Olympic Scouting Report

Kurt —  August 5, 2008

Regular readers of this site know Xavier, a professional basketball coach living in Barcelona (who recently earned a well-deserved promotion). He has a very good blog although the updates have been slow because he’s been working. The guy knows his stuff, and he has seen most of the world’s basketball teams much more than we have, so he was kind enough to do a little scouting report for this blog. Enjoy.

Teams to beat

While sorting the teams and ranking them, there were only 2 with more than 8 players other teams should take pretty serious and those teams were Spain and USA.

USA

On paper, this team is the greatest ever since 92’ Dream Team. You don’t need me to tell you about these guys but I can help with how they fit into FIBA ball.

You guys have been discussing how pick&roll killed the US team other years. That’s true, but it’s mostly because US team doesn’t know how to play team defense. What Celtics did to the Lakers was team defense, and that’s what USA should play in order to compete.

American fans belief the team is thin at the frontcourt. It would be thin for the NBA but not FIBA. Melo should be one of the main weapons of the team (he has the perfect combination of skill-set, size and athletism for a 4 in FIBA ball) playing the PF backed up by Prince or Boozer depending on the situation while Howard and Bosh hold the C. For me it’s perfect.

One thing I have some concerns is team mentality. Lebron and Wade promising the gold medal after all those years of disappointment? Twelve alpha dogs in the same team…How many balls do this team need to have all players happy? Having 3 great PG it’s not enough, you need guys who can play without the ball to get the right mood to be great. Will they be able to do that?

If this can be solved, damn we’ll have fun watching this team.

SPAIN

Their names may sound familiar to you. Four NBA players (Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon) three former NBA (JC Navarro, Raul Lopez and Garbajosa) and one soon to be NBA (Ricky Rubio).

Jose Calderon would be a starter in 25 of the 30 NBA teams, Navarro and Rudy Fernandez are one of the best 1-2 punches at the wings and the Gasol brothers are sick at the frontcourt. Marc Gasol quick improvement might send Felipe Reyes to the bench while shifting Pau to the 4, anyway this 3 headed monster is a pretty good one to have. Throw in Garbajosa playing some 3 and 4 if you wish to be more pleasant with it. Carlos Jimenez, team captain and one of the best European glue guys, may start at the 3 but I expect to see Navarro and Rudy in crunch time.

But this is not just about names. These guys have something other teams don’t have. They are all FRIENDS. Gasol, Calderon, Reyes, Lopez and Navarro have been together in the national team since they were 15. Their team chemistry could not be better and that give them a plus over any other team.

One guy you’ll probably want to see is the 17 years old sensation Ricky Rubio. He’s smarter than any other player his age. Led the ACB in steals last year (second was his team mate and now blazers rookie Fernandez) while just playing 25 min per game. He might not have many minutes because he’s the third PG behind Calderon and Lopez.

Coach Garcia-Reneses loves defense and use it to confuse rivals. For the years I’ve seen him coaching, his trademark has always been “don’t let them think on the offense, make them run on defense”. An NBA scout told me that it’s a shame NBA teams doesn’t look for coaches overseas because Garcia-Reneses would be a great steal.

The team will be playing with a high tempo but not rushing, creating the game not from quick steals but from exhausting defense.

Contenders

ARGENTINA

I understand why Ginobili and Oberto play in San Antonio — because Argentina is the closest team to the Spurs. They might look old, and they can play dirty basketball, but they win. Argentina is that team that’s always there playing for the top spot.

They are built from the inside-out. Scola is a monster inside the paint and Oberto will be his sidekick in the frontcourt. Nocioni, Ginobili and Delfino handle the outside scoring while Pablo Prigioni takes the ball to the best chance to score the ball.

I don’t know how Ginobili will be when the tournament starts but what I’ve seen in a couple pre-olympics games is that he’s not 100%. With Ginobili in killer-mode they are a team to beat, without they are a step behind USA and Spain.

LITHUANIA

Linas Kleiza might be it’s only NBA but Lithuania’s heart and soul is Sarunas Jasikevicius. His NBA career wasn’t as dreamt but in Europe is a basketball god. I’ve seen Saras with the team around him, listening, and then leave the huddle 100% motivated. Saras is the consummate leader.

Two guys I like a lot are the Lavrinovic twins. Darius and Ksystof are the pair of interior players of the team. They are comfortable leaving the paint so defenses might be aware of that while defending the low post.

The twins, Kleiza and Jasikevicius will be on the starting 5 along with Ramunas Siskauskas key member of CSKA Moscow Euroleague title.

