin" Ortiz, the PR frontline is in a transitional phase & left in the hands of the gigantic Ramos. The former Washington Wizard PJ Ramos has provided glimpses of solid post skills in the past, but he can never string any type of consistency together.

Do have a very dangerous backcourt though, thanks to the Arroyo-Barea-Ayuso troika. Larry Ayuso just knows how to score the ball, and can get extremely streaky in a NBA Jam type of way--Ayuso & Arroyo tied for 4th in scoring at the Worlds last year. While Arroyo has underachieved in the league, he's experienced in the international game, and of course orchestrated P.R.'s upset of the U.S. at the '04 Olympics. Former Hofstra standout Rick Apodaca & Filiberto Rivera add even more firepower to one of the deepest backcourts in the Tourney. Wouldn't be surprised if Puerto Rico went with a more up-tempo pace with their speedy backcourt.

I still have major questions about their frontcourt. I could see this team getting beat up on the boards because Ramos is not a real good rebounder for his size. Not too mention P.R. might lean on Denver Nugget draftee Ricky Sanchez to provide inside help. Problem is, Ricky is a 7-footer who wants to shoot 3pts. all day (which he does quite well), but he's ain't a good rebounder either. Scarppy Angelo Reyes is their only rugged rebounder. P.R.'s frontcourt woes could ultimately be the reason they slip out of the Top 5 in favor of a team like Uruguay or Mexico.

Key players: A. Lever-Pedroza; O. Quintero; R. Beck; H. Llamas

"Cuarenta minutos de Infierno" is what it's all about. Nolan Richardson will try to work magic once again like he did with Panama at the '05 Americas, by installing his fast-paced, chaotic style. Basically picking Mexico to finish 6th just because Nolan is at the helm, and putting a lot of faith in him after the job improving Panama two years ago.

Guard Omar Quintero is Team Mexico's most dangerous scoring weapon. The cat-quick Quintero is tailor-made for Nolan's style, and is an accomplished shooter who actually led the '03 Tourney of Americas in scoring. Ex-UNLV standout wing Romel Beck is a key cog for Mexico--he's a scorer who can drill the long ball. Anthony Lever-Pedroza (Fat Lever's son) provides Richardson with another athletic wing with nice outside shooting skills.

Former Phoenix Sun Horacio Llamas is a space-eater, but I'm not so sure how he will function in Richardson's up-tempo style. Victor Avila, who played alongside compatriot Eddie Najera (who's not playing in Vegas) at Oklahoma, offers another talented big body that Mexico can turn to for boards & interior points.

Will see if the Mexican players take to Nolan's style, especially interested to see how they execute the trapping/scrambling/pressing on the defensive end. They have looked good in the exhibition stage, but then again they've been paired vs. dubious competition.

Key players: E. Batista; N. Mazzarino; M. Osimani; M. Aquiar

Uruguay could be the sleeper of the tourney, and they cemented this status by finishing 3rd in the Pan Am games last month. What makes this team particularly dangerous is their collective ability to shoot, which gives them a distinct advantage over poor-shooting clubs like Venezuela & Panama. They also do a nice job at the free throw line.

Team Uruguay is led by Atlanta Hawks' Esteban Batista, who is a big physical presence that led '05 Americas in rebounding. Italian League standout Nicolas Mazzarino is Uruguay's other main weapon, who brings a veteran presence with a sweet shooting stroke & solid passing skills at the guard spot. Mazzarino will be joined in the backcourt by Martin Osimani (ex-Duquesne), a big PG who's a nice floor general that has improved his shooting. Leandro Garcia-Morales (ex-Tex A&M) is another combo guard that Uruguay can count on to provide solid shooting & some ball-handling. 6-6 SF Mauricio Aquiar gives Uruguay more offensive firepower on the perimeter.

I have to say, I will not be surprised if this squad steals a Top 5 spot, and think their efficient shooting could cause some major issues for opposing teams.

Key players: H. Romero; G. Vasquez; C. Cedeno

Venezuela was dealt a last-minute blow with the exclusion of arguably their best player, Oscar Torres, due to a knee injury. So now Venezuela's main option is powerful combo forward Hector Romero, who was the '03 Sun Belt Player of Year while at New Orleans. Romero will have to carry most of the scoring burden with Torres out, and will be called upon to carry the brunt of the rebounding load. This team is going to need some sort of input from promising big, Miguel Marriaga, who is a capable rebounder & shot-blocker.

