Eurobasket preview

Xavier Sánchez —  August 25, 2009

FIBA World Basketball Championship - Day 15
Regular readers here at FB&G know Xavier, our friend the professional coach in Barcelona. He was kind enough to throw a few words together for us previewing Eurobasket starting in just a little over a week. I did make some edits around Sasha, who is off that team now, but the points are Xavier’s. —Kurt

On September 7th the FIBA Eurobasket 2009 tournament in Poland starts [link to the schedule]. I was talking to Kurt about it and he asked me which teams were worthy of seeing and I offered myself to write a small piece about it. In this long summer without any basketball, getting some international action will please us basketball junkies.
I’m disappointed that some teams are missing key players but are still pretty interesting to watch. Let’s have a look at what teams are bringing to Poland.

CONTENDERS

Greece: They have lost 4 players that could perfectly fit in their starting 5, top playmakers Papaloukas and Diamantidis, and frontcourt players Papadopoulus and Tsartsaris, but they still can put a very competitive five on the floor most of the time, lead by star SG the explosive scorer Vassilis Spanoulis. With Papaloukas out the team won’t play that much the high pick&roll, which you Americans might remember from 2006 in Japan. I’m intrigued to see them integrating two young upcoming players: Calathes and Koufos. You both know them, greek players with American education and college experience. I’ve been disappointed by Koufos season in Utah but I believe he’ll eventually flourish. Two years ago, in the U18 Euro tournament he was the MVP followed by Rubio and dominated every single post player, I think he’s gonna do good.

Slovenia: They are missing two players, but will be a big threat without them. One is Nesterovic, if you consider him an important player. The other was Sasha Vujacic, who was trying to play for his national team for the first time, playing in that European style for the first time, and apparently did not blend that well (also, his knee could have been part of the problem). Only scoring PG Lakovic, former NBA Nachbar and post player Matjas Smodis can be considered big names but the rest of players are above average. Slovenia is the country in the world that has more professional basketball players per habitant, it might give you a hint of the passion they have for this sport. It will be interesting to see Suns young PG Goran Dragic and Primoz Brezec who returns to the NBA this year to play for the 76ers.

Spain: This team has lost Calderon this summer and former captain Jimenez but the Spaniards are so deep and talent that anything but gold would be a big failure. Marc Gasol will make us look back at the Pau trade and think it wasn’t that lopsided. Navarro is coming of a ACB MVP season and Rudy Fernandez is nothing but a rising star. Then you also have seasoned veterans and young upcoming talent as Portland draftee Victor Claver (remember I talked about him by draft time), Sergio Llull and the guy Bill Simmons and half of the basketball world is enamored with Ricky Rubio. It’s a delight watching this team play ball and with no USA playing in euros tournament, there’s no way any team can upset them.

UNDERDOGS

Lietuva (Lithuania):
As did Greece, Lithuania has lost too many important players such as Jasikevicius, Macijauskas or Siskauskas. Jasikevicius will be missed, a lot. He’s the heart and soul of the team but he really needed a summer off. The team will present a very interesting frontcourt with Lavrinovic twins and Robertas Javtokas holding the fort and Jasaitis and Kleiza will provide 3 point shooting. At the end, I think the Jasikevicius absence will be too much. If they overcome that loss, they could be in the top level.

Croatia: A very solid team but without flashy names. Pretty consistent and above average. Nikola Vujcic comes back to the national team after 4 years and seeing how Roko Ukic does when he’s getting big minutes might be the big two storylines following this team.

Latvia and Turkey: Both teams are led by NBA stars, Biedrins and Turkoglu, and have interesting core of players around. Maybe Turkoglu has the better sidekick in Ersan Ilyasova, who had a one year stint in The Bucks in 06-07 and spend the last to years in Spain. This year he’s back in a Bucks uniform and will battle for the starting PF position.

OTHER TEAMS THAT MAY BE WORTH SEEING

Russia: The current Eurobasket champ, only has one of their previous starting five. No Holden, Savrasenko, Kirilenko or Pashutin. Imagine the 2004 Pistons champions losing Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Sheed, well that’s this Russian team. They still have Khryapa and they have recently made an express passport to the American Kelly McCarthy but that’s not enough. Its their time to show the world something good if they want to be considered a team to be feared, but I’m not confident they will.

Israel: They have a couple interesting players worth of seeing: SG Yotam Halperim, a very skilled scorer and Lior Eliyahu, that has been teasing with the idea of going to the NBA for some years. It’s a shame Omri Casspi isn’t playing this year but he’s decided to devote him to his new team the Kings.

Serbia: Outside of Nenad Krstic, Popovic (26) and Kecman (33), every single player is under 24. Milicic, after ripping the Italian referees in 07 Eurobasket [ video] will never play again for its NT, Stojakovic, Jaric, Vujanic and Radmanovic are too old for this and the sensational scorer Rakocevic finished this season injured so he decided to have a summer off. This team will show up the future of the country and I can tell you its pretty bright.

THE REST


Germany,
Without Dirk and Kaman, who is a no show. What the hell, even with them the team is a no show! I hope Dirkmania brings Germany some basketball fever.

Great Britain has very little talent. Well, there is the NBA’s Azubuike, Deng and Gordon, but none of them are playing. It might only be worth watching new Rocket Pops Mensah-Bonsu jumping up and down and one of many Blazers draftees Freeland.

Magic fans will be rooting for the home team, Poland, as the polish hammer is playing for them. But that’s all what you’ll see, Marcin Gortat. And if they are lucky, they may also have flashes of Maciej Lampe, former NBA who did not much in the states.

And as for Macedonia, I have very few things to say other than they have a couple of American guys with Macedonian passport, Massey and Washington that can play some ball and that a “macedonia” is a dessert consisting of a salad of different fruits cut in small pieces with its juice pretty common in Spain.

The qualifying tournament hasn’t finished yet so we don’t know which team will get the final berth, once I know it I’ll give Kurt some new information.
Let me know if any of you plans on catching any action and if you are interested we could discuss some of it.
– Xavier Sánchez.

Xavier Sánchez

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98 responses to Eurobasket preview

  1. Not to be a jerk, but this article is in serious need of some editing. The grammar is just plain awful.

    Also Sasha can’t even make the Slovenian national team. If anyone thought he should still be in the rotation that should be a real wake up call.