Jasaitis(SG-SF), Javtokas (C), Kaukenas and Maciulis (SG) will play a big roll from the bench.

GREECE

I’ve heard many times I’ve heard that the Greek pick&roll killed US 2 summers ago. Guys, by then the USA was too confident and inexperienced in FBIBA play — and that’s when they had to face the best pick&roll PG in the world, Theo Papaloukas. It’s incredible how he read the game. His favourite play is a right handed pick anywhere the court (pretty often from the top of the key and even from half court) and get to the paint to see what happens. Once he’s there he takes his time. Look right, look left, walks thru the bigman forest, fake it with his head and while he’s heading out dish it from nowhere or take it out to start it over again.

Dimitris Diamantidis, a superb defender and good playmaker, is the other PG of the team, and will probably see lots of minutes at the SG as he’s also one of the stars of the team. Both PGs are over 6-5 feet tall.

There’s just 1 player shorter, team’s first scoring option SG Vassilis Spanoulis. You might remember him for his one-year tenure in Houston leaving the next year saying he was homesick. The truth is that he reminds me a lot to former Grizzlie JC Navarro but Spanoulis didn’t have a coach who gave him a chance to show his game.

The guy Greece will be missing a lot is Lazaros Papadopulous, one of the top 5 bigman in Europe, who said he would not be playing for national team anymore. Without him they’ve lost their core interior weapon.

I want to see to see Clippers draftee Sofoklis Schortsanitis, nicknamed Baby Shaq because his strength… and because he weigh the same as Shaq at 6-9. I heard a story of him that Olimpiakos sent him to a weigh losing center and came home with some pounds more than how he entered. Concerned, the team looked the bill of the hotel and saw that the room service bill was quite expensive…

RUSSIA

Winning Spain in last year’s Eurobasket finals makes me give them some respect, and that’s why I consider them contenders.

JR Holden has been playing great lately making CSKA Moscow consider trading European superstar PG Papaloukas (finally traded to Olimpiakos). He is never tired, could play 44 min per game and be able to hit the big three in crunch time. That said, he’s not the best playmaker.

The playmaking of the team relies in Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. I don’t know what goes thru AK mind when playing FIBA ball that changes his offensive arsenal lately hidden in Salt Lake City.

This team relies a lot in three pointers. Holden, Khryapa, Monya, Pashutin can shoot out the lights and even AK jacks some long range bombs. Alexey Savrasenko will be an important player in the paint helping AK.

Big bodies closing the lines in defense while playing the drive and kick in offense.

Bubble/Enigma teams

GERMANY

You can never count off a team that features Dirk Nowitzki but for me this team has more questions than answers.

Kaman asking for the German nationality was as a gift from above for Germany as the C position was held by the old Patrick Femerling. He and Dirk may lead the team or head early back home.

Other bigmans of the team, Tim Ohlbrecht and Jan-Hendrik Jagla are two of the most inconsistent contributors in Europe. Ohlbrecht is still young at just 20 but skinny for the five spot. Time ago he was projected as a top 20 draft pick but his lack of presence could not get him even an important contract in Europe. I’ve seen Jagla scoring 5-6 3’s one game and the next shoot 2-12. I like this guy, he got game, but at 27 years old you are supposed to be more consistent and offer a solid contribution every time you hit the court.

Outside the frontcourt, this team is pretty thin. Pascal Roller (PG) and Robert Garrett (SG) are the two vets who can deliver it more constantly but I would not bet my money on them.

CHINA

I was thinking of handling China the ALL-ENIGMA TEAM award. Outside of Yao no one here is proven.

Jianlian Yi, newly acquired by the Nets, has potential, coached when young as a wing player he grow late and became a face to basket 7 footer.

There are two other interesting prospects in the squad. Lakers draftee Sun Yue and Chen Jianghua.

Sun’s case its pretty similar to Jianlian’s. When he was young he was short and played the PG since then one day started to grow quick — really quick — and now is a 23 years old 6-9 PG. Talent is there but he doesn’t really knows how to use it. More over, he’s been out of Chinese team for political reasons (Beijing Aoshen, his pro team, didn’t want its players play for the national team years before and they were excluded from Chinese league, since then the team plays in ABA league) so his spot in rotation may not be clear at all right now. Might see also minutes at the 2 and the 3

Chen Jianghua is a 19 years old speedy PG from Guangdong. He is considered one of the best talents in China where few short players have become worth watching. The squad is pretty loaded at the guard but he’s got a chance to take the starting spot.

