Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Day 4 Analysis (Spain-Lithuania, Turkey-Greece)

GROUP D: Lithuania 76, Spain 73

If Spain is waiting to turn it on, it may be too late. Spain had a disastrous 4th quarter that was reminiscent of its 4th-quarter collapse in the 2007 EuroBasket final vs. Russia. Now, Spain is looking at a 3rd-place finish in Group D, which would put them in line to play Greece in the Round of 16 and the U.S. in the quarterfinals--a matchup that would be reminiscent of the USA-Yugoslavia quarter from the 2002 Worlds: the two best teams on paper playing, with one team going home medal-less.

Lithuania thoroughly outplayed Spain in the 4th. Spain was outscored 23-9 in the final frame and they committed seven TOs. Marc Gasol replicated his brother Pau's poor play in the 4th quarter of the '07 Euro final by missing three crucial FTs and coughing up two TOs in the last 6:00.

The offensive glass battle, in which Lithuania grabbed 14 off. to Spain's 23 defensive boards, might have tipped the game in Lithuania's favor. Thought Lithuania's work on the offensive glass in the 2nd quarter allowed them to stick around in the 1st half.

Spain was up 18 points with 4:00 left in the 3rd. Why did Spain squander this lead? Not sure I have a good answer besides Lithuania was just more aggressive over the last 15 minutes. Lithuania was just quicker to the ball. Spain also settled for threes early in the 4th, and went cold--they were 0-4 from distance in the first four minutes of the quarter, which helped Lithuania get back into it in a hurry.

Aggressive play from Martynas Pocius and Jonas Maciulis was major for Lithuania. Both guys are known for their hard-nosed style. Maciulis scored all his 13 points in the last 15 minutes while Pocius scored 10 of his 13 in the last 10:01 of the game.

All of Maciulis' four steals came in the 4th. Two back-to-back steals that Jonas took in for dunks gave Lithuania a huge jolt midway thru the 4th. Jonas' activity paid off with drawn fouls as well. Also, he had a big offensive rebound off a missed FT that led to FTs for him on the ensuing possession.

Pocius had a big off. rebound and put-back to beat the 3rd Q buzzer. Then, in the 4th, Pocius' quick pull-up 3-pointer off a high ball screen to tied the game 66-66. He sprinkled in some purposeful drives to rim as well. Pocius has given Lithuania good minutes this summer and is coming off a productive season with Zalgiris.

Linas Kleiza did work out of isolation as he is wont to do for Lithuania. He hit a couple off-balance mid-rangers and two 3-pointers in isos. Another iso was a clutch play in which Kleiza drove right by Jorge Garbajosa for the go-ahead lay-in with :40 sec left. Linas finished with 17 pts on 7-of-14 and 8 rebs.

Lithuanian PG Mantas Kalnietis outplayed Ricky Rubio today. Kalnietis was the one dictating the action and his speed caused problems for Spain. Kalnietis attacked off the dribble all game. Kalnietis stuck a step-back 3-pointer in Ricky's eye and also bounced an inbound pass off Ricky's back for a lay-up. Kalnietis is not known for his shooting but he did knock down an open 3-pointer with 1:45 left to tie the game at 71-71. Kalnietis dropped 12 pts, 5 assts & 4 rebs.

Marc Gasol caused major issues for Lithuania near the rim for most of the game. When he was not scoring around the rim, he was commanding extra defenders and opening up the floor for Spain. Marc scored on two patented baseline spins, a sweet post-up where faced-up then drove baseline for a reverse lay-in, and one inside-pivot jumper. But Marc's FT shooting was off the mark again--4-for-8 vs. Lith., 14-for-23 for Worlds. Marc finished with 18 pts (7-of-12), 8 (4 off.) & 4 TOs.

Rudy Fernandez was vintage Rudy today--a constant motion machine. Rudy scored in a variety of ways, flew in for rebounds, had a coast-to-coast flush and added an oop to a Rubio alley in transition. But Rudy's 4th quarter was one to forget as he coughed up three turnovers at crucial junctures. Rudy had 13 pts, 9 rebs & 3 TOs (one of his TOs maybe should have been credited to Rubio).

Juan Navarro was once again a reliable shot-creator, making jumpers, a few patented floaters, some sneaky drives and drawing fouls. Jorge Garbajosa banged down some open jumpers for 11 pts (3-for-5), but I thought he had trouble containing Kleiza.

Ricky could never get much going on Tuesday and did a poor job finishing in close. My partner has discussed Ricky's finishing skills needing work in the past. Rubio's bad passes in the 4th led to Maciulis' back-to-back dunks. Spain seems like it would be well-served to get Rubio into more of a pick-and-roll game, in which he plays his best. Ricky's box-score line was dreadful: 3 points on 1-7 FG, 2 ast, 2 TO in 28 min.

The outcome of this game sets up the likely scenario of a Spain vs. Greece meeting in the Round of 16. Then, the winner of that game would likely face Team USA. So, we could have two out of the pre-tournament medal favorites of Spain, Greece & USA not medaling.

In our preview, we referred to Spain's struggles in group play at Eurobasket and we're seeing a similar pattern this year. Last year in group play, Spain lost to Serbia and Turkey, while Britain and Slovenia came close to upsets. Then Spain found another gear in last year's game vs. Lithuania midway thru the 2nd quarter, and rolled thru the rest of the tourney. But this year their complacency could bite them in the butt since Greece and Team USA will likely be in their sub-bracket.

For whatever reason, these guys aren't responding to Coach Scariolo. And we have to imagine his job is hanging by a thread and only a victory over Team USA in a possible quarterfinal matchup can save it.

GROUP C: Turkey 75, Greece 66

Important win for Turkey since this should secure first place in Group C and thus would ultimately allow them to avoid Team USA, Spain & Greece until the finals.

The game had some nice back-n-forth action in the middle of the 2nd, and thought we had the best game of the tourney brewing. But the action bogged down in the 2nd half. Greece had some success in the 1st half, but that was mostly against man-to-man; once Turkey went zone Greece rarely found any consistency on offense. Though, Greece did find some success getting out in transition.

I now have a new favorite FIBA zone, sorry Russia. Very impressed with Turkey's 2-1-2 for the second time in as many games. The guards do a good job shifting and are adept at pushing the ball to the sides. Then you have to deal with a backline with two 6-9 guys & a 7-footer, all mobile. (We discussed Turkey's zone in more detail here)

Turkey went with the zone for most of the 2nd half with much success. Turkey also went with a super-sized lineup with Hedo at the 2 for extended stretches, and this strategy definitely made the zone more effective. I could foresee this zone giving Team USA all type of issues if they meet Turkey.

Vassilis Spanoulis and Dimis Diamantidis rarely got the deep penetration that is vital to their games. When you can limit Spanoulis to six shot attempts, two FTAs & five points your, chances of toppling Greece are very good.

Ersan Ilyasova was the star of the day. Simply, Ilyasova's jumper was wet. Ersan banged home all of his six 3PA to finish the game with 26 pts & 5 rebs.

Was Hedo's shot selection poor? You bet. Hedo was only 2-for-12 from the floor with many ill-advised attempts. Hedo is currently shooting 24% overall and is coming off a EuroBasket in which he shot only 33%. Hedo did knock down a big 3-pointer with 3:00 remaining that gave Turkey breathing room. He also did some other productive things like 6 rebs, 3 assts & 2 stls.

Omer Asik was a finishing machine once again. Asik finished strong with a few dunks off roll/cuts and finished thru contact to draw the foul a few times. Last year, we noticed his ability to re-adjust his body on the move and did a few times today. Defensively, he changed some shots and even blocked a Spanoulis 3pt. attempt helping on pick/roll. Though, the FT-line woes still exist--2-for-6 from the line. Omer put up 12 pts (5-of-6), 6 rebs & 2 blks in 17 mins.

Giannis Bourousis led the Greeks with 15 pts, mostly by spotting up behind the arc (3-for-8). Thought Nick Calathes (6 pts, 4 assts) did a nice job generating points in transition.

Sofo Schortsiantis impacted the game the moment he entered. He carved out post position like Shaq and scored on some nimble post moves. He must have drawn 5-6 fouls and also drew extra defenders. He also picked up fouls in hurry, basically Sofo in nutshell. He just does not understand his own strength or width. Some of his TOs were offensive fouls (this is usually the case). Sofo had 9 pts & 4 TOs in 13 mins.

Right now, Turkey might be the team that Team USA wants to see least. Turkey's zone, deep frontline and home crowd could be hard to overcome in the finals.

*--For other scores from Tuesday check here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Day 3 Analysis (USA-Brazil)

GROUP B: USA 70, Brazil 68

Quite a surprise in Istanbul on Monday, as an undermanned Brazilian team took a previously dominant Team USA to the limit, even with Anderson Varejao unavailable to suit up in green & yellow due to an ankle injury.

While USA-Brazil was tense and dramatic, it really wasn't a well-played game by either team. Even with a high-scoring first quarter, the teams shot a combined 42% from the floor and combined for 42 TOs (US-22, Brazil-20).

The 4th quarter was a parade of bad shots on both sides. Brazil jacked up 5-6 ill-advised shots in the 4th, with Barbosa & Huertas the main culprits. Each side could muster only nine points in the final stanza.

This game was not just about what Team USA didn't do right. Brazil made plenty of mistakes on its own, including poor shot selection. It wasn't just about Team USA's defense--Brazil's collective decision-making could have been better.

Brazil matches up physically with Team USA as well as any FIBA team besides France. We thought Brazil gave Team USA problems with athleticism of its own.

We really don't think the USA defense was that bad in the first half, when Brazil scored 28 in the 1st quarter and 46 for the half. Brazil made a ton of great plays. Tip the hat to them instead of wondering what Team USA did wrong.

Brazil just hit some tough/crazy shots in the 1st half, with a banked-in three plus a couple assists on threes from guys who were falling down, and a couple other fortuitous possessions. It was almost like an NCAA Tournament game where the shots were falling from all angles for the underdog. Thought the rotations were a little tighter in the 2nd half, with better contesting. But we don't think Team USA was much better as a whole in the 2nd half.

We have to give props to Brazil Coach Ruben Magnano. We've been huge fans of Rubes for about a decade since his Argentina team put on a clinic vs. Team USA in 2002. Magnano-led teams have now given Team USA fits four times: two wins (ARG '02 Worlds, ARG '04 Olympics) and two scares (ARG '03 Americas, BRA '10 Worlds).

Brazil spread the floor well, a Magnano trademark, and would often start its sets up very high. The pick/roll coverage wasn't superb but I don't think Team USA had major breakdowns there. Team USA actually got hurt on off-ball curls nearly as much as pick/rolls.

