Eurobasket ’13 Group D Preview

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Group D

Likely To Advance

Greece flag1. Greece

Greece is another squad showing up without some of their best players but still remain a contender for the gold. Even without pick-and-roll master Dimitris Diamantitis, Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes, Nuggets center Kosta Koufos and Maccabi Tel Aviv center “Sofo” Schortsanitis, the Greeks are poised to compete for their first medal since 2009.

Italian coach Andrea Trinchieri, who recently moved from Cantu to Unics Kazan in Russia, will have no shortage of weapons throughout this campaign. Back-to-back Euroleague champion Vassilis Spanoulis will be leading the Greek squad with his aggressive scoring nature and immensely high basketball IQ. Spanoulis will be backed up by fellow Olympiacos guard Kostas Sloukas, who has been one of the Euroleague’s rising stars since he was brought over from Aris Thessaloniki.Spanoulis

On the wing will be a pair of former Knicks draft picks in Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolau, both of whom bring a lot of toughness and clutch shooting to the floor at the 3 and 4 positions. Add in the tough defense of American forward Michail Bramos and the scoring ability of veteran Nikos Zisis and this team has a large variety of options.

Antonis Fotsis will once again represent the Greek squad as he prepares for his return to the Greek league with Panathiakos this season. One of the top Greek players of this generation, he was a valuable member of the 2006 team that embarrassed Team USA in the World Championships.

While the Greek team won’t be as beefy in the middle as they are accustomed, center Yannis Bourousis, who had a brief stint with the Mavs, will provide a big presence in the middle, for what will certainly be one of the top defenses in the tournament.

While the Greek team may not be bringing their fully loaded roster to Slovenia, the Greeks are known for being one of the most physical and aggressive groups, and they should be more than able to bully their way toward a medal.

Flag_of_Turkey.svg2. Turkey

There will be big expectations for the Turks this summer to regain the glory of their 2010 silver medal at the World Championships. Led by soon to be ex-Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, the Turkish squad has quite a few weapons that should make them very dangerous, assuming Turkoglu’s uncertain contract situation does not become a distraction.

Omer Asik is coming off a breakout year for the Rockets, and he should be one of the most important players in the tournament. With Dwight Howard coming into town, Asik will possibly be playing with ulterior motives, trying to audition to other teams considering trading for him to be their starting center. Asik is unhappy with the possibility of becoming Dwight’s backup, and he will need to block out his personal situation for the betterment of the team for Turkey to succeed. He will be backed up and sometimes play alongside former NBA big man Semih Erden, who also is trying to prove he deserves another crack at the league. Together they should be one of the more formidable center combinations in this competition. Hedo-Turkoglu

Last, but certainly not least, is Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova has made big progress since returning to the Bucks from Europe, and has the opportunity to take command of the leadership role of the Turkish team moving forward. With the Bucks making wholesale changes this summer, a significant tick in his production could be the difference between the Bucks being relevant, or playing for ping-pong balls once the New Year arrives.

With a talented roster, Turkey should have no problem advancing to the second round of this tournament, but with a lot of uncertainty surrounding some of their main players professional situations, it may be difficult for them to maintain the focus required to earn a World Cup berth, yet alone a medal.

Flag_of_Italy.svg3. Italy

Not having won a medal since winning a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, Italy will need to overcome a lot of obstacles to prevent a 10-year medal drought. With NBA starts Andrea Bargnani, Danillo Gallinari and Angelo Gigli missing this year, the Italians will need to find production and leadership elsewhere to be competitive.

A transformed Marco Belinelli will be the leader, after having a breakout performance with the Bulls this past postseason before moving to the Spurs this summer. Belinelli is an outstanding shooter who has significantly elevated his overall game with his newfound confidence, and he could very likely use this tournament to start his campaign to be Popovich’s starting shooting guard on opening night.150px-Marco_Belinelli

Joining Belinelli will be Detroit Pistons signee Luigi Datome, a stretch forward who played out of his mind on his way to the Italian Series A MVP this past season. In the frontcourt, Datome will be joined by Alessandro Gentile, a 20 year old wing prospect who will be a likely draft pick in 2014.

In the backcourt will be a pair of Americans in former Indiana Pacers guard Travis Diener, who just recently got his Italian passport, and former USC and current Siena guard Daniel Hackett. The duo should form a very strong backcourt, capable of leading Italy to the next stage.