Potential 1st-round draft prospect Greivis Vasquez provides Venezuela with a PG with great size & great energy on both sides of the ball. Vasquez had a fine freshman year at Maryland, where he surprised with his floor game & scrappy defense. Vasquez will be paired with another promising big PG, Carlos Cedeno, who has good PG instincts but is not much of a shooter like Vasquez.

Not sure why they didn't invite Richard Lugo to Vegas this year. I understand he's a little older, and they wanted to go in a younger direction, but Lugo was Venezuela's best player last summer at the Worlds, averaging a double-double, and provided much-needed interior help.

This team is not known for its shooting, and struggles both behind the 3pt. line & on the foul line. Marquette's David Cubillan seems to be their only viable deep threat (shot 42% from 3pt. in NCAA), but not sure if he will see a ton of burn. Venezuela did not look good at the recent Stankovic Cup, and has their work cut out for them if they desire a Top 5 finish. This team could be in danger of not even making the 2nd round, and their tilt vs. Virgin Islands will likely determine who moves on to the 2nd round.

Key players: JR Pinnock; J. Lloreda; J. Levy; D. Gomez

After Nolan Richardson guided this team to a nice run in '05, Panama followed it up last summer by underachieving badly at the Worlds without the services of Richardson . They had some established ex-NCAA talent like Ed Cota, Ruben Douglas, Jaime Lloreda & Ruben Garces, and were positioned in the weakest group, but they never meshed & they finished 23rd out of 24.

Cota, Douglas & Garces are absent from this roster, so most of the heavy lifting will have to be done by Lloreda & JR Pinnock. Pinnock was an All-Atlantic 10 talent at George Washington who was in training camp with the Lakers last year. Pinnock is an explosive athlete, but not much of a deep shooter, while former LSU star Lloreda provides Panama with a strong inside presence. Lloreda averaged a double-double over his career at LSU, and was second in the nation in rebounds his senior year.

Like Venezuela, Panama is hurting in the shooting department with PG Jair Peralta as the one player known for his shooting. Former Wake Forest Demon Deacon Jamaal Levy & ex-Okla Sooner Dionisio Gomez provide Panama with solid rebounding & active defending next to Lloreda.

Key players: C. Krauser; F. Elegar; C. Victor

Can't expect too much from this tiny nation and they had a very poor showing at the Pan Am Games, finishing dead last. Some reports that Raja Bell is heading to Vegas, but the evidence from the info that I have is that he ain't on the squad (he had arthroscopic knee surgery less than a month ago).

Former Pitt Panther floor leader Carl Krauser joined the team this year, and should be one of the V. Islands' go-to-guys. Carl ain't much of a shooter, but he's a typical gritty NYC PG who knows how to run a club. 6-9 Frank Elegar is the primary inside presence for this undersized club. The athletic Elegar is currently at Drexel, where he led the team in scoring, rebounding, & FG pct. this year, and is one of the top bigs in the underrated Colonial Conference. Ex-Murray St. stud Cuthbert Victor is a great athlete who is a tremendous rebounder for his size.

This team's outside shooting is shaky, and will have to rely heavily on solid marksmen Kevin Sheppard & Jason Edwin (ex-Kent St) to provide long-range relief. The Virgin Islands do have good athleticism across the board & will look to create a quick pace on both ends of the floor.

Now only if this team could coax V. Island legend Holman Harley out of retirement, they might have a shot at a medal.... An even bigger dream would have been if the V.I. had only gotten its national program in gear a few years earlier -- Timmy D would have suited up for them instead of Team USA (once players play for one country, they can't play for any others).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Checking in with Team USA

Final roster:

- Was going to devote a full post to who I thought should be on this year's Team USA, but with the departures of Bosh, Hinrich, & Battier, Colangelo & Co. have their roster pretty much set up for them.

The only minor complaint I have with Colangelo & Co. is I would have had both Hinrich & Battier on the squad; let's say I'm not buying the "personal reasons" announcement. Battier was a key cog on last year's team, and would have preferred Hinrich over Billups or Deron--he's a better combination of shooting & defense than either guy. Don't really like the idea of 2 PGs over 30 on the national team, and think that you either take Kidd or Billups, not both.

Looks like the roster is pretty much set: Kidd, Billups, Deron, Bron, Kobe, Melo, Redd, Miller, Prince, Howard, Amare, & Chandler. A little thin upfront, but shouldn't be too much of a concern, especially since Brazil's frontcourt depth should be depleted because Varejao & Araujo are sans contract at this time. So with the roster squared away let's turn our attention to more pressing issues with Team USA.....