  2. Tyler, when you write an article for publication in your second language, then you can talk grammar.

  3. I apologise if grammar is not good, I’m trying to get better, but english is not even my segond language. I speak and write catalan, spanish, english and french. If I do not write or speak a perfect english as you I’m sorry, my fault.

    Anyway, grammar apart, what I’m here to talk about is basketball. I do think Sasha has talent but that last injury and some mental block are holding him. He needs to rest, and get back to point zero to build confidence. Some one commented in the last post that he might need to see a sports psicologist, I’m with that. He needs to believe in himself again and stop rushing to prove others right.

  4. Sorry if that came off more abrasive than I had hoped. I was just saying that a good read over would have been good before posting to make it easier to follow.

    I actually really like the article and thought it was interesting especially for those of us who don’t follow international ball but are really in need of something to follow at this time of year.

    With regards to Sasha, don’t you think that its more likely that he just had one lucky year when he caught fire as opposed to being a really good player who is in a funk?
    The guy wasn’t exactly lighting it up before 2007-2008.

  5. Is Pau playing for Spain?

  6. What I think is that he found a motivation (aka contract year) to lose his scenic panic and as the shots starting to fall he got in to the mood.

    Dont we take pride whe have a coach who works the players mind? To me, that’s something should write at the top of the list of things to do next to the Artest thing

  7. 5. He will play. He’s now recovering from a left hand injury but will play. But don’t worry, Spain is deep enough not to overplay him. If he needs rest he’ll get it.

  8. Xavier, interesting article! Do you think that Marc Gasol has the potential to become an NBA All-Star? How is his work ethic, as compared to his brothers?

    When Pau came into the NBA I wished that the Lakers could somehow get their hands on him in a trade. Then the Lakers drafted Marc Gasol, I was elated with that draft choice. I thoguht that Marc Gasol would be a good power forward to play with Bynum. If we could not get Pau then his brother was the next best thing, right. The Lakers finally got Pau, but we had to give up young Marc Gasol, bittersweet trade. At least that’s what I thought at the time, then we went to the finals the first year and won the championship the second year with Pau and are on the cusp of building a dynasty.

  9. We just need to draft another Spaniard with the last name Gasol in a few years, and then trick Chris Wallace into giving us Marc. Is it wrong to be greedy?

    Awesome preview, Xavier. FBaG is really lucky to get contributions like this, esp. for those of us who otherwise wouldn’t see any Euro hoops at all.

  10. I think people may have jumped to criticize before thinking. I appreciate your insights, Xaviar, and there is no need to defend your grammar. I understood you perfectly well, so thank you.

    I just get this extra edge to me when Israel or Israeli League teams play against Poland, Russia or Germany. Inglorious Basterds may have given me some catharsis, though.

    Funny to relate Macedonia with a juicy fruit salad. Alexander the Great may be rolling over in his many graves over that.

    Where can we watch games?

  11. 8. Chearn, I project Marc as a second comming of Vlade Divac, thats it. Pau is much better and versatile player than Marc, who cannot play the PF but Marc is also an special player. When I talked to a guy working for the Lakers right after the trade, he told me that it wasn’t (at all) the cap space they where trading for, but Marc.

    In Memphis sometimes he looks frustrated, he’s a winner, like his brother who was there in a similar situation. He rarely gets the ball in the low post to se any in and out situation. You’ll see that this summer.

  12. 9. Pau and Marc have a younger brother, Adrià Gasol. He’s 15 years old and the last thing I knew about him is that last year was 6-5 tall and was playing in Laussane Collegiate School in Memphis, at the begining close to Pau and then to Marc. I think he’s still playing there. Let your fantasy roll…

    10. I apreciate it.
    I don’t know if any american network will show it but I guess you can find something streamming at:
    http://www.ustream.tv
    justin.tv

  13. Xavier,
    A while back, TrueHoop had a nice guest post on a young Turkish player named Enes Kanter. Do you know if he’ll play for Turkey? Have you heard much about him? There was an update that he’s coming to the US to play some highschool ball. Is he a real prospect?

  14. 13. He is.
    Kanter is an inside beast. A 17 years old 6.10 center, probably a PF in USA. Will go to the US to play college ball, not HS. He was the MVP of the U18 eurobasket this year.
    Got offers from Fenerbahce (Turkey) and Olimpiakos (Greece) arround 2 milion euros but he refused them to play for Texas or North Carolina, he hasn’t decided yet. That’s the exact reverse case of Jennings or Tyler.

    You can compare his history to Koufos, who did the same exact thing, and as I said in the article, I hope he does better next year in Utah

  15. Kurt, the site is holding my comment on moderation on my own article! we gotta work that out…

  16. For those with access to ESPN360, they will be streaming the Eurobasket games online. I’ll have links when it gets closer.

  17. A little off topic, but it sure does let your imagination roll…

    http://www.slamonline.com/online/nba/2009/08/thirtysomething/

  18. I just got chills seeing that games are being played in Lodz. My maternal grandfather survived that ghetto and, please G-d, let Israel make it that far.

  19. I hope Mr. Papadopoulus brings Webster to the games.

  20. Xavier thanks for the write up! I was just in your beautiful city this past weekend (Aug 18th-23rd). I understand that Barcelona is truly a Fútbol city so I didnt really expect to see much Basketball, but I found one hoop in Park Güelll, which was a strange place for it, with the dirt court. But I did wear a SKYHOOK Kareem shirt one day and got many points at the shirt and smiles from people on the Subway.

    And to my US friends, aren’t some of the games on NBA TV? They have been in the past.

  21. Great piece of information, Xavier. IMHO, I think the reason the Gasol for Gasol trade was lopsided because Pau has has suited the Triangle so well…and it was almost instantaneous…and it led to a title. =)

    On a different note, please forgive me…I realize that this may not be appropriate for the “Euro” thread…but I need a little help from the Laker fans of old. I didn’t start actively attending Laker games until around 1998, so I am unfamiliar with the seating at the Forum. I am buying my best pal tickets for her birthday to see the Lake Show at the Forum on Oct 9th. Can anyone advise me on what constitutes good seats there (i.e., the best section to sit in)? Wading through inaccurate seating charts all over the web has been killing me!

    Thanks all!