CROATIA

Balcanic teams always inspire my fear. Croatia is a group of talented hard workers. They started a youth movement a couple years ago in the national team — Davor Kus (29) and Nikola Prkacin (33) are the 2 vets and are surrounded by the likes of new Raptor PG Roko Ukic (24), Popovic (26), Marko Tomas (23), Planinic (26), Banic (24) and Stanco Barac (22).

The PG duties are well distributed with Ukic and Planinic with both able to play the SG. At the wings will be Popovic, Tomas and Kus while Banic and Barac are two young frontcourt players with great work ethic and growing into pretty solid basketball players in Spanish ACB league.

Be careful with Croatia because is the kind of team that could beat bigger teams who are too confident.

Lucky to be there

Australia, Iran and Angola are 3 teams that got their passport to the Olympics because of regional distribution of invitations to keep the competition the more international as possible. I could start saying many teams that deserve this berth much more than them, starting with France, Italy, Slovenia or Puerto Rico.

Kurt

Posts

34 responses to Olympic Scouting Report

  1. Great post! Thanks for the insight. I’m anxious to see what we gave up in Marc Gasol, and also anxious to see Rubio dish out some crazy assists. He looks amazing for his age. I’m content that we have a well-constructed national team to get us through the off season summertime lull.

  2. I agree with you on the US’s pick-and-roll situation, but I’m not sold coach K will utilize Melo at the 4 much. Or that Melo will decide to chuck a lifetime’s worth of poor defense to step out on the pick-and-roll during the Olympics. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I sincerely hope Tayshaun plays heavy minutes at the 4.

  3. Carmelo has been yanked for poor defense a few times already in the exhibition games against Turkey and Russia. As soon as he sits, the USA goes on a run. We might end up seeing LeBron at the PF a lot if Melo keeps this up.

    Soflokis was the guy who killed the US team at the Worlds two years ago on the pick and roll. He ate up Elton Brand and whichever PF was trying to guard him. Now, he supposedly looks like he ACTUALLY ate Elton Brand.

  4. the other Stephen August 5, 2008 at 5:32 am

    espana is scary

  5. Wow.. is anyone catching the USA Vs. Australia game? I can’t believe the game is so close this late in the game (Nearing the end of the 3rd).

  6. I just watched the game versus Australia. LeBron James was not playing good defense. He keeps getting backdoored and cut on, or shot over. I actually think D-Wade is more effective when he’s in there.
    This was not a good game from Team USA. They didn;t do a good job moving the ball around, and lacked focus on the defensive end, especially poor rotations or help. LeBron and ‘Melo are hurting this team defensively. The whole team is going to have to play more precise heading into Group play.

  7. Not very impressed, especially with Kobe, the last two games. It seems the NBA players a going to too much 1-on-1 and it just doesn’t work in international ball. It is like the zone and packed in defenses cause the US to launch from outside all the time. I just hope coach K is holding something in reserve – but I don’t think that is the case.

    Not very impressed with coach K’s in-game coaching. Perhaps it is dealing with all the tremendous egos, but he seems fixed and doesn’t seem to respond to changes the other coach brings to the game. Maybe we need more influence from DeAntoni.

  8. Why don’t they play some P&R themselves? Why can’t they try to make these guys react? The other teams pack the lane ( Apparently there is no three second voilation in Internation ball) and just wait, why not run some plays, Pick and Pop, Pick and Roll anything to get the other team out of their defensive sets. The Russians refused to be run on and all off a sudden USA has no offense? This is crazy, don’t they have any offensive sets at all? Or maybe Coach K is just hiding all the good stuff for later.

  9. For the record, there is a three second violation on offense in international ball, however not on defense as in the NBA. The three second rule combined with the wide base of the Trapezoid lane used internationally is why traditional big NBA centers (ala Shaq) are not as effective in international ball.

    That said, the USA should run more pick and roll when they see man-to-man defense (less effective against a zone). Right now they are seeing lots of zone (I have yet to watch the Australia game).

  10. The teams that pack the lane, as Jams said, are the teams that give the U.S. the most trouble. Why is this? Because the U.S. honchos refuse to ask shooters to play. They think that Michael Redd’s inconsistent hoisting will answer all of their problems against zone or sagging man-to-man. It is ridiculous. Why didn’t they bring back Mike Miller? I thought he was a pretty valuable piece last summer.

