Olympic Basketball 2012: Spain and Biggest Threats to US Men's Gold
Team USA is heavily favored to leave London with another gold medal when it comes to men’s basketball. But what happens if 2004 strikes again?
What happens, if for some miraculous reason, the United States doesn’t capture the gold in London, much like they didn’t leave Athens in 2004 with the gold?
If hell freezes over and Team USA doesn’t successfully defend its gold medal from 2008 during these Olympic Games, then expect one of these strong basketball squads to overtake them.
In terms of dynamic duos for men’s basketball at the 2012 Olympics, LeBron James and Kevin Durant of Team USA are considered the best in the games in that regard. But arguably the second best is Argentina’s NBA-experienced duo of Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola.
Those two alone give the Argentineans a chance to win the country’s second-ever gold medal in the sport. It’s certainly not going to be an easy road for Team Argentina.
They’re pitted in Group A along with the likes the United States and France. But Argentina does have a few significant factors in their corner.
First, they have a trio of players (Ginobili, Scola and Carols Delfino) with tons of NBA experience. Second, they can get hot from the three-point line at any given time, certainly a plus in Olympic basketball.
Third, they’ve already tasted success at the highest level in the Olympics. It’s hard to forget when the Argentineans knocked off the United States on the way to the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Three players who were on that 2004 team are back in 2012, including Ginobili of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Argentina is already off and running in London, as they dissected Lithuania, 102-79, in their opening game.
With a roster that features depth in the frontcourt and quality NBA players to boot, Brazil could make a serious run at a medal in London when it comes to men’s basketball.
Players with NBA experience taking the floor for Brazil during the 2012 Olympics include Nene of the Washington Wizards, Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavilers, Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs and Leandro Barbosa of the Indiana Pacers.
The combination of Nene, Splitter and Varejao down low (along with power forwards Augusto Lima and Marcus Vieira) gives Brazil some serious punch in the frontcourt. Combine that with the explosive play of guards like Barbosa and FC Barcelona’s Marcelinho Huertas, and Brazil may have enough team balance to make a decent run at medal in London.
But if Brazil want to make their medal dreams a reality, they’re going to have to play better than they did in their opening game of the 2012 Olympics, which saw them squeak by Australia, 75-71.
France took it on the chin in their opening game of the 2012 Olympics, getting routed by Team USA, 98-71. Still, the French have enough talent on their roster to get to the medal podium when these Olympics are all said and done.
Currently, there are five members of Team France who play professional basketball in the NBA. That quintet consists of Ronny Turiaf (Miami Heat), Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs), Kevin Seraphin (Washington Wizards), Nicolas Batum (Portland Trail Blazers) and Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs).
With Parker pacing the action, France is in serious pursuit of a medal. Parker is considered one of the top point guards in the Olympic tournament.
He can score with the best of them and is more than capable of feeding his French teammates with quality scoring opportunities. The duo of Batum and Turiaf should prove to be a nice one-two punch to complement Parker’s abilities.
Obviously, the French will need to play much better than they did against Team USA if they hope to win a medal in London. But it would be silly to count this talented team out after simply one game.
When it comes to Russia, they’re known first and foremost known for their success in men’s hockey. But on the basketball court, the Russian men’s national team could make some noise at these 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The face of Russian basketball is former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. Now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kirilenko is expected to be Russia’s go-to scorer.
Thus far in the Olympics, he’s fitting the bill for the Russian team. Kirilenko went off for 35 points in Russia’s opening 95-75 victory over the Olympic host country Great Britain. Joining forces with Kirilenko is seven-footer Timofey Mozgov of the Denver Nuggets, who will be expected to have a big (literally) impact on the court.
Another player Russia will be relying on in London is slashing guard Alexey Shved, who will join Kirilenko in Minnesota for the upcoming NBA season.
With solid athletes and former Princeton player David Blatt coaching them up, don’t be surprised if the Russians turn some heads at these Olympics.
The general feeling among those covering men’s basketball at the 2012 Olympics is that Spain is the biggest threat to the United States when it comes to competing for the gold medal. Over the past decade or so, Spain has emerged as a strong athletic country in many sports, and basketball is no exception.
Spain’s Olympic roster boasts several players with plenty of NBA experience. Guys like former Trail Blazers star Rudy Fernandez (who now plays internationally) and Raptors guard Jose Calderon serve as great compliments to Spain’s incredible frontcourt.
It’s a frontcourt that features the massive Gasol brothers (Pau of the Lakers and Marc of the Grizzles in the NBA) and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, who’s emerged as one of the league’s premier shot blockers over the past few seasons.
With a frontline like that, it’s easy to see why Spain has a legitimate chance of knocking off a smaller United States team in a potential gold medal game. Yes, Team USA defeated Spain in a recent exhibition before the Olympics, but Spain played that game without Marc Gasol.
If the big men come to play, like they did in a 97-81 rout over China in Spain’s opening game in London, then the Spanish national team will be a serious threat.