  22. 20. I follow soccer too, but basketball is my passion. There are few basketball courts in the playgrounds but you try hard you find them. Most of it is played in gyms.
    Actually, Catalonia (a region of Spain that has as a capital Barcelona, something close to your states but smaller), Lithuania and Slovenia are the top 3 in the world producing basketball players per habitant. From Spanish NT, Pau, Marc, Navarro, Ricky Rubio, Guillem Rubio (not his brother), Raul López and Mumbrú are catalans and Rudy has been playing basketball close to Barcelona since before the beard start growing in his face. That’s 8 out of 13 players of Spain’s roster.

    I’ll stop talking about that bcause none of you care about it, but seeing that developing young guys, which is my job, when basketball is not the major sport in Spain, makes me feel proud

  23. I’m inclined to think it was politics that may have had a role in Sasha being but.

    Dude has an ego. Remember Canada’s reason for cutting Samuel Dalembert? It’s pretty easy to picture the Lakers’ $5 Million One Man Full Court Press and Foul Machine feeling like he was the Slovenian Michael Jordan.

    Especially since Sasha has a rep to repair following his Finals donut.

  24. My dad and I would sit in the nose bleed section at the Forum and watch games like the West, Chamberlain, Lakers play the Lew Alcindor, Oscar Robertson, Bucks. Those were the days. Sigh.

    When I was at UCLA I had a friend in my dorm who had a friend who was a ticket taker at the Forum. We used to show up and pretend to hand him tickets and he would let us through. Then we found empty seats and kept hoping the ushers wouldn’t show someone their seat and ask us for out tickets to see where we should be sitting.

  25. Xavier…I do care about that stuff. I find it fascinating where players come from and why they come from that area. Even here in the US. And I love the rare times that GREAT players come from places where NO Great player came from before. Like Great players that come from areas that are dominated by Football or Fútbol…or any other sport…how did they “GET” basketball. How did they understand that game so well when it is barely played compared to other sports.

    I am sure there was more Basketball oriented things in Barcelona, I just didn’t see them. But I loved that city!!!!

  26. this is serious insider stuff, love it.

    Kinda sad that we couldn’t get Gasol without losing Gasol. Would’ve gone gaga whenever both were on the floor together, instead of seeing them solo on different teams ;)

  27. Xavier- How do you think the new Galacticos project will turn at for Real Madrid?

  28. Xavier, great article on Eurobasket this coming month, just love these kind of posts on FB&G. Can you answer for me a question that I have had for a while about the players in Europe? Do the players that are very good end up in the NBA always, or do the European teams pay good enough salaries and keep the good talent in Europe. What would make a player either stay in Europe or come here to the NBA, maybe this is a better way to word what I am asking.

  29. 28. That’s a good question… Cristiano’s talent is undeniable and Kaka is awsome but the team has no identity, there are too many pieces and a new coach. There’s very few midfilders capable of managing the team in the transition zone and, for what I’ve seen since now, Cristiano is very anxious of doing good, which paradoxically isn’t doing any good to him. I think it will take a month or two to start clicking but they will eventually click. Even when the team wasn’t playing good the last couple years they where there, thanks to their great goalkeeper, Casillas, and their hability to steal games in the last second with ugly wins.
    So worst case scenario: they still grab ugly wins pretend to be there till the end.
    Best case scenario: Cristiano clicks, Lass Diarra, Xabi Alonso and Kaka find a way to connect to the ofensive power they’ve bough and new coach Pellegrini figures a way to play nice while winning as Barça does. Then we would have one of the best seasons in La Liga with the matchups between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona being the most viewed soccer games of the history.

    But really, they have to do very good cuz Barça’s game last season was like watching the Lakers showtime… all beauty capable of winning championships. They won all 3 titles they where elegible to win. This season they are elegible to win 6, and have already won the first.

  30. Random but slightly related question…. do you guys think there’s an outside chance that Jordan Farmar might ever play for Israel in future tourneys?

  31. 29. That’s relative. Not every great european player is suited for the NBA. For example: You may recall that Vassilis Spanoulis sit at the end of the Rockets bench in his breef tenure in the NBA, sort of what happened with Jasikevicious in Oakland and Indianapolis, but if you’ve seen them with their national teams you may have thought… damn, this guy is torching the oponent.

    That is basically because of one thin: the style of play. NBA relies a lot in pick&rolls and isolations. You cannot do zone defenses (no, what you see is not a zone defense, go look for a tape of any game of Melo in Siracuse and you’ll see a zone defense, a zone defene would meen Shaq standing still in the middle of the paint not just 2 feet from his man). This rules are set in order to increase the pace, scoreboard numbers and spectacle.
    Under FIBA rules (that’s the basketball played in all the world except the NBA and NCAA) the possibility of a player flotating, easier defensive rotations and zone defenses, demand the player to be smarter, polivalent and capable of 24 seconds of ball moving along with players moving without the ball to find new holes. The callendar is not so tight, 2 games a week, games are 40 minutes long instead of 48, and every game is important so the intensity is higher. Not so spectacular but prettier for those who bleed basketball.

    Then players like Pau Gasol, Vlade Divac or Arvydas Sabonis get to shoot the midrange, battle down the paint with both hands and pass like a PG, because when growing their basketball skills they where asked to be smarter. They aren’t fisical talents like the Lebrons or Dwights but that don’t mean their basketball is less pretty.

    Then there are players who are great but still decide not to go to the NBA. A clear cut name come to my mind: Dejan Bodiroga.

    The serbian forward won 3 MVPs in domestical leagues and 2 Euroleague MVPs. Has a silver olympic medal, 2 world championships gold medals, 3 eurobasket gold medals, 1 bronce eurobasket medal, 3 Euroleague champinships and I could keep it going…
    Was drafted by the kings in the second round on 1995, but never went to the NBA. His style didn’t fit!

    Bodiroga could play all 5 positions. A silent killer, all his movements where silky and in slow motion. You could see what he was going to do, the defender knew it, and he still could not stop him.

    Bodiroga got his money and fame here in Europe and would have never been more than a 7th-8th player in an NBA rotation. But I think of the last decade of NBA, 90% of the sixth men would have failed to be as great as Dejan in Europe.

  32. One thing I love about reading Xaviar unedited is I can hear the Catalan accent.

    My wife and I took my mother-in-law to Barcelona for her 60th birthday. My G-d, what a beautiful city. The buildings left by Gaudi and the Palace of Music are sort of Dali paintings that hold up in reality somehow. The bars with tapas, the view from La Florida Hotel (not that we stayed there, we just hung out in the lobby and drank a few bottles of Cava with a night time view of the Mediterranean and Barcelona’s lights. It is such a lovely city and my love for it has only grown with the championship it has helped in giving us in LA.