Without Gallo or Bargnani, several players will need to take big steps forward for Italy to qualify for the World Cup. Fortunately, Italian fans have reason to be optimistic with so many players that are right on the cusp of taking the next step in their career. It may not be likely for this to be the year that the Italians turn it around, but it appears things are going in the right direction for their program.

Headin’ Home Early

Russia flag4. Russia

With the absence of American coach David Blatt, Andrei Kirilenko, Sergey Mozgov and Victor Khryapa, the Russians’ run of success is very much in danger. In the friendly matches, they did not seem to play with the chemistry shown during their successful run that saw them win the 2007 Eurobasket, and take medals home in 2011 and in the 2012 Olympics.

Timberwolves guard Alexy Shved will be relied on to get buckets as the leader of the Russian squad. He quickly has emerged from a young weapon to a leader for this squad, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the change in his role.Alexey Shved

The  X-Factor for the Russians will be Cavs draft pick Sergey Karasev, a super scoring young wing who has limitless potential. If he can immediately provide top level performances in this tournament, Russia has a solid chance at advancing. However, as it stands now they appear to be on the outside looking in.

Flag_of_Sweden.svg5. Sweden

After a 10-year absence from the Eurobasket, Sweden makes their return with 2 NBA players in tow. With Detroit Pistons vet Jonas Jerebko ringing his jack of all trades game, Sweden should be interesting to watch despite not standing much of a chance at advancing in this tournament.Jerebko-Sweden

Even more interesting to watch will be Bobcats second year forward Jeffery Taylor, who showed great improvement at the summer league this season. Bringing the toughness he gained at Vanderbilt, Taylor has improved his all-around game and could use this experience as a way to take the next step in his NBA career.

Flag_of_Finland.svg6. Finland

Finland is the kind of team any basketball purist loves to root for. They dive for loose balls, play with passion, and overall bring all the intangibles that any true basketball fan has to appreciate. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the talent  to compete at this level, and winning even one game will be a big accomplishment for them.

Former Mavericks draft pick Petteri Kaponen will need to be fantastic for Finland to remain competitive. Kaponen has made big strides the past several years, and playing on this stage could greatly bolster his  chances of one day bringing his talents over to the NBA.

GROUP A PREVIEW  |  GROUP B PREVIEW  |  GROUP C PREVIEW

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2013 FIBA Americas Championship Preview

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2013_FIBA_Americas_Championship_logoThe 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.

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StatBox Breakdown: Chalmers, Lowry, Turner among players facing make-or-break seasons

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Labor Day Weekend is right around the corner, which means most of you are either holding tightly to the last vestiges of summer or getting ready for the beginning of football season.

Then there are those of you who are aching and longing for the beginning of the NBA season.

You, we like. We write articles like this for you. If you missed Part 1 of our players with make-or-break seasons, take the time to read it, then come back here for Part 2, featuring important role players on Western Conference contenders and a member of the defending NBA champions.

There also is a trio of players on the Philadelphia 76ers, whose new GM appears more interested in break-and-make than make-or-break.

Darren Collison, LA Clippers

250px-Darren_Collison_DunkCollison signed one of the most puzzling contracts of the offseason when he inked a one-year deal with the Clippers worth $1.9 million (with a player option) to back up Chris Paul. Perhaps the point guard market ran dry and he didn’t see any better opportunities. If that wasn’t the reason for being this underpaid, Collison needs a new agent yesterday.

Collison turned 26 last Friday after a season where he shot 47.1 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from three and 88 percent from the line for Dallas. Guards like that usually get paid $6 million per season, not one-third of that.

He put up career best numbers in Win Shares and Win Shares per 48 minutes, True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages, steals and offensive rating. Put bluntly, if Collison doesn’t put up good numbers next season and passed on decent money this past summer that he won’t see next offseason, then he’s a fool.

Collison’s value will shift one way or the other in 2013-2014, which is why he is most definitely a make-or-break.

Jerryd Bayless, Memphis

Few people benefited from the Rudy Gay trade more than Jerryd Bayless. His minutes quickly increased and he played a much larger role for the Grizzlies than anyone could have anticipated, shifting from relative afterthought to an important bench player on a championship contender.

Bayless’ splits before and after the All-Star break tell the story of how he made the most of his increased playing time:

Bayless Min FG % 3 FG% Pts Ast Reb
Pre All-Star 20.2 42.2 33.7 7.1 3.4 3.1
Post All-Star 25.3 41.5 37 11.4 3.1 2.4

For a team that really lacked consistent 3-point shooting last season, Bayless provided a huge spark and eased the scoring load on the team’s frontcourt. Bayless averaged 13.5 points per game on 44.6 percent shooting from three in March, and that production is what the team (and likely Bayless) is hoping for this coming season.

