While the NBA tries to figure out who is the “Best of the Best,” the table was set last Saturday for the World to try and figure out the same. The United States used to walk in to these tournaments as the heavy favorites. The NBA players that were all Americans would dominate the world and usually win games by large double digit amounts.
Now, that all is changed.
Many other clubs have players who are NBA ready, NBA up and comers, or NBA veterans. Last Saturday, the teams that have qualified were broken down into two groups that will play to qualify for the Olympics playoff. In August during the Beijing Olympics, each team will play five games against the other five teams in their group. The top four teams will move on to play in the quarterfinal round.
After the first round (group play), the teams will play a playoff style, 1 loss elimination tournament. 8 teams will compete in this tournament and unlike the old world tournaments, this time many teams will have NBA talent.
Breaking down the Groups and Teams:
Argentina: This team is a squad of up and downs. They won a gold and silver in 2004 and 2002 respectively. But they failed to medal in world championships 2 years ago then finished 6-1 with a second place finish in the 2007 FIBA tournament. Really it depends who will play and who will show up.
Argentina has some solid NBA talent, Manu Ginobili, G, San Antonio Spurs; Andres Nocioni, F, Chicago Bulls; Luis Scola, F, Houston Rockets (3rd in rookie of the year voting); Carlos Delfino, G, Toronto Raptors; Fabricio Oberto, C, San Antonio Spurs. Manu seems to be healthy, but a long playoff run could change that.
The best thing for Argentina would be a Spurs loss to New Orleans in the playoffs. Manu is truly the leader of this team, but they have a good front court and excellent back court.
Australia: Andrew Bogut is the only real player that is held above the rest on this team. Bogut is supported by some decent role players who play mostly in Europe and Australia. This is a tough division for them, and they may not make it to the playoff round.
Iran: The NBA.com websites states that this is the most unknown team in the tourny. Which could mean one of two things: No. 1 - WATCH OUT! No. 2 - Early Exit. This team is made up of guys who all play in Iran. The one player who is known a bit is Jaber Rouzbahani who declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft back in 04, but was not drafted.
Lithuania: This team is ready to possibly make a run in this tournament. One thing we will see with them is Three Pointers. They like to shoot and then shoot again. This team will live and die with the outside shot. Linas Kleiza of the Nuggets is gaining much respect in the NBA.
This guy can play the other big notable player depending on health and the Cavs run this year in the playoffs is Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Lithuania will be a tough physical team that will make you remember who you played the day after the game, win or lose.
Russia: The last team in group A made it into the Olympics with a win over Spain in the finals of the Eurobasket tournament beating the Spaniards on their own court. Andrei Kirilenko brings his squad of young players who play in mostly in Russian leagues. Behind great coaching and youth, Russia could be tough.
Angola: The African champs are brought to you by Joaquim Gomes a Power Forward/Center from Valparaiso. Besides that they are a bunch of home landers. This team could throw out an upset or two and make some serious noise. But they are not serious contenders yet.
China: YAO MING! WANG ZHIZHI! The home team that was hoping to roll into these Olympics with some excitement and no questions on their team, will certainly have one. The Excitement is there. But Yao finished this season abruptly with a stress fracture in his foot. Wang also was done a couple games early with an injury.
But both of these guys, despite what their NBA teams think, will certainly be showing up ready to play come August. Check out this front line, of a 7-5 Yao, a 7-1 Zhizhi and a 6-11 Yi. Around them will be a couple solid guards with their shooting ability in question. If they are making their outside shots, the inside game will take care of itself.
Spain: Here is another squad with some NBA talent: Pau Gasol Los Angeles Lakers, Juan Carlos Navarro Memphis Grizzlies, Marc Gasol Akasvayu Girona (Spain), Jose Calderon Toronto Raptors, Jorge Garbajosa Toronto Raptors, and Sergio Rodriguez Portland Trail Blazers. All of these players should be on the team and ready to compete excluding possibly Garbajosa who had surgery in December.
Spain has the most talent in the tournament besides the US and should be the most competitive team against the US. They will get to see them in the first round and probably again in the tournament. Look for Spain to be int he final four.
United States: Obviously every player that is eligible is an NBA player. Some key players will be Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and possibly Dwayne Wade depending on his health. This team is always the favorite going in, but since 2000 they have come up short. This time the US has talent but also role players. Not everyone is there to be a star, they have defense, they have passers and they have shooters.
This is their tournament to lose.
Note: There will be three more teams that will qualify for this tournament. This will take place in a 12-team tournament held in Greece from July 14-20. Those competing will be Brazil, Canada, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Korea, Lebanon, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Slovenia.
Final Four: Of the teams that have qualified, it looks like it would be Argentina, China, Spain and the United States in the Final Four.
This could be the year for the United States to take back what is belongs to them. A dream team they are not, but 2008 in Beijing will be their time to return to the head of the world in Basketball.