    Look, we’ve not quite gone the way of Britain and futbol but it is amazing to see such a variety of styles, rhythms and philosophies of basketball come to us from all over the world and flourish in unexpected places. The fact that Barcelona in particular, and Spain in general, has produced such fine basketball players who can succeed both in the NBA and under FIBA rules is something to be proud of.

  33. 33. So you’re telling me that, with all those pretty things (all true) of barcelona, I’ll have to hold a Forum Blue&Gold party over here when you all come to visit it? Pick up game and BBQ?

    I didn’t know my english was so bad you could read my accent (joking). I gotta tell you that in general, english level in spain is far far worse than mine. When I speak it over here they say I have american accent (british english is taught at schools).

  34. Marc Gasol could do worse than to be compared to Vlade Divac. Divac so loved being a Los Angeles Laker, that upon being traded for Kobe Bryant, he almost retired. I remember Vlade Divac’s Jack N The Box, and I think it was Gillette razor commercials. He was the second most fun loving Laker behind Magic Johnson.

  35. Xavier – Not at all. There’s nothing you’ve said, in the post and in the comments, that isn’t easily understandable. I’ve got a couple friends at college from Spain and they’ve said the same thing as you, that the general English level in Spain isn’t high enough to make coming over here easy. So personally I think your thoughts are precise and insightful, I’m looking forward to hearing your Euroball updates as the year goes on.

  36. 35. I meant it to be a good comparison, but not at an all-star level. I like his upside

  37. Xavier- I am a big Barca fan, but I am not sure that selling Eto for Ibra was a good move. I think Eto is one of the best finishers in the world and he fit as the last piece of Barca’s beautiful attack. I’m not sure Ibra will seamlessly fit, but it should all be fun, Champions Leauge, La Liga and the Prem.

  38. Jane (21)-

    Its been 15 years since i’ve at Forum…but even the upper levels are not that high up compared to Staples. (Imagine 200 level or Premier seats.)

    So….center court any level is good…or corner to baseline if center not avail.

  39. Xavier, I understood you when you compared Marc Gasol to a Vlade Divac type player. I like that comparison, Divac was a good player,. His best years were played in Sacramento as a King. If not for a lucky bounce here or there Vlade Divac might be a champion. But as you know, he batted that rebound from under the basket and into Robert Horry’s hands for the shot that won the Western Conference Finals.

  40. 40. How can I forget that rebound? It was 5.15am over here in spain and I almost wake up all my family screaming!

    When Magic turned 50, I saw again its return game against the Warriors in 1996, and watching that Divac was like watching a bit more refined Marc Gasol.

    During a scrimage this summer against Slovenia i saw the Marc Gasol no one saw in Memphis cause they don’t gave him that much freedom. Gets it in the right left block back to the basket. He feels his defender and see second defender comming for the double team. Looks at Reyes, the PF whos defender was comming for the double team, nods him and with his eyes draws in the air the whole way to the basket. Amazing to see that eye comunication on TV. Reyes cuts to the basket and Marc rewards him with a one hand bounce pass and an easy basket.

    That’s who we traded for Pau Gasol. But I still prefere his older brother

  41. 38. If Eto’o stayed this season, he would have left next year as his contract expired in 2010, without giving Barça nothing in return. He worked hard, a lot, but his chemistry with coach Guardiola wasn’t the best. By giving up Eto’o, Barça gives up a sure thing, but in return they get an extremely talented player.

    Technically, Ibra is far superior to Eto’o, is more spectacular rather than a lion-like Eto’o and that fits better with Barça style of play.

    Eto’o scored a lot of goals but that’s mostly because of two reasons: his heart and intensity and that in that magnificent ofensive machine that Barça is he got loads and loads of oportunities, and he scored half of what he missed he woud have recorded 40 instead of 30 goals.

    The polivalency that Ibra brings starts by his height. He’s 6-4, the roof of the team, and goes excelent with his head. Having a consistent menace in high balls is a new threat Barça didn’t have.

    Eto’o didn’t have a back to the goal game, which Ibra has. By that I mean that any ball that Iniesta, Xavi or the likes that throw at him at the area borderline, he can control it, get it down to the floor and keep it going or face the goal, in part thanks to the previous talked about technique. Eto’o didn’t have this skill that much developed.

    What I will miss is Eto’o’s goal hungry, never gave up a single ball, and that he was the first defender on the floor. But in the end, I do believe Barça will end up doing great. Ibra will have his chances. God even I would get my chances if I was playing with Messi, Henry, Xavi and Iniesta… Its about time for him to mesh in that spectacle mashine and flourish. Coach puts him no presure and the fans absolutely love him and cheer him every single time he touches a ball. He’ll do good.

  42. Xavier, loved the article, and your input on these threads is great.

    whats your take on Ricky Rubio? we hear wild takes on both ends of the spectrum about him on ESPN. Either he’s going to be a trancendent player who makes his team better, or he’s going to be a flashy player who won’t amount to much.

    Also, it seems to me that European guards have a harder time fitting into the NBA style of play than European big men. Why is that?

  43. 43. I already wrote an article here talking about Rubio: http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2009/06/30/thoughts-on-ricky-rubio/
    Read it and we’ll talk about him again, just not to repeat myself explaining the same things.

    Not just European but all guards have harder time to fit in the NBA than frontcourt players. Not every PG is Paul or Rose. Even Deron Williams seemed to have not so good years the first 2 seasons in the NBA.

    And about the specifics of European guards having a hard time, I would say that the fisical way to play in the NBA might have something to do about it along with what I also mention in comment #32 about the style. Rudy Fernandez, Ginobili or Anthony Parker are FIBA proven players with hybrid conditions for both rules sets. That’s why they had instant impact on their teams.

  44. @39…Thanks PJ!

  45. X- thanks for the link. I do find it kind of interesting that a lot of bigger, more phyiscally gifted European players end up playing a more perimeter oriented game. It must be the American football influence that makes the NBA so physical.

  46. 46 – I’m not sure if it’s the American football influence (they do have rugby in Europe, which is worse). To me, I think it’s because most of these American NBA players grow up on the streets, in very tough environments. They grow up playing hard-nosed street ball and have to learn to toughen up to make it. I’m not sure that’s nearly as prevalent in Europe, the stars over there (like Rubio) start with teams at an early age, and I’m sure start with elite prep clubs even earlier (correct me if I’m wrong, Xavier).