This is not a surprise as NBA players don't see that type of off-ball movement in the U.S.--lots more moving parts to deal with in FIBA ball. Brazil ran a lot of continuity sets, like the ones Magnano's Argentina teams used to perplex Team USA with. It's not just pick/roll that befuddles Team USA, it's the off-ball action and screens coming from all angles. You will see a lot of variations on Princeton sets or flex sets in this tourney. Constant offensive motion is a staple of int'l basketball. Offenses with reads, counterplays, and counterplays to the counterplays.

If we were preparing Team USA for what to expect in this tourney, we'd tell them that it's like playing the Jazz many times. And if you ask NBA players about defending the Jazz offense, we're sure most would say it's not fun.
(More on this topic as it relates to Team USA, from '07.)

Sure, Team USA could have played the pick/roll somewhat better, but Marcelo Huertas was just making good plays. Don't think the pick/roll defense was that bad. Huertas did a good job going away from the screen, which caused problems.

One mistake was Team USA going over the top of screens involving Huertas. Huertas is generally not a great outside shooter (though he did shot the 3pt. well in Spain).

Brazil is a team that likes to push the pace like Team USA, and they have the athletes to do it. But Brazil should have been more judicious in when to push in transition on Monday. Bad decisions in transition were directly turned into easy scoring opportunities for Team USA a handful of times (USA got 8-10 easy points this way).

Seems like every player in this game mixed some good with some bad. Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose were key contributors for Team USA once again, but they were far from perfect.

Durant led Team USA once again with 27 pts, 10 rebs, 3 stls & 4-of-6 3PA. KD bailed out his squad numerous times but also took some curious shots and committed seven TOs. Derrick Rose was effective with 11 pts, 5 rebs, 4 stls. Thought Rose made some nice plays in transition, but he had 4 TOs of his own.

Chauncey Billups had quite the Jekyll/Hyde game. Yes, Billups took many questionable shots throughout the game--some were awful--and the offense often had little continuity under his direction. But Chauncey was big in the 3rd quarter. He did damage with his dribble, often expertly using hesitations and spins. Billups scored on a nice drive, had a drive-n-dish to Durant for a slam, and drew two fouls on Huertas. His biggest drive came when he went away from the high screen, and absorbed contact from Splitter to finish at the rim. This lay-in gave Team USA a 70-66 lead with :50 secs.

Some have wondered why Coach K stuck with Lamar Odom so much in this game, but we didn't have a major issue with it. Thought Odom's 2nd half play was commendable. We would have played Tyson Chandler a little bit more, but we can understand why Coach K was reluctant to give Kevin Love extended minutes in this game, especially when Tiago Splitter was in the game.

Odom's impact on the defensive end in the 2nd half was an underrated factor. Yes, we understand he committed four TOs and couldn't finish off a lay-in off a spin move late, but Odom made a big impact in the 2nd half, particularly in the 3rd.

Maybe most important of all, Lamar drew two fouls on Splitter in the 3rd, forcing him to sit. One by boxing Tiago out, forcing an over-the-back call, and another by drawing a charge on the baseline.

Odom also guarded the pick/roll well (including a couple hard shows) in the 2nd half and all of his nine rebounds came in the 2nd half. Tiago did make a fairly easy conversion over Odom on the left block but Lamar forced Splitter to go into countermoves on a few other occasions. One was a tough hook shot make off of multiple pivots. Odom finished with 8 pts, 9 rebs & 4 TOs.

Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala (5 stls, 5 rebs) made some nice contributions in help defense situations. Thought Iggy was active in the 2nd half, rotating well, while Gay had a couple blocks. Both players were nonexistent on the offensive end, as Gay scored 1 point on 0-0 FG in 11 minutes, and Iguodala tallied 3 points on 0-1 FG in 29 minutes.

In general, the USA minute distribution negated the key strength of the team's depth, with all five starters going 29 minutes or more, and five reserves logging five minutes or fewer. The U.S. looked as tired as Brazil by the end. Team USA got just 6 points, 5 rebounds, 0 assists in 39 minutes total from its bench.

Too bad Marcelo Huertas might be remembered for rimming out a crucial FT, as that miss should not take away from the problems he caused for Team USA off the dribble. Set up his teammates nicely, including a sweet behind-the-back pass to Splitter for a smash. But the Caja Laboral guard tried to convert too many difficult passes and tossed up a few poor shots. Huertas finished with 8 pts, 5 assts, 4 rebs & 4 TOs.

S.A. Spur Tiago Splitter had a solid showing on Monday, but like every other key player, he had issues. Tiago did finish with some dunks, scored on a few hooks and snatched rebounds out of his area, especially on offensive end. Splitter's defense was tight as usual and showcased his lateral quickness (forced two TOs on Odom). Did a nice job contesting and was stout in screen action, including a monster block on Westbrook from a standstill. Splitter displayed his passing ability from all over, garnering 3 assists, but also made 2-3 careless passes, which helped him pile up 5 TOs.

We thought Splitter showed exactly why we think he'll be a good fit in San Antonio: he's a quality NBA athlete, especially in terms of lateral movement and body control, who will be able to defend effectively both in the paint and out on the floor. He'll contribute on the boards and also in helping with the ball movement on offense, plus he'll add some opportunity scoring. Tiago's line on Monday was 13 pts on 6-12 FG, 10 rebs (4 off.), 3 assts., 2 stls, & 5 TOs in 30 minutes.

Leandro Barbosa made some tough shots inside and out, and crossed up Iggy with a behind-the-back move that cut the lead to 70-68 late, but he offset his shot-making with a bunch of bad chucks throughout the game. Leandro had 14 pts, 4 rebs, 4 asst, 4 stls, 3 TOs on just 5-18 FG/3-13 3PT.

Athletic SF Marcus Vinicius started in place of Andy Varejao and gave Brazil a nice lift with four 3-pointers. Thought his length bothered Durant a few times on defense as well--he blocked one KD shot.

One key difference in the game was at the FT line. Team USA attempted 23 FTs to Brazil's 8 FTs. A little bit more zone by Brazil might have lessened the difference.

We hate to nitpick Ruben Magnano and his game plan, but we would have mixed in just a little more zone. Brazil played the entirety of the game in man-to-man besides a few possessions at the end of the 1st half. A switch to zone in the mid-part of the 2nd half, when JP Batista, G. Giovannoni & M. Machado were all on the floor, might have helped. The US made a mini-run thanks to dribble penetration during that time. Also, a zone could have possibly cut down the amount of fouls.

Team USA essentially secured the 1-seed from Group B with this win since Iran and Tunisia are of little concern. Brazil still has two challenges ahead with Slovenia and Croatia on the schedule.

2010 FIBA Worlds: Day 2 Analysis (USA-Slovenia, Turkey-Russia, Greece-Puerto Rico)

Group B: USA 99, Slovenia 77

Another day, another blowout for Team USA. Though they weren't as
sharp as in the opener on Saturday, the U.S. still handled a good
Slovenia team with ease, 99-77.

While it never felt as if Team USA was in danger, the Americans were
ahead just 28-23 with 3:36 left in the half and struggling through a
7-minute drought without a field goal, at about the time that a key
player in the game - Kevin Love - started to make an impact.

In the last 3 minutes of the first half, Love produced 6 points and 5
rebounds to propel Team USA to a 42-28 lead, and they never looked
back - a 17-2 run early in the third turned it into a laugher. On the
day, Love had 10 points and 11 rebounds in 13 minutes, and he did a
little bit of everything - mainly using his big frame to establish
position in the right spots. In addition to dominating the boards,
Love finished a hoop with a dunk on a Slovenian head, kindly handed
one of his 5 O-boards to Kevin Durant for a wide-open three,
threw a couple beautiful outlets, and offered a signature play in
which he caught an offensive rebound and flipped the ball in - all with
one hand, while holding off an opponent with the other.

Love now has 21 rebounds in 26 minutes played in the tournament. Those are Chamberlain-Russell kind of board numbers. It's a wonder this guy doesn't play more minutes for every team he's on.

Ho hum, Kevin Durant was the best player on the floor, and is
the best player in the tournament - he had 22 points, 4 rebounds, 4
assists, 4 steals on 8-13 FG in 23 minutes.

The U.S. should handle a banged-up Brazilian team easily on Monday,
and then they get to put it in total cruise control for the rest of
the week, with games vs. Iran and Tunisia on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, followed by a few days off before the medal round.

For Slovenia, Goran Dragic had a couple nice moves, but was
mostly bottled up by the USA defense - he had 7 points, 4 assists, 3
TO on 2-8 FG in just 20 minutes, after picking up some ill-advised
fouls early. Boki Nachbar had some nice moves en route to
leading Slovenia in scoring with 13. Gaspar Vidmar flashed some
impressive athleticism en route to scoring 10.

GROUP C: Turkey 65, Russia 56

Turkey beat a Vik Khryapa-less Russia to set up a battle of 2-0 teams with Greece on Tuesday. This game was a defensive-minded affair with a heavy dose of zone.

You know I constantly praise Russia's David Blatt's willingness to mix up his defenses and for his use of eccentric zone alignments. Well, Turkish Coach Tanjevic gets the props today for his use of a 2-1-2 for most of the game. It was extremely effective. And I always appreciate a well-played zone.

Turkey shifted well in the zone with good activity from their guards and Omer Asik/Semih Erden were effective as the focal points. It also helped that Turkey has great size. Granted, Russia is not the most naturally gifted offensive team, either.

You usually see 2-3 the majority of the time in FIBA or NCAA zones. I tend to prefer a 2-1-2 zone because it muddies up the paint, better at clogging driving, passing & cutting lanes. I understand you can't get out to the corner shooters as well, but that's what you need to sacrifice to shut down the paint. With the shorter 3pt. arc in FIBA, it is easier to get to shooters when in zone.

Isn't the idea of the zone mainly to clog the painted area? If I'm playing Team USA, I would try some 2-1-2; if they beat you with jumpers from the side, so be it. I'll accept some uncontested jumpers as long as the paint is squeezed. Lesser of two evils.

Also, like the use of zone vs. team who run Princeton-type sets (like Russia) because it disrupts the cuts and passes crucial to that formation. Also, zone keeps the bigs near the baseline which help against back cuts.

Russia often likes to keep the basket area open. And they could get no continuity going once Turkey went with the zone. Russia was difficult to watch on offense for extended stretches.

Russia had a brutal middle section of the game. The offense was all kinds of messed up, no quality looks to be had vs. the zone. Russia scored only 22 points in the 2nd & 3rd quarters combined on 6-of-24 shooting. Turkey held Russia to 32% shooting for the game.

Turkey's offense was not particularly exacting either. As usual, Russia mixed up its defenses and featured some of their off-kilter matchup zone.