Team USA's Defensive Issues: Much more than the pick-n-roll

- It's seems that some folks think that Team USA's problems will be solved by just fixing pick/roll defense, when in fact it's just one factor in the defensive puzzle. Obviously, Theo Papaloukas' shredding of Team USA is still fresh in everyone's mind from last year, and the bad pick/roll defense has been brought up ad nauseum.

Defending pick-n-rolls is not strictly a two-man affair--it's an entire team defensive scheme--have to have good backline rotations & just good rotations in general (think Spurs). And this takes time to develop, and a week or even 3 weeks is not a lot of time to develop this type of defensive synergy, so expect to still see some issues on the defensive end.

But if you look past just last year, it's really the off-the-ball movement that has consistently stymied Team USA since 2000. Constant offensive motion is a staple of int'l basketball. Think Argentina, Italy, & Lithuania--all have given the US fits during this decade. Back cuts, back picks, moving picks, big guys squirting out to the 3pt line, players getting lost in space (think Oberto), these things have been a constant nuisance for Team USA in the last few int'l tourneys.

Also, a lot of int'l squads have multiple options on each play, and seemingly counterplays for their counterplays. So just improving on high screen/roll defense will by no means cover all of Team USA's bases.

Basically, defenders have to be ready to concentrate for all 24 seconds on each def. possession, have to keep their heads on a swivel (because picks will come from anywhere & opposing players will constantly make cuts to open spots). And communication on defense is a must vs. teams who run motion-type sets.

Team USA will also have to do a better job of keeping opposing points out of the lane, which has been another recurring bugaboo since 2000. This is why I think Hinrich should be on this team--he's one of the best defensive PGs in the NBA.

It's not just standard drive-n-kick where shooters are planted on the perimeter (prevalent in American ball) that gives Team USA issues. It's drive-n-kick where players spray out to the 3pt line at the same time the dribbler is probing/driving--Both Italy & Lithuania do this a lot & did it very effectively vs. Team USA in the past. This is very hard for US players to deal with because you don't see this type of offense in the NBA, and it's very hard to get used to in the span of the few weeks that Team USA has to prepare together.

It's nice to see that Coach K seems to have loosened his strident stance against zones. Think it's a must to mix up your defensive looks in FIBA play (think Spain), and to have a quality zone at your disposal, which might have come in handy vs. Greece last year. Zones are a nice antidote vs. motion offense, not just clogging passing & cutting lanes, but messing up the rhythm of an offense. Even motion squads that have good shooters should see some zone to keep them off-balance & screw up their offensive rhythm.

I think Coach K has the luxury of experimenting more this year since Team USA has a wide margin for error. The thing is, Team USA can still can be mediocre on both ends of the floor this year, and it should not really matter since the overall breadth of competition in the Tourney of Americas is a significant falloff from either the Worlds or Olympics.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Olympic Qualifying - Updates

Hi folks. A couple weeks ago, we posted an Olympic qualifying preview, and with the FIBA Americas tournament (starts Aug. 22) and the Eurobasket '07 (starts Sept. 3) getting closer, we wanted to offer some updates.

Here we go:
U.S. TV SCHEDULE SET: Pretty much the entire tournament will be aired on a combination of NBA TV, the ESPN networks and Fox Sports Net. All of the U.S. games will be aired live on one of the networks in the ESPN family. Good stuff. Here's the whole schedule. Hopefully, NBA TV will offer similar blanket coverage of Eurobasket '07.

Remember that the key games to watch are the semifinals, as those will determine the two teams which earn trips to Beijing. Those will be on Sat., Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN Classic) and 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2).

The USA-Brazil game on Sun., Aug. 26 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) is the most notable preliminary game to watch.

BOSH OUT; U.S. THIN?: With Chris Bosh withdrawing from the team due to injury, Team USA is dangerously thin up front, with just D. Howard, A. Stoudemire and T. Chandler being interior players. I wonder if Nick Collison is now an option to make the team as the 12th man, just to provide depth up front.

VAREJAO STATUS?: The U.S. may catch a break regarding its thin frontline because some of the other contenders are dealing with potential depletions as well. Puerto Rico's Daniel Santiago has decided to retire from international play, which is a blow to that national team, as he's a savvy, physical vet with lots of international experience.