  47. I think you should include France among the favorites, since it is almost certain that they will eliminate Belgium and make it to the tournament. The nucleus of Parker, Batum, Diaw and Turiaf is among the best in Europe and this team has been playing together since early August, in the qualifying tournament for Eurobasket. Yes, they recently lost to Finland after a convincing win against Italy (featuring Bellineli and Bargnani), but they have as good a chance as anybody if they find their groove.

  48. this is off-topic, but ESPN just rated the top 6 worst NBA offseason additions. Artest was tied for 2nd with Rasheed. Ironically, ESPN also rated Artest as the 3rd best offseason addition earlier this week. Shaq, rated as the 2nd best, was also rated as the 4th worst.

    Just another example of the top-notch NBA writing that ESPN has been doing all summer long. I can’t wait for more.

  49. 49,
    I saw that. That has more to do with the fact ESPN polled so many of their writers. All it shows is that their writers disagree a little bit. But on the other hand it is true that ESPN hires writers and not basketball people. I only respect Holinger and Charles Rosen over at Fox Sports.

  50. Looking at the picture of Pau, I can’t help but think that he is well positioned to go down as the greatest European player to ever play in the NBA if he continues to perform at this level.

    I know Dirk has his MVP, Vlade had a long and distinguished career, and Kukoc and Parker have prominent roles with multiple championship teams on their resume, but I have to believe that Pau has a real shot at putting together an NBA career that surpasses all of those guys’.

  51. 49 – ESPN doesn’t get it, and in fairness the network can get by doing what it’s doing given its size and presence. But who really thinks a guy who has no team to follow day-in and day-out can do a better job of tracking a particular team’s ups and down than the guy or girl who covers that team each day?

    It’s comical when you hear a Jeff Van Gundy or Doug Collins roll into Staples and begin offering “insight” that everyone else picked up from the L.A. Times that morning. That’s why these national polls or rankings are so useless: most of those voting have no clue what they’re voting on.

    Perfect example includes Ariza last season. Any Lakers fan could see from Game 1 on that Trevor had spent the summer practicing his shooting, and he was hitting (hell, even taking) threes with so much more regularity than he had the prior year. But damn near every time a national TV crew came into town to cover the Lakers, we’d get the, “Ariza’s more of a slaher, not an outside shooter” comments because these guys simply hadn’t seen the Lakers or done the proper homework.

    SI had the Lakers ninth in the West in 2008, and last year its “experts” picked a Spurs-Celtics Finals. ESPN’s guys are no better, so we should pay them the attention they deserve. You get far better insight on this blog than anywhere in the mainstream national press.

  52. I have now met most of the ESPN hoops guys, and Thorpe was the one who asked if his insights matched up with what I was seeing night in and night out.

  53. 52. I think you nailed it on the head. The “experts” should browse blogs like this one more often. They might not sound so idiotic when they make statements about lesser known players. But in the case of the most recent article, that thing was just garbage. A completely mailed-in job by the ESPN writers. There’s no way Charlie Villanuava and Ben Gordon don’t get a single vote on the “worst offseason additions” list, and players like Shaq, Wallace, Artest, Carter, and Turkoglu do.

  54. Thorpe is my favorite basketball analyst on ESPN. Obviously he has been wrong but he does his homework, has a fundamental and holistic view of the game, works with players and watches lots of tape. What makes him a notch above others is exactly the sort of attitude that Kurt passed on with comment #53. Dude understands the limits that come with having to know something about every team (even if he does know more about each team then most people know about one) and elects to go to folk with more focus on a single team to help in keeping his analysis on the right track. Couple that with his no nonsense approach style and I think you get the best NBA analyst in the game right now.

  55. Yeah… I forgot about Thorpe… he isn’t a moron either. I like him but he doesn’t do much writing for ESPN for some reason… or at least as much as I would like. But again… the writer who knows the most about basketball is Charley Rosen. I urge everyone to read him on Fox Sports when you can.

  56. Aaron-Charley Rosen is like your cranky, but knowledgeable older uncle. Good guy to listen to if you can put up with the bitter tint they see the world through

  57. 47. I don’t thing comming from a tough situation makes you play more physically. Streetball talking is about to imitate your idol so its basically reflection of the image the sport has on the people. If someone idol is Ron Ron how do you think he’ll approach a streetball game? and a Steve Nash fan?

    Of course there’s something in the way basketball is structured in Europe that helps developing skills in basketball players. In Europe, basketball hierarchy is set by clubs. They have youth teams since the kids are 8. the teams are set as U18, U16, U14 and so on. Only really talented players jump those categories (picture Ricky there). They grow onto this club hierarchy and the direction of the club dictates, more or less, what the coach has to work on so the players work on the club plan to be, in the future, useful for the senior team.

    For example, DKV Joventut, has youth programs of hundreds and hundreds of kids, that works in a piramidal way (at a young age a lot of kids and as they grow up doing less teams with more talent to draft them), and with that system they have already developed, in the last years, 2 NBA teams (Rudy Fernández, and former NBA and spanish NT Raul López) and this year 3 DKV Joventut have been drafted, 2 of them in the first round (Ricky Rubio, Cleveland’s Eyenga and Minesota’s Henk Norel). And many other above average to good players in Europe.

    NBA teams get players via draft, developed by no associated colleges, which get their players from not associated high schools, who get them from no associated junior HS and so on…

  58. I didn’t mean to come off like there are no good national basketball writers/broadcasters. There are.

    It’s just that they can’t all know all things about all teams, and simply because they’re in Phoenix to cover a Suns-Bulls game doesn’t mean ESPN guy or TNT guy knows much more about either team than your everyday Chicago or Phoenix resident who sees their hometime team three or four nights a week.

    Really, how could a guy who’s on the road nearly every day, watching different teams night in and out, be on top of every team, every player, every trend? It’s just too much to ask, and the good ones don’t pretend to know it all.

    I was a newspaper reporter for 10 years. I know from personal experience that some do their job well, some don’t care what they turn in, and in either case there are realistic limits to what a journalist knows or doesn’t know.

    Just because we hear something on ESPN or see it in SI doesn’t mean it’s any more valid or correct than what you’ve heard from the guy next to you at the bar. Sad but true. Some journalists have good access, do their work well and offer us good info. Others suck. And as knowledgeable fans, we can usually tell those in those categories apart.