Hedo Turkoglu stunk for most of this game by forcing the action and chucking up shots (1-for-9 thru three quarters). Then he decided to perk up in the 4th, scoring 12 of his 14 pts. Hedo started the 4th with a couple purposeful lay-ins, then later in the 4th, he made a nice jumper in an extended post-up.

Hedo possibly made up for his earlier transgressions in one key possession. Hedo saved the ball from out of bounds then finished off the possession with a 3-pointer to push the score to 62-51. Finally, Hedo iso-ed his defender up high and drained a step-back 3pt. to put the game away with :50 secs left.

Recently signed Chicago Bull Omer Asik continues to play well for the Turkish National Team. Asik finished with 10 pts on 5-for-7 with 7 rebs & 2 blks in 20 minutes--numbers similar to his Eurobasket averages. Asik changed multiple shots, including one on the perimeter and has a superb block on Monya off a pick/roll.

Did his usual quality job of finishing plays. He had a nice follow-up dunk, a tough finish for plus-1 off a Hedo dish, converted a nifty step-thru move with head fake off a roll and had a great drive past Timo Mozgov off a high post-up. Asik even connected on a decent looking hook.

As we mentioned in our scouting report, we feel Asik was a good bargain for the Bulls, and he should have an easier adjustment to the NBA than Mozgov thanks to a better feel for the game, plus a better overall defensive game with less fouling.

Turkey also got nice input from the other NBA frontliners. Ersan Ilyasova added 10 pts & 10 rebs, while Boston Celtic reserve center Semih Erden had a productive 20 minutes with 9 pts & 5 rebs.

Sergey Monya had another solid all-around game (13 pts, 5 rebs, 4 assts, 2 stls, 2 blks & three 3pters) and his on-point help defense was good as usual.

NY Knick center Timo Mozgov had a rough outing with three fouls in 12 mins. Timo's fouls came because he was way too aggressive ramming into opposing players. He did this yesterday vs. Puerto Rico and he needs to recalibrate how he takes angles. The major drawback in his game is constant foul trouble. He led Eurobasket in fouling last year with four per game.

Russia is expected to get Khryapa back for the next game and they will need him when they face Greece on Thursday.

GROUP C: Greece 83, Puerto Rico 80:

Greece (barely) survived another game without suspended Antonis Fotsis and Sofo Schortsiantis to keep its hopes alive of taking Group C.

Greece made a key run in the 3rd thanks to its veteran starting guard trio (Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Zisis), all of whom hit 3-pointers during that run. Vasilis Spanoulis led all scorers with 28 pts on 8-for-12 shooting.

The difference in the game was Greece's ability to get to the free throw line. Greece went to the line 15 more times than P.Rico. Spanoulis drew fouls all game, quite a bit on the perimeter, getting to free throw line nine times.

Also, Puerto Rico did not help itself by shooting 9-for-18 at the stripe. Though, some might say that the foul disparity was because of dubious officiating. Possibly. P.R. Coach Manolo Cintron sure thought so, and he was assessed an untimely tech with Puerto Rico down two points with 1:15 left.

Spanoulis banged home four 3-pointers most of them at crucial moments. Spanoulis hit two big 3-pointers that tied the game in the 4th. He also hit a momentum shifting 3-pointers early in the 3rd to ignite a 12-4 run. Spanoulis scored 14 of his 28 in the 4th. Spanoulis also showed off his patented in-out dribble move that he likes to use near the rim a few times. Very adept at setting up his defender, like he will dribble off a screen, then he goes away from the screen.

Dimis Diamantidis was a force in drive-n-kick action all game and came alive in the 2nd half, scoring 11 of his 12 pts. Also, he set up Bourousis for a buzzer-beating 3pt. at the end of 3rd off a sweet crossover drive. Dimis had a beautiful post-up in which gave his defender a half-reverse spin then spun back into a short jumper. Diamantidis had 12 pts, 7 assts, & 5 rebs.

But never mind all that, Dimis' best play was a poke steal on Barea with Greece clinging to a 75-74 lead with 2:30 left. Barea had Dimis iso-ed up high and tried to drive left but Dimis did a great job shuffling his feet to beat Barea to the spot. Forced JJ into a spin in which Dimis poked the ball away. Vintage Dimis.

Giannis Bourousis couldn't hit his 3PA (1-for-6) but did contribute 12 pts, 9 rebs, 2 stls & 2 blocks. Love the way he snatches the ball. He can rebound out of his area and grab the ball in traffic. Like we said before--Bourousis is a better rebounding Memo Okur.

Kostas Tsartsaris gave the Greeks an early lift when the rest of the team was struggling to score. Kostas scored all his 14 pts in the 1st half by finishing some rolls and drawing contact to get to the FT line.

Greece's defense was mostly unimpressive. Thought their resistance was weak and they let P.R. have too much space. Let Puerto Rico shoot 49% from the floor and 11-for-22 on 3PA. Greece's defense has been a bit shaky, and wonder if they've lost some of their defensive intensity because Coach Yannakis is no longer at the helm. Need to watch more before definitive answer.

For the second day in row, JJ Barea got to wherever he wanted off the dribble. But just like yesterday, some questionable shots were taken and some questionable decisions with the ball were made. JJ led Puerto Rico once again with 20 pts, 5 rebs & 4 assts.

7-3 PJ Ramos was a factor for the second game in a row. Ramos was stellar with 16 pts on 8-for-8 shooting, 8 rebs (5 off.) & 3 assts. As we mentioned in our preview, the big guy has spry moves combined with a soft touch. Effectively used his drop-step a few times, even contorting himself to score a reverse lay-in. Hit a soft hook and a short turnaround as well. Made some impressive passes out of the post as well. Understand why he entices NBA scouts, but think he has a rep for a low motor.

Greece gets Fotsis and Sofo back from suspension just in time for its anticipated clash with Turkey on Tuesday. That game should likely determine the Group C winner. These two teams are intense rivals and the arena should be electric.

Serbia was not as lucky dealing with the after-effects of the brawl. We thought Serbia would be pushed vs. Germany, and they lost in double-OT 82-81. But Serbia has yet to play Argentina and if they beat them, they could still win Group A based on tiebreakers, though Germany now can't be discounted, either.

More Day 2 analysis: Argentina-Australia and Spain-New Zealand

*--For other scores from Sunday check here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Day 2 Analysis (Argentina-Australia, Spain-NZ)

GROUP A: Argentina 74, Australia 72

For the second day in a row, Argentina was pushed to the limit before finding a way to pull out the win.

Argentina methodically chipped away at a 10-point deficit in the 2nd half to hold off Australia. The first half was mostly nondescript, but we saw the action pick up in the 2nd half.

Luis Scola got back to his efficient ways with a 31-point, 9 rebound effort on 11-of-19 shooting. Scola did most of his damage as the roll man. He hit 3-4 pick/pop foul-line jumpers. To say Scola gets superstar calls from FIBA refs is an understatement. He's definitely a physical guy, but he gets some calls other pedestrian players don't. I only counted two buckets off post-ups, but both were tough makes. One was a banker in traffic plus the foul. Then he added a sweet up/under move finished with his left hand that gave ARG a 69-66 lead late.

Pablo Prigioni, usually reluctant shooter, was 3-for-5 from 3pt. land, including one where he squared up Dave Andersen and buried a right corner 3-pointer to give ARG a 72-69 lead late. Prigioni dropped seven dimes including a beautiful bounce pass to a streaking Scola in transition (led Scola like a good QB). Few PGs can throw bounce passes like Prigioni, one of the best in the world.

PF Leo Gutierrez started in place of ailing Fab Oberto and was a key to victory. He brings little to the table, but the one thing he can do is drill standstill jumpers. 15 of Leo's 17 pts came behind the arc and he even added a very nice runner in the lane.

Carlos Delfino had another erratic shooting day (3-for-11) and had to deal with foul trouble, but still found ways to have an impact. Delfino's post-up action was crucial on back-to-back plays in the last 5:00. Carlos hit a turnaround to give ARG a 62-59 lead, then on next possession, 'Los drew the double then kicked to Gutierrez for a big 3 to make the lead 65-59. Carlos did a nice job of running the offense.

Australia's bigs could not replicate the success they had the day before. After a dominant performance the day before, Aleks Maric couldn't do anything right--four TOs and four fouls in 12 minutes. Dave Andersen made some nice moves to the basket, but he just did a putrid job finishing off. Matt Nielsen was alright with 10 pts & 10 rebs.

Patty Mills knocked down 4-of-9 3PT on his way to 21 pts & 5 assts. But probably the best part of his game was that he committed zero TOs. He hit a pull-up 3 to tie the game at 69-69 with :50 secs left.

Former GS Warrior summer-league SF Joe Ingles went off for 22 pts, many coming off nifty dribble-drives. One highlight was a baseline drive combining a spin move with a crossover.

No let up for the Aussies as they face the Germans on Monday. The loser of that game could possibly end up the 4th-seed in Group A, which you don't want. The Group A-4 meets the Group B-1 in the Round of 16.

Group D: Spain 101, New Zealand 84

It was another indifferent performance from the putative pre-tournament co-favorite, as Spain was unable to fully shake one of the weaker sides in the World Championship until the 4th quarter.

While New Zealand ran some beautiful sets on offense, it took some pretty lethargic defense by Spain for the Tall Blacks to go on a 15-3 run in the last 2:39 of the first half, cutting the Spanish lead to just 48-44 as the teams went to the locker room.

Another 8-0 run in the late 3rd/early 4th allowed the Kiwis to cut the lead to 77-68 win nine minutes left, before a 16-0 run by Spain finally put the game away for good.

Team España was just too damn big inside. Marc Gasol had his way down low, scoring 22 points on 7-9 FG/8-9 FT in 26 minutes. All told, Spain shot 65% overall, including 74% on 2-pointers and 50% on 3's.

There were some clever passes on both sides. Ricky Rubio had several pretty/smart ones en route to 11 assists, along with a few ugly/dumb ones en route to 4 TOs.

Jorge Garbajosa knocked down 4-4 3-pointers, including a couple at particularly opportune moments. 18 for JC Navarro, and a 12-12-4 for Rudy Fernandez. Hopefully, Rockets fans averted their eyes, as their draftee Sergio Llull had another terrible game with 0 points, 2 assists, 1 TO on 0-2 FG in 13 minutes.

Kirk Penney knocked home 21 points to lead New Zealand - he leads the tournament with 29 ppg thus far.

More Day 2 analysis: USA-Slovenia, Turkey-Russia and Argentina-Australia

2010 FIBA Worlds: After Day 1, Advantage USA Over Spain

Um, so, yeah, about that pick of Spain to win the gold medal.... Just one day into the 2010 FIBA World Championship, the landscape looks mighty different as the United States efficiently dismantled a decent Croatia team 106-78, while Spain was shocked 72-66 by a French squad which was assumed to be merely decent as well.

