Spain Olympic Basketball Team: 3 Keys to Upsetting Team USA
Spain finished the 2008 Summer Olympics with a silver medal, falling just short against the USA men's team in the tournament final.
This year, they return a formidable roster loaded with NBA talent and great balance throughout their roster. However, it will take more than that to unseat the Americans as the defending world champions.
Read on for analysis of the three keys to Spain upsetting the United States and taking home the gold medal in the 2012 Summer Games.
The Gasol Brothers
Spain's biggest key to upsetting the United States and taking home the gold is by utilizing their excellent frontcourt. Leading the charge is a talented duo who will make life difficult for anyone trying to attack the rim.
Pau and Marc Gasol lead the way and are each seven feet tall and monsters in the paint. Pau is a more polished offensive player and draws defenders outside with his mid-range shooting ability. He is also an elite passer out of the post and sets up his teammates for easy baskets.
Meanwhile, Marc is the enforcer around the rim and a high-level rebounder. His strength makes it difficult to power him out of the way and he is also mobile like his brother. Marc scores more near the rim and is a better shot-blocker than Pau.
What is also significant is the playoff experience of each player. Marc has played in the Western Conference playoffs each of the past two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, so he is accustomed to playing in big games with high stakes on the line.
However, Pau clearly holds the edge in that regard. He led Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to back-to-back NBA championships and is one of the premier big men in the NBA. He knows how to win and is clearly the team leader of Spain's club.
Both players will have to step it up in order for Spain to emerge victorious. The other keys to victory will not matter if they fail to show up. Therefore, it is imperative that the Gasol brothers play at the highest level possible in order to give Spain a chance at defeating Team USA.
The Spanish team does feature multiple NBA players at the guard position. Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro have all played in the NBA during their basketball careers and are skilled at their respective positions.
Against most world teams, this group's shooting and driving ability would overwhelm the opponent's defense. Calderon is a fantastic floor general and excels at setting up his teammates for easy shots.
Fernandez is a high-level perimeter shooter who spaces the floor for the Spanish team. He also has the ability to attack the basket and either finish or kick to an open teammate. The same goes for Navarro, who is very quick and is effective on fast-break opportunities.
With that being said, it is clear that the Spaniards severely lack the talent and depth of America's guards. Team USA features Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and other NBA stars.
Each of those players is better than any guard on Spain's roster and will be a matchup nightmare in the open court.
Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect Spain's guards to dominate the United States at that position. However, the guards do not have to carry the team. That is what the frontcourt is for.
In order for Spain to have a fighting chance against Team USA, it needs its guards to simply be effective and not lose the game for their native country. If Calderon, Fernandez, Navarro and others can emerge as a threat from the perimeter, spread the floor with great ball movement and limit turnovers, then they will have done their job and negated some of the athletic advantages of the American guards.
Serge Ibaka's Shot-Blocking Presence
The Spanish team has one major advantage as compared to Team USA, and that is shot-blocking. It all comes down to the talented Serge Ibaka, who is the reigning blocked shots champion in the NBA.
He plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and made huge strides in his game this season. He excels as a weak-side shot-blocker, which will certainly be possible in the Olympics as he plays opposite the Gasol brothers down low.
Ibaka simply challenges all shots coming to the rim because of his combination of long arms, excellent timing and a knack for blocking without fouling. He presents a challenge for players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, each of whom lives around the rim.
In order for Spain to upset America, they need Ibaka to provide the elite defensive presence that the Americans lack on their roster. Outside of Tyson Chandler, there is no one else on the roster who can play high-level defense against the world's best players.
Therefore, Ibaka is key for the country's success against the reigning gold medalists. If he can provide the same game-altering defensive presence that he did during the NBA regular season, then he will form a fearsome front line along with the Gasol brothers that will be a tough matchup for any team to go up against.