    Total change of subject, but Deadspin has a great article on how NBA stats are basically a joke when it comes to scorekeepers’ discretion items (assists and blocks).

    A worthwhile read.

    http://deadspin.com/5345287/the-confessions-of-an-nba-scorekeeper

  59. Sorry Xavier, I disagree slightly on that point. I didn’t mean to say growing up poor makes you play ball a certain way. But if you grow up in a neighborhood where the style of basketball is very, very physical (broken bones and all), you’re forced to adapt if you want to play ball there. It doesn’t matter if your idol is Steve Nash, because if you grow up in the rougher parts of Chicago trying to play strictly Steve Nash ball, you’ll get knocked halfway across the city. I know, I’ve tried playing on some moderately physical courts in Chicago, and my suburban YMCA style pickup ball didn’t get me very far.

    Usually in America, rougher basketball is played in rougher parts of cities. A lot of these players might change or adapt their style as they grow, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the more physical professional basketball players grew up in environments where physicality was the norm. My impression is that players like Nowitzki and Rubio are catered to at such an early age, with coaches that fine-tune their fundamentals (at the very least, they grow up playing organized ball in gymnasiums, not no-holds-barred streetball) which naturally makes them focus more on finesse than straight physicality.

  60. Kwame,
    Yeah… I can see how Rosen comes off as bitter and “cranky.” But I think it has more to do with his dislike for the media. He sees some players as getting too much love and feels the need to let basketball fans know the “truth” as he sees it. The media get too caught up in stats. And as Vin likes to say… “lies… damned lies… and statistics.”

  61. 60. I totally agree with you now. You are right.

  62. I don’t mean to put down the national writers and their lack of detailed knowledge on each team, either. I can appreciate the difficulty in trying to stay on top of all the trends and happenings in the entire league.

    But if ESPN is gonna write an article, they should at least put a little effort into it. Their latest reads as if they sent a poll out to all 20 something writers, who just threw out the first names they could think of and then assigned an intern to summarize basically everything that has been covered in previous summertime NBA articles. I could have done that on my lunch break.

    These guys have resources that peope like Kurt can only dream of, but people like Kurt consistently deliver writing that is way more insightful. They can get access to exclusive NBA events, games, interviews with stars, ect. Instead they cover the same crap every time. They interview Lebron 2 or 3 times a year to find out where he’s going in 2010 and get the same answers they got 2 years ago. As much as I disagree with what Bill Simmons always says about Kobe, at least he brings an intellectually unique angle on every NBA article he writes. He gives us his opinion on every NBA dynamic past, present, or future. And in fact he does it for every major sport. He makes predictions. This is what I want to hear. None of this “well, Ron Artest can be a really great addition for the Lakers. he can also be a really bad addition.”

    They’re as bored with the NBA offseason as we are, and they get paid not to be.

  63. Yea that’s a good point Snoop. Thanks for the insight.

  64. Just completely off topic, but does anyone else think that Lamar Odom plays a heck of a lot like Toni Kukoc did?

    I recently rewatched the Game 7 between the Bulls and Pacers in ’98, and boy they’re both so versatile and handy to have on a loaded squad. I saw Kukoc knock down a couple of long, momentum-changing threes, even though he’s not that great of a shooter either.

    They both can hit the three and occasionally can even get on rolls doing so, they’re both so lengthy, especially when they extend that left arm. Odom’s slightly better at defense, especially with regards to help defense (mostly Pippen’s thing on the Bulls) and guarding PF’s (he’s more built than Kukoc).

    But otherwise, different name, same game?

  65. I think Snoopy makes a good point about environment and circumstances dictating style, but that Xavier’s points about emulation and skill development are very valid as well. When all players in Europe are taught all skills that can easily translate into a more well rounded game where fundamentals and skill and an understanding of angles (if you every listen to Bill Walton, those are the real keys to successful playing) are the focus of players. This mentality de-emphasizes physical play as a neccessity for success.

    Also, I don’t think a players natural physical frame (body type) or mental make up can be dismissed. Last year, after the Finals defeat, there were many discussions about toughness and whether or not we had the right “type” of player to play those roles. Whether it was the *want* (mental desire to play physical) or the *ability* (body type and innate physicality in a player) there were questions about this team. I only bring this up because on some level, we do need to understand that how a player is built or what their mental make up is will play into whether or not he plays a physical style. If you’re a player like Craig Smith (built like a linebacker) playing physical is playing (no pun intended) to your strengths. However, if you’re built like Kareem or Gasol, it’s not in your best interests to play a banging/physical style – it’s likely you’ll be much more successful playing a game based off skill, angles, deception, etc. Also, even if you’re big and strong, it may not mean you play physical style because you mentally just aren’t that player (think Tractor Traylor or Chris Webber). And on the flipside, if you’re slight in frame, you still may play a tough and physical game (think PJ Brown when on the Celtics or Matt Barnes or Birdman Andersen with how he’s always throwing his body around). Anyways…just my two cents.

  66. 63,
    Kurt gives out detailed information because his readers are bigger basketball fans. The audience ESPN goes after is the average fan. If ESPN wanted to be “smarter” they could do exactly what Kurt does (and he does it very well).

  67. In my opinion there are a lot of well rounded basketball players at the high school and college level in America. These guys have a high basketball IQ, understand angles, can hit free throws under pressure and hit the open jumpers, they know how to make a pass into the post, know how to pass out of double teams and they make their team mates better. More than likely these players were the glue that held their teams together, yet their statistics were not gaudy.

    In America, from high school on, the coaches and the fans are not interested in these type of players. They like the kid that scores a lot of points (regardless of shooting percentages), they follow the athletic kid jumping out of the gym. These are the guys that are coveted and given training through travel teams or college programs.

    I am not sure that European basketball approaches its recruitment in that same manner.

    In fact, what qualities are exhibited by a 14 year old player in Europe to garner enough attention from a travel club, to make them want to cultivate that player?

  68. 68. I’ll give you a couple of examples I’ve lived.

