London Games 2012: Each Country's Best Basketball Player to Watch
If you haven't seen the Dream Team documentary that aired in June on NBA TV, treat yourself to an amazing look at the impact the 1992 team had on the world...and all of the drama that unfolded between its members, from Michael Jordan to Magic Johnson to the always-quotable Charles Barkley.
That team was untouchable for one reason: It globalized basketball. Ask international players in the NBA today how they first fell in love with the game, and some of them will tell you it's because of that '92 Dream Team that they are where they are today.
But enough about those old folks. The new generation of players is here and will be pitted against each other in this year's Olympics. Here's my list of the best player from each team.
I feel bad for whoever has to guard Argentina's Manu Ginobili. He's the best player on the team, one of the best basketball players in the Olympics and probably one of the hardest players in the world to guard.
It seems like half the time even he doesn't even know what he's about to do. He'd make for a pretty damn good poker player if his basketball game is any indication. He's so hard to read.
If Argentina goes far into the tournament again, look for Ginobili to make a case for why he is one of the greatest basketball players of the last 15 years, having won at every level on multiple occasions.
Tony Parker is obviously the best player on this year's men team for France in the Olympics. The question is whether he's still good enough to carry the load for the country. He's still one of the NBA's best elite point guards, but his team may be too short on talent to help advance past the first round against a tough U.S. team.
Parker scores in the paint better than virtually any other point guard, and he certainly has no problem scoring from anywhere else on the court. He's got great court vision and his experience as an NBA Finals MVP with multiple NBA championships will certainly show down the stretch.
It will help if the rest of the team can help him keep it a close game.
If Tunisia makes a splash in this year's Olympics for basketball, it will be mostly because of this man, Salah Mejri.
At 7'1", he will give other teams a tough time on the boards and figures to give his team many second-chance points, which is what they'll need since they don't have any amazing shooters.
He's a little rough around the edges but could come into his own in this year's Olympics as he competes against very different playing styles each round, if Tunisia is good enough to advance.
Tunisia is in the same group as the U.S., so if they're lucky enough to meet, we could see a star emerge in Mejri if he can hold his own against some of the NBA's elite big men.
I feel bad for whoever has to guard LeBron James in the Olympics. You can't outsize him, you can't out muscle him, you can't really beat him with speed. The man has virtually no physical weakness.
Though he's on a talented U.S. Squad that will likely have a few former MVPs, James is the current MVP and there's no reason to think why he's not the toughest player to guard internationally.
No sense in wasting my time discussing who the best player is on the U.S. team.
Prove me wrong.
Andrew Bogut is one of the best big men in the world...when he's healthy. If he can prove to the world that he's moved past all of the chronic injuries, then he should figure to be a tough matchup in the tournament.
He's a tenacious big man who is relentless on the boards and scores from any where on the court. He's a confident post-up scorer and has no problem stepping out and hitting the 15-foot jumper, or sometimes from beyond the three. He's also a deft passer who recognizes the double-team before it comes.
If he can get the same effort from the rest of his Australian team in the Olympics, they could end up being a Cinderella in the tournament.
It's not so clear who the best player is on Brazil's team. For some teams, the decision is easy, like the U.S. for example, who have loads of talent highlighted by possibly the most gifted player ever: LeBron James.
But I think Leandro Barbosa is the best and important piece to Brazil's team because he is the engine that makes the squad run. Without him, the offense will fall apart.
While Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter are talented big men, they're not do-it-all type of guys. Barbosa can do a little bit of everything. He'll be hard to guard on offense because of his speed and craftiness and is a nightmare for most teams on defense not only because of what he can do to his own opponent, but also because he can provide weak-side defense in a moment's notice.
Barbosa also brings tons of experience, not only from past years of global competition, but also having made a deep run in the playoffs at the highest level in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns. Look for the Brazilian team to play tough with "The Brazilian Blur."
It's a toss up between Yi Jianlian and Wang ZhiZhi for the most valuable player on China's team. Both bring NBA experience and are big men, which I think is crucial to having any shot against powerhouses in the tournament.
But I'm going to give the nod to Jianlian because although he's definitely a little smaller than ZhiZhi, he's the most skilled player and better suited for international play because of his ability to guard multiple positions.
And besides, Yi's starring in a movie this summer alongside Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Scottie Pippen.
There's a few players on Great Britain's (preliminary) roster who may surprise you because you never knew they're British: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and George Washington University standout Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Deng is most critical to Britain's success in the Olympics. He's long and has proven to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
Gordon will surely provide instant offense and force defenses to really spread the floor, and Pops will provide some high-flying entertainment with his crazy dunking ability, but it's Deng who will get it done on both ends of the floor.
If Britain falls short this tournament, it won't be because of Deng's shortcomings.
Pau Gasol (and Marc Gasol)
This is a tough one. On a roster with Serge Ibaka, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon, Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol, who is the best player? I guess you could argue any of the aforementioned players are critical to the team winning gold this summer.
But if I had to chose one, I'm going with Pau Gasol. His size, passing ability and ability to step out and hit the jumper from virtually anywhere (including the three), not to mention his experience of having won at every level, makes him the leader of this talented, deep Spain team.
I think Spain will have the best chance at defeating the U.S. and taking home the gold. And if it happens, Pau will be seen as the most valuable piece to their title run.