Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FIBA Lookalikes '09

Time for another installment in our illustrious series of lookalikes. We'll focus on international players/coaches who kept up appearances in this summer's FIBA Americas & FIBA European Championships.

PG Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) = Jeff Buckley, the late singer/songwriter

Julio Toro, coach (Dominican Rep.) = The Most Interesting Man in the World

Jorge Garbajosa (Spain) = Ben Goldwasser, co-mastermind of MGMT

PG Krzysztof Szubarga (Poland) = James Tolkan, actor (Top Gun)

PG Krzysztof Szubarga (Poland) = Jon Kitna, NFL QB (Cowboys)

PF Sven Schultze (Germany) = Robert Duvall, actor

Friday, September 25, 2009

NBA All-Decade 2000s: Players

When David Stern memorably handed over the Larry O’Brien Trophy to "Lakers Alternate Governor" Joey Buss back in June, he effectively closed the book on the decade of the 2000s in the NBA, as the next championship will be won in 2010.

With that in mind, we wanted to take a look back at some of the highlights of the NBA decade. In the first installment of this NBA All-Decade series, we discuss the best players of the decade.

[Note: We also encourage you to check Kevin Pelton’s Bill James-style review of the decade as well as Kelly Dwyer’s tour-de-force series on the NBA decade.]

MVP: Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan is our choice for NBA MVP of the 2000s, by a very narrow margin over Shaquille O'Neal.

Below, under "Painted Area MVPs", we listed our year-by-year choices for MVP over the course of the decade, alongside the official picks. As such, it may seem strange that Timmy is our choice for MVP of the decade, given that Shaq had a 4-1 edge in MVP's in our book. First of all, we had Duncan as a *very* close second on our mythical MVP ballots in both 2002 and 2004.

More important, we valued production over the entire course of the decade when putting together this list - Shaq unquestionably had a higher peak during his years of dominance at the top of the decade, but he tailed off considerably the last three years, while Timmy has been remarkably consistent and largely held his value all the way from the Y2K bug right up through the Obama administration.

As much as smallball became in vogue in the 2000s, quality bigs mattered as much as ever. Seven of the 10 championship teams were anchored by Duncan or Shaq in the middle. Two others were won by teams with stout interior defenses (Detroit '04/Wallace boys and Boston '08/KG & Perk), while this year's Lakers had one of the most agile and skilled tandem of bigs ever in Gasol and Odom.

The San Antonio Spurs won at least 53 games every year of this decade, averaging 57.6 overall. Remarkably, they finished in the top 3 in defensive efficiency every year except 2008-09, in which they were fifth. All along, Tim Duncan was the anchor of this defense with the quiet brilliance of his position defense, of altering, contesting and blocking shots without fouling, night in, night out, all night.

Duncan and Kevin Garnett were the two dominant defensive players of the decade, in our opinion, and Timmy brought a little more to the table on offense. Shooting a high percentage, limiting opponents to a low percentage, controlling the boards, drawing fouls while not committing them. These are the things that win games, and these are the things that Tim Duncan has done consistently over the course of the entire decade.

The Sporting News chose Kobe Bryant as its player of the decade, and we think that's a fairly comical choice over Duncan. Kobe is a clear third on our list for the decade, and he has unquestionably established himself as an all-time great, but Duncan has clearly been the better player. Duncan has won four championships despite never having an overwhelming roster of talent, and his defense has had more of an impact on winning than Kobe's ever has. On offense, yes, Kobe is more spectacular and awe-inspiring, but Duncan has been more consistently efficient. Sorry, it may be boring, but it's truth: Duncan has been better.

Here are our all-decade first and second teams - more info below:
All-NBA First Team
C Shaquille O'Neal
F Tim Duncan
F Kevin Garnett
G Kobe Bryant
G Jason Kidd

All-NBA Second Team
F Dirk Nowitzki
F LeBron James
F Paul Pierce
G Allen Iverson
G Steve Nash


All-NBA First Team

C: Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers/Heat/Suns
- Team: 4 Championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006); 1 Runner-up (2004)
- MVPs: 1 (2000); Painted Area MVPs: 4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2005)
- Finals MVPs: 3 (2000-02)
- MVP Top 5s: 5 (2001-3rd, 2002-3rd, 2003-5th, 2005-2nd)
- Honors: 8 All-NBA (7 1st, 1 3rd), 9 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 25.7 (3-time season leader: 2000-02)

Shaquille O'Neal at the beginning of this decade was the most physically unguardable player I have ever seen. In many ways, because he is Goliath, I feel like Shaq has been underrated, if anything. The combination of power, agility, size and coordination at his peak was remarkable - Shaq is nothing short of one of the greatest athletes I've ever seen. Many have fixated on Shaq's inability to make free throws while ignoring that he has been one of the dominant field-goal shooters of all time (led the league in FG% seven times in the oughts) - and FG% correlates to wins much better than FT% (in fact, drawing fouls, another Shaq strength, is more important than FT%, too).

Signature performances:
- The performances in the 2000 and 2001 Playoffs, when Shaq was at his unguardable peak, are still the definitive ones. Here are his overall playoff numbers:
2000: 30.7 pts, 15.4 reb, 3.1 ast, 2.39 blk, 30.5 PER
2001: 30.4 pts, 15.4 reb, 3.2 ast, 2.38 blk, 28.7 PER

- The numbers from the Finals in the Lakers three-peat are still mind-boggling:
2000: 38.0 pts, 16.7 reb, 2.3 ast, 2.67 blk, .611 FG%
2001: 33.0 pts, 15.8 reb, 4.8 ast, 3.40 blk, .573 FG%
2002: 36.3 pts, 12.3 reb, 3.8 ast, 2.75 blk, .595 FG%

- And how about these individual Finals game lines:
2000, Game 1: 43 pts, 19 reb, 4 ast, 3 blk, 21-31 FG
2000, Game 2: 40 pts, 24 reb, 4 ast, 3 blk, 11-18 FG
2000, Game 6: 41 pts, 12 reb, 4 blk, 19-32 FG
2001, Game 2: 28 pts, 20 reb, 9 ast, 8 blk
2002, Game 2: 40 pts, 12 reb, 8 ast, 4 blk, 14-23 FG

- Furthermore, there were five 30+ PER seasons turned in this decade - Shaq was the only player with two. Shaq had 4 of the top 8 PER seasons of the 2000s, three of those in the Lakers championship years when he was also Finals MVP. There is no doubt that he was option 1 and Kobe was option 1a on those Lakers three-peat teams. I'd imagine if you asked any coach worth his salt from that era, they'd tell you that Shaq was the guy on whom their game plan was primarily focused. Here is Shaq in the threepeat years:
1999-2000: 29.7 pts, 13.6 reb, 3.8 ast, 3.0 blk, .574 FG%, 30.6 PER
2000-01: 28.7 pts, 12.7 reb, 3.7 ast, 2.8 blk, .572 FG%, 30.2 PER
2001-02: 27.2 pts, 10.7 reb, 3.0 ast, 2.0 blk, .579 FG%, 29.7 PER

Utter dominance

F: Tim Duncan, Spurs
- Team: 3 Championships (2003, 2005, 2007)
- MVPs: 2 (2002, 2003); Painted Area MVPs: 1 (2003)
- Finals MVPs: 2 (2003, 2005)
- MVP Top 5s: 7 (2000-5th, 2001-2nd, 2004-2nd, 2005-4th, 2007-4th)
- Honors: 10 All-NBA (7 1st, 3 2nd), 10 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 25.5

Not much more to add to what we wrote above. Let's just reprint what we wrote in this space after the 2007 Finals: "Duncan is the core of San Antonio's team defense, and team defense is the core of what makes this San Antonio team a dynasty. Couple that with consistent, efficient, unselfish play on offense, and yes, Tim Duncan is the best basketball player in the world."

Signature performances:
- The single game which stands out is the near-quadruple-double in the championship clincher in the 2003 Finals:
2003, Game 6: 21 pts, 20 reb, 10 ast, 8 blk

- Here are Timmy's numbers for the 2003 Finals and Playoffs as a whole:
2003 Playoffs: 24.7 pts, 15.4 reb, 5.3 ast, 3.29 blk, 28.4 PER
2003 Finals: 24.2 pts, 17.0 reb, 5.3 ast, 5.3 blk

- More than anything, it's the consistency that stands out. Check out Timmy's PERs from his peak period of 2002-05:
2001-02: 27.0
2002-03: 26.9
2003-04: 27.1
2004-05: 27.0

Near quadruple-double to clinch in 2003

F: Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves/Celtics
- Team: 1 Championship (2008)
- MVPs: 1 (2004); Painted Area MVPs: 2 (2004, 2008)
- MVP Top 5s: 4 (2000-2nd, 2003-2nd, 2008-3rd)
- Honors: 8 All-NBA (4 1st, 3 2nd, 1 3rd), 10 All-Star Games, 2008 Def. POY
- Average PER: 25.3 (2-time season leader: 2004-05)

As we wrote above, Kevin Garnett was one of the two best defensive players of the decade, along with Duncan, able to cover the entire damn floor on the defensive end, in no small part due to his manic intensity and passion. KG was the heart and soul of the '07-08 champion Celtics' defense, which rated statistically as the best defense of the decade, and as one of the best of all-time.

Signature performances:
- In his MVP year of 2004, KG lifted Minnesota to its first conference finals with his all-around brilliance in Game 7 of the Conference Semis vs. Sacramento:
2004, Game 7: 32 pts, 21 reb, 2 ast, 5 blk, 4 stl

- Numbers for KG's MVP season of 2004:
2003-04, Season: 24.2 pts, 13.9 reb, 5.0 ast, 2.2 blk, 29.4 PER
2003-04, Playoffs: 24.3 pts, 14.6 reb, 5.1 ast, 2.3 blk, 25.0 PER

Top of the World

G: Kobe Bryant, Lakers
- Team: 4 Championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009); 2 Runners-up (2004, 2008)
- MVPs: 1 (2008); Painted Area MVPs: 1 (2006)
- Finals MVPs: 1 (2009)
- MVP Top 5s: 7 (2002-5th, 2003-3rd, 2004-5th, 2006-4th, 2007-3rd, 2009-2nd)
- Honors: 10 All-NBA (7 1st, 2 2nd, 1 3rd), 10 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 24.5

Kobe Bryant established himself this decade as one of the greatest guards to ever play the game. He competed on both ends, delivered in the clutch repeatedly, and scored from anywhere on the court on the way to four championships. To us, perhaps the most amazing thing about Kobe's game is that he seems to have no tendencies. Thanks to his legendary work ethic, he has developed an unlimited variety of offensive moves. As Chris Ballard wrote in Sports Illustrated earlier this year: "According to Synergy Sports Technology, which logs every play of every NBA game, Bryant drove right 49.01% of the time this season and left 50.99% of the time. In Synergy's finely parsed statistical analysis, he ranked in the top 20% of the league in (deep breath): shots off cuts, shots off screens, spot-up attempts, shots against single coverage in the post and off one-on-one isolation moves (and he's only slightly less effective in pick and rolls and transition)."