    This last season, we got a guy from Africa (I think he’s from Senegal but I’m not entirely sure) to our U16 team in El Masnou with 2/3 of the season already played. The kid is big, he might be 6-4, atheletically gifted , but he had never played basketball and could not speak spanish. A couple of coaches we where asked to decide if the kid could make the team. Took him for individual classes and has been working out with a personal coach and with the team since then. This kid showed us a great will to learn, body coordination and hability to understand things even with his poor english and even poorer spanish. I want to see him develop this season. Not saying he’s going to be a pro, not even a beast on his amateur team, but we found him at 10 instead of at 15, with his caracteristics, he’d be pretty good.

    The other example is much shorter. In a U14 team we had this season some talented kids and a couple great athletes by his age, and of course, those are the ones people look the most. But talking the director of the program and I, we got to the conclussion that one of those athletical kids didn’t have that much upside as another quiet kid, not flashy but with a great shooting mechanic (not that he scored every ball he shot but very beautiful, not usual in kids his age) and hability to move his feet while catching the ball to face the basket.

    As athletics are important, we coaches look for (and stress a lot in practice time) fundamentals and desire to be coached

  69. 67. Again I’m not so concerned with the amount of detail provided in ESPN’s writing. Its the lack of originality.

    Every single ESPN basketball article I’ve read this summer has been predictable. All they provide are tiny slivers of information that guys like Kurt can’t get to because they don’t have the resources and GM connections. No interesting insight, no unique opinions. No player interviews. Ron Artest would jump at the opportunity for an extended interview, but instead they do the same BS interview with Lebron that they’ve been doing for years.

  70. More bad basketball writing to laugh at, though in this case it’s an L.A. writer who seemingly mailed in the story.

    The L.A. Times ran a story yesterday in which Stan Van Gundy dropped the following lie as an example of how the Magic isn’t getting the respect it deserves, at least in his view, because it’s not playing the Lakers on ABC this Christmas.

    “Like the television schedule. Normally on Christmas Day, you get a rematch of the teams that played in the Finals. ”

    The writer let the quote go unchallenged; in fact, Mike Penner instead made that point the center of his story.

    Too bad Van Gundy’s full of crap, and it just took me no more than four minutes on Google to prove it.

    In 2008, the NBA’s national Christmas game had the two teams which had played in the Finals earlier that year –L.A. and Boston, of course. There were other games too, but one year supports Van Gundy’s claim.

    But considering the word “normally” implies more than once, Van Gundy’s point is pure garbage.

    In ’07, the national TV Christmas games were Lakers/Suns (Bynum’s coming out party) and also Cavs/Heat.

    In 2006, 2005 and 2004, we watched the Heat vs. Lakers as ABC tried to re-hype the Shaq/Kobe rivalry.

    Anyone see any Finals matchups in those years? Neither do I.

    And since we don’t, why didn’t the writer (or his editors) bother to look back and note that, “Hey, there’s no ‘normal’ airing of Finals rematches on Christmas. This must be nothing more than a motivational stunt by a coach, based on little more than a perceived slight. Perhaps I should write about something different today.”

  71. Completely unrelated to Eurobasket, but today Kobe is kickin’ it with Derrick Rose shooting the promo for the NBA 2K10 video game…

    What, it’s summer, that’s all I got. I don’t have a fancy inter-country tourney to spiel about (hahaha, joking witcha, Xavier, that was a great preview, actually made me wanna watch).

  72. kurt, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on Sasha.
    he almost cost me a TV set or two last season, (my wife held me back from throwing something at it).

    personally, I’d like to see him come in the camp with a buzz cut. it really used to bug me that he spent so much time fixing his hair. now don’t get me wrong, i grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and had my share of the long hair days. but I wasn’t a pro athlete, either.

    we’ve all loosely talked about him needing a sports phsyciatrist, and I think he needs to show a commitment to changing his overall image this year.

  73. Ability is ability. A guy like Steve Nash (btw, Simmons interview of the guy on his podcast was fantastic) grew up in a very nurturing and safe environment. He’s a tough MoFo and a pretty good player. I just think that some kids with the talent to be an elite athletes see different opportunities to make a living then kids in inner-city environments, and rather then count on the low odds of such success, they learn other crafts.

    I’ve balled in Harlem and in the Black Hole in Brooklyn. In both venues I held my own in terms of toughness and the ability to get done what my abilities can get done. The problem is that I’m not a very good basketball player. I understand the game and have a few skills but I’m nothing special skill wise or athletically. So, the best player gets the ball when I can get it to him and that is how we win.

    Plus, correct me if I’m wrong, but those former Yugoslavians grew up in some hellish conditions. I just think European basketball cultivates a much more centrally controlled and bureaucratically efficient system for finding and cultivating talent while we Americans have a gunslinger’s attitude towards it. Both systems have their strengths and I’m more and more interested in watching other leagues and international competition like never before.

  74. I’m slowly dying without basketball….this has been the longest summer ever.

    Watched Kobe’s 61 pts vs. Knicks the other day and had to shed a tear for Ariza. I can’t believe he’s no longer a Laker. I’m still depressed. I think I need some Prozac.

  75. 71,

    Yeah. the Christmas game should be about ratings. The basketball viewing world wants to see the Lakers, Kobe, LBJ, Kobe vs. LBJ, Kobe vs. Shaq, Lakers vs. Celtics. Now that Shaq and LBJ are on the same team and the Lakers are the defending Champs? This is a ratings bonanza.

    75,

    Yes, it is. I feel like I’m 12 and the summer seems long. I can’t take anymore blown out of proportion stories.

  76. I kind of wish the NBA would let the Lakers have a Christmas off every once in a while, if for no other reason than as a fan it would be nice to spend Dec. 25 playing with my sons, talking to my wife or visiting other family and friends without having to set aisde time for a game.

    I tried to DVR the Celtics game last season, but it’s not a good plan. If anyone in the house hears anything about the score, your suspense is toast. And those games are always the big ones you don’t want to miss, so not watching isn’t an easy choice either.

    Still, it’d be nice to to sit around that day thinking about Christmasy things, not yelling, “F- you, Garnett, you weren’t fouled, you phony f-er” and, “Where’s your wheelchair, Paul?”

    Sort of jacks up the holiday spirit in my house, you know?

  77. Yeah, thank God that the Lakers play until at least mid June. I just got done going through the TV days and times that are reserved for my basketball games this coming season with my roommate, just to make sure there are no problems later on. I guess there is always something basketball related to do. Oh, and thanks Xavier on your responses in this post, they have been good and increased my Euro BB knowledge.