Bayless just turned 25 and technically is still in the prime of his career as he enters the last year of his contract that pays him a shade over $3.1 million. He can get a nice bump in pay if he continues the kind of 3-point marksmanship he showed during the second half of last season.

Mario Chalmers, Miami

mario-chalmersChalmers is clearly a winner. From that legendary 3-pointer to force overtime in Kansas’ national championship win over Memphis to his key role in two titles with the Heat, he always seems to be in the right situations.

Chalmers just completed the best season of his career and at age 27 is on the last year of his contract at $4 million.

Chalmers Min FG % 3 FG% Pts Ast Reb PER O Rtg D Rtg WS WS/48
Career Avg 27.1 42.1 37 8.4 3.6 2.3 12.3 105 104 4.06 0.098
2012-13 Avg 26.9 42.9 40.9 8.6 3.5 2.2 13.3 110 104 5.2 0.12

There is, of course, the question going forward whether Chalmers’ impressive 3-point shooting is a product of the players around him. We wouldn’t know that unless Chalmers went to another team. Does he want to make more money and play for another team that will give him a bigger contract and role? Or is he content to make less money and compete for championships every year?

Chalmers will get a lot of notice this season as he’s on an expiring deal. It will be interesting to see how he is valued as the year progresses.

Derrick Williams, Minnesota

Derrick WilliamsWho is Derrick Williams? Where’s the explosive game-changer who compelled the Timberwolves to draft him second overall just two years ago? Time is seemingly running out for him in Minnesota based on how this roster is being constructed by new general manager Flip Saunders.

A productive frontcourt player has to hit more than 43 percent of his shots – especially if he is playing nearly 25 minutes per game – and his sub-standard 101 offensive rating shows it. His averages of 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds are good, but his 14.5 PER could be a lot better and his 0.076 Win Shares per 48 minutes is below average.

In October, Saunders likely will pick up the fourth-year option worth $6.68 million on Williams. But an extension is out of the question and a qualifying offer down the road may be in doubt. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic will combine to make nearly $28 million in 2014, with Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer already playing at small forward. Throw promising rookie Gorgui Dieng in the mix, and it’s easy to see how Williams could be phased out of the team’s long-term plans faster than it takes Ricky Rubio to go baseline to baseline.

So despite being only 22, it’s put up or shut up time for Williams.

Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City

ThaboSefolosha is one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league and may soon get paid like one. Sefolosha just enjoyed his best all-around season, setting career bests in points per game, field-goal percentage, offensive rating, Win Shares and Win Shares per 48 minutes, True Shooting percentage, Effective Field Goal percentage, steals and PER. He also shot 41.7 percent from three.

Sefolosha is coming off his age-28 season and will make $3.9 million in 2013-2014 on the last year of his contract. Tony Allen just came off his age-30 season and got $20 million for four years from Memphis. Let’s see how both players performed at their age-28 seasons:

Age 28 Season Min FG % 3 FG % Pts Reb Stl PER O Rtg D Rtg WS WS/48
Allen 16.5 51 0 6.1 2.7 1.1 14.2 101 101 1.9 0.1
Sefolosha 27.5 48.1 41.9 7.6 3.9 1.3 12.8 121 103 6.8 0.146

As you can see, Sefolosha is far more advanced at this stage of his career than Allen. So if Sefolosha does as well this season as he did last season, he should be in for a pretty hefty payday next summer.

Can the Thunder really afford to lose Sefolosha? Memphis realized it couldn’t lose its perimeter defensive stopper, and Sefolosha is younger. It’ll be interesting to see how Thunder general manager Sam Presti plays this out come late June of next year.

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StatBox Breakdown: Bynum, Granger, Sullinger among players with make-or-break seasons

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Training camps open in just over a month from now, on Sept. 28, so it’s time to start taking a critical look at the 2013-2014 NBA season.

Plenty of players around the league are facing uncertain futures, with contract statuses to be resolved and career trajectories at stake.

With that in mind, this post is the first of a two-part series of players around the league heading into make-or-break seasons of varying degrees.

Jared Sullinger, F, Boston Celtics
Celtics
There’s no questioning his on-court ability, and he has proven that he can be at least a quality rotation player when healthy. But that injury red flag is larger than those you would find in Beijing or Moscow.