  11. I am pretty shocked that France did not make it… Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn’t they be fielding a team of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, and Turiaf? I was just really hopeing to see Ronny in action again…

  12. We keep equating NBA skills with FIBA skills and they require different talents. I love watching D. Wade go crashing into players and get called for the offensive foul – no calls for stars – the way it should be in the NBA. We have the most talent, but we don’t have the most team play. I think we will win, but we sure are asleep at the moment.

  13. Great, great post Xavier.

    Spain is awesome!!! In a normal tournament, the only team that can beat USA.

    Right now I miss Pepe Sanchez and it’s a shame that a great player like Herrmann don’t want to play for Argentina. We don’t have a deep bench anymore. By the way, Manu is fine.

    11- France was 8th in the European Tournament in 2007 in Madrid. Parker, Diaw, Pietrus & Turiaf played in that team…

  14. j. d. hastings August 5, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I’m watching the delayed broadcast of the Australia game and the announcers were just talking about Bogut’s contract and noted that his contract has a lot of incentives built into it. You don’t hear much talk of incentives in the nba- how do they count against the cap? If he doesn’t meet themn do they count against it? Do you assume he will meet all his incentives until the end of the season?

    Is this the answer to the worry some of us have to signing Bynum to a max contract? Give him some incentives for games played?

  15. As much as I want the USA Men’s team to win, I’m not a big fan of what Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have said. This idea of playing angry and gold medal guarantees just makes me feel like in some way that they think Gold is ours by right.

    This attitude will cause other teams to use that as bulletin board material to play even harder against us.

    I’ll give credit to the other players by not “talking” and just playing.

    If the team plays as a team and puts all of this talk aside, then USA will probably get Gold. I just don’t like this idea that we are entitled Gold just because we are there.

  16. i’ve watched the past three games (Lithuania, Russia, and Australia). The US really has a tough time against the zone because the offense bogs down and they try and go one on one. DWill has had moderate success driving and kicking but not too many others have had much more than that. They haven’t been shooting that well from outside, even when they are open. Michael Redd hasn’t been out there enough to really get in a good rhythm and make the difference. one on one defense for the US Team has been pretty poor. They aren’t staying in front of their men and the defense becomes compromised. The rotations come too slow from a lack of familiarity.

    I hate to be the negative nancy when the US has been playing so well lately (quite a healthy point differential) but there are certainly some signs for worry.

    All in all, i’m pretty excited to see whether the US can bring home a gold medal because I don’t think that it’s guaranteed. I think they are going to have to work pretty hard and with the one and done format, they could end up very surprised. I actually hope they lose one of the pool play games to a good team and learn to take the other teams very very seriously. The top level teams are no joke and they’ll find the weaknesses of Team USA and abuse them beyond belief.

  17. 15/j.d. – The short answer is that the league evaluates incentives as “likely” or “unlikely”, based on whether the team or player achieved the goal in the previous season. If “likely”, it counts against the salary cap. (Re-evaluated annually.)

    The long answer is question #61 of the salary cap FAQ/bible, here: http://members.cox.net/lmcoon/salarycap.htm#61 .

    And the interesting answer is that incentives cannot be based on “games played”. I think it would be okay to use something like “points per season”, though it’s not completely clear (to me, anyway).

    I think the effect is that teams can’t really use incentives to get around the salary cap so they don’t care, and the players/agents have enough power to just get the money up front.

  18. Whilst I don’t follow the Australian team closely, and I have no doubt that Xavier’s placement of them in the ‘lucky to be there’ category is probably valid, as an Australian I felt a certain smugness about his analysis after the scare we gave USA. This is no knock on your analysis Xavier, believe me, just a subjective fan’s feeling of triumph!

  19. Just pointing out that Australia, one of your lucky to be here teams, just ran the US pretty close withouth their best player, with a 19 year old point guard running past the USA point guards like they weren’t even there. Along with David Andersen ( a pick and pop type Euro star) the Aussies have some serious talent. Along with a couple of potential draftees in Joe Ingles and Sean Redhage, they could make some noise. They’ve got solid team defense and decent shooting. Maybe they should be given a little more credit?

  20. 10- I agree. Why was Mike Miller left off the team?

    Xavier-thanks, great stuff. I am confident this team (U.S.) will take gold, mainly because of my blind faith in the Kobe-Lebron led starting unit. I really wish Amare would’ve come, I think he too would have been helpful.

  21. 15-That’s a good point. I have also noticed that a lot of the contracts that have been signed recently include ‘performance incentives’. I’m not sure how prevelant this was before this season, but from the Owner’s perspective, I defintley understand. They look at the NFL and see owner’s doing the same thing, I’m sure if they can (depending on how the NBA Player’s Union proceeds) the Owner’s would love to go to performance based contracts.

