By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

Russia is strong, long, and willing to pass.  They are coming into the Olympics with an advanced version of a swingan-forward hybrid heavy lineup.  Everything starts with the all-everything forward Andrei Kirilenko.  He’s the pulse of this team and fits in perfectly with everything they do.  Few players are as sneaky off the ball and make as efficient and impactful plays when the rock does arrive in their hands.  His slashing, boarding, and passing ability is close to unmatched in this tournament and look for the artist known as AK-47 to be one of the best players in London.

G – Alexey Shved (CSKA Moscow)
G – Sergey Karasev (Triumph Lyubertsy)
G – Vitaliy Fridzon (Khimki Moscow Region)
G – Evgeny Voronov (CSKA Moscow)
G – Dimitriy Khvostov (Khimki Moscow Region)
G – Anton Ponkrashov (CSKA Moscow)
F – Victor Khryapa (CSKA Moscow)
F – Semen Antonov (BC Nizhny Novgorod)
F – Sergey Monya (Khimki Moscow Region)
F – Andrei Kirilenko (CSKA Moscow)
C – Timofey Mozgov (Denver Nuggets)
C – Sasha Kaun (CSKA Moscow)

Coach: David Blatt (Maccabi Electra)

Alexey Shved will be manning the point position for Coach Blatt.  He’s more of a combo guard but he has shown, in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and warm-up matches, that he’s capable of leading the offense.  Shved’s super slipperiness and potential to heat up from outside are his key scoring weapons.  His ability to play consistently will be one of the biggest challenges for Russia’s medal chances.

Luckily for Alexey, he has two of the best passing forwards in the world running with him.  Kirilenko is always a dangerous passer on the wing and isn’t afraid to fire in a spectacular dime anywhere on the court.  His forward counterpart Viktor Khryapa is an amazing offensive architect for the position he plays.  Mostly slotted at the face-up four spot, Khryapa does a little bit of everything on the court, but most importantly he’s always trying to get his teammates involved.  While Shved will be the primary ball handler for Russia, Kirilenko and Khryapa will be depended on heavily to initiate and create offense.

Those three will make up Russia’s core.  Surrounding them will be a supporting cast of Anton Ponkrashov, at backup point guard, Sergey Monya and Vitaliy Fridzon, on the wings, and Timofey Mozgov and Sasha Kaun, down low.

Ponkrashov  is a 6’8” point guard who has been very unreliable in the past couple years.  Ponkrashov seems to have regressed in his play from a couple years ago when he was starting for CSKA Moscow in the 2010 Euroleague Final Four and averaging five assists a game on both Russia’s 2009 Eurobasket team and 2010 World Championship team.  Since then he’s been a bit player for both his club and his country.  If Ponkrashov can provide a solid backup point option and allow Blatt to use Shved creatively in the offense, it will provide a huge lift to Russia.

Monya and Fridzon are both highly important and high level players for this team.  For both of these guys it’s bombs away from the perimeter.  They’ll be the ones expected to cash in with Kirilenko, Khryapa, and Shved’s penetration and dishes.  Both will be key to Russia’s ability to play unconventional lineups stocked with wingmen who can score.

In the paint it’s a two-man rotation between Kaun and Mozgov.  Both are similar, as neither is expected to do much except outside finishing and protecting the rim.  Rarely will you see both on the court at the same time and their jobs will be to stay out of foul trouble and provide a back line of defense for guards that scurry close to the hoop and big men that are able to post up.

Here is what makes Russia such a well-oiled, extra pass monster of an opponent; these guys know how to play with one another.  Shved, Khyrapa, and Kaun all played with each other for the past the past three years on CSKA Moscow, with Kirilenko joining them this season.  That’s the four best players being able to use the season as a giant training camp to get ready to play with each other.  Not to mention bench players Ponkrashov and Evgeny Vornov are also on CSKA.  Russia’s chemistry is close to unmatched and breeds a great sharing of the ball system.

This is a really deep eight-man rotation.  With guys like Evgeny Voronov and Semen Antonov as solid, but unspectacular, bench guys who will lay it on the line defensively for Blatt, this team is deep.  Young stud Sergey Karasev is just 18 years old and while he might not get much burn on the court, he’s one of the few future draft prospects to actually make an Olympic team.

The Swing Man

Ultimately the fate of this team lay at the feet of Shved.  He’s dynamite waiting to explode as a scorer and will be challenging any and all takers for filthiest pass of the Olympics.  What we need to figure out is if he can really run a team.  Will he be able to jump out on another point guard and really challenge him if he’s carving up Russia’s defense?  If Kirilenko or Khryapa get in foul trouble and the other is forced to be more of a scorer, can Shved be trusted to coordinate the whole offense?  He has a lot of talent and energetic legs but in the end this is one of the key guys to watch out for in London because of how much responsibility he has and how much growing up he could really do.

Olympic Prediction

In a hard fought semifinal battle Russia loses to either the USA or Spain and end up claiming Bronze.  They have the depth and versatility to beat Spain, but might not  be able to handle everything the Spaniards can bring in the paint.  This team has depth and an incredibly potent starting five, which puts them in elite company worldwide.  Bronze is my pick but if they are able to snatch up silver, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Best English Accent

As a robot, Andrei Kirilenko can enter in any code he wants and spit out your choice of an accent.  If it’s English, AK had Prince Harry mode installed last week.