There was only one team to give Team USA a real scare in ’08, and it was Spain in the gold-medal game. The Spanish roster is loaded with NBA-level talent. Their best scorer is guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who played one season with the Grizzlies before returning to Europe, and averaged 18.7 points in leading the Spanish to last year’s Eurobasket championship.
Spain has some faces familiar to NBA fans, with Marc and Pau Gasol in the paint. The Spanish will be without point guard Ricky Rubio (torn ACL), but they have Jose Calderon on hand.
France lost to Spain in the championship game of last year’s Eurobasket, but in getting to the final, the French did a rare thing—played up to their ability. No question, the guy who took over for Les Bleus was Tony Parker, who averaged 22.1 points and 4.4 assists (Parker’s been cleared to play after recovering from an eye injury suffered during a melee between the entourages of hip-hop artists Drake and Chris Brown). But Nicolas Batum showed himself to be a threat with 13.8 points per game and 40.5 percent 3-point shooting.
While Joakim Noah will not play for France this summer because of an ankle injury sustained during the NBA playoffs, one guy to keep an eye on is Spurs draftee guard Nando De Colo, who had a memorable 21-point performance in a win over Lithuania at Eurobasket.
Pau Gasol leads the non-U.S. NBA contingent in London. (AP Photo)
This is the final run for the great Argentina group that shocked the world by being the first international team to beat Team USA with NBA players, in the 2002 World Championship (The shock of the U.S. losing, of course, wore off with repetition). It is an experienced group, with Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Pepe Sanchez and Luis Scola all over 30, and Carlos Delfino at 29—but “experienced” also means old.
Back home, this wave of players is known as the Golden Generation, because of their exploits, which include the gold medal in at the ’04 Games in Greece. It’s a prideful roster of players making a last stand, and that makes them dangerous.
The Brazilians have a big and experienced roster, with three NBA forward/centers on hand: Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter. Add Leandro Barbosa, who has had his problems with the team’s coach, in the backcourt with Marcelo Machado and Marcelo Huertas, and there is talent here.
This could be an interesting team depending on the performance of young big man Jonas Valanciunas, chosen by the Raptors with the No. 5 pick in last year’s draft. Valanciunas is just 20 years old and was a surprise addition to the Lithuanian roster in last summer’s Eurobasket, where he responded with 8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 15.7 minutes per game.
Defense is the name of the game for the Russians, who allowed a tournament-low 65.7 points per game in the Eurobasket championship. Former Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko is the unquestioned leader, and Denver center Timofey Mozgov is worth watching in the middle.