Olympic basketball is coming up which means 16 of the best basketball nations will face up for a chance at gold. A lack of good communication between basketball organisations around the world means a shorter qualifying period. This combined with the tournaments format of only having 16 teams means some quality teams have missed out, but by and large the 16 best basketball nations are represented and there are very few real underdogs in the tournament who would feel they don’t have a chance going into any game, except of course when playing against the USA, who are undefeated in Olympic basketball since Athens 2004 where they took Bronze, you can watch Manu and co. take down the US squad here..
There are plenty of really exciting young international players at this tournament, but I’ll narrow a selection down to my top 5 Euros to watch at Rio 2016 men’s basketball.
Dario Saric – Philadelphia 76ers. Season stats (Euroleague) 22.5 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 50% FG, 6.3 Reb
The no 12 pick in last year’s draft is coming off an impressive season for Anadolou Efes in the Euroleague even though they did not make the playoffs and lost to Fenerbache in the Turkish Championship finals (4-2). More notably he was Croatia’s go to 2nd scoring option behind Bogdanovic in a qualifying tournament that nobody expected them to qualify from. He still has much to improve on if he is to become a solid NBA starter but the potential is clearly there and his rebounding and shooting touch from 16-18 feet are already very useful to any NBA team. His interior defence has improved considerably, as has his post-game and offensive distribution, but he still is a long way off having the skills to play Small Forward effectively. If Croatia are to do well, which for them is making the semi-finals, he is going to have to have some big games against the tougher opposition playing hard on both ends of the floor without picking up fouls as Croatia do not have much depth at Power Forward. Croatia was able to play very physical defence in the Olympic qualifiers which was effective, particularly against Greece where they defended the paint very well despite having an inferior forward line. Often against superior offensive teams they did this by starting in a 2-3 zone, offering the 3 point shot and scoring well in transition. We will see if they are forced to make adjustments against teams that shoot better and whether Saric can provide real options in a half-court offense.
Milos Teodosic – CSKA Moscow. Season Stats (Euroleague) 26.8 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 47% FG, 38% 3PT FG, 5.7 Ast.
Teodosic had another great season as Europe’s elite PG, finally winning a Euroleague title. It remains to be seen whether he will make the NBA transition which he so clearly is capable of. For the time being however he seems content with his playing time and lucrative contract (2 million euros per season) at CSKA Moscow. There is no release clause in his contract and Milos’ comments about the NBA seem to suggest that there are no signs that he will be heading to the NBA soon, unless he has a monster tournament and an NBA team is prepared to offer him a starter role from the outset. He is certainly capable having led the offense for Olympiakos and CSKA Moscow and dominated in Europe for several years now. I would agree with him that there is no point in him playing low minutes or for an NBA team that doesn’t complement his style, which is a motion offense with plenty of cutters and screeners off the ball with a well organised defense. In a way he is like a European Steph Curry without the extra dribbling and possibly a slightly higher basketball IQ. He is one of the best shooters in Europe (Top 5), definitely the best off the dribble and also one of the best passers in Europe as well, in my opinion tied with Sergi Rodriques in this category. He’s had a slightly error prone Euroleague this season (3.7 TO’s/game) but finally came through in the clutch to seal the title in OT vs Fenerbache. Serbia is in the tougher Group A, with USA, France and Australia. So we will see Milos match up vs Kyle Lowry, his CSKA team mate Nando De Colo and Patty Mills. 3 Exciting match ups.
Nando De Colo – CSKA Moscow. Season stats (Euroleague) 27.7 MPG, 19.4 PPG, 53% FG, 46% 3PT FG, 5 Ast.
