By Simon Dresden
Paced by NBA Players Andrei Kirilenko and Victor Khryapa, Russia swept though the Group. With strong defense and outstanding rebounding by Kirilenko, they even edged out Greece for a first place finish. Runner up was Greece which couldn’t overcome poor showing by their stars Diamantidis, Papaloukas and Papadopoulos. So far the only bright spot has been Spurs waiver Spanoulis who seems to have re-found enjoyment in playing basketball shooting on all cylinders. Behind those two bigs, Israel edged out Serbia in a do or die game for a third place finish and a pass to the next round taking advantage of the youth of Serbia that got only decent production out of NBA players Milicic and Jaric and Euro veteran Gurovic and that combined with a young but unproductive bench just isn’t enough to make another round in this EURO competition. The only bright spot of the youngsters belonged to young guard Teodosic who showed promise as a high level European playmaker. Israel just a last minute qualifier for this tournament got outstanding production out of youngsters Yotam Halperin and Lior Eliyahu and leadership from Green who almost single-handedly dismantled Serbia in the do or die game.
Halperin and Eliyaho have been on the radar for some time, having both been taken in the second round in 2006, and finally they seem to come into their own establishing themselves as top Euro players but maybe nothing more because of athletic shortcomings. Serbia featured the most intrigue with Alexandrov, Tepic, Labovic, Markovic, all out of the golden generation of Serbia are not yet ready to take over Europe much less think about the NBA. Teodosic seems to be more developed as a player but his speed and athleticism maybe not be enough to make the league His play making shows potential for the future. Russians Ponkrashov and Shabalkin didnt see many minutes but offer some athletic intrigue that has to be examined in future competitions. Greece’s Bourousis only offers intrigue because of his combination of size and decent athleticism but he wasn’t allowed to show a lot here, considering that Papadopoulos is only three years older its hard to imagine that he will develop enough down the road to make the league.
Croatia pulled the first stunner by edging out Spain for first place on a game winner by Tomas. A juggernaut like Spain shouldn’t let it get that far to begin with and considering the Croatia lost to lowly Latvia in the outset it is shameful for Spain. Former NBA player Mario Kasun was a force inside with Popovic leading the point and the forward platoon of NBA proven Planinic and Markota put NBA hopefuls Tomas and Ukic over the edge. Spain to even lose a game was stunning since they feature so much talent. Everything revolves around Pau Gasol who provides the shot happy guards with space because he demands a double team at all times. Fernandez, Navarro and Calderon bring leadership and hard working Reyes provides the glue to the best team top to bottom talent in this tournament. Portugal edged out Latvia for third place finish. With only Joao Gomes being a high level player, Latvia losing to Portugal is a shame and a NBA Player like Biedrins should be enough to dominate Portugal inside, especially after that first stunner over Croatia but he didnt get any kind of help.
Tomas is still young but his defense may be a liability. Ukic proved he has made some development since last year but to hand him an NBA Teams offense would be premature. Barac didnt see much playing time so he appears unprepared for the big stage right now. Spain offers so much intrigue. Portland draft pick Rudy Fernandez can hang in the league offensively right now. How his slim body would fare in the league’s grind is questionable, but his athleticism is up to snuff. Besides Gomes who offers something offensively but should first prove himself in a top Euro team. No one else for Portugal has NBA potential. Markota, Kasun, Planinic, Navarro, Rodriguez etc. are already there, or have been, so there is nothing to analyze.
Lithuania edged out Germany for first. General Jasikevicius is a monster in international play. His shooting prowess, leadership and unmatched passing ability make Lithuania a force. His playmaking combined with the inside/outside combination of the Lavrinovic twins, Javtokas and Siskauskas will give fits to any team here. Germany again got outstanding production out of tournament scoring leader Nowitzki. Germany lives and dies by him, UNC graduate Okulaja provides some rebounding and blue collar work ethic but that isn’t enough if Dirk is off. Turkey somehow escaped Czech Republic for a third place finish but despite being very young it is chemistry that kills this team. Turkoglu and Okur are doing their thing to look good and don’t care about their teammates, especially the young guns like Ilyasova and Akyol who should get this playing time to develop. Czech went winless with only former NBA player Jiri Welsh and forward Lubos Barton proving to be top level players.
Javtokas and the Lavrinovic twins can be NBA bench players right now, Siskauskas shooting may intrigue a team or two but there are no other prospects there. Germany no one. Czech Rep no one. Turkey’s Cenk Akyol proved to be inconsistent but he seemingly suffered by the presence of Turkey’s NBA stars.
France and Slovenia breezed through the Group and Slovenia edged out France for first place only because of a missed freethrow by NBA finals MVP Tony Parker. Both teams sport a team approach, while France relies on strong athleticism and the speedy Parker, while Slovenia, lead by Smodis, relies on superior team play, passing and shooting to beat the other teams. Italy lost two close contests to Slovenia and France but had no problem finishing off Poland for the third spot in the group. With Bellineli and Bargnani taking over this team as leaders. Poland has nothing to offer on this level.
Slovenia’s Matjaz Smodis is a proven commodity in Europe and should get a chance at the NBA level ASAP. All the other intriguing players are already in the league.