The 2010 world championships are beginning in a week (Saturday). Here is a preview of all the groups, all the teams, some important players and key games. Have at it after the jump.
Host country: Turkey
Host cities: Kayseri (Group A), Istanbul (Group B, and all 3 final rounds), Ankara (Group C), Izmir (Group D).
Time: August 28 to September 12. Games in the afternoon and evening, with Turkey being 3 hours ahead of UTC.
Basketball is a big deal in Turkey, and the arenas while smaller than most NBA stadiums have a modern standard. The Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul is the largest one, seating 16,000. I would expect most of the games to be sold out, at least those featuring attractive teams. Turkey is also a major tourism destination, so a lot of fans (and media people) won't mind traveling there to combine basketball with historic sightseeing or a short beach holiday.
Preliminary stage in 4 groups. The top 4 teams in each group advance to the 1/8 Finals (round of 16). Here the groups get scrambled and cross-matched according to the standings (e.g. A1 plays against B4. B1 which could be the US plays against A4. And so on). Winners of this round advance to the 1/4 Finals. Winners of this stage advance to the Semi-Finals. Winners advance to the Finals.
So the big things to keep in mind for the first week: You need to be one of the top 4 teams in your group, and if you can you'll want to avoid playing against the best teams in the next round when groups get mixed, though that can be hard to predict before the last matchup and not always the eventual tournament medal winners are dominant from the get-go winning all their games.
Chances to advance: Serbia, Germany, Australia, Angola
Likely also-ran: Jordan
Argentina has less quality than in some previous tournaments, mostly due to Manu Ginobili resting his body for the upcoming NBA season. They still have a number of strong players, including Rockets PF Luis Scola, veteran big man Fabricio Oberto, forward Andrés Nocioni (Philly) and SG Carlos Delfino (Bucks). The team also features SF Federico "The Missing Blazer Draft Pick" Kammerichs, 51st pick in the 2002 NBA draft and unsigned ever since. If they didn't have to renounce him at some point, they still have his rights (I believe strongly they do). If Rich Cho could ever throw him into a deal, he would instantly win in my book. FIBA ranks them #1 in its rather esoteric world ranking. But will this team be good enough to really go far in the tournament?
Serbia looked to be a secret favorite. After the brawl with Greece (Ben reported about it), they might have to make do without center Nenad Krstic though it's not yet known if FIBA will fine or suspend players for games in the real tournament. And they got heavily criticized by some pundits for losing their nerves, e.g. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress. Aside from the brawl they have looked like a mixed bag anyway, just barely beating Slovenia and losing to Team Canada. They are among the youngest and longest teams in the tournament, partly due to a front court that features not only Kristic but fellow 7'0" Miroslav Raduljica (playing at home in Belgrade) and 7'2" Kosta Perovic, a teammate of Victor Claver in Valencia (who was drafted 38th by Golden State in 2006, but barely played for them). Power Forward Milan Macvan is a real talent, at 6'9" maybe a bit undersized for the NBA especially on the defensive end but a crafty player with a soft shooting touch. Two more power forwards play in the Spanish ACB. The back court is a bit weaker, though shooting guards Teodosic (starter for Olympiakos) and Tepic (Panathinaikos) both play for excellent Greek teams. The team undoubtedly has talent, the question is if they can put it all together.
Germany would have had one of the top front courts if Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman were playing. Alas, they won't, focusing on the NBA but both promising to come back for the 2011 European Championships. Why is this? Because that is the qualifying tournament for the Olympics which is their big goal. Only the World Champion will qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London directly. Odd, but those are the rules. So instead of Kaman and Dirk, Germany will feature a very young team with new OKC draft pick 7'1" Tibor Pleiss at center and Rudy's former teammate Jan Jagla at power forward, backed up by likely 2011 draft pick PF/C Tim Ohlbrecht, an athletic but not extremely skilled player. Most of the team plays at home in the first German league and is pretty young except for veteran Steffen Hamann who is a strong and quick combo guard. Unfortunately he completely lacks an outside shot, which killed any bigger international career. They have a shot to advance, but anything beyond that is a long shot.
