The FIBA World Championships start on Saturday. Do I need to sell that? Exactly, so why bother with some drawn out intro? Last week’s’ rankings are here for your reference and the exhibition records were taken from ACB.com. Let’s get it:
1. United States (1); Exhibition Record: 5-0
Lost in the world’s clamor to label our American hoopsters as show-offs and arrogant dunk machines is something that should come as scary news: Team USA’s defense is terrific. After holding opponents to 62.2 points per game in exhibition play—only Jordan was stingier with 57.8 ppg allowed—it’s pretty clear that you better have three or four quick, reliable guards if you want to stick with the States. What’s even more impressive is the fact that the USA is looking to average more possessions per game than anyone else in the tournament yet they haven’t fallen into Golden State Warrior, revolving door D-mode quite yet.
And it’s no tragedy that Rondo was left off/asked to not be on the final roster. Being on the Celtics doesn’t earn you instant membership on the squad, especially after declining an invite earlier in the summer. He’s simply not the same beast in FIBA where the opposition goes under screens and his driving lanes are congested. If it weren’t Rajon it might’ve been Eric Gordon who happens to be our best three-point shooter early on, hitting 10 of 23 in the early games. One final point: at this point I would gladly take Kevin Durant vs. the field in an MVP-flavored wager.
2. Spain (2); Exhibition Record: 8-1
As much as everyone would like to convince you otherwise, this is a two-team tournament right now. The loss of Calderon undoubtedly hurts España, but I can’t wait to see Rubio dazzle the world for 30 minutes at a time during the medal rounds. To watch is to believe.
3. Serbia (3); Exhibition Record: 9-2
The 45,000 Swiss Franc suspension levied against Nenad Krstic will easily be made up by his imminent record deal with Euroleague Adventures. In case you missed it, here’s Not Afraid by Freaknick featuring Nenad Krstic:
Lyrics can be found here if you’d like to follow along with the realness.
4. Greece (6); Exhibition Record: 7-1
In the match-up everyone was waiting for (at least among ELA’s commenters), it ended like this: 87-59. So Greece could’ve won by 30 “if they wanted to,” right? I know Bourousis and Sofo were hurt, but Tsartsaris got more burn as a result and was the only Greek with a pulse out there against USA. People can talk about strategic losing all they want, but you learn more by trying to win and failing than trying to lose and succeeding. Did Diamantidis and Spanoulis get together before the game and say, “Hey, what do you think about this: let’s combine for 15 turnovers!” No. It doesn’t work like that, even at my YMCA. While the score isn’t indicative of the gap between these two teams, it clears up the issue of who has more competitive fire.
5. Australia (9); Exhibition Record: 6-1
One of my early summer favorites to sneak into the top five—along with Brazil—Australia didn’t instantly deliver returns on my investment. Then when Aleks Maric decided to play for the Boomers, Australia had successfully planted their peg among FIBA’s top ten (in my eyes at least, which are about as reliable as cable guys). Once entrenched as a “good” team, they took baby steps each day while the talent pool collapsed around them. Bye-bye Andres Nocioni. See ya, Engin Atsur. Peace out Nene. Here’s to progress by way of continuity.
6. Brazil (4); Exhibition Record: 5-4
Well, at least we now know who’s starting down low for Brazil. Too bad they couldn’t have stumbled upon that conclusion as enjoyably as they might’ve liked, seeing as Nene’s right leg will keep him out of Turkey. Very sad for a nation that I fully expected to snatch Argentina’s crown as South America’s preeminent hoops power. I think they still will, and the battle of ACB point guards Pablo Prigioni (Argentina, Real Madrid) and Marcelo Huertas (Brazil, Caja Laboral) will be the deciding challenge. Edge: Huertas.
7. Argentina (7); Exhibition Record: 7-2
Screw the Philadelphia 76ers. How dare they go directly against their newly-acquired player’s will and strip Andres Nocioni of the chance to wear his nation’s colors one last time? This is not a good look for the months-old Doug Collins regime, and it’s a guarantee that Nocioni will not be ending his career in the Western Hemisphere.
8. Turkey (5); Exhibition Record: 4-6
Kerem Tunceri has been playing better and he’ll need to step up big time. With his antion behind him, I have more faith in him than I otherwise would. They can medal if they play outside-in and let shots come to Hedo, rather than clearing out and watching him squeeze through triple teams.
9. Russia (11): Exhibition Record: 5-5
Can somebody throw Aleksey Shved a friggin’ bone? Dude rots away on Ettore Messina’s CSKA bench for three seasons before getting loaned out to Dynamo last year and putting up decent numbers (11 points, 5 boards in four Eurocup games) and now he’s been cut from David Blatt’s Russian NT. I have a very hard time believing this kid is only 21 years old, and with J.R. Holden off the roster I’d like to see Shved hop on as another ball handler. Guess he’ll have to wait another year.
