The 2013 FIBA Americas Championship is set to kick off tonight in Caracas, Venezuela, with 10 teams vying for four spots in the Basketball World Cup (formerly known as the World Championship) next summer in Spain.
Who is going to win? Who are the players to keep an eye on? We’ve got you covered on both fronts.
The 10 teams will be split up into two groups of 5, with the top 4 teams in each group advancing to the second stage.
Following the second stage, the teams with the four best records will head into the semifinals. While all the semifinalists will have qualified for the largest international basketball tournament in the world, national pride will still be at stake thereafter. Every contender will be vying to knock off an Argentina squad that has had a long-standing strong presence in this tournament, and get their hands on the Gold.
Team USA automatically qualified for the World Cup by winning the 2012 Olympics and will be sitting out this summer as the rest of the Americas countries fight for their right to compete in one of international basketball’s main events. While Spain will be participating in the Eurobasket tournament in Slovenia despite already having a guaranteed bid for the World Cup (as the hosts), Team USA opted to use this summer to rest and rebuild, having a training camp of some of the NBA’s top American players in Las Vegas following the summer league.
While it could have been beneficial for Team USA to send its youngsters to the tournament, their absence will make for a much more competitive tournament in which the Gold Medal is wide open for the taking.
The tournament will feature a high level of talent, including several NBA players and many top players hailing from top European and Latin American leagues. With many NBA scouts set to be following the tournament, both in the stands and from afar, this will an opportunity not only for guys to compete, but also to push their careers to the next level.
Without further ado, here are our predictions for the top 10 performers at the Americas Championship.
1. Luis Scola, Forward/Center, Argentina
A seasoned vet who has played for the Argentinian national team since 1999, Scola is the odds-on favorite to be MVP of the event. With Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Pablo Prigioni sitting out this campaign, hopes for success will rest on the shoulders of Scola.
After an eventful summer in which Scola moved to the Indiana Pacers, he will be relied upon to dominate the paint at both ends if Argentina wants to continue its dominance in FIBA competition. While his typical crew may not be making the trip to Venezuela, Scola has the experience, toughness and leadership to lead his team to a successful campaign.
While J.J. Barea may be a sparkplug in the NBA, in FIBA competitions, he is a flat out scorer who can put his team on his back in crunch time. With loads of FIBA experience, and a 2011 NBA Championship ring on his finger, Barea will need to have a monster summer if he wants another chance to face LeBron James on a global stage.
Since signing with Minnesota after the Mavs’ miraculous championship run, Barea has drifted out of the spotlight a bit, but he still has the same fiery competitiveness as always. While likely to get one of the four berths, it will be a tough challenge for Puerto Rico to make it through this wide-open tournament. If his team is going to make it to Spain next summer, Barea will need to be one of the tournament’s leading scorers.
One of the best pure point guards in the Euroleague with Regal Barcelona, Huertas will be the leader of Brazil this summer. Brazilian stars Leandro Barbosa, Nenê, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter will be sitting out, and it will be up to Huertas to raise the level of his teammates for Brazil to have a prayer of qualifying for next summer’s event.
While he will be playing for a short-handed team, Huertas certainly will display the leadership that has made him one of the top point guards outside of the NBA today. It may not be a lock for Brazil to gain a berth, but Huertas surely will be one of the tournament’s biggest stars.
Make no mistake, Huertas is an NBA talent. But his contract with Barcelona includes an 8 million Euro buyout clause, which is believed to be the largest in Europe.
4. Carlos Arroyo, Point Guard, Puerto Rico
Now 34, it feels like just yesterday that Carlos Arroyo was an unknown point guard making a name for himself with spectacular performances against Team USA in the summers of 2002 and 2004. After a couple of up-and-down stints in the NBA, Arroyo has moved to Turkey, where he is well compensated and considered one of the top guards overseas.
Teaming up again with Barea, Puerto Rico should have one of the best backcourts in the tournament. Guard play is extremely crucial in FIBA competitions, and having two super talented, experienced guards leading your team is invaluable in a quest for a World Cup berth.
5. Cory Joseph, Guard, Canada
After being a part of the Spurs team that came within inches of this year’s NBA title, Joseph will be relied upon to lead a restructured Canadian team into a new era. With Steve Nash now running the National Team program, Canada has been able to draw a lot of new talent. A smooth, quick guard with a high basketball IQ, Joseph is a prime candidate to propel this summer’s experience into a much stronger NBA season next year.
Joseph will be teaming up with his older brother Devoe Joseph, who just finished his rookie campaign in Ukraine, and his cousin Kris Joseph, who split last season with the Celtics and Nets, and is likely heading overseas for some seasoning this year.
While Canada has loads of young talent which will soon include Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, the future success of this program can be boosted by the Joseph family.
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