Likely to advance
One of the most fully loaded squads in his year’s Eurobasket, the Lithuanian squad is poised to be one of the juggernauts of this year’s competition. Veteran point guard Sarunas Jasikevicus will be sitting this one out, but the Grateful Dead’s favorite European basketball team will be a force to be reckoned with.
Starting with Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, the Lithuanians will be loaded with horses in the paint. Valanciunas had a solid rookie season, but seems poised to use this summer as the springboard to becoming one of the NBA’s most dominant big men. Playing alongside experienced big men like Robertas Javtokas and the Lavrinovic brothers, Darjus and Kristof, this will be a team that owns the middle of the floor. Add in Rockets forward Donatas Montiejunas, a young big who has made big strides in the past two years, and it seems obvious that this team will have a stacked front line.
That is without mentioning forward Linas Kleiza, the vanilla guerilla, whose high energy style of play and competitive nature would put any team in the mix to advance. Toss in former Dukie Martynas Pocius, and European stars, Renaldas Seibutis and Mantas Kalnietis, and you have a squad that is a legit contender to take home the gold.
It will be very tough for Lithuania to knock off Spain, Greece and France, but this is a rugged team with a mix of experienced stars and up-and-coming big guys that can take a big step. The Lithuanians have a ton of passion for basketball, and it should be a surprise to no one if they fly home from Slovenia with a medal.
The darlings of the 2011 Eurobasket, Macedonia returns the core that came out of nowhere to compete two seasons ago. Led by American Bo McCalebb, who is arguably the best American playing in Europe right now, Macedonia can compete with anybody.
Capable of taking over a game by himself down the stretch, McCalebb will be aided by new Hawks signee, Pero Antic. A superb rebounder and defender with a dependable outside shot, Antic plays with the type of spirit that allows him to make a huge impact on a team. Guard Vlado Ilievski, brings a lot of high level experience, and his production will likely be the deciding factor of whether Macedonia makes noise again this summer, or fades back into the shadows.
However, with Bo McCalebb running the show, the Macedonians will surely be a tough out, and are almost a lock to advance to the next round.
Coming into the tournament without Nikola Pekovic, who just recently signed a new contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, would have been a major blow if not for the development of Magic center Nikola Vucevic. After a proving himself to be one of the NBA’s top rebounders this past season, the fate of the Montenegrin squad rests on his massive shoulders.
Joining Vucevic will be former Boston College and current Maccabi Tel-Aviv point guard Tyrese Rice. Rice has made big strides over the past two seasons, rising to the ranks of the Euroleague elite, and can be the piece that propels this squad to advance this summer, and possible push this team to be a monster in the World Cup next summer if Pekovic rejoins the squad next year.
A big question mark for this team will be the production of Bucks second round pick Bojan Dublijevic. A super talented young center, Dublijevic will need to produce to bring the type of depth that is usually required to succeed in these types of competitions.
While it is certainly far from a lock for Montenegro to advance, the combo of Vucevic and Rice makes them strong at basketballs two most important positions, and will ensure they are a tough matchup every night in Slovenia.
Headin’ home early
Thought to be a possible contender in this tournament, the Serbs were crushed when they found out former Euroleague MVP Milos Teodosic will be missing this summer’s games with an injury. Teodosic is the straw that stirs this drink, and without him it will be very hard for Serbia to succeed in this tournament.
While Dusan Ivkovic, one of Europe’s top coaches, will be manning the sideline, and Nenad Krstic will still be bringing his awesome low post moves, it will be tough for Serbia to compete with many of its top veterans sitting out this summer. Fenerbahce forward and 2012 second round pick Nemanja Bjelica will provide a lot of versatility to this squad, and should have plenty of opportunity to show he has taken his game up to the next level as he enters the prime of his career.
For Serbia to advance, Golden State Warriors first round draft pick Nemandja Nedovic will need to have a breakout summer. He is a super talent, but right now he is inexperienced at this level, and will need to step up and be a leader at the tender age of 22, for this squad to make it to the next round.
It’s sad to look at the Serbian squad, knowing that if you combined all the former Yugoslavian nations into one team, they would undoubtedly be a contender for a medal in every international tournament. While basketball is rightfully far from concern when issues like state independence, civil war and other political decisions are made, one can only wonder what could have been from a basketball standpoint had Yugoslavia remained one united basketball federation.
Spending the majority of the 2012-2013 seasons riding the bench for the Brooklyn Nets, Mirza Teletovic will get an opportunity to remind Europe just how dominant of a scorer he can be as a featured player. While there are rumors that Fenerbahce is trying to woo Teletovic out of his contract with the Nets, those are absolutely baseless since Teletovic has a strong desire to show he can hang in the NBA, and the Nets have very little to gain from giving up on him without getting back something valuable via trade.
His Bosnian squad however, was stuck in a difficult group, and should have a lot of trouble advancing. Teletovic may be a great scorer, but it remains to be seen if a supporting cast of Zack Wright, Nihad Djedovic and Edin Bavcic will be enough to keep this team playing longer than one week. Either way, this should be an entertaining team to watch, if only to see if Teletovic can bring something to a Nets team that is likely to contend this season.
With Andris Biedrins sitting out of the tournament for personal reasons (busy spending his money?), and Davis Bertans shelved due to injury, it will be tough for Latvia to compete, let alone win a game, in this caliber of competition. Davis brother Dairis Bertans will need to play a big role along with sharp shooter Janis Blum for Latvia to look respectable in this year’s competition.
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