Signature performances:
- Let's start with the greatest regular-season performance of the decade - 81 points scored, in the flow of the game while turning a big deficit into victory in January, 2006 - here's the line:
81 pts, 6 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl, 28-46 FG, 7-13 3PT, 18-20 FT

- Kobe made his mark on the Finals in Game 4 in 2000. He had missed Game 3 and most of Game 2 with a sprained ankle, but essentially won Game 4 for L.A. with 8 points in OT after Shaq had fouled out. There were also memorable playoff buzzer-beaters including a 3 which sent Game 2 of the 2004 Finals to OT, and a jumper that beat Phoenix in Game 4 of the 2006 First Round.

- In 2001, Kobe had huge scoring efforts which closed the Conference Semis sweep of the Kings and set the tone for a Conference Finals sweep of the Spurs:
2001, Game 4, vs SAC: 48 pts, 16 reb, 3 ast, 15-29 FG
2001, Game 1, vs SAS: 45 pts, 10 reb, 3 ast, 19-35 FG

- Statistically, Kobe's greatest playoff runs have come in the championship seasons of 2001 and 2009 - here are his overall postseason lines from those years:
2001: 29.4 pts, 7.3 reb, 6.1 ast, .469 FG, .821 FT
2009: 30.2 pts, 5.3 reb, 5.5 ast, .457 FG, .883 FT

- Other regular-season stats of note:
2002-03: 40.6 ppg in Feb., including 9 straight 40+ games
2005-06: 35.4 ppg overall, 8th-highest in NBA history
2006-07: 56.3 ppg in a 4-game stretch of 65-50-60-50
2008-09: 61 pts on Feb. 2 - Madison Square Garden record

Watch Kobe's 81 points in 3 minutes:

G: Jason Kidd, Suns/Nets/Mavericks
- Team: 2 Runners-up (2002, 2003)
- MVP Top 5s: 1 (2002, 2nd)
- Honors: 5 All-NBA (4 1st, 1 2nd), 7 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 19.1

Jason Kidd helped bring the Nets from oblivion to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals following his arrival via trade in 2001. Justifiably known as one of the most creative and unselfish passers of the era, Kidd may have actually had a bigger impact on the defensive end than offensive, as his fierce ballhawking on the perimeter in his prime, with his strong 6-4 frame, triggered many a fast break.

Signature performances:
- J-Kidd is all about the triple-double, so we'll go with his average line from New Jersey's 4-2 series win over Boston in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals:
2002, East Finals: 17.5 pts, 11.2 reb, 10.2 ast

- For the series, Kidd had 3 triple-doubles, including this one in the series-clinching Game 6, to send the Nets to their first NBA Finals:
2002 Game 6: 15 pts, 13 reb, 13 ast

Best of Jason Kidd:

All-NBA Second Team

F: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
- Team: 1 Runner-up (2006)
- MVPs: 1 (2007); Painted Area MVPs: 1 (2007)
- MVP Top 5s: 3 (2005-3rd, 2006-3rd)
- Honors: 9 All-NBA (4 1st, 3 2nd, 2 3rd), 8 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 24.2 (2-time season leader: 2006-07)

OK, so we're messing the positions a little. C'mon, Duncan is really a center after all, so we essentially have 2 C's on the first team, and we're going 3 forwards on the second team because these guys are so much more worthy than any other center. In any event, Dirk Nowitzki has been perhaps the most efficient offensive player of the decade, able to shoot a strong percentage from the floor, behind the arc, and from the line, while turning it over less than 2 times a game despite a high usage rate. Dirk has been a difficult matchup as a seven-footer stationed at the high post who could shoot and drive with a variety of moves. Deserving of the 2006-07 MVP award as the NBA PER leader on a 67-win team.

Signature performances:
- Dirk was at his best during two crucial games during the 2006 Playoffs, which keyed the Mavs' run to the Finals - Game 7 of the epic Conference Semifinal series vs. SAS and Game 5 of the Conference Finals vs. PHX, which gave DAL a 3-2 series lead:
2006, Game 7, vs SAS: 37 pts, 15 reb, 3 ast, 11-20 FG, 15-16 FT
2006, Game 5, vs PHX: 50 pts, 12 reb, 3 ast, 14-26 FG, 17-18 FT, 5-6 3PT

- These were Dirk's numbers for the 2006 Playoffs as a whole:
2006: 27 pts, 11.7 reb, 2.9 ast, 26.8 PER

- Numbers for Dirk's MVP season of 2006-07 included 50-40-90 shooting - an incredible feat for anyone, much less a seven-footer:
2006-07: 24.6 pts, 8.9 reb, 3.4 ast, .502 FG%, .416 3PT%, .904 FT%, 27.6 PER

Cuban love for MVP Dirk

F: LeBron James, Cavaliers
- Team: 1 Runner-up (2007)
- MVPs: 1 (2009); Painted Area MVPs: 1 (2009)
- MVP Top 5s: 4 (2006-2nd, 2007-5th, 2008-4th)
- Honors: 5 All-NBA (3 1st, 2 2nd), 5 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 26.2 (2-time season leader: 2008-09)

LeBron James is unquestionably a first-teamer based on per-season performance, but 10 years of production from KG trumps 6 years from LBJ. In fact, LeBron is the only player on these two teams who didn't play all 10 years - that's how good his 6 years were. James is as productive a player by age 24 as the league has ever seen. A downright scary combination of size, speed, and unselfishness, LeBron is the odds-on favorite to be the MVP of the 2010s, and basically has unlimited potential.

Signature performances:
- LeBron announced his playoff presence with authority in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, when he scored Cleveland's last 25 points, leading to a 109-107 road win in 2OT which propelled the Cavs to an upset series win. Here are LBJ's numbers overall for Game 5:
2007, Game 5: 48 pts, 9 reb, 7 ast, 2 stl, 18-33 FG

- Don't forget his performance in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semis, when the 45-win Cavs took the 66-win Celtics to the brink in Boston:
2008, Game 7: 45 pts, 5 reb, 6 ast, 2 stl, 14-29 FG

- LeBron's 2008-09 season was off the charts statistically, as he posted the 4th-best single-season PER in history, and then took things to the stratosphere in the postseason:
2008-09, Season: 28.4 pts, 7.6 reb, 7.2 ast, 1.7 stl, 1.1 blk, 31.7 PER
2008-09, Playoffs: 35.3 pts, 9.1 reb, 7.3 ast, 1.6 stl, 0.9 blk, 37.4 PER

- Perhaps the highlight of his 2009 playoff run was when James took over Game 5 of the Conference Semis vs. ORL:
2009, Game 5: 37 pts, 14 reb, 12 ast

LeBron scores 25 straight for Cleveland

F: Paul Pierce, Celtics
- Team: 1 Championship (2008)
- Finals MVPs: 1 (2008)
- MVP Top 5s: (None)
- Honors: 4 All-NBA (1 2nd, 3 3rd), 7 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 21.1

This is the most agonizing call: do we go with Paul Pierce or Tracy McGrady in this spot?

Here's McGrady's honor roll for the decade:
- Team: None
- MVP Top 5s: 2 (2002-4th, 2003-4th)
- Honors: 7 All-NBA (2 1st, 3 2nd, 2 3rd), 7 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 22.8 (Season leader: 2003)

Objectively, T-Mac should probably get the nod, and we're probably forgetting just how great he was in the early part of the decade. But subjectively, we're going with Pierce by a razor-thin margin, with the playoff performances making the difference: helping drive Boston to its 17th title as the 2008 Finals MVP, and also leading the 2002 club to the brink of the Finals.

McGrady, meanwhile, has (in)famously never won a playoff series. But it's not like he's has been garbage in the playoffs - T-Mac's averaged 28.5 pts, 6.9 reb and 6.2 ast career (24.7 PER, compared to 23.1 regular season), though that's all in first-round play. His clubs blew a 3-1 series lead in 2003 and a Game 7 at home in 2007. The increasing deterioration of T-Mac's shot selection has grated on us for the last few years and, most of all, we just can't get over how he flat quit on the Magic in 2003-04. If you think we're being irrational here, that's fine, you may have a point, but still, it's our list, and we're going with Pierce, with superior mental toughness making the difference. We'll give you video of both below.

Signature performances:
- Most notable was Pierce's heroics in the 2008 Finals, including a return from injury to spark a comeback in Game 1, in which he scored 22 points. Here's Pierce's line from the 2008 Finals overall:
2008, Finals: 21.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.3 ast, 1.2 stl

- Pierce was huge in the mano-a-mano duel with LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2008 Conference Semis:
2008, Game 7: 41 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl, 13-23 FG, 4-6 3PT

- Pierce was also instrumental in two of the biggest comebacks in playoff history. In 2002, he scored 19 points in the 4th quarter to lead Boston back from a 21-point deficit vs. NJ in Game 3 of the East Finals. In 2008, he helped the C's rally from a 24-point first-half deficit to beat the Lakers in L.A. in Game 4 of the Finals.

Pierce in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals

McGrady's 2004 miracle vs. the Spurs

G: Allen Iverson, Sixers/Nuggets/Pistons
- Team: 1 Runner-up (2001)
- MVPs: 1 (2001)
- MVP Top 5s: 2 (2005-5th)
- Honors: 6 All-NBA (2 1st, 3 2nd, 1 3rd), 10 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 21.2

Allen Iverson has been one of the signature players of the decade, lightning-quick and indefatigable. AI's decade was highlighted by his 2000-01 MVP season, in which he led the league in scoring and steals, and was the driving force behind an improbable run to the Finals by an undertalented Sixers team, which may have played as hard as any team this decade.

