Olympic Basketball 2012: Best Players Team USA Will Face in Preliminary Round
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Before the Americans can even begin to think about winning gold, they must first get past their preliminary opponents. Most people believe that Team USA will have no trouble in their preliminary matchups against the likes of France and Argentina—among others.
While no team can come close to matching the level of talent that Team USA presents, the Americans cannot take these squads lightly, as they are still made up of very talented professional basketball players.
Here are the best players that the Americans will face in the preliminary round of the 2012 Olympics.
Manu Ginobili, SG, Argentina
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Argentina will likely be the Americans' toughest test in the first round of the Olympics. Fortunately, Team USA doesn't match up with the Argentinians until their last game of the preliminary round on August 6.
They are ranked as the third best basketball squad by FIBA and have a number of NBA players including Luis Scola and three-time NBA Champion Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili is the heart and soul of the Argentinian team as well as their best player. He makes their offense go round and stopping him would equate to success for the Americans.
The 34-year-old is no stranger to Team USA's players, as Ginobili has been in the NBA for 10 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
While Team USA has the best athletes in the world resulting in one of the quickest and strongest defenses in the Olympics, the Argentinians—specifically Ginobili—have had some success against them.
In the exhibition game between the U.S. and Argentina, Team USA squeaked by with a six-point victory, 86-80. In that game, Ginobili scored 27 points in just 26 minutes. Obviously, the two-time NBA All-Star can still perform at a high level.
If the Americans hope to defeat Argentina and advance to the next round, stopping Ginobili must be the focus of their game plan.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania
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One of the best young basketball players in the Olympics is Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas.
The 20-year-old stands tall at 6'11'' and was drafted at No. 5 overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 2011 NBA draft. While playing in Europe last year for just his second year, Valanciunas scored 10.8 points per game and pulled down 7.6 boards per game.
The Olympics will be a good test for Valanciunas, as next season he will make his way to Toronto to play for the Raptors—joining his Lithuanian teammate Linas Kleiza.
In his four games in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Valanciunas averaged just eight points and four rebounds. However, he did shoot 70 percent from the field and was limited due to constant foul trouble—something that is common for young big men.
Expect Valanciunas to develop before our eyes as the Olympics progress and by August 4th—when Team USA faces Lithuania—he could be Lithuania's best player.
Tony Parker, PG, France
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While France may not be the best team—ranked No. 12 by FIBA—that the Americans will face in the preliminary round, they will present one of, if not the best player. That, of course, is San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker.
Parker is a four-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA Champion and an NBA Finals MVP. On a team with six NBA players including Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, Parker is the leader both on and off the court.
During his international career, Parker has averaged 20.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. The 30-year-old has had great success over his career and will be looking to produce once again come London.
Having spent 11 seasons in the NBA, Parker is well-acclimated to the American players and will likely have a very impressive game in their match up in their first game of the 2012 Olympics on July 29.
Stopping Parker should be the focus of coach Mike Krzyzewski's game plan against France, as he will be the center of the French offense all game long. Of course, stopping Parker is much easier said than done—he's coming off an NBA season in which he averaged over 18 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent.
As Parker would say, bonne chance, Team USA.