As far as Brazil (probably the Americans' toughest foe in this tourney) is concerned, I'm having trouble finding information (any updates, Flavio?) about whether Anderson Varejao and Rafael Araujo will be playing.

Neither is on the roster for the squad that's currently playing in a four-team tournament in Puerto Rico. Both players are currently unsigned, and I'd be surprised if either played unless they ink a contract before the tournament starts.

MEXICO IS A SLEEPER: I did not list Mexico as one of the contenders to at least get a bid to next year's qualifying tournament, but that's only because I didn't realize that Nolan Richardson is their coach (see link for good story from USA Today).

I've always thought that Nolan was a damn good coach, and once he unleashes "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno" (thanks to Jay Aych for that one), I think Mexico's going to be a handful. Nolan coached Panama in 2005, and led the team - hardly a world power - to a berth in the 2006 Worlds. Don't know if they'll make it to Beijing, but I'll bet they overachieve in Vegas.

SCOUTING: WHAT A CONCEPT: As an American, it was quite reassuring to read the True Hoop post about how international scouting guru Tony Ronzone is heading up the Team USA scouting efforts, and appears to be digging in deep.

I thought that the lack of awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the Greek players was a MAJOR reason that Team USA lost in the Worlds last year. If you'll remember, the U.S. essentially lost the game because they got decimated by Greece's pick-and-rolls in the second half. Knowing individual strengths/weaknesses is such an important part of how to guard a pick-and-roll and Team USA appeared to have no idea how they should be guarding each individual Greek player differently.

KOBE KNOWS: Along the same lines, I think that a lack of knowledge about and respect for their competition has been a big reason that Team USA has struggled in international play this century.
So, it may be a small thing, but I thought it was heartening that, when Jimmy Kimmel asked Kobe if there was a country that could challenge the U.S., he was immediately able to name what should be the top three challengers in Beijing: Argentina, Spain, and Greece. It may not seem like much, but I think it's a hell of a lot better than players on the underachieving teams of '02 and '04 could have done a year ahead of their competitions.

GROVER GONE VEGAS: Check the header of the official site for the Americas tournament for what may be the most ridiculous-looking mascot in sports history, which I know is saying a lot. It looks like Grover, after he's had a good run at the slots on a vacation in Vegas.

PRE-TOURNAMENT RESULTS: There have already been several games between top European contenders, but all that's been proven is that - while Spain (already qualified for '08 due to their 2006 Worlds win) is a big favorite - the other two open Olympic berths appear to be completely up for grabs.

Some samples:
- While one needs to take these friendlies with something of a grain of salt, Spain did defeat Lithuania (a tournament contender) 95-75 tonight, even though Sarunas Jasikevicius connected from 90(!) feet:

- Four contenders - Greece, France, Serbia and Slovenia - played in a tournament in Strasbourg last weekend. Here's what happened:
* France (with Tony Parker, but without Boris Diaw) was crushed by Greece (74-55), but then defeated Serbia 93-87 in OT and beat Slovenia 80-60.
* After the impressive win over France, Greece lost to Slovenia 65-54 and was clobbered by Serbia 93-62.
* It was an impressive showing by Serbia and Slovenia, who are both without some of their prominent NBA players this summer. Slovenia won 79-66 when the two teams matched up.

- Turkey has been up-and-down, too. Italy, however, has been pretty consistently strong so far.

SPURS' NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: As we've noted, there will be a qualifying tournament next summer for 12 teams who come up short this summer.

Looking ahead to the '08-09 season, one would think that the Spurs are watching this summer's results nervously. Argentina and France are both on the bubble in terms of qualifying this summer. If they fall just short, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili could end up logging especially long summers next year, having to compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament in July and then potentially the Olympics themselves in August. Assuming that San Antonio has another long playoff run in '07-08, Tony and Manu could really be in jeopardy of breakdown in '08-09 in this scenario. Also, players like Oberto, Udrih, recent signee Ime Udoka (Nigeria), & Brazilian Tiago Splitter (who's scheduled to join the Spurs in '08) could have a busy summer as well.

GARBO'S RETURN?: There's been some talk about whether Jorge Garbajosa will be cleared by the Raptors to play in the Eurobasket. At the very least, it seems like good news for Raptors fans that Garbo should be ready for the '07-08 NBA season after suffering a gruesome ankle injury last season.

