Argentina Olympic Basketball Team: 2012 Roster Predictions and Analysis
Much like the Boston Celtics or San Antonio Spurs, Argentina's 2012 men's Olympic basketball team is:
1) Accomplished: They won a gold medal in Athens eight years ago, a bronze in Beijing four years ago and a silver at the 2002 FIBA World Championship. No non-American team in the post-amateur era has a better resume.
2) Stable: Argentina's five most frequently used players at the 2008 Olympics—at least in terms of minutes played—are among the eight players coach Julio Lamas has already named to the preliminary 2012 squad.
3) Old: Their 12-man roster at the 2011 FIBA Americas tournament featured just two players under 30.
Over the last decade, Argentina has emerged as an unlikely world power on the strength of one remarkably talented and cohesive group of players. And like any aging titan, Argentina's future is caught somewhere between past glory and lingering doubts about the team's health and physical capabilities.
With no heir apparent on the horizon, 2012 represents the nation's last, best chance to supplement an already sparkling basketball legacy. Will they seize it?
The Argentine Basketball Federation has confirmed that the following players will be on the preliminary squad for the London games:
—Pablo Prigioni (PG, 6'3", Caja Laboral Vitoria, Spain)
—Manu Ginobili (SG, 6'6", San Antonio Spurs, U.S.A.)
—Carlos Delfino (SF, 6'7", Milwaukee Bucks, U.S.A.)
—Hernan Jasen (SF, 6'6", Cajasol Sevilla, Spain)
—Andres Nocioni (SF, 6'7", Caja Laboral Vitoria, Spain)
—Luis Scola (PF, 6'8", Houston Rockets, U.S.A.)
—Leo Gutierrez (PF, 6'7", Penarol de Mar Del Plata, Argentina)
—Juan Pedro Gutierrez (C, 6'9", Obras Sanitarias, Argentina)
The following players were on Argentina's Olympic qualifying team, but have not yet been named to the preliminary squad:
—Pepe Sanchez (PG, 6'4", Weber Bahia Estudiantes, Argentina)
—Paolo Quinteros (SG, 6'2", Regatas Corrientes, Argentina)
—Federicho Kammerichs (PF, 6'8", CR Flamengo, Brazil)
—Fabricio Oberto (C, 6'10", unaffiliated)
—Martin Leiva (C, 6'10", Penarol, Argentina)
The following players are listed as members of Argentina's active roster on the FIBA website, but did not play in Olympic qualifying and have not yet been named to the preliminary squad:
—Luciano Massarelli (PG, 6'0" Ramos Mejía L.T.C., Argentina)
—Leo Mainoldi (PF, 6'8", Alta Gestion Fuenlabrada, Spain)
—Marcos Delia (C, 6'9", Boca Juniors, Argentina)
Argentina's offensive giddy-up starts with the three-headed scoring threat of Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Manu Ginobili.
Scola is the team's premier post scorer and at least in recent years, its top performer. He won the MVP at the 2011 FIBA Americas tournament and led all players with 21.4 points per contest.
Ginobili is the playmaker, a slasher who can score and pass with equal aplomb. The San Antonio Spurs standout has been slowed by injury this year, but when healthy, he's the team's most complete player.
Delfino is the shooter. At 6'6" he helps spread the floor and creates matchup problems for teams that lack a versatile wing defender. His plus defense is an added bonus.
At their best, each is an elite player. But will the trio be at its best following a condensed NBA season?
That question takes direct aim at Ginobili, who has missed more than half of San Antonio's games this year due to multiple injuries. With the Spurs positioned to make a deep playoff run, one has to wonder how much energy Ginobili will have left for an Argentina team that relies on his scoring savvy.
Projected Starters: Manu Ginobili, Pablo Prigioni
Projected Reserves: Pepe Sanchez, Paolo Quinteros
—NBA fans might be surprised to see former Sixer Pepe Sanchez riding pine, but there's no disputing the hierarchy at point guard. The No. 1 spot belongs to Prigioni, a veteran of the Spanish circuit who has won the ACB League's award for top point guard three times in the last five years.
—At full strength Ginobili is one of the five best non-American players in this tournament. He should have the ball in his hands often, and I don't see many players in the international field capable of containing him.
—Argentina isn't heavy on top athletes and relies on ball movement to create offense. The one exception is Ginobili. Years of experience in the NBA have made him a lethal one-on-one threat. Few players have better body control, and even fewer can match his range of ball fakes, jab steps and preternatural guile.
By the Numbers
442—Number of Spanish league games played by Pablo Prigioni, most among non-Spaniards in league history.
Projected Starters: Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino
Projected Reserves: Federico Kammerichs, Hernan Jasen, Leo Gutierrez
—The trio of NBA talent along the front line looks impressive, but take note: The 6'9" Scola is Argentina's tallest starter. Against bigger teams, the 6'9" Kammerichs will have to give Argentina quality minutes.
—There are questions about Nocioni's preparedness for this tournament after he spent most of the last two seasons riding pine in the NBA. The Argentines can only hope that Nocioni's move back to the Spanish league in late March helps him find a groove.