Signature performances:
- More than anything, it was all about the 2001 Playoffs for AI. Here are his overall postseason numbers:
2001: 32.9 pts, 4.7 reb, 6.1 ast, 2.4 stl, 22.5 PER

- Iverson's career game is unquestionably Game 1 of the 2001 Finals, when Philly shocked the Lakers at Staples Center in OT, behind this performance from AI:
2001, Game 1: 48 pts, 5 reb, 6 ast, 5 stl

- This was on the heels of his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Below is his line in Game 7, but more impressive may have been his performance in Game 6, a 10-point loss. Iverson scored 26 of his 46 in the 4th quarter as the Sixers cut a 33-point deficit to 10 with a frantic rally and set the tone for Game 7 - a definitive performance by a relentless player and a relentless team:
2001, Game 7: 44 pts, 6 reb, 7 ast, 2 stl, 17-33 FG

- Iverson also posted these two beauties in the Conference Semis vs. Toronto:
2001, Game 2: 54 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast, 21-39 FG
2001, Game 5: 52 pts, 2 reb, 7 ast, 4 stl, 21-32 FG, 8-14 3PT

Game 1 of the 2001 Finals

G: Steve Nash, Mavericks/Suns
- Team: None
- MVPs: 2 (2005, 2006)
- MVP Top 5s: 3 (2007-2nd)
- Honors: 6 All-NBA (3 1st, 1 2nd, 2 3rd), 6 All-Star Games
- Average PER: 20.7

One of the best passers and shooters of the decade, Steve Nash was at the helm of some of the most efficient offenses of the decade, both in Dallas and Phoenix. The winner of improbable back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and (especially) 2006, Steve Nash was one of the decade's most entertaining players as he helped bring the fast break back into basketball with smarts and style on Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds or Less Suns.

Signature performances:
- Nash was massive in the 2005 Conference Semifinal grudge match vs. Dallas - the team which had let him go the previous summer - in which he put up this stat line overall:
2005, vs. DAL: 30.3 pts, 6.5 reb, 12 ast, .550 FG%, .419 3PT%, .962 FT%

- Here are some individual game highlights from that series:
2005, Game 4: 48 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl, 20-28 FG, 4-6 3PT
2005, Game 5: 34 pts, 13 reb, 12 ast
2005, Game 6: 39 pts, 9 reb, 12 ast, 14-24 FG, 5-8 3 PT

- Nash also led the league in assists for three straight seasons, and had three 50-40-90 shooting seasons. 2006-07 may have been his best season statistically:
2006-07, Season: 18.6 pts, 11.6 ast, .532 FG%, .455 3PT%, .921 FT%

Two great Nash assists

NBA 2000s: MVPs
'99-00Shaquille O'Neal, LALShaquille O'Neal, LAL
'00-01Allen Iverson, PHIShaquille O'Neal, LAL
'01-02Tim Duncan, SASShaquille O'Neal, LAL
'02-03Tim Duncan, SASTim Duncan, SAS
'03-04Kevin Garnett, MINKevin Garnett, MIN
'04-05Steve Nash, PHXShaquille O'Neal, MIA
'05-06Steve Nash, PHXKobe Bryant, LAL
'06-07Dirk Nowitzki, DALDirk Nowitzki, DAL
'07-08Kobe Bryant, LALKevin Garnett, BOS
'08-09LeBron James, CLELeBron James, CLE

'99-00Shaquille O'Neal, LAL (30.7)Shaquille O'Neal, LAL (29.7)
'00-01Shaquille O'Neal, LAL (30.2)Allen Iverson, PHI (31.1)
'01-02Shaquille O'Neal, LAL (29.7)Allen Iverson, PHI (31.4)
'02-03Tracy McGrady, ORL (30.3)Tracy McGrady, ORL (32.1)
'03-04Kevin Garnett, MIN (29.4)Tracy McGrady, ORL (28.0)
'04-05Kevin Garnett, MIN (28.2)Allen Iverson, PHI (30.7)
'05-06Dirk Nowitzki, DAL (28.1)Kobe Bryant, LAL (35.4)
'06-07Dirk Nowitzki, DAL (27.6)Kobe Bryant, LAL (31.6)
'07-08LeBron James, CLE (29.1)LeBron James, CLE (30.0)
'08-09LeBron James, CLE (31.7)Dwyane Wade, MIA (30.2)

'99-00Shaquille O'Neal, LALShaquille O'Neal, LAL (30.5)
'00-01Shaquille O'Neal, LALShaquille O'Neal, LAL (28.7)
'01-02Shaquille O'Neal, LALTim Duncan, SAS (31.8)
'02-03Tim Duncan, SASShaquille O'Neal, LAL (30.6)
'03-04Chauncey Billups, DETDirk Nowitzki, DAL (27.5)
'04-05Tim Duncan, SASYao Ming, HOU (29.0)
'05-06Dwyane Wade, MIATim Duncan, SAS (30.4)
'06-07Tony Parker, SASAmare Stoudemire, PHX (29.6)
'07-08Paul Pierce, BOSChris Paul, NOH (30.7)
'08-09Kobe Bryant, LALLeBron James, CLE (37.4)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Players of Interest

With the Eurobasket 2009 complete, lets take a look at some possible future NBA players that shined over the last two weeks. We'll strictly deal with players who saw significant playing time at the Eurobasket '09.

We'll look at players who have their rights held by a NBA team or players who can be signed by any NBA team.

Players with rights held by a NBA team:

Omer Asik (Turkey): (Bulls own rights)
Euro '09--12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg (2.4 off), 67% FG

The young center had a very solid showing this summer, averaging nearly 13 ppg. His 67% FG pct. led the tourney. Was Turkey's second leading scorer behind Ilyasova. Did most of his damage rolling to the rim or moving to open spots. Good finishing ability and showed nice body control to re-adjust for lay-ins on the move. Very mobile 7-footer who's known as a shot-blocker, but didn't block many shots in Poland. At this point, does not show much in the way of refined post skills. Did a good job on the offensive glass. Major liability at the free throw line--15 for 47 for Euro '09. Turkey had to pull him late in the 4th and all of OT in their quarterfinal loss vs. Greece. His shooting form needs more than just tweaking. Will play for Turkish power, Fenerbahce Ulker, this season.

Erazem Lorbek (Slovenia): (Pacers own rights)
Euro '09 stats--16.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 52.7% FG

Second best player in the tourney. Terrific all-around skill set that was on full display throughout the tourney. Showed off his face-up ability out to 20 feet (9 of 17 3pt.). Used his impeccable footwork to score on spin moves, lefty hooks, righty hooks, turnaround jumpers, and up/unders. Uses a fake spin effectively either on his post moves or driving the ball. Can drive the ball from the high post going both ways. Quality passer and rebounder. The 25-year-old is coming off a great season with CSKA Moscow. Will join Rubio & Juan Navarro in Barcelona this season. His lack of athleticism makes you wonder how well his game will translate to the NBA. Wonder about his strength as well. Can he be a starter in the NBA? Not sure. Probably a serviceable back-up at least.

Sofo Schortsanitis (Greece): (Clippers own rights)
Euro '09 stats--12 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 59% FG, 2.2 TOpg, 60% FT

The big fella came into Euro 2009 in the best shape he's been in since the '06 Worlds and played some of the best ball of his career. Sofo only played 19 minutes a game but still managed to be Greece's second-leading scorer. Always shoots a high percentage and shot nearly 60%. The moment he would enter the game, Greece would look to set him up on the block and utilize his nimble footwork & massive frame to carve out space. Can get deep position anytime he wants thanks to his prodigious flank cakes. As usual, drew plenty of fouls. Might seem like he plows his way to the rim, but really has light feet around the rim--effective drop-steps. Still an adventure when he goes to the free throw line (60%). Has a tough time staying on the floor because of fouls. Picks up fouls sometimes because he doesn't realize his own strength and width. Picks up offensive fouls this way, which leads to his turnover issues. Could be a back-up for Blake Griffin, though LA might not be the best atmosphere for Big Sofo.

Free Agent Targets in the Future: (Currently under contract in Europe, but no NBA team holds rights)

Giannis Bourousis (Greece):
Euro '09 stats--10.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 49% FG

Started off the tourney really well, but slowly tailed off his production. One of the top centers outside the NBA. Great touch that extends to 20 feet. Has some crafty moves around the rim where he can finish with a hook. One of the best rebounders in Europe. Can get rebounds out of his area. Not the best overall athlete--kind of reminds you of Divac when he runs. But does have sneaky hops and gets off the floor fast. Spurs were rumored to be after him earlier this summer, but Bourousis decided to stay with Olympiakos. Not sure he's a NBA starting center because of his subpar athleticism, but should have the goods to be a solid reserve.

Maciej Lampe (Poland):
Euro '09 stats--11.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 45% FG, 47% 3pt.

Teamed with Gortat to form a nice tandem up front for Poland. Nice showing in his home country that might have earned him a second chance in the NBA. Showed off a decent little post game in which he scored on turnaround jumpers and even a couple of righty hooks. Lampe can stretch the floor and moves well for a 7-footer. Runs the floor well. Has beefed up since he left the NBA. NBA GMs should keep an eye on him, he might warrant a training-camp invite down the road.

Timofey Mozgov (Russia):
Euro '09 stats--11 ppg, 4.5 rpg (2.7 off.), 1.3 bpg, 59% FG

If you can pick anyone who had a coming-out party at Euro '09, you might have to go with Timo. The 7-0 Mozgov was an imposing interior presence at both ends of the floor. Mozgov is a pretty good athlete for his size and has a nice frame that can handle more weight. Powerful finisher, might have led the tourney in dunks. No real signs of much of a post game, did most of his damage rolling to the rim. But there were a few glimpses of a decent touch on some short jumpers. Attacks the offensive glass. Did a pretty good job defensively protecting the painted area and wasn't too bad on ball screens. Dealt with constant foul trouble which limited him to 23 mins/game. His potential is enticing, and have to imagine most NBA front offices are keeping close tabs on the 23-year-old.

Bostjan Nachbar (Slovenia):
Euro '09 stats--12.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 48% FG, 38% 3pt.

Second-best player for Slovenia, the team that I thought was the second-best team in the tourney. Very consistent from game to game. Shot the ball very well for Slovenia and hit some jumpers off the dribble. Good rebounder at the SF position. Can play the 4-spot in a small-ball lineup. Underrated athlete who can finish. Was a solid reserve for the Nets for a few years and think he can be a valuable reserve in the NBA once again.