NEW LIFE FOR KIWIS: As a reminder, the Oceania qualifying tournament consists of a three-game series between Australia and New Zealand. We tabbed the Aussies as the favorites, but considering that Andrew Bogut and three other key players are hurt and will miss the series, this one's looking a lot more like a tossup.

AFROBASKET UNDER WAY: The African qualifying tournament started on Wednesday. Angola still looks like a prohibitive favorite.

IRAN IS IN: Many of you may have seen that Iran has qualified following an upset win over Lebanon.

I would be exceedingly surprised if Iran is able to win a game in Beijing, but it's a great accomplishment for them just to get there, and there will at least be some hubbub if there's a USA-Iran matchup (payback for the '98 World Cup? um, yeah).

Lebanon and Korea earned berths for next summer's qualifying tournament (12 countries competing for the last three spots).

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

West Conf. Summer Transactions

Last week we examined the summer transactions of the East squads , this week we head out West. Below is a rundown of significant transactions made since July 1 by Western squads.

MAVS: Re-signed J. Stackhouse & D. George; Signed Ed Jones
No real surprise holding on to the two wing reserves, Stack & George. Even at 32 & with balky knees, Stack is still one of the better bench players in the league, and he really shot the ball well last year. Not really sure what necessitated the Jones signing since Cuban has plenty of wings (Stack, George, & Buckner), but it's a pretty low-risk deal since only the bi-annual exception was used. Still have to find themselves some sort of low-post threat. Webber is still on the market & CWebb has expressed his affinity for Dallas. CWebb obviously doesn't move like he use to, but the Mavs don't need a huge upgrade at this point, just someone who can back-up Dirk & hopefully provide some sporadic post scoring. CWebb also could help the Mavs improve their ball-movement, something that was lacking in the Warriors' series.

NUGGETS: Signed Chucky Atkins
Very shrewd move by the Nugs. They needed a PG who could knock down the open shots created by Iverson & Melo, and Chucky can hit from deep. He's a much better fit than Blake, but he still might be better suited for a back-up role at this time in his career. Do worry about the combo of Atkins & Iverson from a defensive standpoint--very small--and the Nugs could still probably use a defensive-minded combo guard to have on reserve.

WARRIORS: Signed Austin Croshere; Re-signed Matt Barnes
Croshere fits seamlessly into the Nellie-ball system by providing a 4 who can step out & drill perimeter jumpers. Though he does not really provide the answer to the Warriors' rebounding & interior defensive woes. From the Warriors' point-o-view, they got Barnes at a bargain rate after a breakout season & playoff run. From Barnes' point-o-view, he has to be super bummed out he could not parlay his strong play into a more lucrative deal this summer.

ROCKETS: Traded for M. James; Signed S. Francis; Traded for J. Butler & L. Scola
After having a questionable draft night, Daryl Morey has redeemed himself quite nicely by having the finest July of any NBA squad. The Spanoulis-Butler/Scola deal was a big win in Houston's favor where the Rockets filled two major holes (PF & back-up big) for basically nothing since Spanoulis is back to Greece. Scola's easily worth the full MLE, so to sign him for only around $3 mil per is a steal. Butler gives you a servicable reserve behind Yao, which was a must since Dikembe is almost kaput. All of sudden the Rockets have a crowded backcourt with the additon of Francis & James, and now have some viable trade options that were not available last year. Getting Francis on the cheap was a coup, and he could remedy the Rockets' other big weakness--a reliable 3rd scoring option behind Yao & TMac. You combine Francis with Bonzi & Mike James, and now the Rockets' auxillary scoring appears to be good enough to make a Finals push.

CLIPPERS: Signed Brevin Knight; Re-signed Y. Korolev
The Knight signing really ain't gonna matter now that the Clips' season is already a disaster. Even before the Brand injury, the Clips badly needed some more frontcourt help behind Brand & Kaman. For a team that would have been challenging for a botton playoff spot this season, just a swing of 5 games in the standings can make the difference. So with Brand missing at least 2 months, and very little frontcourt depth, the Clips' post-season hopes are pretty much officially screwed.

LAKERS: Re-signed L. Walton; Re-signed C. Mihm; Signed D. Fisher
Liked what the Lakers have done this off-season. Needed to hold on to Walton, who has developed into a valuable cog in the Laker machine. Holding on to Mihm was an underrated move (if he can stay healthy) to help strengthen their frontcourt depth & was retained at a reasonable price (2 years, $5 mil). Did overpay for Fisher's services, a guy they probably could've had at around the vet minimum. But can't quibble too much since Fisher provides you a combo guard who can hit perimeter jumpers (which is vital alongside Kobe) and he's very familiar with the Laker system after being a key role player in the early 2000s LA dynasty.