Australia has looked pretty good in preparation games, e.g. beating Brazil. Even without Bucks center Bogut who is still nursing his nasty elbow injury they have a nice front court with Alex Maric (Panathinaikos Athens), David Andersen (Houston, Toronto), PF Matthew Nielsen (Eurocup Final Four MVP, now Olympiakos Athens) and A.J. "Spiderman" Ogilvy (Vanderbilt, undrafted). Joe Ingles is a good wing player in the Spanish ACB for Gran Canaria. And of course Patrick Mills is running the point for the Boomers. A couple of players for smaller international clubs round out the rotation. The team can play a fast attractive style and is able to score in bursts, but overall might not have the quality to go deep in the tournament. They should be able to advance in this group though.
I admit that I haven't watched more than a game of Angola in 2 years since the last tournament. Last time I've seen them play, the team seemed to be full of athletic players with small forward size. Tons of explosiveness, but no real big men and no star playmakers. Angola lost all its games at the 2008 Olympics. However Angola is the reigning African Champion, securing qualification in 2009 in convincing fashion unbeaten in the tournament. Tournament MVP was Joaquim Gomes, a 6'8" 225 pounds player billed as a center-power forward. You get the idea.
Well, unless they somehow can convince Michael to play for them, the Kingdom of Jordan will have a very tough road to the final stages. Most players are employed at home, with 3 players having gained some experience in the NCAA but not exactly for major schools (Central Arkansas, Chowan University, and Niagara College). I would lie if I said I had ever heard of one of them. They were not qualified for the 2008 Olympics, and qualified for these World Championships via a 3rd place in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championships behind Iran and China.
Favorites: USA, Brazil
Chances to advance: Slovenia, Croatia
Likely also-ran: Iran, Tunisia
When has Team USA last won the world championships? Beep beep beep time is up. 1994. In 1998 they came in third. In 2002 a somewhat misconstructed team (featuring our own Andre Miller and former Blazers Jermaine O'Neal and Raef LaFrentz) lost 3 times in the tournament at home in Indianapolis and came in 6th. In 2006, a Team USA that looked great on paper with Paul, Wade, LeBron, Melo, Howard, Bosh, Brand and more stars lost to Greece in the semi finals in Japan behind a great performance of their physical wing players and an undersized center named Sofoklis Schortsanitis (see below) who never made the NBA to date. They won the bronze medal game again. Greece lost to Spain in the finals, half drunken from their victory against the mighty USA and half because the Gasol brothers were able to do what the US big men could not to: Rule the paint.
This time the US is fielding one of the youngest teams of the tournament (along with Serbia). No player from the 2008 Beijing gold medal team is on the roster, and I believe only Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom have previous international experience with the men's senior team. They have a couple of strong guards who can pressure opposing ballhandlers over the whole court and score efficiently or distribute the ball on fast breaks as well as in the half court, but are rather poor outside shooters (Rondo, Rose) though it could be enough for the international three point distance. And the team has a big weakness in the front court that can sustain no more injury problems. Kevin Durant and maybe Danny Granger will probably play quite a bit as power forwards; in test games Kevin Love wasn't used a lot by Coach K; and new Maverick Tyson Chandler is rather clogging the lanes for the quick guards than making a lot happen on the court. When the game slows down to a half court set the team has issues, when it's run and gun time they are extremely hard to stop. It will be interesting to see how this team tries to deal with the more talented and defensively physical teams in the tournament, but unlike in the Olympics they are by no means big favorites to win it all.
Brazil is sending a strong team that features a couple of well-known players: LeBron's former best buddy Anderson Varejao, new Raptor Leandro Barbosa, new Spur and reigning Spanish league MVP and champion Tiago Splitter, and former short-term NBA player Marcus Vinicius (26 games for the Hornets, one season with Tulsa 66ers of the d-league). Nuggets big man Nene thought seriously about participating, but was replaced after another small injury on the official roster and is unlikely to play. They also have a good point guard with Marcelo Huertas, who has gained significant international experience in Spain and Italy, and is the starting PG of the reigning Spanish champion Caja Laboral (vs Barcelona with Rubio). They could make noise in this tournament if health permits.