On to Russia: I really like this team, poor exhibition performances or not. They can be as much of a match-up nightmare as they want to be and will give Turkey and Greece both a stiff test when they do battle. Try this line-up on for size: Sergei Bykov (6’3″), Anton Ponkrashov (6’7″), Viktor Khryapa (6’9″), Sasha Kaun (6’11″), Timofey Mozgov (7’1″). Swap in either Sergey Monya or Andrey Voronstsevich at the three and slide Khryapa down to PF if you so please. If they play it right, they can be dirty. I have faith in David Blatt when the games start mattering.
10. Croatia (13); Exhibition Record: 7-4
A late jumper on my board. My train of thought went a little like this:
-Why is Croatia this low? I really love their guards—Ukic, Bogdanovic, Planinic and my favorite Euroleaguer Marko Tomas—so it must be their bigs that are lacking.
-But wait, Ante Tomic is the truth. Marko Banic is coming off a Eurocup MVP season. Luksa Andric isn’t anything special but he’s good for three or four nice games in the prelims. And Kresimir Loncar knows his role as well as almost any big in Europe.
The result is Croatia’s debut in the top ten. I need this tournament to go ahead and start. All of this idle time is leading to serious overthinking.
11. Lithuania (12): Exhibition Record: 7-3
Marty Pocius avoids the chopping block and with good reason: He’s a pace change off the bench comfortable with playing a looser, free-flowing style of hoop. Good things happen when you crash the lane and ruffle shit up, and it was quite clear that he an Linas Kleiza had played college ball back in America. Watching the friendly against the USA, it was evident that Lithuania is a team built for faster basketball and would make a killing if they could spread one or two more reliable shooters out on the wings. The early lead they built against Coach K’s boys indicates the sort of firepower they have if you sit back and wait for rebounds, but they’ll need to up their defense sine their offense isn’t versatile enough to sustain leads.
12. Slovenia (8); Exhibtion Record: 6-9
Whereas France came in as my pick to emulate the USA’s run n’ fun style most explicitly, it seems as tough Slovenia’s up to the task. When they meet this Sunday, you’ll see fireworks. Score prediction: 94-78 USA. If Slovenia has a guard step up defensively then Slovenia will be dangerous going forward. But the fact that they haven’t shown a lick of defense slides them down this board significantly.
13. Germany (16); Exhibition Record: 6-4
Two straight (convincing) wins over Puerto Rico, the sweetheart of last week’s power rankings, and I’m on board. I’ve always thought this team would be fun to watch, but now it appears they’ll be competitive on top of it. I’m sure Henner and OldSchool Baller of Gruebelei.de are liking what they’re seeing. And I’ve often been asked about which draft prospects to look for coming into this tourney. My advice: go to Kayseri and choose your lunch breaks carefully. You don’t want to miss Benzing and Harris.
14. Puerto Rico (10); Exhibition Record: 13-4
What happened guys? No worries. It’s better to be the underdogs anyways. I’ll go ahead and say this team is not nearly balanced enough to finish in this group’s top two, but I guarantee they’ll make it to the medal round with ease. And with Arroyo, Barea, Diaz and Vassallo in the backcourt, why shouldn’t they be able to outscore anybody? On any day? This situation is one that bears watching.
15. France (15); Exhibition Record: 3-5
Alexis Ajinca goes home in a surprise cut for Vincent Collet’s team. Way to go, Vince. You’ve soften your team’s strongest unit—Traore, Diaw, Mahinmi, Ajinca—in order to retain Fabian Casseur in Beaubois’s absence. Why would you cripple yourself just to bring along someone who will never play meaningful minutes for you?
16. Canada (14); Exhibition Record: 4-5
I can’t do justive to the injury sitaution that has struck Canada, so I’ll let Ray Bala of the CanBallReport do it for me. I’m praying Andy Rautins makes it to Turkey with a working pair of legs.
17. Lebanon (19): Exhibition Record: 14-4
Freije, El Khatib, Vroman and the boys are playing some solid hoop coming into this thing. And props to their fans who have been easily the most vocal on FIBA’s comment boards. Thier fans will be the least affected by the tragic banning of the Vuvuzela.
18. New Zealand (17); Exhibition Record: 3-6
I have a feeling concerning New Zealand which I will reveal in my Predicitions article tomorrow. That is all I will say at the moment.
19. China (18): Exhibition Record: 6-8
Putting together a list of the Top 50 Non-USA players in this tournament when I realized China wouldn’t win a game without Yi Jianlian. If they weren’t placed with the anemic Cote d’Ivoire then they Yi’s presence might not even yield a single ‘W’.
20. Jordan (23): Exhibition Record: 9-10
A win over New Zealand gives them the last minute “surge” into the top 20.
21. Angola (21): Exhibition Record: 4-2
Angola is one of six teams to neither move up nor down in this week’s rankings. So I guess that’s an accomplishment. Kind of.
22. Iran (20): Exhibition Record: 6-9
Liking Iran’s basketball team seems to be trendy among people who write articles about stuff. Just realized I was also writing an article about stuff, so I will now say that Iran is not good. I’m such a maverick.
23. Tunisia (24); Exhibition Record: 4-1
Out of the gutter at last, based more on my boredom than their merit.
24. Cote d’Ivoire (22); Exhibition Record: 2-8
So…we’re still cool, right?