GRIZZLIES: Signed Darko Milicic; Traded for Juan Navarro
Needed frontcourt help desparately, and acquired arguably the best free agent big this summer. And they locked up Darko with a very reasonable deal. Then to acquire battle-tested Euro vet Navarro was another superb move by the Grizzlies. ( excerpted our take on Juan--check bottom of post) Done a great job at identifying their weaknesses--PG & F/C--and filled them with the best possible candidates. Can't ask for anything more from the Grizz front office this summer. Smart move to target the PG in the draft since the free agent crop was very thin & they likely would have come up empty-handed.

TWOLVES: Traded for Juwan Howard; Traded for Al Jefferson, R. Gomes, G. Green, S. Telfair, & T. Ratliff
Things will not be pretty in Minny next year, but the TWolves have stockpiled a lot of young, promising assets, and could possibly have a nice chunk of salary cap space to play with next summer. This squad is still lopsided with way too many guards and not enough frontcourt depth. Have to imagine the TWolves are looking to move some of their deadweight contracts (Jaric & Blount) to clear even more cap space & build around their young assets.

HORNETS: Signed Mo Peterson
Still think they should have solved their SG issues by drafting Nick Young. Mo Peterson is a solid vet; just not sure he's starting-caliber at this point in his career. If the Hornets can avoid the injury bug that haunted the team last year they should be fighting for a 8-seed with Golden State.

SUNS: Signed Grant Hill; Traded Kurt Thomas; Re-signed S. Marks
Another shaky off-season for the Suns thanks to their owner being deathly afraid of the luxury tax. Oh yeah, they re-signed Sean Marks--if you think he solves some of their size issues, well, then you must be from New Zealand. Still have done nothing to answer their rebounding or interior defensive issues, and actually regressed some with the Thomas salary dump. Some people seem to think Grant Hill will push them over the top in the West, but I just don't see it. Grant basically just duplicates what Boris Diaw gives you at the forward spot, and really does not help the rebounding or interior defense. They seem to be angling for PJ Brown, which could soften the blow of Kurt's departure. PJ can probably come close to covering the loss of Kurt's rebounding & defense, but PJ's a slight downgrade because he can't drill 15-footers like Kurt could, especially valuable in the high picks with Nash.

BLAZERS: Signed Steve Blake; Re-signed Travis Outlaw
I guess after having a near-perfect draft night, wonderboy GM Kevin Pritchard proved he's not infalliable by throwing the MLE at mediocre Steve Blake. Don't understand offering Blake the full MLE, especially when the Blazers have a handful of promising PGs in-house already. Jarrett Jack is better than Blake is now, and Sergio has more potential than Blake. Bringing in Blake only hampers their development. On top of that, they just drafted another promising PG last month, P. Koponen. I guess on the bright side, Portland only signed Blake for 2 years; but why sign him in the first place?

KINGS: Signed Mikki Moore
What the hell has happened to Geoff Petrie in the last few years? First, he passes up players like Rondo & Farmar for another 2-guard in Douby in the '06 draft. Then he overpays for John Salmons last summer, and then grabs a slow 7-footer with dubious rebounding & defensive skills to pair with Brad Miller this draft. Sweet. So in free agency the Kings go add another 7-footer who rebounds poorly for his size. Moore does give the Kings' frontcourt some much needed athleticism, but I'm not sure he's provides them with defensive stalwart they're desparately lacking on their frontline. Also, still could use a viable back-up PG behind Bibby. Petrie use to be one of the shrewdest front-office operators in the game just a few years ago, but has really been underachieving the last few years. Now let me say Petrie might not be fully to blame because you hear rumblings that the Maloofs might be overruling Petrie on basketball decisions lately.

SPURS: Re-signed Fab Oberto, M. Bonner & J. Vaughn
The Butler trade was made so the Spurs stayed just short of the lux tax, but possibly made a tactical error by handing Scola's rights to a divisional rival. Especially since the Rockets were basically just a starting-caliber PF away from being a title contender. Holding onto Oberto & Vaughn was a must, but not so sure paying Bonner $3 mil per year was all that wise; probably somewhat overpaying for a guy of his talent.