  22. Chris Paul’s complete lack of on-ball defense got exposed by Patrick Mills who blew by Paul at will and attacked the US team’s middle.

    I think the best 5 for the team is Howard,Bosh,James, Kobe, williams. I hold no hope that we will actually see this unit play together as,lacking another big man, K insists that Bosh and Howard can’t occupy the court at the same time. Too bad chandler didn’t make the team.

    Without any role players, there’s no one but Howard (and Boozer, who can’t get any PT in an exhibition match against Australia!) who knows how to set screens (and howard is a poor screener). The PnR between the 4 and 1is a bread and butter play. But when the 4 is Bron or Melo and the 1 is Kidd you have a situation where there is no pick, no roll, no J from the point, and no pop. The starting 5 just isn’t equipped to play half court ball. Only Kobe can penetrate and dish and in this offense he is relegated to be a catch n shooter.

    One of these days when the outside shot is off, they will lose a game. If that game is the final game – too bad.

  23. I know there will prob be a separate post/thread on this, but, a 6 game road trip right before the break and a 7 game trip a couple of works before the season ends? That’s kinda rough…

  24. Sorry…that anonymous about the schedule was me.

  25. Kwame A.,

    Lebron needs to start paying attention. He gets lost too often. How easy is it to cut and backdoor him? I’d rather not see his athletic ability recover for a block. I want him to treat it like it’s Sunday afternoon in L.A. and Kobe is on the other end. He pay attention alot more then.

    I think it might be a good idea for USA to play more zone. It’ll keep their rebounders in position and their athleticism would be a strength if they rotate properly.
    On offense, they need to play better against the zone. kobe loves the foul line shot. He should be flashing there, or LeBron. Stop this penetration and kick stuff. They need to pass. Inside out. Work the middle.

  26. Sorry for the off-topic post but the Laker schedule is out. Circle Dec 25 and Feb 2 those are the dates that we play the Celtics. The first 3 months on the season, the Lakers play 27 of their first 46 games at home and the last 3 months its 14 out of 36 at home.

  27. New post up talking schedule and more.

  28. The Lakers get the Celtics in Boston as the end of a back-to-back and in the middle of a long road trip. Boston does not play the night before. Interesting.

    In the end though…everything evens out as far as strength of schedules go. No complaints from me. Christman Day games will be interesting.

  29. If this Team USA finds itself in a close game vs Spain (or Russia or Argentina or Greece, etc.), its lack of ‘structured’ Set Offense (especially versus Zone Defense) and ‘structured’ Team Defense might (wil?) become a problem … but, as long as Kobe & Lebron are on the court together (with neither one in foul difficulty) they SHOULD always be able to generate enough Steals/Turnovers to allow the USA to win the Gold Medal.

    At his size (i.e. height & weight) and with his athleticism (i.e. horizontal and vertical quickness & explosive power), intensity, multi-dimensional skill level, and basketball IQ, Kobe Bryant is the No. 1 Player in the world today … and, Lebron James is #2.

  30. Glad you liked the preview.

    10. About Mike Miller… Miller is the kind of guy I would never take as a coach, never liked him. I don’t care he shoots well the ball, ball movement, spacing and defense is much more needed than a shooter.

    19 and 20. Australia upseting USA talks more about USA than Australia. As cofident as USA team walked into the court against Australia, Angola would also upset them. The point is that USA didn’t play at his best and changed their chip pretty late. Confidence is a double-edged sword.

    25. Zone defense makes you vulnerable rebounding if players are not very used to do it because while playing zone you don’t have a man assigned to you and close to your body to protect the rebound and catch it. You gotta practice it a lot.

    I read someone saying that coach K tried to structure a lot players minutes so to have them all happy. I think thats an error of the coach. It’s important to have a role for every player but they must earn it in the game. Plans are made to be changed and no game is suposed to be the same.

    That ”rule” that the starting five might be the same that starts the 3rd quarter is just stupid. Want to be on the court? Earn it.

  31. Yeah Xavier, I never understood american coaches…Why must the starting lineup rest during the 2nd quarter when they’re building a lead? Is it written somewhere?

    Isn’t it better to put the game with a 30pt margin and THEN rest the best players? And why is it needed to rotate everyone to keep them happy? If they focused on winning instead of the superstars egos, they would hardly lose a game at all, with all the talent pool available…

    That’s the difference… Every european team has players who are happy to represent their country and don’t get mad if they only play 5 min a game… they still give max effort. I don’t see that in this US team…

  32. 31. was mine…