It may sound funny, but to me, the most impressive thing about the United States' performance was that they forced only 12 Croatia turnovers and scored just 19 fast-break points. This wasn't a game in which the U.S. overwhelmed the opponent by running them out of the building - performances which we've frequently seen vs. lesser opponents, and which can be difficult to sustain against better teams (as Kevin Pelton astutely pointed out on Basketball Prospectus).

No, this was easily the best display of half-court offense that we've seen from this edition of Team USA, as they shot 55%, hit 12-30 3s (40%), and committed just 7 turnovers. Everyone on the roster contributed to the balanced attack, led by Eric Gordon's 16 points on 6-8 FG/4-6 3PT. The Thunder tandem also had it going on Saturday: Kevin Durant posted a 14-8-3 in just 21 minutes, while Russell Westbrook went 10-3-4 on 4-4 FG in 16 minutes, including a couple spectacular plays.

Much like the 2006 Worlds team, Team USA broke the game open in the second quarter, outscoring Croatia 26-6 in that frame.

After playing erratically all summer right up through the game vs. Lithuania a week ago, the U.S. squad has looked increasingly comfortable and improved with each game - of course, a big credit to Coach Mike Krzyzewski.


A note on Croatia's 7-2 center Ante Tomic, a top European center for Real Madrid, whose rights are held by the Utah Jazz. I continue to be lukewarm on Tomic's prospects as an NBA player. He's skilled for sure, but I worry about post players who lack lower-body strength, as Tomic does. I think it's tougher to add/more important for a big than upper-body strength.

On Saturday, Tomic operated effectively early in the game when matched up vs. a smaller player in Lamar Odom. But when a true center in Tyson Chandler came in, Tomic struggled to hold his position and was repeatedly pushed out away from the basket. Croatia's game vs. Brazil on Thursday should offer another good opportunity to see Tomic against quality NBA-level defensive bigs.

As far as the idea that Tomic might be a "young Pau Gasol", note that Tomic is 23 years old, while Pau was productive from the moment he stepped into the NBA at age 21 in 2001-02, and averaged a 19-9 on 51% FG at age 22 in 2002-03. Pau is a different kind of cat. I see Tomic as a bench scorer on the NBA level.


As locked in as Team USA was, that's how lethargic and sloppy Spain was in losing to France.

The story of the game was the superior defense played by the French, as they limited Spain to a paltry 36.4 FG%, including just 35.5% on 2-pointers. Ian Mahinmi, Ali Traore and Florent Pietrus were stout on the interior while Nic Batum and Mickael Gelabale were outstanding on the perimeter.

France is easily the most athletic team in the tournament other than the U.S., and they used their athleticism to strong effect on Saturday in applying their tough, physical D.

Batum also erased four points with two spectacular chasedown blocks, including a key one on Sergio Llull, down two in the fourth quarter. Batum also scored 14 points and it seemed like France could have stood to call his number more often.

Gelabale was an NBA player with Seattle for two seasons, and the 27-year-old looked like one on Saturday, with a team-high 16 points and 6 rebounds on 6-10 FG and 2-4 3PT in addition to his excellent D.

We have to wonder if Ian Mahinmi might end up being Luis Scola 2.0 for the Spurs, in terms of an effective player whom they inexplicably let slip away to a division rival. The athletic 6-11 Mahinmi, still just 23, sure looked good today as part of the tough defensive effort which stymied Marc Gasol & friends inside on Saturday. Mahinmi, who signed with the Mavericks as a free agent, had 5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and an outstanding block in 16 minutes.


Spain seemed to have the game under control several times, always relinquishing their edge, and collapsing for good in the fourth quarter. They missed 6 of 8 FT during one key stretch in the 4th (and were just 17-32 overall).

Trailing 60-54, Spain saw the wheels come off as Rudy Fernandez was whistled for a foul and then called for a technical. In FIBA play, techs are also charged as personals, and they're two shots and the ball. As a result, Fernandez fouled out, and France got an extra four points to go up 65-54 with 1:18 left.

It's worth noting that it was a bad call on Rudy, as he got all ball, one of many horrible calls in a game which had truly awful officiating, though it didn't seem to handicap one team over the other.

Marc Gasol had a nightmare of an opener, limited to just 20 minutes due to foul trouble, and scoring just 8 points on an inefficient 3-7 FG and 2-6 FT.

The loss of Jose Calderon to injury may be more a factor than we had anticipated, mainly because two players who need to step into bigger roles - Raul Lopez and Sergio Llull - were truly horrendous.

Llull was 1-5 from the floor with 2 turnovers in 13 minutes, and had his shot rejected another time in addition to the chasedown seen above.

Lopez was the victim of the unsung player of the game, athletic French backup PG Yannick Bokolo, who had 5 assists in just 10 minutes of play. During one key stretch which spanned the 3rd and 4th quarters, Bokolo's penetration created 4 assists on 5 possessions, plus another play in which he set up Alain Koffi for 2 FT.

Essentially 5 assists in 5 possessions vs. Lopez, which is really saying something in FIBA play, where assists are awarded much more conservatively than in the NBA. This series of possessions cut a 41-34 Spain lead to 48-47. Calderon is far from a stopper, but even he could have done better than this.

Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Ricky Rubio were all fair-to-middling in the game. The perimeter trio was certainly far from sharp, but they weren't the guys who were really killing Spain - the 5-18 combined FT by bigs Gasol, Reyes and Vazquez took care of that.


As good as France's defense was, and as bad as the officiating was, Spain still should not have lost - they blew it. Frankly, we still have our reservations about Sergio Scariolo as the Spanish head coach. Spain rarely took group play for granted under previous coaches. They would roll through inferior teams like they were supposed to. Now, for the second year in row, Spain has started group play with general indifference.

As Jay Aych wrote in his Group A preview:
    "Spain just needs to avoid the complacency that plagued them at the start of EuroBasket last summer. Spain played with half-hearted effort in the first four games. Then, midway through the Lithuania game, Spain decided to flip the switch and they rolled the rest of the way. In its first four games, Spain had a total point differential of +4. In their last five games: +96."
We remember some grumblings from Spanish players last year early in the EuroBasket that they were not high on Scariolo. Not only should Scariolo be questioned about Spain's lack of urgency, he needs to called out for game strategy. Why Spain did not go with more zone? We're really not sure.

Why even expose them to driving lanes at all? France did a pretty good job getting past Spanish defenders. A zone tends to lessen the amount of fouls and possibly could have kept Gasol and Reyes out of foul trouble. As it was, France got to the foul line 27 times.

France has improved its perimeter shooting somewhat over the last few years but that doesn't mean they're great. Would consider them a mediocre shooting outfit, at best. They shot 6-for-18 on 3s in this game and really missed some shots badly. Why would you want entice their athletes to drive the ball? Make these guys jump shooters as much as possible.

Also, give credit to France for winning the FT shooting battle. France normally has major issues on the FT line, but they shot 74% at the charity stripe, including 12-14 in the final 3:19.


Games of interest for Sunday:
1) USA vs. Slovenia (9:30 am EST)
2) Puerto Rico vs. Greece (11:30 am EST)
3) Serbia vs. Germany (Noon EST)
4) Turkey vs. Russia (2 pm EST)
5) Argentina vs. Australia (2:30 pm EST)

American fans looking for a preview of Slovenia can check out our Group B preview.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: Day 1 Analysis (Russia-P.R., Argentina-Germany, Greece-China)

GROUP C: Russia 75, Puerto Rico 66

Close game in which Russia pulled away late for a win that could possibly end up securing 3rd place in Group C. Great win without their best player, Vik Khryapa.

I knew I shouldn't have picked against Russian coach David Blatt when he's going against Puerto Rico coach Manolo Cintron. Kicking myself for that one. Basic rule of thumb: when two FIBA teams are closely-matched, always go with the one Blatt is coaching.

In typical Russian fashion, their defense set the tone. Russia held Puerto Rico to 39% shooting overall. The 3pt. shot is a big part of P.R's attack but they could shoot only 4-for-21. But that's not that surprising, since Russia is notorious for shutting down the 3pt. line. Did a great job communicating and contesting shots.

Blatt, as usual, shuffled thru different defensive looks. Like I've mentioned before, he implements a very unique matchup zone where it seems defenders will move out of their area sometimes to follow the offensive man. The defenders will sometimes change spots in the zone during the possession. I love the stuff he does defensively.

Russia was nothing special on offense themselves. Russia tends to have a middling offense at best, and they only shot 38.6% today. But they made up for the poor shooting by living at the FT line--Russia went 25-for-32 on the FT line. Russia's combination of spacing and no ball-stoppers created lanes for cuts & drives.

Sergey Monya stepped in the absence of Khryapa with a Khryapa-like all-around game: 16 pts (4-for-8 3PA), 7 rebs & 4 assts. Monya buried jumpers, passed well, and brought his patented sound help defense. Sergey hit a big pull-up from 18 feet with the shot clock winding down to give Russia a 56-55 lead early in the 4th. Thought Monya had a solid Eurobasket last year, where he was one of the best defenders in the tourney, and he's off to another good start in FIBA competition.

Russia's center duo, Timo Mozgov & Sasha Kaun, combined forces to do some decent damage in the painted area. Kaun did a good job holding his ground vs. PJ Ramos, never letting him establish his post game. Kaun gave Russia 13 pts, 8 rebs and drew fouls (7-for-12 FTs).

Timo finished with 13 pts on 5-of-8 in 20 minutes of play. Mozgov was effective finishing plays off of rolls/cuts. Had an impressive catch & finish in traffic in transition. Had a big block on Ramos on the ball. Had a few post-ups that not surprisingly weren't fluid. Though, he did make an easy dunk on a nice quick seal vs. vet Daniel Santiago.

Made a few mistakes on defense--took a bad angle on Arroyo P/R and had a poor close-out where he failed to breakdown and shut off baseline. Also, the foul-prone Mozgov picked up two offensive fouls where he was too aggressive.

Russia's Anton Ponkrashov's calling card is passing and he was superb today distributing the rock (11 assists). Set up teammates off of pick/roll and off a few post-ups. Ponkrashov has a knack for drawing fouls and Anton got to the line 10 times today, accounting for his points. Anton is not a good athlete but he just a finds ways to sneak by defender to draw contact.

JJ Barea single-handedly kept Puerto Rico in the game. He was a terror off the dribble the whole game. Utilized hesitation and spins to get to wherever he wanted on the floor. Barea's 25 pts came on jumpers, runners and lay-ins in traffic.

Big man PJ Ramos did not get much going with his back-to-the-basket game, but he did contribute 15 pts & 9 rebs by heading to the front of the rim. Carlos Arroyo was a non-factor throughout.

If Blatt just had one to two gifted scorers to work with, Russia would be a perennial medal contender.