Juan Navarro (Spain):
Euro '09 stats--13 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 38% 3pt.

Spain ran him off countless screens to free him for his jumper or patented floater (Barcelona uses Juan the same way). Did a nice playing the passing lanes alongside Rubio & Rudy. One of the best guards in Europe. Will be playing next to Rubio in the FC Barcelona backcourt. Could be a quality combo guard off the bench for any NBA team. Already proven he can be a reliable scorer off the bench. Not sure of his interest in coming back to the States. La Bomba is treated like a god in Spain and has a very lucrative contract with Barca.

Vasilis Spanoulis (Greece):
Euro '09 stats--14 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 45.8% FG, 43.6% 3pt

One of the top playmakers in the tourney and was named to the 1st Team All-Eurobasket. Led Greece to the semifinals and drilled some big shots throughout the tourney. One of the better guards in Europe. He loves to attack the rim going either direction and draws fouls. He's extremely dangerous as a pull-up shooter, but less effective when forced to be a standstill shooter. He's just better when he gets a little rhythm into his shot. Defensively, moves his feet well laterally to stay in front of his man. Has the speed to hang in the NBA. Wasn't given much of a chance with Euro-averse Jeff Van Gundy. Possibly starting material in the NBA--at worst, a solid combo guard off the bench. Though, not sure he wants to come back to the NBA. Is in good situation with Panathinaikos (reigning Euroleague Champs). Still has an issue with turnovers (led Euro '09 with 4 per), tries to forces passes too much.

Milos Teodosic (Serbia):
Euro '09 stats--14 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 49% FG, 44% 3pt.

Was instrumental in Serbia's run to the finals. Arguably the best PG in tourney (slightly better than Spanoulis & Parker) and named to 1st Team All-Eurobasket. First time the 22-year-old Teodosic has really impressed me. Everytime I've seen him before, he left me rather non-plussed. Ran the pick/roll with patience, often making precision passes on the move. Shot the ball very well in the tourney (61% eFG), including a six 3pter. barrage in the semifinal win vs. Slovenia. Will see if Milos can keep up this type of play or if it was an aberration. It might be difficult for Milos to really break out considering minutes and touches are hard to come by playying for Olympiakos. An all-right athlete for Europe, but subpar in the NBA, could get torched defensively. Though he's a big (6-5) PG and does have a quick release on his jumper where you could play him with an undersized 2-guard.

Novica Velickovic (Serbia):
Euro '09 stats--11 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.4 spg, 38% 3pt

Mutli-skilled 6-9 combo forward who does a little bit of everything for Serbia. Pretty solid outside shooter, can put the ball on the deck, can post up, can pass out of the post, good overall passer and solid rebounder. Did a nice job on the defensive end as an active helper. Not a great athlete, but he's not a bad athlete either. Think his combo of size, skills & smarts could make up for the fact he's not a tremendous athlete. Saw him play with Partizan multiple times and always came away impressed with his all-around game. The soon to be 23-year-old moves to Real Madrid this season to play for Ettore Messina. Surprised NBA teams passed on him as a 2nd-round stash pick. Some team needs to consider offering him a short contract. Could be a combo forward off the bench.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Road to Redemption
Complete for Golden Gasol, Spaniards

Team USA got its redemption with Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008. On Sunday, Team España got its redemption with Eurobasket gold in Katowice, Poland.

After blowing the 2007 Eurobasket gold-medal game to the underdog Russians at home in Madrid, Spain finally won its first Eurobasket title on Sunday, and did so in convincing fashion, beating Serbia 85-63.

Spain thoroughly outplayed Serbia in every facet of the game. The game was never in doubt and the gold medal was essentially wrapped up by halftime. Spain finally ascended to the top of the Euro podium after taking home six silvers and two bronzes all time, including three silvers and a bronze over the past decade.

Speaking of redemption, well, Spanish superstar Pau Gasol's circle is complete as well. After being roundly criticized for his role in the Lakers' defeat in the 2008 Finals, Gasol established himself as arguably one of the NBA's top dozen players in 2008-09, capped off by his skilled performance in L.A.'s championship run through the 2009 Playoffs and Finals. Pau averaged 18.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks while also shooting .600 and doing a fine job defensively against Dwight Howard in the Finals.

Meanwhile, NBA fans may not be as aware that Gasol had unfinished business at the Eurobasket as well, as his disastrous fourth-quarter in the 2007 gold-medal game may well have cost Team España the game. As we wrote in 2007:
    "After such a tremendous Eurobasket for two weeks, Pau Gasol had a nightmare of a final--he just couldn't connect on his interior shots. Some of that has to be credited to the Russian defense, but Pau just could not get shots to fall.

    Then he had a 4th quarter he would soon like to have wiped from the records. Pau was 3/8 on FTs and combined that with 3 TOs, including the costly TO with :25 left. All these miscues would have been forgotten if Pau could have knocked down a desperation jumper with :02 left, but his shot just rimmed out. Overall on the night, the Spanish go-to guy was just 4/13 from the floor and 5/12 at the line (14 pts, 14 reb, 3 ast, 3 blk, 5 TO)."
In 2009, Gasol was the dominant player at the Eurobasket, easily winning the tournament MVP for his terrific all-around play over the last two weeks. Pau's stat line for the tourney: 18.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 1.2 apg, 66% FG%, and even four-of-nine from 3pt. range. He led the tourney in scoring and blocked shots, and finished second in field goal pct. and rebounds per game.

In '09, Pau kept it going all the way to the end. In the gold-medal game, Gasol led Spain with 18 pts on 8-of-13, 11 rebs (four off.), & 3 blocks. As usual, Pau was also a factor in the interior, deterring scoring at the rim. Gasol didn't do too much damage with his back-to-basket game, as Serbia actually guarded him fairly well on the block with Nenad Krstic and Kosta Perovic. Pau scored a few times finishing in transition, on a couple of drives, finishing on rolls or cuts (two of which were alley-oops).

It's just striking to see how Pau Gasol's basketball world has done a 180 since the deep disappointment of two years ago, when he was a primary reason that Spain lost the Eurobasket as heavy favorites at home, and his NBA career was wallowing in Memphis. Now, it's not crazy to say that Pau Gasol may be headed on a path to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

We noted last week that the Hall of Fame had set a tenuous precedent by inducting FIBA legends Drazen Petrovic, Dino Meneghin and Drazen Dalipagic. By those standards, Gasol is already a Hall-of-Famer, though guys like Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Arvydas Sabonis fall in the same boat - qualified by FIBA standards, but falling short by NBA standards - and it's uncertain how the Hall will treat them.

Also consider that this Lakers team still has some life left in it. If they end up winning another title or two, well, the history of the Hall of Fame has been to reward multiple players from teams with multiple championships (we don't necessarily agree with this, that's just the way it is). Gasol would certainly have to be considered the second-best player of this Lakers team, to date. He's also building some statistical chops, with over 11,000 points and 5,000 rebounds for his NBA career by age 28, with averages of 18.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, .520 FG% and a 21.8 PER. Give Gasol three rings to go with his FIBA resume, and we think he'll be close to a shoo-in, again based on past precedent.

Make no mistake, Pau Gasol's resume in FIBA play *is* formidable, and it's clear that he is one of the top European players of all time. Pau now adds a 2009 Eurobasket gold to his mantle top, to go along with his 2006 World Championship gold, 2008 Olympic silver, and 2003/2007 Eurobasket silver medals.

Since 2003, Pau has led Spain to three Eurobasket finals, one World Championship, and one Olympic final in six summers of competition (he missed the 2005 Euro due to injury). Every summer Pau has participated in FIBA competition, he has been selected for 1st team All-Tournament honors. It's no surprise that the rise of the Spanish national team has coincided with the emergence of Pau Gasol as one of the top players in the world.

Gasol consistently shoots above 60% at every international tourney, he's always one of the best shot blockers, and is always near the top of the scoring leaderboard--Pau was the leading scorer at the '03 Euro, '04 Olympics, '08 Olympics & '09 Euro.

-- In 2003, Pau helped guide Spain to the Eurobasket final, in which they fell to another European basketball power, Lithuania. Pau poured in 36 pts & 12 rebs in the final, and led the tourney in scoring with 26 ppg.

-- In the 2004 Olympics, Pau led Spain to a 5-0 record in group play. But Spain was unfortunate in that they had to play a talented but underachieving Team USA in the quarterfinals, where they lost by eight points. Pau led the '04 Olympics in scoring (22.4 ppg) and was named 1st-team All-Tournament.

-- In 2006, Pau led the Spaniards on an undefeated run through the World Championships in Japan. Even though Pau had to sit out the gold-medal game because of a broken foot suffered in the semifinal, he was still was awarded the MVP for his dominant play in the previous games. Pau's stellar stat line for the '06 Worlds: 21 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.5 bpg & 63% FG shooting.

-- In 2007, Gasol would have been the Euro MVP, if not for the aforementioned fourth-quarter meltdown vs. Russia. Andrei Kirilenko took home the award, but that does not take away how awesome Pau was for the entirety of Eurobasket 2007--he averaged 19 ppg on 62% FG, with 7 rpg & 1.8 bpg.

-- As far as 2008, we're pretty sure you remember how Spain pushed a fully stocked Team USA to the brink in Beijing. Pau powered that team with 19.6 ppg on 65% FG & 7 rpg, leading the Olympics in scoring. Gasol scored 21 points in the classic gold-medal game, even though he only played 28 minutes for some strange reason.

Gasol has taken knocks for his inconsistent defensive effort in the NBA in the past, but he has always been a defensive stalwart on the international stage. He's a tremendous defensive presence on the back line for Spain, where he takes full advantage of the FIBA rules. He's been one of the top defenders in international play the last five years or so.

All told, Pau Gasol has taken quite a journey over the past two years, from the depths of two years ago, when he suffered defeat in Madrid and was staring at defeat after defeat in Memphis, to today, when he is standing really quite close to the top of the mountain of the basketball world.

As far as more of our analysis from the gold-medal game....

Spain put this final to bed early, the 2nd half was a mere formality. This game played out in much the same way the previous four games for Team España. Those four games were thorough thrashings that were essentially over by halftime.