Croatia might not have all its best players together for this tournament due to a number of injuries and fatigue, but could still be a competitive team. Two players are known from their NBA stints with Roko Ukic and tall guard Zoran Planinic. The team has a lot of European quality players, e.g. Ante Tomic and Marko Tomas from Real Madrid as well as a few players for strong Russian teams. They might have a chance if they play together as a cohesive team, individually there are much better rosters in this tournament.
Next up is Slovenia. "The Machine" Sasha Vujacic is not playing. But they don't really need him. This team still has serious quality especially in the back court, headlined by Suns point guard Goran Dragic who just made news that ultimately he might see his future back in Europe. Rudy Fernandez says hello. Goran's brother Zoran is also on the team, a shooting guard who plays at home. I wish they had a third brother named Dragan or Moran. They don't. NBA journeyman center Primoz Brezec is also on board. Jaka Lakovic from Barcelona is another very strong guard. Former NBA player Bostjan Nachbar suits up as small forward. Beno Udrih of the Sacramento Kings also doesn't play this time, but his brother Samo does. Unfortunately Samo isn't quite as talented but still plays for Estudiantes in the ACB. All in all a team with a number of talented players and plenty of experienced veterans from good teams. It could be a good mixture. Their games against Brazil and especially Croatia could be big, and they aren't allowed to drop one against the weaker teams.
Iran has 7'2" Grizzlies backup center Hamed Haddadi. That is about all they have. Power forward Arsalan Kazemi has experience playing in the NCAA for Rice University, all other players play at home in Iran and are unknown internationally. In the Beijing Olympics the team lost all its 5 games in a strong group, with the best performance in an 82-97 loss to Argentina. They did qualify ahead of China by winning the 2009 FIBA Asia Championships though, and shouldn't be ignored especially by the teams jockeying for a good position in the next round.
Tunisia is a similar unknown quantity, with small forward Ziyed Chennoufi playing in the German first league and shooting guard Atef Maoua playing in the second Spanish league. Two more players play abroad in Marocco and and the United Arab Emirates, all other nominated players play at home. Tunisia did not qualify for the last Olympics, and came in third in the 2009 FIBA Africa Championships to qualify for Turkey.
- Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- Puerto Rico
Chances to advance: Russia, Turkey, Puerto Rico
Likely also-ran: China, Cote d'Ivoire
Greece is not a sexy team playing explosive basketball, but they are a winning one. Think San Antonio Spurs. You always assume they should age badly and fall off a cliff any day now, but then they don't. Admittedly they don't have a Tim Duncan and probably not even a big 3, but they do have a roster stacked with quality veterans. Most of their players have no reputation in the US, prime examples for why it's much more attractive to be a superstar at home than a rotation player in the NBA or another league. So they just stay on the Greek peninsula to play for one of the few top clubs, but unlike in some other countries in this tournament playing at home doesn't mean those teams aren't competitive. Olympiakos and Panathinaikos Athens are perennial Final Four teams in European club tournaments (and bitter rivals in the domestic league). For starters, their guards are HUGE by international standards. The smallest player on the team is Vassilis Spanoulis, and he is 6'4". All other guards and small forwards have legit NBA size for their position, so they can just as well send an agile BRoy-size player at your PG. And the front court isn't minced meat either, with Ioannis Bourousis, Loukas Mavrokefalidis and backup C Ian Vougioukas all at 6'11" and above patrolling the paint as good as anyone outside of Spain and the US. And if all else fails, they have secret weapon and round mound of rebound Sofoklis "Baby Shaq" Schortsanitis and his wildly inconsistent play (and weight) coming in at 6'9" and anything from 300 to 350 pounds.
A really physical and usually well-organized team that is tough to score against. E.g. Greece routinely defended Dirk Nowitzki as good as any team in international competitions, constantly doubling and hacking him. A team with just one or two star players typically stands no chance against them. Greece absolutely killed in some preparation games, including a 123-49 over Canada which itself didn't have a bad test phase. Another big semi final against the US or Spain wouldn't surprise any international observer at all.
Puerto Rico is sending a pretty strong team, featuring NBA players JJ Barea (Dallas), Carlos Arroy (Miami Nazgul), and Renaldo Balkman (New York, Denver). Puerto Rico also has one of the longest front courts in the tournament, with 7'3" Peter Ramos and 7'1" Daniel Santiago (who is bringing goggles back to the game) plus 6'11" Ricardo Sanchez at PF. They recently seem to have had some chemistry problems, swapping out two players a short time before the tournament (Larry Ayuso and Christian Dalmau sent home for Guillermo Diaz and David Huertas). But overall the preparation went well, highlighted by a win over Argentina. They might surprise a team in the 1/8 finals. Or even later.