—Because of the way its talent is distributed, Argentina has to play small. On defense Argentina will struggle against teams with length. On offense the Argentines will cause problems for defenders uncomfortable outside the paint.
—It's a two-way street, but here's the takeaway: Few teams, regardless of size, can put three NBA-caliber forwards on the floor at once.
By the Numbers
28—Luis Scola's scoring average during the three-game knockout stage of the 2011 FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament. He was the team's leading scorer in each of those games.
Projected Starter: None
Projected Reserves: Juan Pedro Gutierrez, Martin Leiva
—Relying on a trio of talented forwards, Argentina doesn't feature a true center in its starting lineup.
—Gutierrez should see action as a forward/center 'tweener off the bench. Like most rotation bigs, he'll provide energy and a warm body when foul trouble strikes.
—If you're looking for Argentina's matchup weakness, you've found it. The Argentines don't have a single player above 6'11", and they'll struggle to defend the paint against longer teams like Spain, the U.S. and even Brazil.
—Argentina needs versatility from its bigs—or in this case, mediums—because it doesn't have a dominating, back-to-the-basket presence.
—Former San Antonio Spur Fabricio Oberto came out of retirement to play in the 2011 FIBA Americas tournament, but looks like a long shot to make the Olympic roster. Without a professional contract, it's hard to see how the the 37-year-old can stay in game shape.
By the Numbers
237—Minutes played by the three centers on Argentina's roster during the squad's 10-game qualifying tournament, compared to 422 minutes played by the team's two power forwards.
Style of Play
Even in its heyday, Argentina never overwhelmed teams with athleticism. This is a skilled group that relies on steady ball movement around the perimeter and sharp shooting to keep teams honest.
Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili can create instant offense, but as this team ages I expect it to fall back on a team-oriented attack. Argentina doesn't have the firepower to beat the best teams one-on-one or collect points in transition.
On defense, Argentina has to get settled, in order to get stops. Familiarity should breed success in the half court—the old five parts moving as one cliche—but that's only if the Argentines slow teams in transition. More athletic teams can exploit Argentina in the open court.
All of the above was vital to Argentina's strategy in past Olympics, and I expect new coach Julio Lamas (pictured above) to stay the course. Lamas, hired in December 2010, even tapped predecessor Sergio Hernandez to serve as an assistant for the 2012 games, suggesting that continuity is a priority for the Argentines.
Note: For a telling visual representation of Argentina's strengths and weaknesses, watch these highlights from the team's 2011 FIBA Americas final against Brazil. Within the first 45 seconds you'll see the Argentines execute a perfect offensive set, the ball barely touching the ground as it moves from perimeter to post and back to perimeter again for a wide-open jumper. You'll also see Brazil burn Argentina with a transition three.
Best Case Scenario
Argentina, buoyed by its success at the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship, comes into the tournament confident and healthy. A core that's been together for nearly a decade plays better team basketball than Brazil, France and even Spain.
Ginobili and Scola are the tournament's best scoring tandem, and the Argentines take silver for their third medal in as many Olympiads.
Worst Case Scenario
An Argentina team with just two players under 30 begins to show its age. Opponents abuse Argentina in the paint and Argentina's guards lack the burst needed to create instant offense.
In the end, experience is no match for father time as nagging injuries to Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni keep Argentina from hanging with the world's best. A legendary team limps through its last lap en route to a fifth-place finish.
Argentina will finish...
The Argentinians and all of the contenders caught a break when Kyrie Irving decided to withhold his international eligibility rather than suit up for Australia. That combined with Andrew Bogut's slow-healing foot injury makes the Aussies a long shot for a medal.
That reduces the cadre of serious medal contenders to six: U.S.A, Spain, Argentina, France, Brazil and Lithuania (pending qualification).
That's a tough group, but I still like the Argentines to reach the semifinals based on their experience.
The Argentinians play their best basketball in crunch time—they prevailed in the 2011 FIBA semifinals and finals by a combined seven points—and that's no coincidence. Argentina's continuity gives it the advantage in critical moments.
Upon reaching the semifinals, however, Argentina's moxie won't mask its physical shortcomings. The top half of this bracket is loaded with frontcourt talent—the Gasol brothers in Spain, Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao of Brazil; Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh donning the Stars and Stripes, and even Joakim Noah, Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw of France.
Argentina doesn't have the bodies to keep those teams off the boards, and the rest of the roster no longer has the quickness to compensate. In a close game I love the Argentines, but keeping it close will be a tall task against teams with talented bigs.
Coach: Julio Lamas
How They Qualified for the Olympics: Won 2011 FIBA Americas Championship
Best Olympic Finish: Gold (2004)
FIBA World Rank: Third
Leading Scorer In Qualifying: Luis Scola
Leading Rebounder in Qualifying: Luis Scola
Most Minutes in Qualifying: Luis Scola...and Pablo Prigioni
Got Highlights? Of course. Here they are skunking the U.S. team at the 2004 Athens games. Look closely and you can see Larry Brown balding.
Player Who Shares Last Name With Low-Grade Brand of Beef Jerky: Fabricio Oberto
Fun-ish Basketball-Related Fact: Argentina has never had a losing record in five Olympic appearances.
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