GROUP A: Argentina 78, Germany 74

Entertaining game in which Germany had multiple chances to take the lead late, but came up empty on a handful of possessions (a few costly TOs). I can think of someone who could have helped Germany in late-game situations.

Pretty physical game, but that is to be expected when Argentina and Germany are playing. Fab Oberto was clutching all game and Scola was banging bodies on offense. Germany had 27 fouls today, same amount of fouls they averaged per game at Eurobasket (led the tourney in fouls). A nice chunk of Germany's 18 TOs seemed to be offensive fouls. Some of which were dubious, especially a call on Tim Ohlbrecht late.

It appeared Argentina had taken control of the game by outscoring Germany 26-12 in the 3rd. But Germany knocked down some tough shots to get back in it.

Although Carlos Delfino did not shoot particularly well (39%), he still had a huge day. Handled the ball a ton and coolly ran the offense. He banged down two jumpers on isolations over Jan Jagla after switches--one was a nice step-back three. Also hit a long pull-up 3pt. off a ball screen and had a nice turnaround jumper in the post.

Luis Scola scored on a few hooks and drew fouls (10-for-13 FTA), as usual, all game. But Luis definitely had some issues with Germany's length. Scola finished with 20 pts but on only 4-of-12 shooting.

Have to give props to my man Fab Oberto for a great game. Always thought Oberto's passing skills were underrated and Oberto made a few beautiful dishes today. Plus, he converted a crucial put-back (plus-1) with just under 3:00 left to put Argentina up 74-71. Fab also did his usual good job of sneaking to open spots in the offense, usually on the baseline. Also, Oberto's physical play on defense was effective. Fab pitched in with 11 pts, 6 rebs & 3 assts and the play-of-the-day had to be Oberto's between-the-legs pass to Delfino for a 3pter.

Definitely think Germany's size affected Argentina around the basket. Jan Jagla, Tibor Pleiss, Robin Benzing and Tim Ohlbrecht are all taller than anyone on Argentina, and they made Argentina readjust its shots.

It look like vintage Demond Greene out there for Germany today: 20 pts on 7-of-12 (3-for-4 3PA). But sadly, the only thing he will be remembered for is being stripped by Hernan Jasen with a chance to take the lead with 15 secs left. Greene was drilling jumpers all over the floor and added a tough drive thru traffic.

Jan Jagla (8 pts, 10 rebs (4 off.) & 4 assts) had a nice all-around performance, making nice entry passes, cleaning the boards and making Scola work hard for his points. OKC Thunder draftee Tibor Pleiss did most of his damage finishing at the rim and even mixed in a smooth 18-footer. Pleiss had a solid game (12 pts on 5-of-7), but was saddled with foul trouble.

Germany should give Serbia and Australia tough competition and have a great shot at beating a Nenad/Teodosic-less Serbia.

GROUP C: Greece 89, China 81
(by M. Haubs)

Considered a medal contender by most, Greece had trouble shaking China, a team which many assume will not make it out of the Group Stage. China took a 66-65 lead with 8:00 left, and trailed by just 81-79 with 3:00, before the Greeks were able to finish them off.

The story of the game was Yi Jianlian, who was impressively efficient working with his back to the basket in the low-to-mid post, either executing post moves or facing up and utilizing his soft shooting touch. Yi was able to hold his position on the block and rebound consistently against the strong Greek big men like Giannis Bourossis.

Yi finished with a 26-14 on 9-15 FG/8-11 FT. If anything, China should have gotten him the ball more. Per usual, China's guards often raced downcourt without purpose, flinging up ill-advised shots early in the shot clock. In any event, now we'll see if Yi can do it again. A maddeningly inconsistent player, he did not look especially good in China's pre-tournament play.

Also, after multiple baskets, Yi also sent stares in the direction of Greek coach Jonas Kazlauskas, who headed up China's national team from 2005-08. Not sure what the beef is there.

The effectiveness of China's swiss-cheese zone ebbed and flowed as Greece's shooting went hot and cold. A few passes usually broke it down, though the Greeks often settled for three-pointers - they made 13-39 on the day, as opposed to 16-29 inside the arc.

Nikos Zisis knocked down some key shots in the fourth quarter en route to 21 points, while Bourossis contributed 21 and 8, and Vassilis Spanoulis chipped in with 19.

Greece was missing Antonis Fotsis and Sofo Schortsanitis due to suspension, and they'll be out again on Sunday vs. Puerto Rico, who should be a tougher opponent--likely a cause for concern for Greece after they did not play well without the two bigs on Saturday.

Other Game Results:

Serbia 94, Angola 44:
Serbia had no problems dispatching the undermanned, undersized Angolans by 50 points. Alexander Rasic took advantage of a surplus of backcourt minutes in the absence of Milos Teodosic by dropping 22 pts, 18 coming on 3PT. Dusan Savanovic pitched in 13 pts & 7 rebs while reserve PF Milan Macvan went for 11 pts & 6 rebs. Olimpio Cipriano was the only Angola player in double-figures (10 pts).

Australia 76, Jordan 75: The Boomers survived an upset attempt by upstart Jordan. Australia was bailed out by its bigs, as they got underwhelming play from the perimeter people. Dave Andersen had a monster game with 22 pts (7-of-10), 9 rebs, 4 assts & 2-for-3 3PA. PF/C Aleks Maric powered his way to 23 pts on 10-of-14 & 7 rebs. F/C Matt Nielsen pitched with 9 pts & 4 rebs. Patty Mills had 10 pts but only 1 assts & 0-for-5 from deep. Jordan was led by multi-skilled forward Zaid Abbaas who dropped 20 pts & 10 rebs (6 off.). Scoring guard Rasheim Wright put in 16 pts and crafty PG Sam Daghles had 7 pts, 9 assts & 6 rebs.

Slovenia 80, Tunisia 56:
Slovenia bested Tunisia with little trouble thanks to the superb play of Goran Dragic (16 pts, 8 assts & 5 rebs). Boki Nachbar tossed up 14 pts & 6 rebs, which were basically his average numbers last summer. Gasper Vidmar came off the bench to drop 15 pts & 7 rebs. Trey Kerby's boy, Radhouane Slimane, was the only Tunisian in double-figures (11 pts).

Brazil 81, Iran 65: Guilherme Giovannoni started in place of injured Andy Varejao and led Brazil with 17 pts & 7 rebs (4 off.). Tiago Splitter put up 13 pts and PG Marcelo Huertas had 10 pts & 9 assts. Memphis Grizzly Hamad Haddadi paced Iran with 16 pts, 9 rebs & 5 blocks, including a couple against Splitter.

Turkey 86, Ivory Coast 47:
Ersan Ilyasova played like he did last summer with 17 pts (3-for-4 on 3PA), 8 rebs (3 off.) & 3 assts. SG Omer Onan went 4-of-5 from long range to finish with 18 pts. Chicago Bull Omer Asik pitched in with 8 pts & 12 rebs (7 off.), but was 2-of-8 from the FT line. Hedo Turkoglu only had 6 pts but did have 7 assts & 4 stls.

Lithuania 92, New Zealand 79: Lithuania shot 55% from the floor, which neutralized Kirk Penney's 37-point performance. Linas Kleiza wasn't too bad himself with 27 pts & 8 rebs. Linas shot 11-for-15 overall, 3-for-5 on 3PA. PF Paulius Jankunas added 15 pts and SF Jonas Maciulis had 14 pts.

Lebanon 81, Canada 71: Close game that might have determined the final Round 16 berth in Group D. Lebanon outscored the Maple Leafers 24-13 in the final stanza to win by 10. SF Fadi El Khatib was huge with 31 & 8 rebs. Former Vandy star Matt Freije pitched in 12 pts and Jackson Vroman had 8 pts, 8 rebs & 3 assts. PG Rony Fahed had 17 pts. Miami Heat's Joel Anthony led all Canadian scorers with 17 pts on 8-for-11. Former UConn guard Denham Brown added 13 pts & 6 assts. Andy Rautins and Jevohn Shepherd both had 10 pts.

More analysis on USA-CRO and ESP-FRA coming shortly

Friday, August 27, 2010

2010 FIBA Worlds: USA vs. Croatia & Other Day 1 Games of Interest

FIBA Worlds play kicks off with 12 games on Saturday. We wanted to highlight the top games of the day and give a quick scouting report of Croatia.

---Team USA vs. Croatia, 12 pm EST (ESPN3.com, ESPN Classic)---

A few bullet points on what Team USA should expect from Croatia

- Ante Tomic is the primary interior option: The Utah Jazz draftee combines deft footwork with a feathery touch to do damage on offense. Can bury hooks with both hands. Croatia will try to establish Tomic early on the block. Can hit jumpers out to 17 feet. Good offensive rebounder. Pretty good passer who puts good zip on the ball.

- Be physical with Tomic right from the start: The slightly built Tomic does not enjoy contact and has a tendency to disappear for extended stretches. Ante is often pushed off his spots on both ends of the floor. I realize Team USA does not have a lot of fouls to give on the frontline, but I think physical post play is worth it to get Tomic uncomfortable early.

- Contain the big PG combo of Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic: Yeah, I know NBA fans might scoff at that notion, but Ukic and Planinic are good FIBA PGs. Both are adept at getting in the lane. Ukic can finish & dish, while Planinic is mostly looking to dish. Both guys don't always need screens to shake themselves free. Both are generally shaky shooters, but Ukic shot the ball well last year. Ukic has looked sharp in the prep phase and continues to show an improved outside touch.

- Strength lies on the perimeter: Croatia has five to six guys who can handle the ball and most of their perimeter players are reliable shooters (besides Planinic). Croatia likes to get their guards working off of side ball screens, particularly Ukic. Many of the core players have been playing together for awhile

- Marko Popovic = the Croatian Vinnie Johnson: Combo guard Marko Popovic comes off the bench and has the ability to score points in bunches. Popovic will also handle the ball some, but his specialty is to shoot coming off ball screens. Though, Marko is not very big (6-1) and could be contained by Westbrook or Iggy.

- Marko Tomas & Bojan Bogdanovic are multi-skilled options at SF: Tomas is a dangerous shooter on the catch or off-the-dribble. Adept at quick dribble pull-ups. Tomas is a solid athlete who can put the ball on the deck to the left or right & finish in the lane. Good ball-handler who use some isos and ball screens. NBA prospect Bojan Bogdanovic can do a lot of the same things that Tomas can but will mostly be a spot-up shooter in this tourney.

- Have to locate Marko Banic: Burly PF Marko Banic is a smart player who does a great job at finding the open spots in their offense. Effective scoring off cuts and likes to squirt to open space inside the arc looking to spot-up. Can knock down mid-range jumpers all over the floor, but particularly likes to set up shop on the baseline for short-corner jumpers. Always shoots a high pct. Need to get a body on Banic because he's great on the offensive glass. Banic uses his body well to be a physical post defender.

