By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
The Brazilians are starting to become an internationally recognized basketball country and have a solid crop of young players who look to be developing nicely for the future. But even with a plethora of fresh, baby faced talent to pick from—Fab Melo, Agosto Cesar Lima, Rafa Freire, Lucas Nogueira—Brazil still went with a much older and more experienced look for the Olympics.
At the forefront of this team is point guard, leader, creator, and offensive lifeline, Marcelinho Huertas. The Barcelona point guard has enjoyed a spectacular career in Spain’s top league the past few years and has laid his claim to being one of the best passing and most creative point guards in all the land. He had a slightly down season for his standards in a defense-heavy system in Barcelona, but after seeing Huertas carve up the USA defense just a couple weeks ago, it seems he’s brushed that aside and brought his A game yet again for international play.
Lining up next to Huertas in the backcourt will be Leandrinho Barbosa. The starting shooting guard isn’t quite the same exciting offensive force he was a few years ago running alongside Steve Nash in Phoenix, but he still is Brazil’s best chance to score from the perimeter. Barbosa is so hot and cold that his inconsistencies could really derail a Brazil medal attempt. If he can line up his corner three and draw attention off drives into the paint, Brazil’s offense becomes a different animal.
Rounding out the starting perimeter is Alex Garcia and his curve ball jumper. Garcia has been a National Team stalwart and will be a consistent veteran influence for this Brazil squad. He will be looked on to occasionally to heat up from the perimeter as Brazil’s backup guards look a little shaky.
G – Leandrinho Barbosa (Indiana Pacers)
G – Marcelinho Huertas (Barcelona)
G – Marcelo Machado (Flamengo)
G - Raul Neto (Lagun Aro)
G – Larry Taylor (Itabom/Bauru)
G – Alex Garcia (Brasilia)
F – Guilherme Giovannoni (Brasilia)
F – Marcus Vieira (Pinheiros)
F – Tiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs)
C – Caio Torres (Flamengo)
C – Nene (Washington Wizards)
C – Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Head Coach – Ruben Magnano
Entering the post is where you will find Brazil’s other massive strength outside of Huertas’ magical passing game. Between Nene, Tiago Splitter, and Anderson Varejao, there might not be a better front line this side of Team USA and the Gasols. Nene needs a full supply of jump hooks and to be a consistent back to the basket threat so Brazil’s of shooters can get as much space as they need. So let’s hear a round of applause as Brazil’s most successful basketball player in the NBA, Nene, is back with the National Team after five years off.
Splitter is reunited with his long lost pick and role lover, Huertas. These two were a sight to behold when they continually murdered people off this old fashioned play for Caja Laboral a couple years ago. Look for some real offensive chemistry from these two. Varejao will be coming off the bench and looking to utterly annoy the other team’s best big man until he asks to be subbed out. Please don’t get hurt Anderson; this team’s depth is limited.
There you go. Brazil has a very, very good starting lineup, but they’re basically going into the Olympics with a six-man rotation. Marcus Vieira will play a role as a back up big and should have some effect as a post presence from game to game. Raul Neto is the only one of the next generation who was picked up to play on this squad. At the ripe age of 20, he’s a boy out there playing with men. Although he had a very good season for a surprising Lagun Aro team in Spain this year, it will be tough for Neto to have an impact. He can bring the ball up court and get in the lane from time to time, but he’s looked a little flustered in warm-up friendlies and doesn’t have much of a jumper.
Larry Taylor Jr. will also be a backup guard. The naturalized guard can run a little offense but should not be expected to score or bring too much to the table. The 37-year-old Marcelo Machado might be able to hit a couple long balls, but really he’s past his National Team prime. The only other guy who might make an impact is Guilherme Giovannoni at the small forward position.
Brazil is putting everything on Huertas’ shoulders and seeing how far he can take them. Outside of Barbosa, almost no one else can create his own shot on the perimeter. The triplets could be dangerous down low, but someone needs to get them the ball. Be prepared to cringe on offense when Huertas is out of the game but also get ready to see some of the best dimes of the tournament when he’s in. If you were going to trust someone with everything, Marcelinho is a pretty damn good choice.
Teams with long athletic wings that can shoot over the top of Brazil’s perimeter defenders will be a problem. Really though this team should appear really good in group play, we’ll just see how much wear and tear they have on them playing with such a short rotation when they get into the knockout stages. If their six guys can stay fresh, this team has a chance to medal.
The Swing Man
It has to be Barbosa. Their post presence is solid and Huertas might turn the ball over but he will also be the one orchestrating the whole offense. Barboas is the x-factor. He has to make open jumpers and be a threat going to the basket that opponents have to worry about. He can’t casually hang around the arc, only occasionally being fully engaged. If he can provide an energizer type feel, spot up on the break with Huertas running and provide some offensive sparks, Brazil’s offensive sizzle just got a whole lot hotter.
Brazil shouldn’t have too much trouble getting out of Group B and a win versus Russia or Spain would be a big confidence booster. But as I see it, those are the two teams along with the USA that are higher than them in the world pecking order right now. They just have much more depth. Their old South American rival is neck and neck with the Brazilians as well and it would be a real statement if they could get farther than Argentina. In the end though they will be duking it out for a semifinal spot and they look like they have just not enough to get there. Quarterfinals.
Best English Accent
Marcelinho Huertas speaks about 14 different languages, I’m sure the guy can do a knockdown English accent. Heck, he played with Joe Ingles all year, so it’s basically all the same thing, right?