It was almost like two different tournaments for Spain. Spain played with half-hearted effort in the first four games, losing to Serbia and Turkey, and narrowly avoiding defeat at the hands of Britain and Slovenia. Then, midway through the Lithuania game, Spain decided to flip the switch and they never looked back.

In its first four games, Spain had a total point differential of +4. In their last five games, +96. They outscored their last five opponents by an average of 19 ppg.

Like they did in the previous four games, Spain set the tone on the defensive end against Serbia. Spain's m.o. the last few games has been to let their perimeter players pressure their men, and even overplay sometimes, knowing that the ballhandlers would be met by bigs. Spain always had a big waiting near the rim, with another big hovering, and sometimes a weakside wing near as well. This would often force the ballhandler to kick the ball out where Spain had two to three perimeter guys (Rubio, Rudy, Navarro) ready to pounce on these passes like a cornerback.

The perimeter guys didn't pressure quite as much as they had the last couple games. The defense didn't cause as many bad passes as it had the previous few games, but it was able to constantly challenge Serbian shots in the half-court. Spain held Serbia to 41.5% shooting for the game.

Once again, the Spanish bigs were always in good position to help. Shades of vintage Jorge Garbajosa today, as Garbo was a help defender deluxe inside and out. Felipe Reyes and Marc Gasol weren't too bad either.

Serbia's Milos Teodosic became the third top PG Spain shut down, in the third game in a row (Parker, Spanoulis). Teodosic was coming off a heroic 32-point performance in the 96-92 semifinal victory over Slovenia the night before. Spain held Teodosic to 5 pts, 2 assts, 3 TOs & 1-for-5 shooting. Milos had been averaging 15 ppg, 5.6 apg & 50% shooting before this game.

Spain started off the game trying to free Juan Navarro and Rudy Fernandez off screens. And this strategy worked out pretty well. Spain hit four of seven 3pters. in the first quarter. Juan Navarro hit a variety of jumpers peeling off screens, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the first half.

Rudy Fernandez played a great second fiddle to Pau once again today, with 14 pts, four rebs, and chaotic energy on defense that led to three steals. Rudy's 13.6 ppg was second best for Spain--he also shot 62% on 2pters., 36.6% on 3pters. (58% eFG). Rudy's 2.1 spg and 88% FT shooting both led the tournament. Rudy was rightfully named 1st Team All-Eurobasket.

Ricky Rubio could only register one assist, but did help out with his shooting--hit two corner 3pters. on his way to 10 points.

In the semifinals, Spain let Greece outrebound them by 18 rebs., but today, they were the team that was +18 on the boards. Spain abused Serbia on the glass in the first half (24-7), Spain had 10 off. rebs to Serbia's six def. rebounds.

Not into moral victories, but Serbia should feel good about its Eurobasket '09 experience. To make it to the Eurobasket final with the youngest roster in the tournament, after they went 0-3 at the '07 Euro, has to be commended. We were really impressed with the way this team defended. They have a young nucleus of promising talent that should push Serbia back into perennial contending status on the international basketball scene.

As we've noted throughout the Eurobasket fortnight, in addition to being the European championship, the tournament also served as the qualifier for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

The top six teams at the Eurobasket - Spain, Serbia, Greece, Slovenia, France and Croatia all punched their tickets to the Worlds.

In addition to the four teams which qualified from the FIBA America tournament - Brazil, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Canada - that makes 20 teams which have qualified for the field of 24.

The last four slots will be filled by "wild card" entries chosen by FIBA. As of right now, Lithuania and Russia should have spots locked up, while the last two spots could be filled by any of the following: Britain, Dominican Rep., Germany, Lebanon, Nigeria, Poland, Senegal, or Uruguay.

With Spain looking so good in the knockout stages of the Eurobasket, it seems like we might just have a tasty rematch of the 2008 USA-Spain gold-medal game to look forward to next summer in Turkey. Can't wait.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Semis Recap & Finals Mini-Preview

Semifinals: Serbia 96, Slovenia 92

PG Milos Teodosic's (Olympiakos) clutch shooting down the stretch propelled Serbia past its Balkan neighbor, Slovenia, in overtime.

Teodosic scored 24 of his 32 pts in the 4th & OT. He buried five of his six 3pt. attempts in the final 15 minutes. His biggest 3pt. came with 0:22 left in regulation, which eventually forced OT. Teodosic hit another clutch 3pt. in OT with 0:25 left to give Serbia a 92-88 lead.

Teodosic cooly ran the Serbian offense all game, using the pick/roll to feed his friends or attack the rim for lay-ups and drawing fouls. Milos hit 10 of 13 free throws, including seven in the last 15 minutes.

Slovenia could not hold a 10-point halftime lead. Two factors for Serbia making up ground in the 2nd half were increased intensity on the defensive end and on the boards.

Serbia really flung its bodies at the offensive glass (seemed like all five guys were crashing) and outrebounded Slovenia 24 to 16 in the last 25 minutes. Serbia grabbed 9 off. boards to Slovenia's 11 def. boards.

Was this increased intensity due to a day of rest for Serbia? Can't say, but it's something for FIBA Europe to consider next time they set up the cockeyed Eurobasket schedule.

Don't want to make excuses for Slovenia, but have to take into account they had to play on Friday while Serbia had the day off. Also, Slovenia possibly could have protected Erazem Lorbek better from fouling out if they'd had Matjaz Smodis available.

A lot of stop & start action thanks to a combined 72 fouls whistled. That is a ton for 45 minutes of action. A huge chunk of points came at the FT line for both teams--Slovenia made 40-of-49, Serbia 32-of-39. Just too much incidental contact called away from the painted area; this could be the overriding theme from this Eurobasket.

Serbia went with post-ups for N. Velickovic or N. Krstic almost exclusively in overtime. It was a great strategy because Serbia often scored points by moving the ball out of the post-up. Krstic scored on two put-backs in a row off missed tries by Novica Velickovic on post-ups to start the OT.

The Serbian center tandem of Nenad Krstic and Kosta Perovic was huge to the Serbian cause, with 18 pts. each. Anytime Perovic touched the ball he either converted a bucket (4 for 5) or made his way to the foul line (10 for 13 fts). Krstic scored on turnaround jumpers, up/under moves, short lay-ins, and put-backs. Nenad's 18 pts came on 8 of 12 shooting and he had 6 rebs (3 off).

Combo guard Milenko Tepic's activity paid off big for Serbia, to the tune of 11 pts, 6 rebs (3 off), & 3 stls. Tepic drove the ball to the basket hard and teammed with backcourt mate Stefan Markovic to crash the offensive glass in the 2nd half.

Erazem Lorbek did everything he could for Slovenia, with a killer stat line of 25 pts on 7-of-11, 10-for-10 on FTs, 10 rebs (3 off), & 3 stls. He did all this in only 28 minutes because of foul trouble. Only Pau Gasol has been better than Erazem in this tourney. Lorbek again used his fake spin moves effectively for a few scores and scored off baselines spin moves a few times.

Domen Lorbek put up 22 pts by burying four 3pters. and mixing a handful of strong drives to the rim. For the second game in row, Boci Nachbar found a way for defenders to hit him--Boci scored 13 of his 18 pts at the FT line.

SF Goran Jagodnik only played limited minutes, but he gave Slovenia a huge jolt by scoring all of his eight points in a two-minute stretch late in the 4th quarter. Goran had a put-back and two 3pt. makes, including an improbable off-balance corner fling with a hand in his face that gave Slovenia a 78-72 lead with a 1:45 left in the 4th.

A lot of what-ifs for Slovenia. Have to imagine if Goran Dragic & Matjaz Smodis had been healthy, this game might have had a different outcome. Don't forget injuries robbed Slovenia of guys like Beno Udrih, Sasha Vujacic, & Sani Becirovic as well. If Slovenia can get all their main guys healthy at the same time, they can be a serious contender next summer.


Semifinals: Spain 82, Greece 64

Just like vs. France, Spain cruised to victory thanks to an active, scrambling defense that forced bad passes and shut down the opposition's best scorer. Spain used this pressure to spark its transition game. Spain continued to frustrate the Greeks in the 2nd half, and eventually put this game away by the end of the 3rd quarter.

Spain's defensive gameplan was the same as in the France game. The backline was essentially zoning up and when the Greek ballhandlers neared the rim, Spain sent extra bodies. This forced passes back out, which the Spanish perimeter players were waiting to pounce on. Spain had 12 steals, one less than vs. France.

Vasilis Spanoulis was bottled up similar to the way Tony Parker was the day before. Spanoulis was held to only seven points and, most important, was kept off the FT line, where he piles up points. Spanoulis (6 TOs) tried to get to the rim but was usually shut down, which forced him to makes passes against the grain.

Even though Spain got owned on the boards, 47 to 29, they were able to compensate by holding the Greece to 36% shooting and forcing 20 Greek TOs.

Greece was able to stick around in the 1st half strictly because of its rebounding. Like they did vs. Turkey, Greece pounded the offensive glass in the 1st half with 13 off. boards to only 8 def. boards by Spain. Greece ended up the game with 24 off. rebs to 20 def. rebs for Spain.

Pau Gasol was too much for Greece to handle, scoring inside and out. Pau wasn't quite as dominant as yesterday but was still pretty damn efficient, scoring 18 pts on 6-of-8. Rudy Fernandez was a bundle of activity again, flying around on both ends of the floor. Rudy finished with 14 pts and broke on bad Greek passes like a cornerback, coming up with 3 stls.

Sergio Llull and Alex Mumbru came off the Spanish bench to provide a spark. The speedy Llull scored most of his nine pts finishing in transition, while Mumbru got his nine pts thanks to a couple 3pt. makes.

A quick look at the Eurobasket Final on Sunday:

Spain vs. Serbia

Spain returns to the Eurobasket final hoping to exorcise the demons from two years ago. Spain will not only be looking for redemption for their failures from the last Eurobasket, but also will be looking to payback Serbia for the beatdown they gave Spain at the start of group play.

Serbia totally outplayed the Spaniards in the opening-day game, controlling the game from the start. Serbia played with purpose and tenacity, while Spain looked disinterested.

Not many figured the Serbs would get this far, just getting into the quarters and grabbing a qualifying spot was more of a realistic goal. But this young nucleus has been playing dogged defense one doesn't normally equate with Serbian basketball. They have a deep roster that should have no problems playing back-to-back games.