- Keep Croatia off the offensive boards: Croatia is usually a good offensive rebounding team. Mentioned Tomic and Banic's off. rebounding ability above. 6-10 PF/C Kresimir Loncar is another good off. rebounder on the frontline. Loncar can hit jumpers as well, sometimes behind the arc.

Summary: Will be interesting to see how Croatia handles the pressure. They seem well-equipped with multiple ball-handlers, plus, Ukic and Planinic are familiar with NBA defenders. Croatia has shown some zone looks in the exhibition stage and expect plenty of zone vs. USA. Can't see Croatia going too much with man as Banic & Loncar are non-athletes and would get torched by Durant/Granger/Gay. Croatia is a good overall shooting team and if Tomic can stay assertive the whole game, they could stay competitive.

--Other top games on Saturday (All games on ESPN3.com):

1) Russia vs. Puerto Rico (11:30 am EST):
A battle of closely matched teams that could determine the 3-seed & 4-seed in Group C. Russia is renown for their defense and expect them to mix up looks--matchup zone. But Russia lacks a dynamic scoring threat which holds them back some. Though, their spacing and ball-movement can be nice for stretches of the game. Russia's Timo Mozgov and Sasha Kaun will trade minutes at center. Neither has a post game, but both can be effective rolling to the rim. Puerto Rico is very deep and likes to jack up the long ball. Carlos Arroyo and JJ Barea will dribble all over the place and PJ Ramos is a viable option down low. Vik Khryapa, Russia's top player, is out with injury, so the edge goes to Puerto Rico. Russia should keep this game close because of their defense and they tend to guard the 3pt. line well, Puerto Rico's bread-n-butter.

2) Argentina vs Germany (2:30 pm EST): The best game in Group A on opening day. Germany has the size advantage--start Robin Benzing (6-10), Jan Jagla (6-11) & Tibor Pleiss (7-0) upfront. Expect a lot of post ups, especially with Argentina's lack of length. Germany shoots the ball well. The PG matchup between Pablo Prigioni (Arg.) & Stefan Hamann (Germ) could be interesting. 6-5 Hamann is a good defender and Prigioni sometimes has problems against bigger points. Luis Scola is a efficient beast in FIBA play. Will see if Jagla's length can bother him. Germany should be competitive and this is not an easy out for Argentina.

3) Spain vs. France (2:00 pm EST): Probably won't be close but there will plenty of NBA-related talent on the floor. Last met in the Eurobasket quarters, where Spain overwhelmed a previously undefeated France team, 86-66.

4) Canada vs. Lebanon (11:30 am EST): Could determine who gets the last playoff spot out of Group D. Canada is rather limited on offense and could be is worst shape if Andy Rautins has to sit with a bum knee. Canada does tend to play solid defense, led by Miami Heat center Joel Anthony, which dampens the effect of the anemic offense. Lebanon is not the deepest team but they have better offense talent than Canada. Lebanon is led by former Vanderbilt stud, Matt Freije, who's a (very) poor-man's Dirk. Freije's got 3pt. range and can put the ball on the deck to get himself into mid-range scoring opportunities. Jackson Vroman is an active athlete who runs the floor well, passes, bangs the offensive glass (dangerous on put-backs) and finishes strong. 6-6 forward Fadi El Khatib is a multi-skilled threat who handle the ball, rebound, pass, post-up and create shots for himself. if Rauitns can't go, got to give Lebanon the slight edge.

2010 FIBA World Championship Overview

• FIBA Worlds team previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

The 2010 FIBA World Championship tips off in Turkey on Saturday, and runs through the medal games at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul on Sunday, September 12. The winner earns an automatic berth in the basketball competition of the 2012 London Olympics. Games can be watched for free in the U.S. via ESPN3.com.

The 2010 FIBA World Championship is not nearly the star-studded affair that the 2006 Worlds or 2008 Olympic were, with players such as Mssrs. Gasol, Ginobili, Nowitzki, Yao, Parker, Bogut, Papaloukas, Kirilenko, as well as the entire 2008 U.S. Redeem Team and others, sitting this one out through some combination of rest and injury. This tournament will feature a younger generation of players taking the stage, a table-setter for the 2012 London Olympics.

Beyond the expected absences has been some last-minute chaos affecting several medal contenders, with Jose Calderon (Spain), Andres Nocioni (Argentina), and Nene (Brazil) all late scratches due to injury. Meanwhile, last week's brawl between Greece and Serbia has resulted in suspensions to key players, and may have thrown off the momentum of two of the more impressive teams in pre-tournament play.

After all of the pre-tournament friendlies, the United States and Spain have essentially established themselves as tournament co-favorites, and seem to be on a collision course for a semifinal matchup on Sat., Sept. 11, which would likely decide the ultimate gold-medal winner.

After some shaky performances early in the summer, Team USA started to come into its own with impressive road wins over Spain in Madrid and Greece in Athens. The aggressive American team defense has been a disruptive force throughout, creating turnovers to ignite a lethal transition game. The half-court offense has been more erratic, and will lean heavily on Kevin Durant for production in big games.


How much did we learn from the Americans' exciting 86-85 win over Spain last weekend? It's hard to say.

In some ways, the game did not seem as close as the final score indicated, as the U.S. was beset by some trademark curious FIBA officiating throughout.

In others, it seemed like Team España may have been playing possum. Lanes to the basket were uncharacteristically available to the opponent, as Spain did not really show the 3-2 zone defense which they have played effectively in recent years.

Also, Marc Gasol and Fran Vazquez split the minutes at center, which seemed to negate a size advantage that Spain could exploit vs. Team USA with a twin-tower lineup. Vazquez was effective in his 14 minutes, and runs the pick-and-roll extremely well with Barcelona teammate Ricky Rubio.

Meanwhile, it's also hard to read into what the absences of point guards Jose Calderon (injury) and Rajon Rondo (cut) will mean for their respective teams.

Calderon has a much lower turnover rate than Rubio, which could be key vs. the ball-hawking Americans, yet the Spanish were significantly better with Rubio on the floor Sunday (+19 vs. -20 plus-minus).

If Spain or Greece is able to successfully pack its defense in, I wonder if the U.S. might miss Rondo's ability to distribute in the drive-and-kick game to set up open 3's at the short three-point line. Derrick Rose is better scorer, for sure, but Rondo is a much better distributor. That said, the proof is in the pudding: Team USA has played its best basketball, by far, since Rondo was removed from the lineup.

Ultimately, we see U.S. vs. Spain as pretty much a 50-50 call at this point - the teams look to be very evenly matched. Since we've had Spain no. 1 all summer, we're not going to hedge and play both sides of the coin flip, that would be lame. We'll predict Spain to beat the United States narrowly in the semifinal which should decide the tournament. We can't wait to watch.


A few notes on our silver-medal pick, Greece. They were playing the best ball of anyone a couple weeks ago, but did they peak too early, as ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said that Greek coach Jonas Kazlauskas feared? Did they lose their mojo after the huge brawl vs. Serbia?

Maybe, but two pieces of news were highly favorable to Greece on Thursday. One was the withdrawal of Andres Nocioni due to injury, which is a devastating blow to an Argentine team with little depth, and which helped open up a path to the finals for the winner of Greece's Group C.

The other was the suspension of Greek bigs Antonis Fotsis and Sofoklis Schortsanitis for just two games, meaning they will still be available for the critical third game vs. Turkey. The Greece-Turkey game on Tuesday is definitely one to watch, as the Ankara Arena should be rocking for this matchup of intense rivals, which could also decide Group C... and possibly even the ultimate finalist.

Greece will still have to overcome Puerto Rico on Sunday without its two bigs, but we still favor them to win the group. Nocioni's injury increases Serbia's chances of winning Group A, which means that we could be looking at an intriguing rematch of the Greece-Serbia brawlers in the semifinals.

Also note that, while Greece's chances vs. the U.S. have to be discounted a bit, after the blowout on Wednesday, whoever plays the winner of a presumptive USA-Spain semifinal will have the luxury of catching that team the day after what should be an intense matchup.

Gold: Spain
Silver: Greece
Bronze: USA

1) Spain
2) USA
3) Greece
4) Serbia
5) Argentina
6) Brazil
7) Turkey
8) Slovenia
9) Australia
10) Puerto Rico
11) Croatia
12) Russia
13) Lithuania
14) France
15) Germany
16) Lebanon
17) Canada
18) China
19) New Zealand
20) Iran
21) Jordan
22) Angola
23) Ivory Coast
24) Tunisia
Note that teams 9-15 are extremely tough to separate.

NBA players in the tournament:
• USA: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, Chauncey Billups, Russell Westbrook, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Lamar Odom, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry
• Spain: Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez
• Argentina: Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Fabricio Oberto
• Brazil: Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa, Tiago Splitter
• Serbia: Nenad Krstic
• Australia: Patty Mills, David Andersen
• France: Nic Batum, Boris Diaw, Ian Mahinmi
• Slovenia: Goran Dragic, Primoz Brezec
• Lithuania: Linas Kleiza
• Puerto Rico: Carlos Arroyo, J.J. Barea, Renaldo Balkman
• Canada: Joel Anthony, Andy Rautins
• Russia: Timofey Mozgov
• China: Yi Jianlian
• Turkey: Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik, Semih Erden
• Iran: Hamed Haddadi

Players for NBA fans to watch:
1. The Brazilian Stud: Tiago Splitter

The MVP of the Spanish ACB will join the Spurs in the fall - the Brazilian center could be the pivotal player to determine if San Antonio will vault back into championship contention or fade into the sunset. Catch him against the U.S. on Monday, August 30.

2. The Spanish Point Guards: Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull
With Jose Calderon now out of the Worlds due to injury, the spotlight falls on two young point guards - celebrated 19-year-old Rubio (Minnesota draftee) and 22-year-old Llull (Rockets hold rights) - to run the show for the tournament co-favorites. Both players displayed quite a bit of promise during the 2009-10 season, and Rubio looked very good in the USA-Spain friendly. Athletic prospect Victor Claver, a Blazers draftee, is not expected to get as many minutes for Team España.

3. International Big Men of Mystery: Timofey Mozgov (Russia), Omer Asik and Semih Erden (Turkey)
Little is known in the U.S. about these three centers who will join the Knicks (Mozgov), Bulls (Asik) and Celtics (Erden) for 2010-11. NBA fans can get a glimpse when Russia and Turkey match up on Sunday. Matchups against Greece's rugged big men should offer good scouting opportunities as well (vs. Turkey on Tue., vs. Russia on Thu.).

4. The Croatian Beanpole: Ante Tomic
The skilled-but-rail-thin 7-2 center, whose rights are held by the Jazz, turned heads with an impressive season at Real Madrid. Does Tomic have the body to handle the NBA? Check him out when Croatia faces the U.S. on opening day tomorrow.