He was limited to 45 games in his rookie season before he had to miss the rest of the season with major back surgery. When he played, his effort and ability on the defensive end (he had a sterling 102 defensive rating) provided a big boost to the Celtics and quickly endeared him to the hard-to-please Boston fan base.

Sullinger only played 19.8 minutes per contest, but his per-36 minute numbers are really good. He shot 49.3 percent from the field, a number that can be improved upon, but he averaged 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36. He also got better as the season went on:

Sullinger Minutes FG % Points Rebounds
November 19.2 52.1 5.9 4.8
December 17.7 45.8 5.3 5.9
January 23.2 49.5 7 7.2

Can Sullinger remain on the court and carry this success over to this coming season? Boston holds a team option on his deal for the next season, and with the team rebuilding, they will have watch to see whether Sullinger can put together a healthy season.

Kris Humphries, F, Boston Celtics

kris humphriesHumphries seems destined for the rebuilding team’s version of St. Helena. A veteran player on the final year of an overpaid contract on a Boston team that would probably prefer to play its younger players to prepare its core for the future.

After playing 35 minutes per game for the Nets in 2011-2012, his playing time was cut nearly in half last season to 18.3. His per-36 minute numbers were down practically across the board and you have to wonder where Humphries will play after this season and how much his annual salary will be sliced from its currently bloated $12 million number.

(RELATED: BOSTON CELTICS: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR)

This may seem crazy right now, but Humphries’ best-case scenario could be Drew Gooden’s career.

Age 27 PER O Rating D Rating WS WS/48
Humphries 13.6 109 105 2.7 0.109
Gooden 16.3 106 106 2.7 0.102

Gooden averaged 17.2 points per game for three teams in that season, while Humphries averaged 5.8 last year. Gooden got a huge contract from Milwaukee that was recently amnestied, but it’s difficult to imagine Humphries approaching those numbers going forward. All he can do is play well when new head coach Brad Stevens inserts him into the game and hope another team will be foolish enough to give him Gooden money next summer.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

Michael Kidd-GilchristWhat type of player is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? A foundational piece? A strong rotation player? A one-dimensional defensive player?

MKG finished with a nine point-per-game average on a very respectable 45.8 percent shooting, but his scoring average fell from 11 per game in November and December down to just 8.4 in April. His rebounding stats improved to 7.6 per game in April, but he shot just 22.2 percent from three and his win share and offensive and defensive ratings weren’t very good.

He averaged 26 minutes per game last season, and his per-36 minute numbers of 12.5 points and 8.1 rebounds are really good. But with Al Jefferson and rookie Cody Zeller presumably taking more offensive touches away from Kidd-Gilchrist, and the returning backcourt of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson taking its fair share of shots, where does MKG fit in offensively?

Kidd-Gilchrist has team options of $5.01 million next summer and $6.33 million the next season. Will he prove he’s worth that number going forward? He’ll get the chance to prove he’s more than just an over-drafted bit player for the Bobcats.

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats

Biyombo’s improvement in his second season was negligible at best. The 20-year-old Congo native is still so very raw on the offensive end, and his overall efficiency numbers didn’t increase along with his slight uptick in minutes played from 23.1 to 27.3.

Biyombo FG % Points Rebounds Blocks PER O Rtg D Rtg WS WS/48
2011-2012 46.4 5.2 5.8 1.8 10.6 92 107 0.6 0.019
2012-2013 45.1 4.8 7.3 1.8 10.1 98 109 1.4 0.031

Charlotte will probably pick up Biyombo’s option of $4.09 million next summer, but will he really show enough improvement to justify that salary. With Jefferson and Zeller now in the fold, it would appear that Biyombo will be further marginalized on this team.

Can Biyombo prove any significant worth on the offensive end to justify him playing more than 27 minutes a game with an improved Bobcats frontcourt anchored by Al Jefferson? Right now it seems like Biyombo’s long-term future isn’t in Charlotte.

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Marks: Out of Answers, Iverson Finally Hanging Them Up

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220px-Allen_Iverson_LipofskyPHILADELPHIA —News that Allen Iverson is finally out of  ”answers’’ and will soon officially announce his retirement to start his Hall of Fame induction clock running brings a flood of thoughts and memories to mind.

After all, when you cover a guy for more than a decade, observing his NBA career from the start … when you watch him evolve from a pure gunner with no concept of team play to a legitimate MVP recipient on a team that goes to the NBA Finals … and when you witness his skills and legend grow even greater before ultimately beginning to erode and come crashing down … you can’t help but remember what a phenomenon the whole experience was.