SONICS: Traded for Kurt Thomas
Kurt's going into the final year of his deal, and could be a highly sought after piece come mid-February. Sure a lot of playoff contenders would love to have Kurt's defensive presence & veteran toughness for the stretch run, so Presti now has a highly valuable trade option at his disposal.

JAZZ: Signed Jason Hart; Signed Ronnie Price
After Derek Fisher's departure, the Jazz had a need for a reserve PG or combo guard, and Jason Hart has the ability to adequately fill that void. The Jazz also grabbed another ex-Kings' guard in Ronnie Price, who gives the Jazz another option off the bench in the backcourt.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

2008 Olympic Men's Basketball Qualifying Overview

Also see: 2008 FIBA Qualifying Tournament Preview (July '08) | 2008 Olympic Basketball Power Rankings

With the FIBA Asia Championships going on as we write, the Olympic basketball qualifying season is now officially under way. We here at The Painted Area just wanted to give you a quick overview of how it will work.

Here are the events, listed chronologically, which will determine the field of 12 teams for the Beijing Olympics (number of qualifying spots available in parens):

- Automatic Qualifiers (2): China (host), Spain (2006 World Champs)
- FIBA Asia Championship (1): July 28-Aug. 5 in Japan
- Afrobasket '07 (1): Aug. 15-25 in Angola
- FIBA Oceania Championship (1): Aug. 20-24 in Australia
- FIBA Americas Championship (2): Aug. 22-Sept. 2 in U.S.
- Eurobasket '07 (2): Sept. 3-16 in Spain
- World Olympic Qualifying Tournament (3): July 6-13, 2008, TBD

This World Olympic Qualifying Tournament will consist of the next runners-up from the zones around the world, allocated like so:
- Europe (4)
- Americas (3)
- Africa (2)
- Asia (2)
- Oceania (1)
So, 12 teams will be competing for the last three spots next summer.
More: Basketball at the 2008 Olympics (Wikipedia)

Clearly, the big kahunas of this summer's qualifying tournaments will be the Americas Tournament in Vegas and especially the Eurobasket in Spain - which should be an absolute free-for-all - and we'll have more on those tournaments as they get closer.

For now here's an overview of teams which should be top contenders to get Olympic berths:
AUTOMATIC (2 Olympic berths)
Qualified: China, Spain

As mentioned above, China and Spain have already qualified, as hosts and World Champions, respectively.

FIBA AMERICAS CHAMPIONSHIP (2 Olympic berths, 3 qualifying tourney berths)
Favorites - Olympic berths: USA, Argentina, Brazil
Qualifying tourney berths: Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Canada

Official site | Wikipedia
The U.S. should have more than enough talent to qualify, especially because several top players from recent nemesis Argentina (Ginobili, Nocioni, Herrmann, Oberto, P. Sanchez) will not be playing in this tournament.

That said, this entire tournament will come down to the semifinal games on Sept. 1. The two winners will go to Beijing; the losers will need to go through next year's qualifying tournament to get a bid.

Considering that the U.S. lost to Argentina in both 2002 and 2004, to Puerto Rico in 2004, and nearly lost to Brazil last year, they are far from a sure thing in this kind of one-and-done scenario.

Still, it seems like the main battle of this tournament will be between Argentina and Brazil for the second Olympic berth. Argentina still has plenty of experienced talent despite its many defections, while Brazil's roster is still up in the air, considering Barbosa is recovering from elbow surgery and Varejao does not have an NBA contract. If Brazil can corral those two in addition to Nene, Tiago Splitter, Raf Araujo and Alex Garcia, they should be a formidable foe for the reigning Olympic champion.

[Note: A Brazilian commenter below says that Barbosa and Varejao are both in the country for training, which seems to be confirmed here - Brazil is going to be tough in Vegas.]

EUROBASKET '07 (2 Olympic berths, 4 qualifying tourney berths)
Favorites for Olympic berths: Greece, Lithuania
More contenders: France, Italy, Turkey, Serbia, Russia, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia

Official site | Wikipedia
If you are a basketball fan (and we suspect that if you're reading this, you are), you're going to love this tournament, trust us.

Media coverage in the U.S. is unclear at the moment - NBA TV showed the finals and the all-important semis of this tourney in '03 and '05, and hopefully they will again. Meanwhile, has increasingly been offering live webcasts - hopefully they will offer expanded coverage for Eurobasket '07.