5. Young Serbian Prospects: Nemanja Bjelica, Novica Velickovic, Milos Teodosic, Miroslav Raduljica
6. Young German Prospects: Tibor Pleiss, Elias Harris, Robin Benzing, Tim Ohlbrecht

Serbia rode a youth movement to a silver medal at the 2009 EuroBasket. Bjelica, a 2nd-round pick of the T-Wolves in June, has some echoes of Hedo Turkoglu in his game. The other three players' rights are not held by any NBA team. Teodosic was the Euroleague MVP in 2009-10, though his game may not translate to the NBA as well as the others'. [Note: Raduljica is reportedly a late cut from the Serbian roster.]

As far as the Germans, Pleiss is a 7-0 center who was drafted by Oklahoma City this year, while Harris starred at Gonzaga and is a likely lottery pick in 2011. Benzing and Ohlbrecht are both athletic young players.

Jay Aych offered more insight on all 8 players in his Group A preview. Serbia and Germany will match up on Sunday, though Teodosic will miss the game due to suspension.

7. The Greek Bruisers: Sofo Schortsanitis and Giannis Bourousis
Big Sofo may have blown his opportunity to join the NBA with a dismal showing with the Clippers at the Vegas Summer League, but we still find him to be an endlessly entertaining player to watch, with a body like no other at 6-9, 345. Bourousis was rumored to be signing with the Spurs last summer, and still stands atop the Draft Express list of overseas free agents at age 26.

Other Players of NBA interest (Jay Aych offers analysis of all these players in his group previews):
• Draft: Raul Neto (Brazil); Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia); Robert Sacre (Canada); Edwin Jackson (France)

• Free Agents: Marko Tomas (Croatia); Aleks Maric (Australia); Marcelo Huertas (Brazil)

• Rights Held: Giorgios Printezis (Greece/Raptors); Nick Calathes (Greece/Mavs); Sasha Kaun (Russia/Cavs); Nando De Colo (France/Spurs); Fran Vazquez (Spain/Magic); Brad Newley (Australia/Rockets)

• FIBA Official Site: Home | Schedule

• Wikipedia: 2010 FIBA World Championship | World Championship overview, including past results

• Official site: Competition system

Preliminary Round
24 teams are split into 4 groups of 6 each for round-robin play. The top 4 in each group move on.

Knockout Round
16 remaining teams will compete in a single-elimination tournament from there. All knockout round games will be played at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul.

Here's how the groups are set up for the first round (all groups are shown in predicted order of finish):

GROUP A (Kayseri)
[Note: Following Andres Nocioni's late withdrawal from the tournament, we now rank Serbia slightly ahead of Argentina.]

GROUP B (Istanbul)

GROUP C (Ankara)
Puerto Rico
Ivory Coast

GROUP D (Izmir)
New Zealand

Gold: USA
Silver: Russia
Bronze: Croatia
MVP: Shaquille O'Neal

Gold: Yugoslavia
Silver: Russia
Bronze: USA
MVP: Dejan Bodiroga

Gold: Yugoslavia
Silver: Argentina
Bronze: Germany
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki

Gold: Spain
Silver: Greece
Bronze: USA
MVP: Pau Gasol

2010 FIBA Worlds: Group D Preview

• FIBA Worlds overview: Power Rankings, Players to Watch, More
• FIBA Worlds team previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

The 2010 FIBA World Championships tip off in Turkey on Saturday, and run through the medal games at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul on Sunday, September 12. The Painted Area will provide analysis throughout the tournament.

Our preview of the four groups continues with Group D. The top 4 teams will advance to the 16-team knockout stage.

GROUP D (Predicted order of finish):





    New Zealand
Easily the weakest group. Spain should have little difficulty cruising to a 5-0 opening-round record. How the rest of the group shakes out is not easy to figure out.

Lithuania would be probably finishing in 4th place in any other group, but has lucked out being placed in Group D. France has not been impressive in the prep phase but should still have enough talent and strong defense to advance to the Round of 16.

Hell if I know who will take the last knockout-round berth. Canada should once again be inept offensively and could be without Andy Rautins. New Zealand is a one-man gang that lives and dies by how Kirk Penney plays. Lebanon has three quality players, but its talent level dips after that. Flip a coin for the last spot.

(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)


- Notable Players: Marc Gasol; Rudy Fernandez; Juan Carlos Navarro; Ricky Rubio; Sergio Llull, Fran Vazquez; Jorge Garbajosa; Victor Claver; Felipe Reyes
- Notable Absences: Pau Gasol; Jose Calderon; Sergio Rodriquez

Should roll through Group D with little resistance and should beat each opponent by double-digits. Can experiment with different lineups and rest guys the first week of the tourney.

Spain just needs to avoid the complacency that plagued them at the start of EuroBasket last summer. Spain played with half-hearted effort in the first four games. Then, midway through the Lithuania game, Spain decided to flip the switch and they rolled the rest of the way. In its first four games, Spain had a total point differential of +4. In their last five games: +96.

Everyone is back from the EuroBasket championship team besides Pau. Plenty of firepower with Rubio, J. Navarro, S. Llull, Rudy, Vic Claver, F. Reyes, Garba and Marc Gasol at Coach Scariolo's disposal. Just expect more minutes and more touches for Marc. Expect uptempo play combined with lots of ball pressure in group play.

Spain's m.o. last summer was to let its 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 recent loss of Calderon hurts some but it might be a blessing--I think it relieves pressure on Rubio and Coach Scariolo. Now Scariolo does not have to worry about juggling egos. Though, my partner thinks Calderon's loss might have a bigger impact since Calderon takes better care of the ball.

Primary line of attack in the half-court offense is to run JC Navarro and Rudy thru off-ball screens all game. Navarro & Rudy also will run some pick/rolls sometimes--a few La Bomba floaters are likely. Navarro is one of the best pure scorers in this competition.

Spain will mix in some post-ups for Marc and Reyes. Often set up their post-ups with high-lo action. Watch out for Marc's quick baseline spin on the left block and soft hook in the lane. Felipe Reyes has some nifty footwork himself.

Rudy Fernandez has had a well-publicized rough year in Portland, but he was terrific last summer. Rudy had a great EuroBasket (named 1st Team All-EuroBasket) last summer and played a great second fiddle to Pau. Rudy's 2.1 spg and 88% FT shooting both led the tournament. Expect another strong FIBA performance this year.

Ricky Rubio is here to steer the ship. Hopefully, Ricky is aggressive in looking for his shot, in addition to displaying his sterling court vision with the pass.

Sergio Llull will primarily back up Navarro but will get to handle the ball some, maybe even more PG duties with Calderon out. Llull has great speed and has improved his outside shooting. Scariolo does like Raul Lopez (he played for Scariolo on Khimki), so maybe Llull won't get more PG minutes.

Vic Claver, Fernando San Emeterio and Alex Mumbru will have to share what's left of the SF minutes that Rudy doesn't use. Sorry, Stumptown fans, but I don't think you will get to see many minutes from Blazers draftee Claver.

Reyes and Jorge Garbajosa will split time at PF. Garbajosa is still a help defender deluxe inside and out. Fran Vazquez returns to the Senior National Team to hopefully replace some of the interior defense lost in Pau's absence. Vazquez uses his combo of length and athleticism to change shots, board and finish strong on rolls/cuts. My partner would like to see some twin tower alignments of Marc & Fran, and I second that notion.

Expect some zone looks--they've featured 3x2 in the past. Spain's zone is usually top-notch--only Russia's zone looks might be better. You can bet Team USA will see some if they meet in the semis. You won't see Spain go zone-less like they did in the exhibition in Madrid.

Spain was in the weakest opening group in 2006 and rolled thru undefeated. Same should happen this year, likely setting up a date with Team USA in the semis on Sat., Sept. 11th. Should be good.


- Notable Players: Linas Kleiza; Robertas Javtokas; Mantas Kalnietis; Martynas Gecevicius
- Notable Absences: Saras Jasikevicius; Ramunas Siskauskas; Rimas Kaukenas; Donatas Motiejunas; Lavrinovic Bros.; Darius Songaila; Marijonas Petrivicius

This year's version of the perennial Baltic basketball power won't be as potent as past clubs. Many familiar names like Jasikevicius, Siskauskas, Songaila, Kaukenas and the Lavrinovic Bros. have decided to stay home, so Lithuania's chances at medalling are slim.

But this team should be somewhat competitive this summer. Finding quality replacement players is easy, thanks to the country's seemingly endless pool of b-ball talent. It's no surprise the Lithuanian roster is littered with dependable shooters.

Lithuania played some the worst ball they ever have at EuroBasket 2009. Their only win came against Bulgaria last summer. Led the EuroBasket with 16 TOs per game. Only shot 30% on their 3PA last summer, but can't imagine that happens again.

Had an poor overall defensive showing and got torched beyond the arc--allowed their opponents to shoot 40% on 24 3PA. And I continue to feel uneasy about their defensive ability. Lithuania has rarely been known for its defensive play. They were always successful mainly because of their tremendous offensive execution.

Lithuania comes into this tournament with the same major question marks they had last summer about the makeup of its backcourt. And the underwhelming backcourt play was the main reason for their failures at EuroBasket.

The crux of Lith's problems last summer revolved around a patchwork backcourt that could not come close to replicating the playmaking brilliance of Jasikevicius and Siskauskas.

Lithuania could never get into a consistent groove on the offensive end like they did when Saras was orchestrating. The typical quick ball movement and quality shot selection was sporadic. Taking too long to get into their offensive sets was a constant problem. Players were not getting the ball on time and on target. Couldn't drain the deep ball like they normally have in the past.

Lithuania will turn to a point guard-by-committee set-up once again. Mantas Kalnietis, Tomas Delininkaitis and Martynas Gecevicius will share ball-handling duties.

Kalnietis ran the PG spot the last time Saras was absent, at the '06 Worlds, with mixed results. 6-5 Kalnietis is a big, fast guard who likes to push & attack the rim. He's a subpar shooter who makes careless decisions sometimes.

Delininkaitis and Gecevicius are dangerous shooters off ball screens. Gecevicius possesses a textbook stroke and buries pull-ups everywhere.

Linas Kleiza is the primary option who will look to iso and post-up. Kleiza will often get screens to set up his post-ups.

SF Jonas Maciulis could be considered a poor-man's version of Kleiza with his combo of strength and athleticism. Like Kleiza, Lith. will isolate and post Jonas, often flashing him across the lane. Maciulis has turned himself into a reliable shooter over the last few years and he led EuroBasket in 3pt. pct. (58%).