Turkey is hampered by center Mehmet Okur not participating after his injury late in the NBA season, but should have good chances to advance with their home court advantage (interestingly playing the first round in Ankara in front of 10,000 fans instead of in the bigger arena in Istanbul). The team is headlined by new Phoenix Suns acquisition Hidayet "Hedo" "Ball" Turkoglu and Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova who positively surprised some people with his NBA comeback filling up the stat sheets. The front court furthermore features new Celtics backup center Semih Erden, new Bulls backup center Ömer Asik (originally drafted by the Blazers, then quickly swapped for 3 second round picks which still ranks as one of KP's better trades), and two centers playing at home in Turkey with Oguz Savas and Fatih Solak. Tons of fouls to give ;-). SG/SF Cenk Akyol earns his money in the first Italian league, all other players play at home in the fairly competitive Turkish league mainly for Efes Pilsen and Fehnerbace Ulker.
Turkey wasn't qualified for the 2008 Olympics, and got an automatic berth as the host country for 2010. At the 2009 Eurobasket championships they played well and only lost to Greece in overtime in the quarterfinals. Then to France in the consolation round. It's a good team, but hardly outstanding. Depending on who they face in the 1/8 final, that could already be the end of it.
The 2008 Olympics were a debacle for Russia, beating only Iran and thus having to go home after the preliminary round. In the 2009 Eurobasket they lost to Serbia in the quarterfinals. This year Russia has not played very well in preparation. They might have a puncher's chance, but it doesn't look nearly as promising for coach David Blatt's team as a few years ago. Who is not on the team this year: Mainly Andrei Kirilenko. Who is? Former Blazers Viktor Khryapa (reigning Euroleague defensive player of the year) and Sergey Monya on the wing, new Knicks backup (?) center Timofey Mozgov who went unnoticed for a couple of years (he's 24 now) but could surprise a few people in the upcoming NBA season, fellow center Sasha Kaun who might still be known from his time in the NCAA and now plays for CSKA Moscow along with Khryapa, and naturalized veteran PG and former Team España killer J.R. Holden. They also have 6'6" PG Alexey Shved as the youngest player, who was one of my sleepers for this year's second round draft. Everyone on the team knows each other from playing in the Russian "Superleague" (self promotion) with or against each other, so maybe they can use that to their advantage.
China and Cote d'Ivoire have a long-shot to advance, thought it wouldn't totally surprise me if they could eliminate one of the higher-ranked teams. China of course is without their superstar Yao Ming who hopes to get over his streak of injuries next year with Houston, so their pretty good play at the Beijing Olympics where they narrowly survived the preliminary round is difficult to compare. That severely limits their options, with former NBA player Zhizhi Wang at center forming a front court with new Washington Wizards PF Yi Jianlian (just traded with $3 million in cash for Quinton Ross after the Bucks had already dumped their 2007 #6 pick to the Nets). Also with the team is former Lakers draft pick Sun Yue, a small forward billed as a point-forward who quickly fell out of favor and spent the last season playing e.g. with the Beijing Aoshen Olympian in the ABA. Yup, there still is a league named ABA in the US. All other players play at home in China, e.g. backup center Wei Su as the youngest player on the roster who plays for the defending champion Guangdong Southern Tigers. The more you know. Their coach is Bob Donewald JR., a coach with some NBA assistant experience but mostly active in minor leagues and abroad, now for the Shanghai Sharks. Unless they can catch some teams totally on the wrong foot, it seems difficult for this team to advance having lost to Iran for the 2009 FIBA Asia Championships.
Cote d'Ivoire came in second in the 2009 FIBA Africa Championships, but lost a few games in the process. Unlike e.g. Angola and other African teams, they do have a lot of players under contract abroad mainly in the French first and second leagues, as well as some players with NCAA experience (Ismael N'Diaye for Florida State a few years ago, wing player Charles Abouo for Brigham Young, etc.). The team lacks some size, with players going from 5'11" to 6'11" and the lowest average of all participating teams at 195 cm / 6'5", which could become a problem in the battle for rebounds.