  78. The summer didn’t feel that long when the lakers were getting bounced out of the first round by the suns a couple years ago because I wasn’t looking forward to the season starting as much. But now after winning 65 games and a championship with a relatively young team and reloading with another star player (Artest) its understandable everyone is chomping at the bit for training camp to start in a month.

  79. Thank you, Xavier for expanding our knowledge on European basketball.

  80. Xavier, maybe you could enlighten me on why in the world is Israel & Turkey playing in FIBA-Euro when both countries are WITHIN continental Asia? Lebanon, Jordan and those w/in close proximity of Israel did compete in FIBA-Asia. I’m from the Philippines BTW; just curious…

  81. 81. You made a god damn good question. I’ve done some research and I’ve found that Egipt (in 27, 47, 49 and 53), Lebanon (in 49 and 53) and Syria (in 49) also have played in the Eurobasket. Moreover, Egypt held it in 1949 and Turkey held it twice (1959 and 2001).

    Its a mistery for me too…

  82. @robindude:
    Turkey has parts in Europe (half of Istanbul). You can say it’s a european country, they want to join the European Union, too.
    I don’t know about Israel though

  83. 78, 79

    I feel you guys on the suspense. I havn’t been this excited for a season to start since GP and Malone singned in summer 03 (and before the rape case). By the way, I read Phil’s book on that season, and gained a lot of respect for guys like Fish, Fox, Shaq, Horry, Karl and even Kobe (despite his drama) for their committment to winning. I remember guys like Plaschke saying that it would be an atrocity if that team didn’t win the title. After reading that book, I would say that it was a miracle that they almost did win. If I was Phil, I would write a book about that season, too because it was one of the best pieces of coaching ever.

    Anyway, I’ll stop talking about 04 before I jinx 2010.

  84. I know this isn’t really relevant to the post but I wanted everyone to see what Hollinger had to say about Kobe and the Lakers:

    Calling Kobe the 2nd best shooting guard (behind Wade), “Kobe is the more durable player. But at this point in their respective careers, Wade is better.”

    About the Lakers in general, “The Blazers have enough to get to the conference finals, but there’s a little problem called the Lakers. Portland matches up better against them than most, but L.A. is clearly the most talented roster in the West.”

    I’ve always been a stat geek myself, so I am partial to Hollinger’s appeal to statistics, but he always seems to find a way to play down Kobe and the Lakers. Why aren’t the Lakers the best in the NBA and not just West (we did just mop up against Orlando)? How in his right mind could he possibly say that Wade is better than Kobe? He is right that Kobe is tremendously more durable than Wade, but that shouldn’t be discounted in the discussion. I am so bipolar about JH it’s annoying.

  85. 83. Yes but that’s only in recent years. How do you explain time before? then there’s Egipt, Lebanon, Syria and Israel thing… robindude made an excelent question and I would love someone found the answer

  86. 85

    with alldue respect to Mr. Hollinger, his rankings are no better than the BCS computer rankings. they get close, but they rarely are correct. Kobe<Wade?? Use your brain, John.

  87. hollinger can’t use his brain; his computer won’t let him.

  88. New post up, a look at the 1979-80 Lakers

  89. being a stat geek u’d be partial to LLN as well.. so its not surprising to see hollinger’s views particularly contrarian.. he’s betting on the mean-reversion trades.

  90. It’s because the Arab countries refused to compete against Israel, so Israel was placed in the European sphere.

  91. 91. Great to know it makes all of sense, thanks P. Ami

  92. Guys, just from watching the two players, I agree that Wade is the better player. Now, there may be plenty about the game I don’t understand but from my view, behind these eyes, I can see what Hollinger’s figures may well be telling us (I haven’t read his article yet). I’ve seen Wade finish games better then Kobe (how many times have we seen some version of Kobe getting blocked by Hedo in the finals but during the season?). He makes more defensive plays then Kobe. The weight of the performance is more on Wade’s shoulders then Kobe (much like Kobe from ’05-07). Again, I am a Lakers fan through and through but I keep seeing Wade make the smarter play, time and again, at times when Kobe still will make the individual play.

    Now, why anyone needs to care who is better is beyond me. They are both amazing and so long as the Lakers collect rings, let the upstarts be upstarts. We got the Champ.

  93. Hollinger doesn’t just rely on stats guys. And he does think the Lakers are the best team in the NBA. The question he was responding to was about the west.

    And at one time for about 7 years straight Kobe was the best player in the NBA. But right now Lebron is the best player in the NBA and Wade might be #2… but I think they are pretty much even. Kevin Garnett wasn’t the best player in the league just because he won a ring last year. Kobe was by far the best player on by far the best team last season… but he wasn’t the best player in the entire league.

  94. Kobe can’t carry the team’s load day in day out like the younger Lebron ot Wade can, but as far as being on top of everything the team is doing like an assistant coach, (as well as putting up huge numbers), and setting the example for hard work on both ends of the court, and doing what the team needs him to do to win, he is far beyond Lebron or Wade.

  95. I have to agree with Aaron on this one, individually Wade and Lebron are better than Kobe, not better than he was in his prime, but better than him now, but Kobe has learnt to play with his team, and it has got him his fourth title, and that’s all that really matters isn’t it?

  96. Not to be a smartass, but the name of the country is not Macedonia. It is FYROM.
    Other than that, very nice article. Good analysis. I have a feeling that Turkey will be very competitive this year though.

    Along with Serbia, they could join Spain and Greece/Slovenia at the semi-finals.

  97. After a slow start, Spain is finally clicking. They completed a spectacular trashing of the previously unbeaten France guided by a huge Pau Gasol and based in a fierce press defense. Ricky Rubio harassed Tony Parker all night and Navarro and Rudy F. were asesome from long distance.

    But Pau had one of those nights were you can see how good he is. He used his vast array of movements to humilliate the willing France defenders (Rony Turiaf to begin with, by the way), and looked like there was no way to stop him.

    This reminds me of when Tim Duncan, who often guarded Pau very well in the NBA, had to deal with him with FIBA rules: he was out with two fouls in just one minute, and barely played due to two more fouls Pau drew on him. I mean, Pau is hard to guard in the NBA, but with international rules he’s probably unstoppable, unless you throw two or three defenders at him all the time, something really costly in international basketball due to the three point line being closer.

    Let’s see who gets to play Spain in the semifinals (it’s going to be Greece or Turkey) and what they do to try to stop Gasol…