Athletic veteran 7-footer Robertas Javtokas is back to add rebounds, interior defense and strong finishing. PF Paulius Jankunas likes to float out to the perimeter, where he likes to release his awkward, yet effective, jumper. The rugged Jankunas is tough on the boards and bodies up well on defense.

Lithuania does have decent talent on the wings. SF Simas Jasaitis is another long-range sniper who sneaks to open spots. Former Dukie Martynas Pocius loves to aggressively attack the rim and can draw fouls. Pocius is another quality spot-shooter for Lith., but is not as good pulling up.

If Cavs and Bulls fans are wondering what became of Martynas Andriuskevicius, watch some Lith. games to get your answer. The big fella should get some quality floor time behind Javtokas. Former Mavs draftee Renaldas Seibutis adds more talent on the wings but he might get caught in a numbers crunch.


- Notable Players: Boris Diaw; Nic Batum; Nando De Colo; Florent Pietrus; Ian Mahinmi
- Notable Absences: Tony Parker; Roddy Beaubois; Joakim Noah; Ronny Turiaf; Mickael Pietrus; Kevin Seraphin; Alexis Ajinca

Certainly missing some big names but still have enough manpower for a knockout round berth. Have a very hard time getting a read on this team. Have been unpredictable in prep phase. But expect Les Bleus to be a top-rate defensive club once again.

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

But France had a bit of a breakthrough at EuroBasket by shooting 38% behind the arc. Think that number was a little fluky. But they are definitely better thanks to the improved jumpers of Nic Batum, Boris Diaw, Mickael Gelabale and the addition of Nando De Colo.

Though, France can still go thru extended lulls on the offensive end in the halfcourt. Tony Parker was the only Frenchie to average double figures last summer. Consistent production in the half-court offense could be an adventure again.

The opposition's m.o. still has to be to pack the paint vs. France and make the French prove they can hit from outside.

France has somewhat counteracted its perennial offensive woes with great effort on the defensive end & on the boards. France is the most athletic team in Europe, and has the goods to smother teams defensively. Diaw, Batum, Gelabale and Florent Pietrus can guard multiple positions, and switch assignments.

They have the ability to create turnovers, which should come in handy to create transition offensive opportunities. Also, always a very strong rebounding club.

Though, France improved their outside shooting some last summer, they could not improve on their perennial woes at the free throw line--dead last at Eurobasket with 63.4% FT shooting. This is something to keep an eye on.

Boris Diaw becomes the focal point of the offense with Parker absent. Diaw's biggest problem in FIBA play has been inconsistent effort; expect a few no-shows. Also, in the pre-tournament phase, Boris looked as though he'd had a few too many croissants in training.

Nic Batum had a solid EuroBasket tourney last year and his improved shot is much needed. Last year, France would sometimes isolate Batum, and the explosive young Blazer was dangerous driving the baseline.

Ex-Sonic wing Mickael Gelabale returns to national-team duty and adds more versatility on the wings. Gelabale is renowned for his defense and has improved his shooting since leaving the NBA. Gelabale has post-up ability as well.

Looks like recent Spurs draftee Nando De Colo will be thrust into the playmaker role in Parker's absence. De Colo is a 6-5 combo guard who's a terrific ball-handler with great court vision. Nando can slice into the lane to finish or dish. Let's call De Colo an solid shooter.

De Colo will split time at the point with Yannick Bokolo. Bokolo is a great athlete who pushes the pace but lacks a reliable jumper. Potential draft prospect Edwin Jackson (6-2) is a nice athlete with a sweet shooting stroke. Doubt he will get many minutes, which might not be a good idea since France could use the shooting.

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

6-10 Alain Koffi does not provide much offensively (besides dunks), but he can help on the boards (great off. rebounder) and defensively.

Starting center Ali Traore (6-10) is a very capable scorer on the blocks. Can't do much over his left shoulder, but he's quite effective turning over right shoulder--turnaround jumper and loves to go with a lefty hook. Also, can consistently hit 15-footers.

Dallas Mav Ian Mahinmi has never seen much time with the Senior team but should see some burn with Turiaf out. Mahinmi will likely spell Pietrus at the 4. Ian can help on the glass, but is limited to just finishing on offense.

The defense should not be a problem. Can they shoot their perimeter jumper like last summer is the main question mark.


- Notable Players: Matt Freije; Fadi El Khatib; Jackson Vroman
- Notable Absences: Daniel Faris

Lost in the bronze-medal game to Mideast neighbor Jordan at last summer's Asian championship. Thanks to strong grass-roots support from a devoted fan base, Lebanon secured a Worlds wild-card berth.

At the 2006 Worlds, Lebanon did pull off an upset of France, but they did get pounded by another wild-card hopeful, Nigeria, 95-72 in group play. Though, this year's squad looks better than the 2006 version.

Pretty good shooting team and projects to be good on the boards. Lebanon shows a lot of double-high post and likes to run isolation plays. Also feature some UCLA-type sets. Former NCAA standouts/fringe NBAers Matt Freije and Jackson Vroman give this team talent upfront.

Think of Freije as a (very) poor-man's Dirk. Lebanon moves Freije all over the floor and uses him as a ball screener. Freije's got 3pt. range and can put the ball on the deck to get himself into mid-range scoring opportunities.

Jackson Vroman is an active athlete who runs the floor well, passes, bangs the offensive glass (dangerous on put-backs) and finishes strong. Vroman seems to have improved his jumper and can put the ball on the deck.

PG Rony Fahed ain't big and ain't too quick, but he does drop some pretty nice passes in the half-court and knock down jumpers. Ali Mahmoud is another diminutive PG who can't shoot but causes some problems darting around the floor.

6-6 SF Fadi El Khatib was the star of the 2006 Worlds, team but has ceded some of the spotlight to Freije and Vroman. The Lebanese legend is a multi-skilled threat who does most of his damage inside the arc. A terrific ball-handler who can create shots for himself or others (racks up assists). Khatib uses his strong frame well to back his man down in the post and is an plus rebounder for his size.

Elie Rustom and Jean Abdul-Nour give Lebanon two 6-6 wings who rebound well. 6-10 big Ali Kanaan will spell Vroman & Freije and provides more rebounding to the mix.

We're giving them an edge over Canada since it seems Rautins won't be ready for Saturday. They beat Canada in exhibition play recently, and they should have good fan support in nearby Turkey.


- Notable Players: Joel Anthony; Andy Rautins; Levon Kendall; Robert Sacre
- Notable Absences: Steve Nash (ret.); Sam Dalembert; Jamal Magloire; Carl English; Jesse Young; Greg Newton

Canada earned a trip to Turkey by slipping past Dominican Republic 80-76 for the last qualifying spot in the Americas Zone. But their Round of 16 hopes could be derailed by Lebanon on opening day because Andy Rautins has an ailing knee.

Same story as always for Team Canada in the post-Nash era: no one to create easy scoring opportunities on offense. Plus, they lost their best offensive threat when Carl English decided to rest.

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

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

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

Recent NY Knicks draftee Andy Rautins is probably this team's main option. Will run Rautins off screens, usually getting him open up high. Might be better off letting Rautins handle the brunt of ball-handling duties like he did at Syracuse.

If Rautins can't go, Canada's best option might have to be entering the ball into Joel Anthony and Robert Sacre. That's right, Joel Anthony might have to be the answer to Canada's scoring problems. I don't think this a great idea, but I'm just spitballing here.

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

They've added Denham Brown and Jevohn Shepherd (ex-Mich. Wolverine) to the wing rotation in place of Carl English. Both are nice athletes but I would not call either one a good shooter.

When your main option right now is trying to free Denham for jumpers off screens, you know your offense is in serious trouble. Though, I imagine if Rautins comes back, those plays are for him. Hopefully.

Shepherd is a nice athletic guard who handles the ball some. He can create space for himself (step-back dribbles), just too bad his jumper is broken.

The one saving grace for Canada: they tend to be a quality defensive unit anchored by a stout interior defense. And Canada should be good inside this year.

Miami Heat's Joel Anthony is an active body who will board & change shots on the backline. Anthony might see some touches in the post and he can hit a baby lefty hook sometimes. He also likes to turn & face, where he shows nice touch on short jumpers.

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

Canada will definitely miss Jesse Young's toughness on the frontline. Canada will try to replace him with two Gonzaga bigs, Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk.

7-0 Sacre is a burly dude with a decent post game, where likes to turn & face like Anthony. 6-11 Olynyk likely won't get much run, but does have 3pt. range, which is nice.

6-1 Jermaine Anderson (ex-Fordham) is an effective jump shooter but can't really penetrate off the bounce, and has little in the way of point-guard instincts. 6-0 PG Tyler Kepkay (ex-Utah Ute) provides adequate shooting but little in the way of playmaking.

6-7 combo forward Aaron Doornekamp is another reliable shooter on the roster and plays some physical defense. Athletic swingman Olu Famutimi has shown in the past he can create in the mid-range area, but only in short bursts. Though, it seems Fatutimi has lost his place in the rotation in favor of Brown & Shepherd.

Even if Rautins can go, the Maple Leafers are not a lock for the knockout phase and should be pushed by both New Zealand & Lebanon. Gave Lebanon the edge because it appears Andy won't go.


- Notable Players: Kirk Penney; Pero Cameron; Craig Bradshaw
- Notable Absences: Sean Marks

Got to Turkey by winning the Oceania Zone title last summer over Australia. Actually, even if they lost to Australia's B-Team last year, they would have still gotten a Worlds berth. Yep, the Oceania Zone setup is a joke.

Very unimpressive play in their last Worlds appearance in 2006, after a stunning 4th-place finish in 2002. There is some semblance of talent on this roster, they just have not played well over the last few years of int'l competition. Would not be a stunner if they stole a playoff spot from Canada or Lebanon.

The Tall Blacks will ride Kirk Penney as far as he can take them. The former Wisconsin Badger guard is basically New Zealand's #1, #2, and #3 scoring option rolled into one. Penney can really get on rolls offensively. Will have the ball in his hands a lot to either run isos or pick/rolls. Has a very quick release and will also be run thru off-ball screens. Puts up shots with little hesitation.

6-6 Mika Vukona is a valuable asset to the Tall Blacks, thanks to his heady versatility. The athletic SF crashes the off. glass well, makes nice passes with some zip and can guard multiple positions.

Athletic PG Lindsay Tait is adept at penetration in the half-court and will rack up steals. Phil Jones is a lefty sharpshooter who rebounds well for a guard.

Craig Bradshaw and Alex Pledger are two bigs who prefer to face up. 6-6 Thomas Abercrombie is a bouncy wing with good rebounding and finishing ability.

The hero of New Zealand's 2002 Worlds surprising run to the semis, Pero Cameron, returns for one last shot at glory.

New Zealand could easily beat Canada or Lebanon, but I had to pick someone to finish last in this group. Don't like how they rely so heavily on Penney to create everything.

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