The bad news for Serbia is Spain currently looks like a polar opposite to the team Serbia played almost two weeks ago. They've turned up the defensive pressure the last four games, which in turn, ignites their transition game. Spain just shut down two of the best PGs in this tourney the last two games, so I have my doubts Teodosic can fare better than Parker or Spanoulis. Spain should finally take home a Eurobasket Gold Medal, it's just happening two years late.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Quarterfinals Recap (Greece-Turkey & Slovenia-Croatia)

Quarterfinals (Friday): Greece 76, Turkey 74 (OT)

I guess Greece doesn't need Theo & Dimis around to pull off a dramatic win in a playoff game. After a ragged first half, we were treated to exciting back-n-forth action in the 2nd half. Both teams traded off big play after big play down the stretch.

Greece took advantage of subpar offensive nights from Turkey's top players, Hedo & Ilyasova. Though, Greece did everything it could to give the game away down the stretch with a flurry of careless TOs--four TOs in OT.

Lately it seems all Vasilis Spanoulis does is hit clutch 3-pointers. Spanoulis was a force with the ball in his hands, scoring 23 pts, dishing out 7 assts, and drilling six of nine 3pt. attempts. Spanoulis hit two very deep 3pters, particularly a 30-footer to beat the shot clock with 1:20 left in OT to give Greece a 75-69 lead.

Also, Spanoulis was a major factor with his drive-n-dish game, especially late in the 4th, when he set up a Nikos Zisis 3pt. make and set up a G. Printezis 3pt. make to give Greece a 2-point lead with 0:35 left in the 4th. SG Zisis helped his backcourt mate by drawing fouls (6-for-8 fts) and hitting a few 3pters. to finish with 14 pts & 7 rebs. Though, both Spanoulis and Zisis nearly derailed all their positives with a combined 11 TOs (Spanoulis had seven, Zisis had four).

Greece was not too succesful on its initial offensive possessions, often clanking shots, especially in the 1st half. Greece was able to stick around in the 1st half by dominating the glass--outrebounded Turkey 25 to 11 (11 off. boards to Turkey's nine def. boards)

For the game, Greece wrecked Turkey on the boards 47 to 28. Greece hauled down 17 off. boards to Turkey's 19 def. boards. Greece somewhat neutralized their impressive off. rebound performance by turning the ball over 19 times, seven in the last 15 minutes.

Antonis Fotsis was again off on his shot, but he did a great job sneaking in for offensive rebounds. Fotsis pitched in with 11 pts and 13 rebs (5 off.) and played solid defense on Ilyasova. Giannis Bourousis had an off shooting day (5-for-14) but helped Fotsis on the offensive glass with five off. boards, most coming in the 1st half. Big Sofo Schortsanitis was successful carving out space inside, often leading to FTs (5-for-8). Sofo helped on the boards with 6 rebs (3 off.), but continued to have issues with TOs (four).

Turkey mixed things up in crunch time by choosing to put the ball in PG Ender Arslan's hands instead of Hedo's. It was a good call (at least in regulation). With Turkey down 65-63, Arslan got the switch in the pick/roll and drove by Fotsis for a scoop lay-in to beat the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Arslan was given a chance to win the game in OT but his last second 3pt. was off the mark.

Hedo Turkoglu was a total non-factor for most of the game, going scoreless in the first three quarters. Then Hedo found his groove just in time to help Turkey push Greece to the limit. Hedo scored all of his 13 points in the 4th & OT. Hedo got rolling midway thru the 4th, starting his scoring with a put-back dunk in transition. Hedo added an a long 2-pt. off isolation, then on the next possession, hit a pull-up 3pter. Hedo hit another big 3pter. off isolation and a big drive in OT. But Hedo sprinkled in some forced plays down the stretch that hurt his team, including a rushed jumper with 0:15 left in OT with Turkey down 75-74.

Turkish SG Omer Onan was the one Turkish player who was consistent throughout the game. Onan's 13 pts came on three 3pters. and two floaters in the lane. Ersan Ilyasova never could get into any kind of rhythm offensively, but found other ways to contribute with 7 rebs, 3 stls & 3 blks.

Omer Asik (Bulls property) did a nice job finishing early in the game (9 pts on 4/6), but he continued to be a major liability at the free throw line--1-for-6 today, currently shooting 8-for-36 for Eurobasket. Missed two big FTs (one was an airball) with just over a minute in regulation that could have put Turkey up by four points. Turkey had to pull Asik from the game in the last minute of regulation and all of overtime.

Greece's celebration will be short-lived because they have to turn around and play Spain on Saturday. Last time that Greece and Spain met in a Eurobasket semis two years ago, it was a classic.

In the classification bracket, the schedule really works in France's favor, with Turkey having to play roughly 16 hours after this OT loss. France also benefits from Turkey not really having anything to play for besides maybe seeding for next year's Worlds.


Quarterfinals (Friday): Slovenia 67, Croatia 65

Slovenia advanced to its first Eurobasket semifinal ever by shutting down the Croatian offense in the 2nd half. Croatia was held to 18 points on 7-for-27 shooting in the 2nd half.

Croatia was playing fluid ball early, hitting 10-of-15 in the 1st quarter to go up 25-18. Croatia kept up the sharp play on offense into the 2nd quarter and ended the half with 47 pts on 60% shooting. Croatia's ball movement in the first half might have been the best I've seen from them in the tourney.

Then apparently another Croatian team came out of the locker room after halftime. Croatia's offense had one of its all-time worst quarters, scoring just three points in the 3rd. Croatia was stuck on 50 pts for nearly nine minutes in the 2nd half. Kind of been a theme for Croatia in this tourney, where they look like two different teams in the course of one game.

A mental lapse by Croatia's Marko Popovic had a hand in swinging the momentum of this game. Croatia appeared to be taking a 13 to 15 pt. cushion into the halftime break. They were up 15 with 30 secs left in the half, then they allowed Slovenia to score seven points in 15 secs. Popovic picked up a tech foul after a timeout that gave Slovenia two free throws and the ball. With the last possession of the half, Domen Lorbek beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer.

If it wasn't for Pau Gasol, Erazem Lorbek would be the most dominant big in this tourney. Like Pau did against France, Erazem put on a big-man skills clinic vs. Croatia with 27 pts on 8-of-11, 8 rebs, 3 stls, & 2-for-2 on 3pts.

Lorbek scored in a variety of ways: turnaround banker, turnaround with a fake spin, righty hook, lefty hook, & a few long jumpers. His most impressive move came when he drove the ball from the high post than froze his defender with a fake spin then spun back for a lay-in. Second time in the game he utilized a fake spin effectively.

Boci Nachbar's 12 pts mostly came at the FT line (7-for-8). Though, Nachbar's biggest play sealed the victory for Slovenia. Boci grabbed an offensive rebound and quickly turned into a baseline 15-footer that just beat the shot clock giving Slovenia a 67-62 lead with 0:05 left.

Roko Ukic was the best Croatian player on the floor, causing serious damage with his dribble. Ukic sparked Croatia's hot start with 12 pts in the 1st Q. Ukic hit a variety of runners/floaters in the lane and banged home three 3pters. for a total of 21 pts, 5 assts, & 4 stls. Thought Ukic's length gave Lakovic trouble on both ends of the floor.

Slovenia meets up with Serbia for the second time in this tourney in the semis. Slovenia beat Serbia 80-69 in Group C play, and have to believe Slovenia is the slight fave on Saturday. Serbia did get to rest on Friday and they spread their minutes around, so they should be the fresher team.

Croatia heads to the 5th-8th classification bracket where they play Russia with a 2010 qualification spot on the line. Bad news for Croatia is they only get about 16 hours of rest, while Russia had Friday off.

Eurobasket 2009: Quarterfinals Recap (Spain-France & Serbia-Russia)

Quarterfinals (Thursday): Spain 86, France 66

I guess Spain can flip the switch when they want to. After appearing aimless in the first four games, Spain sent a message to the rest of the field with this thrashing of previously unbeaten France. Third game in a row where Spain has dominated its opponent.

Spain's scrambling defense gave France major issues, forcing bad passes all over the court. Had little concern for France's perimeter shooting ability, which led to unfettered help by Spain defenders. The Gasol Bros. paid very little attention to the French bigs.

Spain never went with much straight zone, but Pau Gasol (and also Marc Gasol) was basically playing a one-man zone by sloughing off in the paint the whole game. Anytime a Frenchie tried to get to the rim, there was always a big waiting to help. Parker rarely had easy access to the rim.

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

Pau Gasol simply ate up the French bigs with 28 pts on 11-for-13, 9 rebs & 3 blks. We wondered if Gasol's length would be an issue for the undersized French frontline. It was a major issue. Gasol was a major factor in fouling out Ronny Turiaf in 21 minutes. Ali Traore fouled out in eight minutes. Yikes. This was a game where Joakim Noah could have come in handy.

Pau scored in any way he wanted: multiple rolls to the rim, a few alley-oops, lefty hook, righty hook, turnaround banker, baseline spins and a 18-foot jumper for good measure. A clinic the late, great Pete Newell would have loved.

Most of Rudy Fernandez's 16 points came behind the arc (4-for-6), including three bombs in the 1st quarter. Juan Navarro wasn't quite as efficient as he was the night before, but he was still a factor. Navarro dropped a patented floater and a runner going across the lane on his way to 11 pts & 4 assts.

Ricky Rubio had a solid outing with 8 pts & 4 assts--he even knocked down two 3pts. Ricky did have four TOs. Was active defensively, not afraid to pressure Parker. Just don't make the mistake that Rubio shut him down, it was a team effort.

Tony Parker had been averaging 18 ppg before this game, but Spain held him to six points. When Parker did get some open looks on the perimeter, he continued to struggle with his jumper--1-for-8 from the field. Rarely had much room to operate, too many Spanish defenders shadowing him.

Ronny Turiaf took advantage of the Gasols not paying much attention to him. Ronny cut to the open spaces well to lead Les Bleus in scoring with 12 pts on 6-of-9. Boris Diaw was due for a good game after a no-show the previous game, and he did alright with 9 pts (all 3pters.) & 6 rebs.

France had been playing some of the best defense in the tourney before this matchup. But they had not seen an offense with this type of firepower in the prelim rounds. France had been holding opponents to 40% overall shooting, but Spain was able to hit 52% from the floor. France is normally a strong rebounding club, but the Spaniards helped their cause with 10 off. boards to France's 20 def. rebs.

