(Photo: Manu Fernandez/Associated Press)
Will it come down to Spain and USA?
Friday, in London, England, the Olympics began. And shortly after the opening ceremonies, where all the pomp and circumstance happened and our national team ended up looking like Boyz 2 Men, the basketball tournament begins. And for my money, that’s one of the more exciting parts of the whole games. Is it more exciting than Track and Field? Your mileage may vary. But the reason I am so thrilled by this year’s Olympic Basketball Tournament is the fact that it’s one of the deepest I can remember. There are a trio of teams that could win the whole shooting match, a couple more live underdogs, and a few teams that frankly don’t have a shot minus a huge outbreak of Bird Flu. Let’s take a look shall we?
First let’s get the no-hopers out of the way.
From Pool A: Tunisia, sorry. Nice for coming. Hope you enjoy your trip to London, but this isn’t going to end well for you. Nigeria, same for you. Al-Farouq Aminu is OK, but he’s not nearly good enough to carry you through the draw that you received.
Pool B: There’s really only one “if they win a game, it’s a story” team here. And that’s the host country Great Britain. This is more of a building moment for British basketball, a time to start to refine the infrastructure and eventually make this into a European power on par with teams we’ll get to later. Luol Deng isn’t Superman, and they are facing veteran experienced teams who have played together for years and whose talent level, frankly, is higher.
Now to the fun part…. the live underdogs, the team that could blow up a pool if everything got going for them and maybe might even win a medal if things really get good.
In pool A, our candidate is France.
Any team with the kind of talent they have in the back court (Nicolas Batum and Tony Parker) is already going to be able to do some damage. But then you add Boris Diaw, who is as talented an international forward as there is in the world, and the fact that the team is a pretty good mix of youth and experience. The future of French basketball is on this team in Kevin Seraphin and Nicolas Batum and its present in Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. There is championship experience, hunger, and some real skill in this team. If I was the USA, I’d be very careful.
In pool B, our dark horse is Russia.
Now I know what you’re saying to yourself right now. Why Russia? Why not Brazil? Here’s the problem. Everyone’s already picked Brazil as their surprise. And if they’re everyone’s dark horse, then they’re not really a surprise are they?
To be fair, this is a team with maybe one player you’ve heard of: Andrei Kirilenko. But there are good things here too. There is only one player over 30, and that happens to be Andrei Kirilenko who, depending on who you ask, might actually be their best player. This is a team that might be ready to arrive on the world stage… It’s a young team, maybe the kind of youth that can make some waves. Youth like Alexey Shved, who just signed with the T-Wolves and Timofey Mozgov, who was a key piece in the ‘Melo to the Knicks trade. Also, a lot of those young guys who I just spoke of play in the Russian league together, which is an underrated basketball league in terms of quality.
But now that we have the underdogs and the dark horses out of the way, let’s get to the favorites. And here we have a trio.
Talented veteran team comfortable among the world elite…
Firstly, the Argentines are a scary scary team. Manu Ginobili crashing into the lane, Luis Scola willing himself to the line and to fend well for himself on the glass, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino to fit in where they fit in? That’s a very good troika for any team in international play to have. Add to that buckets of international experience, the kind that winning a gold medal gives you, and that leaves you with a threat that can, quite reasonably, win the whole shooting match.
Could Span be favored?
The next team I’m thinking of has experience in a different way. Close your eyes for a moment, if you would. It’s a thought exercise, so unless you’re having this dictated to you in the car, you can do this. Who gave the USA all they wanted in the Beijing Olympics? The answer to this question is Spain. Now imagine, they added to that team the leading shot blocker in the NBA Serge Ibaka, someone who can reasonably alter as many shots as any player in this entire Olympic tournament. Add to that Marc and Pau Gasol, who gave the USA front line fits in Beijing, and it’s a very strong favorite. Couple that with the fact that they’re bringing back that entire team, minus Ricky Rubio, and I don’t see how they couldn’t be the top favorite to win the gold.
USA is a consensus pick to take home gold…
Of course, no Olympic preview would be complete without mentioning the team that won the last Olympic Games. the United States. Now does the United States have a, frankly, stunning collection of perimeter talent? Yes they do. LeBron, Kobe, Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and a few more. But if there was one flaw, one fly in the ointment, it’s this: Our best big man, the one guy we can trust to handle the dirty work stuff of rebounding and defense on the interior, is Tyson Chandler. Who doesn’t score, and has foul trouble against elite bigs. Guess what? In an olympic competition, you’re not playing against Paul Mokeski or Jamaal Magloire out here. It’s only elite bigs. So that’s a question. But is it enough of one? I don’t know. And frankly, neither does Coach K or the USA Basketball braintrust.
What’s my pick? I wish that I could get away with not making one. My only hope is that we see great hoops for the entirety of the tournament. That can’t be too much to ask, can it? But since I can’t, since I have to make a pick, I am going to have to go with Spain. I simply can’t foresee a time where the big man is de-emphasized to such a degree that the advantage Spain has on the glass and in blocking shots is neutralized to the point it means nothing. Rooting against my own country is never fun. But I have to be honest, and say I think Spain can and will win the gold medal.