Twenty-four teams came, and only eight remain at the 2013 Eurobasket. The pressure to qualify for the World Cup has lessened, but the pressure to bring home the gold is sinking in. At this point, one win in the Round of 16 (taking place today and tomorrow) gets you into the World Cup next summer, with only the 8th place team not gaining an automatic bid. (If Spain finishes sixth or higher, the seventh place team is in.
The eight remaining teams are Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Serbia and Ukraine — the last of which crashed the final eight over such traditional powerhouses as Greece, Germany and Turkey.
With the playoffs set to begin, here are 10 things we have learned so far at this year’s Eurobasket: (Click here to watch the games live on EurobasketTV. It is worth the cost, as these one-and-done games are international basketball intensity at its best).
1. Viva Espana.
The Spanish national team has an incredible spirit and a tradition that deserves a great deal of respect.
Despite automatically qualifying for the 2014 World Cup as the host, Spain brought a strong team to this tournament, for the sole purpose of playing for the pride of their country. While Team USA feels it is unnecessary to send their B team to the FIBA Americas championship, the Spaniards are a group that takes pride in their European dominance and came to defend their gold medal.
While Spain’s two biggest stars, Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro, chose to take this summer off to allow their bodies to rest, Spain still sent a very talented squad. Marc Gasol has established himself as one of the world’s top centers, Rudy Fernandez plays like a flat out star in FIBA games, and their backcourt of Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull gives them a wealth of high IQ ballhandling guards.
While Team Spain will never be able to hold a candle to Team USA in terms of pure talent, their passion, dedication to each other and fighting for their national pride give them every type of edge you need as a candidate to upset the red, white and blue. With many top young players willing to commit to practicing with Team USA in the odd numbered summers, maybe Jerry Colangelo and Co. should consider sending a team of young stars to the FIBA Americas tournament just for the sake of pride. It would be a big boost to the national team, and would do a lot in terms of long-term continuity and finding pieces that could be important role players in future Olympics and World Cups.
2. Euro Invasion Upcoming.
There are some great NBA talents that will be heading over from Europe in the next couple of years. Several players whose draft rights are currently held by NBA teams have given fans reasons to be excited for what they can bring in the future.
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn) has been fantastic for Croatia, emerging as their go-to guy, and knocking down big shot after big shot. Averaging 17.5 points per game, Bogdanovic should have Nets fans feeling a little bit more optimistic about their window as title contenders. Bogdanovic would have been a top 5 pick had he been in the draft this year, and he has the type of upside that could soften the blow when Paul Pierce decides to hang them up.
Bogdanovic’s Croatian teammate, Ante Tomic, one of the top players in Euroleague this past year, has been his efficient self throughout Eurobasket. The Jazz own his draft rights, and while he will continue playing in Barcelona this coming year, he should eventually be able to make a bigger impact in the NBA than Tiago Splitter has made in San Antonio.
Greek Forward, Kostas Papanikolaou, who was acquired by Houston as part of the Thomas Robinson trade, did not have a big tournament, but he has shown many of the characteristics required to be a solid role player in the NBA. Very physical, with great size for a perimeter player, Papanikolaou can find a nice niche in the league after he spends the next couple of years in Barcelona.
Another potential Rocket, Spanish guard, Sergio Llull, has demonstrated formidable on-the-ball defense, and a tremendous basketball IQ. After a fantastic season with Real Madrid, where he emerged as one of the top pure point guards in European basketball, Llull can be a nice piece for a Rockets team that has a great foundation.
Tomas Satoransky, the Wizards’ 2012 second-round pick, emerged as the best player for his Czech Republic squad. He averaged 11.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds, and will be looked upon to produce even more for Cajasol Sevilla of the Spanish ACB league this coming season. As a 6’7” point guard, he has huge upside, and after one more year in the strongest domestic league in Europe, he can be a nice addition for the Wizards next summer.
3. Established NBA players are excelling
International tournaments are a great place for young players to establish themselves and put themselves in position to make big jumps in their professional careers. This summer’s campaign has seen several top prospects show big time upside for the future.
Lithuanian giant, Jonas Valanciunas, has been one of the best centers in the tournament, putting in an efficient 7.9 points (on 69.7% shooting) and 6 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per game. The Raptors big man has shown that he is right on the cusp of being one of the world’s top centers, and he has set the stage for a much improved second season in the NBA.
Jeffrey Taylor, the second year forward for the Bobcats, was outstanding for Sweden in the opening round, leading the tournament with 21.2 points per game. After his performance here, he should have an excellent chance to get some extended quality minutes this season in Charlotte.
Nemanja Nedovic has emerged as the lead guard for a Serbian team that has overachieved, making it to the quarterfinals. The absence of Milos Teodosic put him in position to show he can be a leader at a high level, and the point guard has proven that maybe he can crack the rotation on a Golden State team that is poised to be awesome this year.
Alessandro Gentile has been outstanding for the Italian squad, displaying his impressive touch from outside. Playing for Milan this season, Gentile should be a candidate to be a lottery pick in the very strong 2014 draft class.
Undrafted wing, Nihad Djedovic, had an excellent showing for Bosnia and Herzegovina, averaging 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
After a solid season with Alba Berlin last year, Djedovic should be watched highly by many NBA scouts this year with Bayern Muenchen (Munich, Germany), as a future impact player in the NBA.
4. Goran Dragic has it in him to be a leader on a competitive team.
After establishing himself as a top 100 NBA player these past two years, Dragic has taken to Eurobasket to show that he can perform in a high pressure environment. Averaging 15.3 points, 4.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds to lead the home team, Slovenia, into the quarterfinals, Dragic has played at his best in the team’s most difficult games. Dragic went off for 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists against Croatia, 28 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists heads-up with stud Vassilis Spanoulis of Greece, 18 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists against Spain, and 22 points and 6 assists against a previously undefeated Italy.
The biggest jump with Dragic has been in his decision making and shot selection.