Spain gets a day off before they take on the winner of Turkey-Greece. France still has work to do for a 2010 Worlds qualifying spot. France moves into the loser's bracket where they will face the loser of the Turk-Greece game. If France wins that game, they earn a trip to the Worlds. If they lose, they might have one more game where they can qualify, but that depends on Turkey's status.

Quarterfinals (Thursday): Serbia 79, Russia 68

Serbia scored a decisive victory over the Russians, securing a spot in the semifinals, and next summer's 2010 Worlds. Russia came out strong in the 1st quarter, scoring 24 pts to Serbia's 21. But then Russia's offense slammed to a halt.

Serbia took the game over in the 2nd quarter and never relinquished control the rest of the way. The key was a 17-0 run to start the 2nd quarter. Russia didn't score its first points of the 2nd quarter until the 2:30 mark and were outscored 20 to 4 in the quarter.

Serbia's lead ballooned to 20 pts midway thru the 3rd. Serbia committed a bunch of turnovers in the late 3rd to early 4th that let Russia makes things semi-interesting, but Serbia was never seriously threatened down the stretch.

The usually meticulous Russian defense had trouble dealing with Serbia's pick/roll action. Russia allowed Serbia to score on 61% of their 2-pt. attempts, that's 20 percent points higher than their average defending 2-pters. for the tourney. Just not your typical defensive outing by the Russians. Seemed slow with their help, seemed to lack their normal concentration.

Serbia looked like the fresher team, which is a little strange since Russia was the team with the off-day on Wednesday. Might have something to do with the way Serbia spreads their minutes around--10 guys average 14 mins/game. And this was another game where Serbia got nice contributions up & down the roster.

PG Milos Teodosic ran the pick/roll masterfully today, creating opportunities for himself and his teammates. Milos hit a few quick dribble pull-up jumpers and found teammates with some precise passes (12 pts, 4 assts, two 3pts). Teodosic has been one of the top PGs in this year's Eurobasket.

Nenad Krstic came out of the gates sharp scoring, 9 of his 10 pts in the 1st quarter, while his starting frontcourt partner Novica Velickovic chipped in with 13 pts & 5 rebs, scored a few put-backs off his 3 off. rebs.

Serbian sniper Uros Tripkovic's duty is to drill jumpers, and that what he did today--4-for-6 from deep, few pull-ups for 18 pts. Former G-State Warrior Kosta Perovic was vital to Serbia's 2nd quarter run scoring 11 of 13 points in the quarter. Kosta scored off a few rolls, a pick/pop, a lefty hook, and a dunk in transition.

Russian big man Timo Mozgov wasn't dominant like last game, but did contribute with 10 pts & 6 rebs (3 off.). Mozgov finished a couple of rolls with hard dunks, even connected on a lefty hook.

Sergey Monya probably had the best all-around game for the Russians with 12 pts (two 3pters.), 3 stls, & 2 blks. Monya has been one of the top defenders in the tourney. Vitalii Fridzon led all Russian scorers with 15 pts on a perfect shooting day of 6-for-6 (three 3pters.)

Russia didn't help itself with a 9-for-19 FT shooting display. Letting the Serbs grab 10 off. boards while only securing 14 def. boards wasn't helpful either.

Russia's tourney is not done yet, they still have a chance at a qualifying spot. Like France, Russia moves on to the Loser's Bracket where they face the loser of Slovenia-Croatia. Serbia will face the winner of Slovenia-Croatia on Saturday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Quarterfinal Preview (Part I)

We have reached the quarterfinals at Eurobasket 2009. Six qualifying spots for the 2010 Worlds are on the line, not to mention three medals. The four winners of quarterfinal games qualify for the Worlds, while the four quarterfinal losers will be placed in a loser's bracket. *Two more qualifiers will be determined from the loser's bracket. *(Possibly three teams depending on how Turkey fares.)

There are two games on Thursday and two on Friday in Katowice, Poland. The headliner is France vs. Spain (3 pm ET), which will be played Thursday, along with Russia-Serbia (12:15 pm ET). Greece-Turkey and Croatia-Slovenia are the Friday matchups - lots of close geographical matchups. (Note: France-Spain winner will play the Greece-Turkey winner in the semis). Let's start by focusing on the big France-Spain game.
Quarterfinals: France (5-0) vs. Spain (3-2)

After sleepwalking through the start of the tourney, Spain has turned up the heat the last two games, looking like the España we expected, while the undefeated French squad has been steady from the start, buoyed by its exceptional defense. Spain underachieved for the first four games and only earned the #4 seed, so France has to face them two rounds earlier than they would have liked. For Spain, it's a role reversal from the 2004 Olympics, when they went 5-0 in group play but had to play a talented but underachieving Team USA in the quarterfinals and lost.

This matchup will have a strong NBA flavor to it with Pau Gasol (Lakers), Marc Gasol (Grizzlies) and Rudy Fernandez (Blazers), plus 2009 draftees Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves), Victor Claver (Blazers) and Sergio Llull (Rockets) suiting up for Spain. France will counter with Tony Parker (Spurs), Boris Diaw (Bobcats), Nic Batum (Blazers) and Ian Mahinmi (Spurs), plus 2009 draftee Nando De Colo (Spurs). (Don't expect to see much of Claver or Mahinmi, though.)

The defensive game plan vs. France is pretty straight-forward: force the French into jump shot after jump shot. Make Les Bleus beat you from 15 feet & out. Team France should expect plenty of zone and sagging man. The one-foot-in-the-paint rule vs. France would be heavily emphasized if I were an opposing coach.

France's 3pt numbers aren't too bad right now, 36%, but those numbers were beefed up by an improbable two-game stretch in which they shot 20-for-38 from downtown. You take those two games out, France is shooting 26% behind the arc--more in line with what they shoot historically. Lack of outside shooting has been the main thing holding France back from consistently competing for medals the last few years.

Keep Parker out of the lane, make him a jump shooter. Nando De Colo is France's only reliable perimeter threat, and he's not even that dangerous. It's no surprise France can go thru extended lulls on the offensive end in the half-court because of their lack of floor-spreaders.

Expect Spain to feature some zone alignments and sagging man. They have mixed in zones liberally the last few years, even some 3x2 looks. Either way, Pau Gasol will laying back in front the rim for most of game, little reason for him to come out. Over the last few years, Spain has probably played the best zone in int'l competition, besides Russia.

Spain has looked to up the pace the last few games with aggressive ball pressure. But there is very little reason to pressure France, it's better to give them a cushion and sit back. It's probably better to keep France in a half-court type of game.

No doubt Pau Gasol is option numero uno for Team Espana. Pau has not failed to impress, averaging 17 ppg on 63% FG, 8 rpg, & 2 bpg. Pau's only weakness right now is his 50% FT shooting. Don't forget that his free throws woes in the '07 Gold Medal game hurt the Spaniards.

Spain's main perimeter objective is to get the ball in Juan Navarro's hands. Navarro is coming off an electric performance vs. Poland, in which he drained 7-of-9 3pters. They'll run Juan off countless screens to get him open for his jumpers or so he can curl for his patented floater. Navarro will be put in iso and ball-screen action where he's dangerous with quick dribble pull-ups. Rudy Fernandez will be used in a similar fashion to Navarro.

After missing the first game with a leg injury, Rudy has shot the ball very well--putting up 13 ppg on a sterling eFG% of 60%. But Rudy still has a tendency to get out of control sometimes. Rudy has teamed with Rubio to cause havoc defensively when Spain has looked to extend pressure.

Ricky Rubio seems to be having a pedestrian tourney with 5 ppg & 4.5 apg, not to mention poor shooting. But one must realize that Rubio is being asked to be more of a caretaker rather than a dynamic playmaker on this team. So many options to keep happy.

Spain likes to use a double high-post formation where one of the bigs gets the ball up high and the other big peels-n-seals into a post-up to set up hi-lo action.

Felipe Reyes will also get touches in the interior and he is a very capable scorer with crafty moves. Might see a double dose of Gasol, with Pau & Marc on the floor together for limited stretches.

Marc Gasol has been solid off the bench with 7 ppg & 6.7 rpg in only 19 mins/game. Marc uses quick spins well on the blocks, especially going to the baseline.

As usual, France covers for a sometime ragged offense with a consistently great defense. France has held its opponents to 40% from the floor, 2nd best in tourney. The French can switch off on defense thanks to their athletic wings & bigs. Their help & recovery is tight and they can get out to the shorter 3pt. line easily. The bigs hold up well in ball-screen action, showing or switching.

France likes to move the pick-n-rolls to the sides in an attempt to discourage the defense to load up the defense on Parker. Tony Parker is the engineer of the French attack, trying to get to the rim where he can finish as well as any guard in the world or can draw fouls. Parker is currently leading France in scoring with 18 ppg (seven FT attempts per game).

Boris Diaw has been his usual inconsistent self, looking sharp one game then completely disappearing the next. Diaw was a no-show in the last game vs. Greece, so he's on schedule for a quality game. Nic Batum has been a solid presence on both ends of the floor with 10 ppg & 5 rpg. Batum loves to drive the baseline on offense and has been a terrific help defender so far.

Alain Koffi and Ali Traore have given France a nice lift off the bench in this tourney. Both active 6-10 athletes are valuable on defense and can occasionally score near the rim. But Ronny Turiaf has dealt with foul trouble throughout the tourney (no surprise) and Pau could have Ronny on the bench quickly.

We mentioned France's erratic jump shooting above--well, that lack of touch transfers over to the FT line. France is only hitting 62% of its free throws.

Think France matches up well on the perimeter, and Batum's size could give Navarro trouble. But I have serious questions about how the French big men defend on the block. They're giving up some size to the Gasol Bros. and they have a tendency to pick up fouls. Though, putting Pau on the foul line might not be a bad idea.

Have to go with the Spaniards in this one. France will need to prove they can knock down a good rate of perimeter jumpers to have a chance. If France can find a way to keep the Spanish defense honest, then they can make things interesting.

Quarterfinals: Russia (3-2) vs. Serbia (3-2)

The other quarterfinal game on Thursday pits the reigning Eurobasket champ (Russia) vs. the basketball power (Serbia) trying to regain its place in the upper echelon of the int'l basketball scene.

Not surprised Russia's defense has been good, just couldn't imagine the defense would be nearly as good as it was in their '07 Euro run. They have been scary good again on that end of the floor. Russia did a superb job protecting the painted area in '07, and have continued the same this year, holding opponents to 41% on 2-pt. FGs (#1 in tourney). They also currently lead the tourney in overall def. FG pct. at 38%.

