Likely To Advance
Known as the most powerful basketball country outside of the United States, the winners of the past two Eurobaskets will once again be the favorites to win gold in Slovenia this summer. What is really crazy is that Spain is the favorite to win the tournament, but their list of players absent this year, which includes Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, future Chicago Bull and Spanish league MVP Nikola Mirotic, Juan Carlos Navarro, Victor Sada and Felipe Reyes, would probably comprise of the strongest group in this tournament.
Despite all the big names missing from their roster, the Spanish team will be loaded with top level talent. Led by Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, Spain will be on a mission to win their third consecutive Eurobasket, with nothing to gain but pride, since they automatically qualify for the World Cup as the host of next year’s games.
While Gasol will be anchoring the middle, the real strength of Spain is their guard play, with NBA starts Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon running the show, along with Real Madrid’s super duo of Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez. Toss in a third Real Madrid star in Rudy Fernandez, and you have a team that can play at any pace.
One of the real keys to watch here is Trail Blazers forward Victor Claver, who will need to take a big step next year to bring some much needed depth to a Blazers team that had almost no bench production last season. With many of Spain’s stars sitting out this summer, this is a perfect opportunity for Claver to establish himself as a major contributor for the Spanish squad moving forward.
While there certainly will be some competition from the likes of France, Greece and Lithuania, the Spaniards ought to be feeling pretty confident that they will be in the mix to bring home the gold once again.
Armed with loads of young talent, it appears Croatia may be on the way to recapturing some of the glory they have lost in the past decade. Veterans Zoran Planinic and Marko Popovic will be sitting it out this summer, handing the keys to a worthy new generation that is ready to bring back some pride to a country that produced legends Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc.
Croatia’s success will largely depend on Nets draft pick Bojan Bogdanovic, who currently plays for Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey. Bogdanovic is a gifted scorer who is capable of leading this competition in scoring, and has slowly emerged as one of the best crunch time players in Europe. He has potential to be a star, and with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson continuing to pile on miles on the odometer, Bogdanovic can help the rich get richer if he continues his development.
Another key contributor will be Real Madrid guard Dontaye Draper, a great scorer who will feel comfortable in a more central role than he plays during the season on a stacked Madrid club. Pairing with former Raptor Roko Ukic in the backcourt, the Croatians will benefit from strong guard play, a must in this type of competition.
Ante Tomic, who had a fantastic year with Regal Barcelona this past year, will provide a consistent presence in the paint on both ends. After having a breakout year this past year, Tomic has shown that his 7’2” frame is a force to be reckoned with and he can make the Jazz strongly consider bringing him over in the near future with a strong performance here.
It will be interesting to see the contributions of Dario Saric, a top prospect who withdrew his name at the last moment from the 2013 draft. Saric is a multi-talented forward, with a great competitive spirit, that can play himself into being a top draft pick in the highly touted 2014 NBA draft.
Being paired in a group with Spain was a rough draw for Croatia, but this team has a lot of potential and has a strong chance to get one of the 6 spots available for next year’s World Cup.
As the host nation of the event, you can never underestimate the power of home court advantage. The Slovenians will have a tough time advancing with Georgia and Poland breathing down their necks, but with a solid core, they should be able to pull together and break through to the next round.
The Slovenians will rely heavily on Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who will be playing alongside his brother Zoran, to lead their offense if they want to move on. Dragic will have some help in the backcourt with Avellino point guard Jaka Lakovic bringing his veteran experience into the mix.
Former New Jersey Nets forward Bostjan Nachbar will be filling the lanes in transition for Dragic, bringing his scoring mentality back to his home country. After proving he can hang in the NBA, Nachbar has shown to be one of Europe’s most explosive scorers, and he certainly will be an integral piece for the Slovenians.
With Olympiacos center Mirza Begic and former Toronto Raptors big man Uros Slokar manning the paint for the Slovenians, they will have a well-rounded roster that should be very competitive. With the home crowd on their side, look for the Slovenians to build up some momentum and bust out of the first round.
Headin’ Home Early
With the NBA duo of Tornike Shenghelia and Zaza Pachulia absent this year, Georgia will be on the outside looking in when it comes to advancing past the first stage. Despite missing two of their biggest stars, this should be a very competitive squad that has a very realistic chance to make it to the second round.
Led by Manuchar Markioshvili, fresh off a Turkish TBL championship with Galatasaray, the experienced wing will need to be among the best players in the group for Georgia to compete. Alongside one of the NBA’s biggest draft busts of all time, Nikoloz Tzkitishvili, Georgia has a lot of length in their perimeter players and can cause matchup problems with most teams.
The player who can take Georgia to the next level is Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s guard Ricky Hickman. The guard from UNC-Asheville worked his way up from small leagues and second divisions, on his way to becoming one of the Euroleague’s up and coming players. With his ability to push the ball, penetrate at the rim, and make clutch shots, his play down the stretch will likely be the difference between a few wins and losses for the Georgian squad.
Simply put, this years Polish Eurobasket campaign rests solely in the extremely long arms of Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat. Quietly emerging as one of the world’s best centers over the past few years, Gortat is capable of single-handedly leading a team past the preliminary round.
Unfortunately, Gortat doesn’t have much help outside of former Knicks and Suns big man Maciej Lampe. The duo has long been the main producers for the Polish squad, and they will need to play out of their minds for Poland to advance in such a tough group.
The coming out party for Tomas Satoransky is here. The 2012 second round pick of the Washington Wizards is an oversized point guard with excellent court vision, who is ready to make a statement that he is now one of Europe’s elite guards. In a group that is strong from top to bottom, Satoransky will be tested every night, and will be given every opportunity to prove that in the very near future he will either be in the NBA or a Euroleague star.
The real question mark for this squad is current Wizards forward Jan Vesely. Frankly, Vesely’s play last season was embarrassing, as he lost his confidence early in the year and had his head stuck in the ground for the duration of the season. However, Vesely has a ton of athleticism and potential, and in a more integral role he has an opportunity to gain back all the momentum he lost during this difficult season.
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