- New Zealand
Chances to advance: France, Canada, Lithuania
Likely also-ran: New Zealand, Lebanon
Spain is one of the big favorites in the tournament, in some rankings even ahead of Team USA, and is bringing back all its players from the last world championships (gold), European championships (gold) and Olympic games (silver) with the exception of Lakers star Pau Gasol. But his brother Marc (Grizzlies) is on board, and could become the top rebounder of the tournament. He broke out at the 2006 world championships in Japan. Distributing the ball will be young phenom Ricky Rubio (still only 19 years old) who plays unselfish to a fault, backed up by Jose Calderon (Raptors). Blazers fans can hope for a good performance of Rudy Fernandez to improve both his motivation and his trade value. Expect him to play quite a bit of SF so Spain can use him and Barcelona's SG Juan-Carlos Navarro at the same time to carry the scoring load in the back court. He has stated in a number of interviews that he and his teammates welcome the role of being the team to beat. Completing the back court rotation is Madrid's Sergio Llull as a combo guard (the Rockets have his rights), and reinforcing the front court are veterans Felipe Reyes as the likely starting PF and Fran "Orlando spent a lottery pick on me 5 years ago" Vazquez as the backup C. Unsigned Blazers 2009 draft pick Victor Claver has also made the team, and will fill in together with former Raptors player Gabajosa and veteran SF Mumbru as needed on either forward position. Even the most internationally untested and unknown player Fernando San Emeterio (homeboy of BE's Spanish original Amlmart1) is 26 and plays the wing for the reigning Spanish league champion Caja Laboral. This squad has serious depth and skills no other European team can match at the moment.
Behind Spain, this group looks fairly open. France has to make do without Tony Parker and Rodrigue Beaubois, and has not looked very good in preparation tournaments e.g. falling to Canada and to the US. Joakim Noah and Ronny Turiaf also won't play for them, so they are a bit thin in the front court with F/C Ian Mahinmi (update: Mahinmi has a hairline fracture in a finger and will likely miss a couple of games) and centers Alexis Ajinka and Ali Traore. Nando De Colo (teammate of Victor Claver in Valencia, Spurs draft pick) and the internationally inexperienced Yannick Bokolo and Edwin Jackson will have their hands full trying to replace Parker and Beaubois. Blazers fans can look most forward to how Nicolas Batum will perform for them, playing more of a Brandon Roy role on L'Equipe Tricolore (Les Bleus). He'll have the ball in his hands a lot more than he usually does in Portland. Boris Diaw will try to help him with the scoring load, but he didn't look good in preparation. Similar with Florent Pietrus (brother of Orlando's Mikael), who had a very strong qualification round last year. It will be a nice team to watch, but they could quickly stumble against one of the better squads in the final rounds.
Lithuania this year does not have a lot of players you will know by name aside from forward Linas Kleiza (Nuggets, now Raptors), but they always file a team that "can do some things" and is "scrappy" to use a few McMillanisms. With 3.2 million people the country has a smaller population than the city of LA, but with one of the best youth systems in the world is able to produce quality basketball players over and over again. This year is not an exception, giving Team USA some problems in a test game this weekend especially with athletic forwards who can hit from outside or drive. Only their guards turned it over a bit too much and didn't create major damage offensively. But veteran Renaldas Seibutis (SG) is still a strong player able to put Rudy-on-a-good-day performances on the court. Center/power forward Donatas Motiejunas pulled out of this year's NBA draft at the last minute, but is probably a lock to go in the lottery next year. He draws comparisons to the Raptors Andrea Bargnani, or ideally to Dirk Nowitzki. Not advancing out of this group would be a major disappointment back home.
Team Canada plays without Nash or Dalembert (both with dual citizenship). That is a problem. They do have Joel Anthony of the Miami Nazgul at center, and new Knicks draft pick Andy Rautins at SG, along with a number of players with international experience. They were not qualified for the 2008 Olympics, but played well in the preparation for this tournament e.g. beating Serbia and France in test games. Some observers give them chances to crack the quarter finals or at least the round of 16.
