As the FIBA World Cup prepares to start this weekend many people know most of what there is to know about Team USA. Despite being without Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and more the Americans will be favorites thanks to their depth of NBA stars led by Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and our own superstar big man Anthony Davis. But what about the rest of the teams in the competition? Over the next few days we will have breakdowns of each group in the tournament to help fans prepare for the massive amount of fun basketball coming in the next few weeks from teams besides just the US.
In every international competition one group gets the dreaded title of the “Group of Death”. While in FIBA play that title can almost always been given to the group that holds Team USA this season’s “Group of Death” actually includes the hosting country of Spain. Group A is home to the most NBA players outside of Team USA in the tournament and includes the reigning Eurobasket champions, the most recent Olympic runner-up, and a South American power. So how will Group A play out? Let’s take a look:
The Favorite: Spain
If France were complete (both Tony Parker and Alexis Ajinca stayed home due to personal reasons and Nando De Colo broke his hand in a warm up game) they would have had a shot at winning the group. Instead Spain should take home the title of group champions thanks to incredible talent, chemistry and what should be an unreal home court advantage. The Spaniards have the best group of big men in the tournament in Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka and add explosive scoring from the wing in “La Bomba” Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez. It will be an upset if Spain loses before the finals.
The Contenders: France, Brazil
As mentioned above France doesn’t look anything like many would have hoped after they won last year’s Eurobasket title. With Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum the team should be competitive but taking away international stalwarts like Parker and Ajinca hurts. Ian Mahinmi should help replace a bit of what Ajinca did for France but chemistry matters and now players like Evan Fournier, Joffrey Lauvergne will be thrust into important roles. If they can handle them France will be very competitive, if not they could go home earlier than anyone expected.
Brazil will be tough to beat for most teams thanks to big men depth that could rival Spain. With Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao the Brazilians should be able to dominate the glass and paint every night. Leandro Barbosa, Marcelinho Heurtas and Alex Garcia to give the team a ton of experience in the back court to pair with the bruisers up front which should give Brazil a chance to make a nice run if they can escape group play.
The Feisty Other Guy: Serbia
Serbia is coming off a fourth place finish in the 2010 World Championship (the old name for the World Cup), despite being the youngest team in the competition at the time meaning they won’t be an easy out. Despite being so young Serbia will be led by NBA veteran Nenad Krstic though keep an eye on Bogdan Bogdanovic, a 22-year old prospect that the Phoenix Suns hold the rights too. At 6’6” with great shooting touch Bogdanovic is well equipped to have a huge couple of nights that keep the Serbians in games and if his teammates get hot around him Serbia could beat any non-Spanish team in the group. If Kristic and the other Serbian big men can continue to fight off their age (they are 31, 33 and 27 outside of Bucks big man Miroslav Raduljica) I may have ranked Serbia in to low a group.
The Other Guys: Iran, Egypt
Neither Iran or Egypt is going to really challenge anyone else in the group thanks to a massive talent difference. Iran has a few players with NBA ties in Hamed Haddadi and Arsalan Kazemi but the two of them are end of the roster type players than anything else.
The Players to Watch: Bogdanovic, Navarro, Marc Gasol
This feels like the kind of place where Bogdanovic justifies his first round draft position with some huge games. His size and athleticism could pose problems for Brazil and France depending on match-ups and if he gets hot it could be a ton of fun.
Navarro may not have lasted long in the NBA but he is an international superstar that will score with anyone in this tournament. In the 2010 World Championships Navarro was the leading scorer for Spain and the eighth leading scorer in the entire tournament so expect much of the same with the home crowd backing him.
Gasol is the best player in the group and it isn’t all that close. He will dominate on the glass, on defense and pick apart a team or two with his passing so if you enjoy terrific not above the rim basketball just watch him for a few games. The match-up with the Brazilian front line should be a lot of fun but it is hard to see how anyone besides the US can really stop Gasol with the weapons he has around him.
The NBA Ties:
Brazil: Varejao, Splitter, Nene, Barbosa,
France: Batum, Lauvergne, Fournier, Rudy Gobert, Diaw, Mahimni, Mikeael Gelabale
Iran: Haddadi, Kazemi
Serbia: Bogdanovic, Krstic, Miroslav Raduljica,