Eurobasket '07 will be played in Spain and the hosts should be favorites to win the tournament. Even though they've already qualified for Beijing, Spain's top guns (Gasol, Calderon, Navarro, etc) plan to perform in front of their home crowds, and even Jorge Garbajosa may try to return from his gruesome ankle injury from last season in the NBA.

The odds on list the last two Eurobasket champions Greece (2005) and Lithuania (2003) as the top favorites to claim the available bids for 2008.

Greece, which won silver at the 2006 Worlds, has a solid, experienced team led by two of the best players in Euroleague in T. Papaloukas and D. Diamantidis. Lithuania suffered at the 2006 Worlds without team leader Sarunas Jasikevicius, but Saras should be back and so should the Lithuanians.

France has plenty of NBA talent, with Parker, Diaw, Pietrus, Turiaf, Gelabale, Petro, etc., but look at those names again - not an outside shooter in the bunch. Poor shooting really hurt France at the Worlds, and we suspect it will again, thought they should be good enough to at least get a spot in the qualifying tournament.

Italy will be blending in young guns Bargnani and Belinelli with a handful of vets who helped win silver in Athens. Turkey will have M. Okur and H. Turkoglu back after they skipped the Worlds - the Turks have talent, but could have chemistry trouble. They've already lost to Italy and Australia in tuneups this summer.

Serbia and Slovenia are talented basketball nations, but many top players from both countries are skipping Eurobasket, which could cripple those teams. Germany has Dirk and little else, Russia will have Kirilenko and Croatia will have a nice collection of Euroleague players.

All in all, this Eurobasket should be as hard-fought and passionate as it usually is, featuring great team basketball and some of the world's best players, including the 2006-07 NBA MVP and the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. Watch it if you can. Jay Aych will have a thorough preview as we get closer.

FIBA OCEANIA CHAMPIONSHIP (1 Olympic berth, 1 qualifying tourney berth)
Favorites - Olympic berth: Australia
Qualifying tourney berth: New Zealand

This one's pretty simple: Australia and New Zealand are playing a three-game series from Aug. 20-24. Winner gets the Olympic bid, loser goes to the qualifying tournament.

Both the Aussies and the Kiwis finished 2-4 overall in the 2006 Worlds.

Australia should have the edge, based on a higher talent level and the fact that all three games will be played in Oz.

AFROBASKET '07 (1 Olympic berth, 2 qualifying tourney berths)
Favorites - Olympic berth: Angola
Qualifying tourney berths: Nigeria, Senegal

Official site
Angola would appear to be the favorite in this tournament. The basketball power on the continent, Angola has won 8 of the last 9 African championships, and they are hosting this year's Afrobasket.

What's more, Angola had a very strong showing in the 2006 Worlds, making it into the second round with its entertaining, up-tempo brand of basketball. The Angolans finished 3-3 overall, including a tough 108-103 loss to Germany in 3OT.

Nigeria could certainly pull the upset - they went 2-4 and also made the second round at the Worlds, when they were coached by now-Bobcats coach Sam Vincent.

Senegal, which went 0-5 at the Worlds, is probably a good bet for a bid in the qualifying tourney.

FIBA ASIA CHAMPIONSHIPS (1 Olympic berth, 2 qualifying tourney berths)
Favorites - Olympic berth: Lebanon
Qualifying tourney berths: Korea, Kazakhstan, Iran

Official site | Wikipedia
With China being an automatic qualifier, this tournament will essentially determine the team which will finish dead last in 12th place in the Olympics.

The semifinals and finals will be played this weekend. The matchups for the semis are Lebanon vs. Korea and the Runnin' Borats from Kazakhstan vs. Iran.

Lebanon - which fared farely well in last year's World Championships, going 2-3 with an upset win over France - should be a substantial favorite. Neither of the other three teams in the semis qualified for last year's Worlds.

It's pretty difficult to try to project this tournament, considering that it's a year out and the teams aren't known, but here are some general thoughts:

If Argentina doesn't qualify this year, they should be a lock in this tournament, considering they'd have their big guns in attendance. If Argentina does qualify this year, we wouldn't be surprised if the three berths available are all claimed by European squads (there will be four in the tournament), though Brazil and Puerto Rico would certainly be pesky contenders in that scenario.

OK, we here at The Painted Area are officially going through our summer basketball withdrawals, so we can't wait until things get going in Vegas and Spain.

Also see: 2008 FIBA Qualifying Tournament Preview (July '08) | 2008 Olympic Basketball Power Rankings