Russian Coach David Blatt is a master tactician, who loves to mix up his defensive looks. Russia will play man, but mix in traditional zone looks, and even mix in hybrid-type looks that are hard to decipher. Same kinda stuff that worked magic in '07.

Serbia has probably played slightly better than expected thanks to a young, versatile roster. Serbia likes to spread out the playing time across the roster--10 guys playing at least 13 mins/game.

Russian 7-footer Timo Mozgov is coming off a monster 25-point, 11-rebound performance vs. Macedonia, where 10 of his 11 rebs came on the offensive glass. Mozgov has had some impressive games, but is only averaging 13 ppg & 5 rpg because he's been limited to 24 mins/game thanks to constant foul trouble. Mozgov is a finishing machine off of rolls or put-backs and provides an anchor to the great Russia defense.

Russia's Kelly McCarty has done an admirable job filling some of the void left by Khryapa & Kirilenko on the wings. Kelly has been a reliable shooter from the standstill or off-the-dribble and leads the offense with 14 ppg. Tremendous asset roaming defensively and an above-average rebounder for a SF.

SF Sergey Monya has teamed with McCarty to provide Russia with a stellar defensive tandem on the wings. Monya might be the best help defender in the tourney and can knock down an open shot.

Russia has been ably quarterbacked by the PG tandem of Sergey Bykov & Anton Ponkrashov. Bykov will try to force passes that are not there, but uses his speed to get in the lane effectively. Ponkrashov has come on strong the last few games and is a crafty passer.

OK City's Nenad Krstic (13 ppg, 5 rpg) has been the Serbs' focal point on offense either in the post or facing up. Nenad has gotten solid support up front from multi-skilled forward Novica Velickovic (10 ppg, 5 rebs, 42% on 3pts). Velickovic can hit the jumper, put the ball on deck, post up, and is a effective help defender.

PG Milos Teodosic has been one of the finer PGs in the tourney, averaging 13 ppg & 6 apg. Combo guard Milenko Tepic helps Teodosic out with ball-handling duties and has a savvy floor game. Serbia will try to get Uros Tripkovic open off of screens so as to unleash his deadly accurate jumper.

The Krstic-Mozgov matchup could be interesting. Mozgov has an athletic advantage over Krstic, but Krstic can drag Mozgov away from the basket area. Pretty even matchup that could turn into a choppy defensive affair. Winner of this game gets the winner of the Slovenia-Croatia matchup.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Qualifying Round Tuesday

GROUP E: France 71, Greece 69

In game that would determine the winner of Group E, France prevailed over the Greeks thanks to a last-second jumper by recent SA Spurs draftee Nando De Colo.

De Colo only scored six points in the game but they all came at key spots in the last 2:00. His game-winner came off of an isolation on the left wing where he spun into a contested 15-footer. De Colo also added a driving lay-in and two free throws with 20 secs left.

Though maybe the most memorable thing about this game was the peculiar decision of France's Coach Collet to leave Tony Parker on the bench for the entire 4th quarter in a tight game. Did Collet want to give his young reserve guards a taste of a pressurized situation? Or was it that he wouldn't have minded if the French finished in 2nd place in Group E to possibly avoid Spain. Spain is likely the #4 seed out of Group F, so winning Group E does have its disadvantages.

You started to wonder even more after the final buzzer when De Colo had a "Should I not have done that?" sheepish look on his face after his shot. Also odd that De Colo and the Frenchies didn't seem all that excited about their last-second victory. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but there were some curious things happenings.

With Ronny Turiaf in foul trouble, France got a big lift from the reserve bigs Alain Koffi & Ali Traore. Koffi & Traore were factors on offense, hitting some short jumpers & scoring around the rim. Koffi also scored some of his 14 pts on putbacks off of his 3 off. rebs (6 total rebs). Traore put up an efficient 10 pts on 5-of-6 shooting. Both were great assets on the defensive end using their length & athleticism.

The French defense was stellar once again and turned the screws on one of the better offenses in the tourney. The guards moved their feet well to stay in front of their men. Help & recovery was excellent, especially from the bigs. The bigs (particularly Traore & Koffi) did a terrific job showing or switching, and their great athleticism lets them move their feet against smaller guards. Shut off V. Spanoulis from penetrating the lane, which is huge vs. Greece. Spanoulis rarely if ever got to the rim, only remember one to two lay-in attempts, and only got to the line four times.

Tony Parker played only 21 minutes but still managed to score 12 pts. Portland's Nic Batum helped with eight points, mostly coming on baseline drives. Boris Diaw did his usual disappearing act after having a good game prior--0 pts & 5 TOs for Diaw. Diaw seemed to be floating around in his own little world, looked clueless on the floor.

After shooting 20-for-38 from long range in the their last two games, France reverted back to their old form with a 3-for-12 day from 3pt. land. Why Greece never chose to feature more zone, I can't tell ya. Maybe they wanted to avoid Spain, as well.

France did unexpectedly help its cause by shooting 82% from the FT line. France had been shooting 59% before this game, dead last in FT% for Qualifying Round teams.

Vasilis Spanoulis seemed to score a chunk of his 16 pts on clutch 3-pointers in the 2nd half. Spanoulis hit a quick dribble pull-up over Turiaf at the top of the key to tie the game at 69 with 10 secs to play. Though, his most memorable 3pt. make came in the 3rd quarter where Vasilis lined up a jumper just inside the half-court line to beat the shot clock.

Spanoulis hit 4-of-6 3pters for the game, including another big make coming up the lane off a screen to cut the lead to 63-62 in the 4th.

Greece could not connect on multiple opportunities to knock down shots to grab the lead in the 2nd half. Greece only made 6-of-24 from behind the arc, and the normally reliable Antonis Fotsis couldn't find his touch (1-for-7 from 3pt.)

The French had serious troubles trying to contain Sofoklis Schortsanitis on the blocks. Sofo showed off more than his patented drop-steps. Mixed in two up/under step-thru moves (one led to a thunderous dunk) on his way to 12 pts on 4-for-4 fgs & 4-for-6 fts. The lucky thing for France was that Sofo could only manage 12 minutes of floor time because of foul trouble.

France is headed to the quarterfinals with a #1 seed, but there is a good chance Spain will get the #4 seed in Group F. Not a very nice prize for winning Group E. This loss dropped Greece to the #3 seed in Group E and they could face Slovenia, Turkey, or Spain in the quarterfinals. Not fun times for them either.


GROUP E: Croatia 70, Germany 68

In a win-or-go-home game, Croatia capitalized on a late flurry of German miscues to squeeze through to the Quarterfinal Round. Germany's quarterfinal hopes unraveled in the last six minutes of the 4th due to some untimely mistakes.

Germany committed six TOs over a four-minute stretch midway thru the 4th that allowed Croatia to go on a crucial 7-0 run. If the Germans want to point to one thing that sunk their chances in this game, it was turnovers--turned the ball over 20 times to only nine by Croatia.

Croatia were driven to victory by their big PG combo of Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic. Roko was a blur on offense, constantly busting into the teeth of the defense. Ukic hit an array of runners throughout the game, including an difficult hanging 10-foot jumper in the lane off a spin move that gave Croatia a 59-57 lead. Roko also got all the way to rim for a few scores, including a big driving dunk to tie the game at 57. Planinic mixed in some outside makes (two 3pters.) with some work inside the arc, often setting teammates up out of the low post. Zoran finished with 11 pts & 4 assts.

Croatian bigman Sandro Nicevic came off the bench to chip in 10 points from inside & out. Nicevic & Marko Banic each corralled four off. rebs, while Banic came up with a huge off. board with 0:40 left that allowed for Zoran Planinic's driving lay-in for a 67-62 lead.

Croatia is notoriously tough on the offensive glass and they grabbed 13 off. rebs to Germany's 20 def. rebs. This nice 40% off. rebounding pct. helped soften the blow of a subpar 44% shooing day.

German PG Heiko Schaffartzik's perfect 18-point performance (6-for-6) was eerily similar to the Greece game, in which he knocked down all his shots, including draining 5-for-5 from long range just like vs. Greece. Heiko hit two monster bombs in the last minute, including a hurried, challenged corner 3pter. that cut the lead to 67-65 with 0:12 left.

Pat Femerling scored his 15 pts off a few rolls, pick/pop long 2-pointers, and a few step-thru moves in the low post. Jan Jagla scored all his 11 pts in the 1st half mostly off of three 3pters.

Not much was expected of this limited roster devoid of primary scoring options, but they played well above their means. The Germans only won one game but they were competitive in every game and only one loss was by double figures. Just getting out of the first round was an accomplishment. Dirk Bauermann has been one of the finer national team coaches in the Europe the last five years. The German coach should be commended for the effort & physical defense he squeezed out of this squad.

Have to imagine this inspired play has made a positive impression with the FIBA brass for a wild-card consideration. If Germany can convince the FIBA executive board that Nowitzki wants to play next summer, it will be hard to leave the Germans out of Turkey. Germany's int'l future looks to be encouraging with promising young talent like Schaffartzik, Robin Benzing, Elias Harris & Tim Ohlbrecht.

Croatia was not overly impressive today (like they have been all tourney), but they did secure the final quarterfinal spot out of Group E. Croatia's quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of the Turkey-Slovenia game on Wednesday. Croatia has underachieved up to this point, and find it hard to believe they can advance to the semis.


Russia 71, Macedonia 69: The Russians turned back Macedonia's last gasp effort for a playoff spot thanks mostly to a dominating performance by 23-year-old center Timo Mozgov. Mozgov destroyed the Macedonians for 25 pts (11-for-17) & 11 rebs. He particularly ate them up on the offensive glass where he ripped down 10 off. rebs (That must be some type of Eurobasket record). The offensive rebounds were a huge bonus considering that Russia shot just 40% overall, and 1-for-15 on 3pts. PG Anton Ponkrashov complemented Mozgov on the perimeter with 10 pts, 7 assts & 6 rebs. In what could be his last national team appearance, veteran PG Vrbica Stefanov finished a strong tournament with 16 pts & 4 assts. Center Todor Gecevski chipped in with 16 pts. Russia (3-2) winds up with the #2 seed in Group E, which means they will either face Slovenia or Serbia in the quarters.