De Colo has had an incredible season. When you consider that he’s playing alongside Milos who is also hoovering up a lot of ball time and he’s still averaging close to 20 points per game playing only 28 minutes, shooting high percentages and still averaging 5 assists, his stats are extremely impressive. De Colo is another player like Teodosic who could be starting in most NBA teams. He played well under limited minutes for the Spurs and most thought he would be staying in the NBA but the league is very point guard heavy. It will be very interesting to see how France match up against the USA, whose options at the 2 guard spot are extremely scary with DeRozan, Thompson or Butler likely to fill that spot. De Colo is currently playing the 2 for France with Valencia guard Antoine Diot coming off the bench. De Colo is likely to be outmatched on both ends of the floor by Butler and DeRozan. I would like to see France slot Pietrus at the 3 against the USA and put Batum on whoever the US plays at shooting guard for a better matchup defensively. This means De Colo could see increased minutes running the point for France with Parker on the bench. Alternatively when DeRozan plays the 2 his lack of shooting means that zone defence is a possibility. This would give France a lot more options with their line-up. It’s unlikely however that Thompson and Butler won’t get many minutes in key games. You have to be able to use your bench to pull off an upset and as France do not have many options off the bench; they are going to have to get creative.
Jonas Maciulis – Real Madrid. Season stats (Euroleague + ACB) 18 MPG, 5.3 PPG, 42% FG, 35% 3PT FG.
I can’t believe that I’m including Maciulis in this list but the lack of some of the traditional European Basketball nations combined with Maciulis’ potential as an X factor puts him here. A seasoned pro with Panathinaikos and now Real Madrid, Maciulis was huge in Lithuania’s strong Eurobasket performance in 2015 which got them a spot in Rio. Admittedly they were on a much easier side of the group only facing tough competition from the Quarter Finals, but once they got to this point they beat Italy in OT and then World Cup runners up Serbia in the Semis in another thriller. Maciulis played really big in the clutch in both of these games, racking up 3 steals vs Serbia and scoring 19 vs Italy with 3/4 from three. Valanciunas is the key man, he will look to dominate the paint and draw double teams and if he is successful doing so, Maciulis will be looking for the corner 3 on every occasion. Lithuania’s biggest weapon is their basketball IQ, team defence and instincts in the clutch, in many ways they are similar to the golden Greece generation of 2005/6, but what is incredible about Lithuania is that they do it without a deep roster. I expect them to play hard and make the Quarters at the least, possibly the Semi’s if they manage to finish 2nd or 3rd in their group and avoid the USA. From then on you never know….
Willy Hernangomez – New York Knicks. Season stats (Euroleague + ACB 15/16) 12.1 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 66% FG,. 71% FT, 3.7 Reb.
Finally, I wanted to include a Spanish player but there are so many that I’m interested in performance wise, I’ll go for the player I least expected to be in the team. Willy Hernangomez only played 2 seasons for Real Madrid before being drafted. In my opinion his brother Juan who went 15th in this year’s draft is a much more exciting prospect. Willy is slightly taller than his brother and plays like it, a classic style big man with good hands and touch inside the rim. It will be interesting to see how many minutes he gets, depending on how tired Pau Gasol gets in the tournament and how close the games are. I don’t expect to see much of him in the later rounds, but he could have to play crunch minutes if Pau gets into foul trouble, which is likely against the USA and Lithuania in particular who have Centres who can really score and dominate.
Euros not at the Olympics.
I couldn’t end without a shout out to the players who I’d like to see at the Olympics but aren’t there as they haven’t qualified or recovered in time. One day it would be nice if FIBA, the Euroleague and the NBA sat around the table and streamlined a programme for international professional basketball so that instead of competing amongst each other the organizations worked together to provide an integrated global competition format. Unfortunately at the moment it seems like each organisation is more concerned with their own revenues and taking over as much of the global market as possible. The lack of a proper qualifying programme and the ability of players from certain leagues means that too many good players and teams missed out. My top 5 to be missed at Rio are….
1) Giannis Antetokoumpo 2) Marc Gasol 3) Danilo Galinari 4) Cedi Osman 5) Ioannis Bourousis