To the chagrin of MadBlaze and other Kiwis, the Tall Blacks aren't exactly expected to rip out tall trees in this tournament. They can battle Lebanon in this group for the role of the lovable underdogs. The team has Hornets backup Sean Marks at PF/C, but aside from that is comprised of players playing at home in New Zealand or in Australia and thus not featuring high in the public awareness. It is a mix of everything from very old (two players at age 36) to very young with 7 foot backup C Robert Graham Loe just turning 19 this month. Maybe they can declare their game against Canada to an unofficial Commonwealth Championship, with the winner later facing Australia?
What has Lebanon to offer an international audience in their claim to fame (or at least underdog support): Naturalized citizen Jackson Vroman (PF/C, last playing in Iran) and former Blazers summer league player Matt Freije (PF/SF, last playing in Puerto Rico. Correction: Freije has dual citizenship from birth as remarked in the comments). Talk about two players I did not expect to see on that roster. They have another US-born dual-citizenship player with SF Brian Beshara, who played college basketball for Rice and LSU. The team is lacking some serious size in its front court: Nominal centers Roy Samaha and Ali Kanaan (University of Massachusetts) are both only 6'9". Their usual top scorer is veteran Fadi El Khatib, who started his career as a center but then moved over to the wing and is now more of a burly small forward (at 6'6"). He average 18.8 and 17.6 points at the last two world championships but is now probably past his prime. It would be a surprise if Lebanon would survive the preliminary stage in this group, but maybe they can make a few games close.
Weren't there supposed to be major rule changes?
Yes, FIBA is working to make its rules much more similar to the NBA rules. But the bulk of those changes won't go into effect until October 1st, immediately after these world championships. Key changes include extending the three point line from 6.25 m to 6.75 m (22 ft), a rectangular restricted area instead of the current trapezoid from the free throw line, and a no-charge semi circle. But again, all of this is not in effect yet for this tournament. Thanks for the reminder about those changes to BlazerFanSince1970.
Some key games to look forward to in the preliminary round
Just some of my personal favorites, of course it depends on which team you root for and there will be a lot of action every day with some surprises. David beating Goliath, David vs. David becoming a fun little game, and so on. Here is the full schedule.
Saturday August 28, 7pm local time: USA - Croatia. The first game of Team USA.
Saturday August 28, 9 pm local time: Spain - France. Rudy vs. Nico. There can only be one.
Sunday August 29, 9:30 pm local time: Australia - Argentina. Go Patty (it's already Australia's second game)
Monday August 30, 4:30 pm local time: Croatia - Slovenia. This could already heavily influence the group standings.
Monday August 30, 9:30 pm local time: Brazil - USA. Battle of two tournament favorites.
Tuesday August 31, 9 pm local time: Greece - Turkey. This is war! Or at the same time Spain - Lithuania.
Wednesday September 1, 7 pm local time: Germany - Angola. This went to multiple OT a few years ago. If it's boring you can switch to Lebanon - Spain and watch a likely blowout with Rudy scoring 30 ;-) Or to Iran - USA and see Durant score 40.
Wednesday September 1, 9 pm local time: Lithuania - France. This could be big for the group standings.
Thursday September 2, 6:30 pm local time: Greece - Russia. Another game to see which team might be the real deal. Same for Argentina - Serbia starting 30 minutes later.
Then the final round begins on Saturday September 4, with Team USA likely playing on Sunday (if they come out 2nd) or Monday (if they come out first).
To recap for our core USA audience: USA - Croatia on Saturday, vs. Slovenia on Sunday, vs. Brazil on Monday, vs. Iran on Wednesday, and vs. Tunisia on Thursday. All in about a 3 hour window in the morning for PST. And don't miss Rudy vs. Nic if you can.
How to watch?
USA: DirecTV, ESPN and ESPN3.com
There is also an official live stream at Fibatv.com for all games. There is a "tournament pass" for $30 / €25 (early bird special until Monday), a 24 hours "day pass" for $5 / €4 as well as a combo package for the men's and women's championships.
In Europe/worldwide: Individual broadcasters in each country carrying usually at least the games of their national team. See here for details.
Let's all hope for an exciting tournament to watch to fill the time until training camp and the NBA season.