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.
While Group A may have been the “Group of Death”, Group B may as well be called the “Group of Uncertainty”, which is weird when someone looks at the teams involved. But thanks to bad performances in their most recent regional championships as traditional powers Argentina and Greece had to qualify for the tournament in tough ways. Argentina, who no longer has San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili to lead them, had to win the third place game in the FIBA America’s tournament while Greece had to be chosen as a Wild Card to make the field. Both seem to have recovered a bit since those tournaments but neither are the powers they once were so Puerto Rico and Croatia should both be in competition to be at the top of what looks like a wide open group.
The Favorite: Croatia
I was ready to put Argentina in this spot earlier in the week until I saw that they got smacked by Spain by 33 points, which left some doubt in my mind about how much they have left in the tank. Croatia meanwhile is led by NBA prospects Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn Nets own his rights) and Dario Saric (Philadelphia 76ers own his rights) and bring recent success into the tournament as well after finishing fourth in the 2013 Eurobasket.
If Saric and Bogdanovic can play up to their capabilities the rest of the Croatian roster should support them well as they have a ton of experience depth in players like Ante Tomic, Roko Ukic, and Damjan Rudez (a stretch four just signed by the Indiana Pacers). It won’t be easy but if the winner of the Croatia vs. Argentina game on Sunday could decide the winner of the group.
The Contenders: Argentina, Greece, Puerto Rico
All three teams could conceivably win Group B but all three have some major questions.
For Argentina everything depends on how much the remaining members of the Golden Generation have left in the tank. Luis Scola may be one of the best power forwards in international play but his play with the Indiana Pacers last season was far from what we have seen from him. If Argentina is going to go far in this tournament it needs Scola to carry the offensive load and it remains to be seen if he sill has that in him. They won’t ever be an easy out with Scola, Pablo Prigioni and Andres Nocioni still around but this isn’t the same Argentina team as in the past.
Greece meanwhile is in a bit of transition. Gone are the stars that helped Greece become a European power in the early 2000s and in their place are youngsters like Nick Calathes and Giannis Antetokounmpo. There is still talent on the Greek side though and they played some really tough warm up games so they will be ready to compete when play starts in Spain. I’m not sure they are good enough to win the group but with so much uncertainty going on around them all it takes is one upset for things to open up.
Puerto Rico meanwhile enters riding high on confidence after finishing second in the most recent FIBA Americas tournament and with a ton of backcourt talent in Jose Juan Barea and Carlos Arroyo. The biggest problem for the Puerto Ricans is size as just three players on the roster are over 6’7” but with Ronaldo Balkman as a super athletic stretch four and the sharpshooting 6’11”Ricky Sanchez as a deadly stretch five, Puerto Rico will provide a ton of problems for some teams. If Barea and Arroyo get hot from three for a few games there is a chance Puerto Rico is playing for a group title when they meet Croatia to end group play.
The Other Guys: Senegal, Philippines
Both teams have more talent than anyone would probably expect but neither are going to be a serious threat to the rest of the group. For the Philippines there won’t be much going on besides Andray Blatche gunning (which will be fun) but the Senegal will be interesting. The African powers have Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng and former NBA player Hamady Ndiaye giving them unique size at center. But the rest of the team isn’t good enough to compete with the talented guards and wings of the rest of the group yet meaning they probably will get blown out a fair amount.
The Players to Watch: Saric, Antetokounmpo, Scola, Blatche
If Scola has anything left in the tank he will tear apart the group as he always seems to do in international play. His combination of mid-range skills, post moves and just tricky cleverness allows him to score whatever way he needs and it shines in the international game where he is the first option.
If he doesn’t have anything let I think Saric will be the best player in the group. The young wing has a unique combination of size, ball handling, vision and shooting and should have himself a nice World Cup.
Antetokounmpo won’t play a ton of minutes yet for Greece as he still sits behind national team mainstay Kostas Papanikolaou but he will provide some highlights when he gets in the game with his unique skill set and athleticism. He will put someone on a poster during this tournament, don’t miss it.
Finally, Andray Blatche is going to have the green light to just gun. Tell me in what way this won’t be fun.
The NBA Ties:
Argentina: Walter Herrmann, Nocioni, Prigioni, Scola
Greece: Calathes, Antetokounmpo
Puerto Rico: Barea, Arroyo, Balkman, Daniel Santiago
Senegal: Dieng, Ndiaye
Tags: New Orleans Pelicans