August is here and it’s full speed ahead for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey later this month. In coming weeks, we’ll be seeing the national teams competing in the tournament playing warmup games all over the planet – indeed, some have already begun play.
With the last few big names having declared “yea” or “nay” on participation in the Worlds, BallinEurope figured it was high time to introduce power rankings for the upcoming tournament. Keep in mind that these rankings are not necessarily how BiE is fearlessly predicting they’ll end up when the 2010 Worlds are over, but rather how the squads are currently trending: You know, if the tournament started today…
All rankings are guaranteed to be 100% subjective with some semblance and factoring in of facts, FIBA rankings and sportsbooks’ odds on the tournament; the handy arrows indicate the team’s progress/regress on the chart (BiE’s pretending we ran one last week. Top 15 teams are ranked below the break.
1. (↔) Spain. Beyond the well-worn BiE rhetoric along the lines of “they’re the champions until somebody takes it away,” the truth is Team Spain may be bringing the best team to this tournament, period. While their chief competition returns exactly zero players from the 2008 Redeem Team – possibly the USA’s strongest team since 1992 and definitely since ’96 – Spain is a tight-knit bunch of stars from the highest professional levels.
The roster reads like a Who’s Who of European players: Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Fernando San Emeterio, Fran Vazquez, Jorge Garbajosa, and of course Rrrrrrricky Rubio, a certain candidate to have a huge tournament if only to tease those suffering Minnesota Timberwolves a bit more. Who can run with these guys?
And Team Spain’s marquee-name loss, i.e. Pau Gasol, will sure be ably replaced in what is absolutely a dream scenario for the team as burgeoning NBA All-Star Marc Gasol plays the big man this time around.
Finally, there seems to be no denying in the daily more overwhelming fact that 2010 in sports is The Year of Spain. In the past four months alone, Spaniards have taken the football World Cup, the Tour de France, the Euroleague 2009-10 basketball title and the Eurocup basketball title. Throw in the presence of FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semifinals, Valencia’s championship-game appearance in Euroleague Women, and Pau Gasol by winning another title with the Los Angeles Lakers and, well, that’s just one maelstrom of sports dominance.
2. (↓) USA. Are the Americans’ title hopes dependent on Brook Lopez? Strange to thing it will come down to that, but the buzz this week has all been about how much small ball Team USA will be playing, with Lopez and Tyson Chandler the prospective main options underneath. Seriously, is anyone else backing Team USA a bit nervous that Lamar Odom (whose presence on this squad BiE loves, by the way) would be the no. 3 center?
How did this happen? Since when did the NBA become a league in which Rajon Rondo is often called the *fourth-best* point guard? (Incidentally, who else can’t wait for Rondo vs. Rubio in this thing?)
Here’s the thing. If USA Basketball had said, “okay, we’re going to bring back basically the entire team that took the gold medal in 2008 except for Dwight Howard and maybe Carlos Boozer,” how much would you like the team’s chances to take the 2010 FIBA world title? That’s basically what Spain and Greece have done and while Team USA is loaded with athleticism (and o boy you can bet that’s what we’ll keep hearing from Jerry Colangelo) and talent, most of the guys beyond Odom and Chauncey Billups have seen anything of what the European powers are bringing.
3. (↔) Greece. Ioannis Bourousis is ready to win and even though Theo Papaloukas won’t be in the Giant Get Together” in Turkey, Greece is bringing a roster packed with experienced FIBA ballers. Assuming they get past Russia on opening day, Greece should be 5-0 and on cruise control by the time pool play’s done.
4. (↑) Brazil. In NCAA Tournamentspeak, they’d call Team Brazil “the bracket buster” in this thing. Tiago Splitter’s long-awaited arrival officially completes a front court of the new San Antonio Spur, Anderson Varejao and Nene. This alone at least gives Brazil its strongest squad since 1988 and, as one the few teams in this tournament that’s running with its ideal roster, these guys must be respected. (And Spurs fans can quit salivating whenever convenient, please.)
5. (↑) Argentina. Perhaps the best international basketball news this week was Luis Scola’s clearance to play for Argentina. In lieu of Manu Ginobili, the traditional South American power will be headlining NBA players Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino alongside Scola. Much will depend on Scola’s ability as a playmaker, but right now Argentina’s confident.
6. (↔) Serbia. No news is good news for Team Serbia (in a way). The main news coming out of Serbian practices is that coach Dusan Ivkovic is ecstatic about this squad and is reportedly “agonizing” over the three cuts he’ll have to make before the Thursday deadline. BallinEurope is sad that the injury to BiE fave Uros Tripkovic will keep him out but the exclusion of Darko Milicic (thank you, Mr. Kaaaahn) can’t be bad. The fact that three more quality names will fall by the wayside indictes the awesome depth the surprise of Eurobasket 2009 brings to FIBA Worlds 2010.
(Incidentally, Serbia and Argentina easily could have switched positions here, but everyone else underrates Serbia, so why should BiE be any different?)
7. (↔) Turkey. Longtime national team captain Hedo Turkoglu joined teammates this week, but those who recall Eurobasket 2009 know that Turkoglu’s presence is nowadays more symbolic than not and Team Turkey enjoyed its greatest successes when Hedo was directing traffic rather than trying to do it all.
That said, the Turkish lineup just keeps looking better and better with a cohesiveness few teams have in this tourney: They’ve got big bodies aplenty to throw out there, starting with Omer Asik, Semih Erden and Kerem Gonlum and which international team wouldn’t put Ersan Ilyasova onto the roster right now? Add in the homecourt advantage and Turkey might “surprise.”
8. (↔) Russia. Going without Andrei Kirilenko, Russia will need more confidence boosters like the 21-point laugher over Latvia this week. Nevertheless, in a tournament sparse of deadly shooters, David Blatt’s defensive schemes may rule the day: After all, this Team Russia will be based on Euroleague defensive MVP Viktor Khryapa. Next weekend Russia participates in a tournament involving Greece, clearly their chief competition in Group C, in what should be a revealing game.
9. (↔) France. Surely Les Bleus would like it if Joakim Noah finished dithering on his version of “The Decision” and joined this team, but this is actually not a bad-looking team at all (if extremely young for a Team France), Tony Parker or no. These guys could be really scary at Eurobasket 2011, too.
10. (↑) Australia. Why not? If the tournament started today, this would be one of the few teams ready to go. Warmup wins over 2010 FIBA World teams Slovenia and China gave the Boomers a record of 2-0 this week and let’s face it: Oz most likely won’t get this high on this list again. Ah, if only Andrew Bogut were there…
11. (↓) Slovenia. The tiny country went way far with little in Eurobasket 2009, but Beno Udrih walking off the squad cripples a depth chart already thinner than Shawn Bradley on a fast. The decisive exhibition-game loss to Australia can’t be considered positive, either.
12. (↔) Lithuania. Even FIBA admits that Lithuanian basketball is “in transition” and this edition of the team could well bear out that opinion; aside from Team USA, this squad is most clearly defined but who is *not* participating (e.g. the Lavrinovices, Siskauskas, etc.).
13. (↓) Croatia. A recent barrage of bad news from the Team Croatia camp: Mario Delas and Leon Radosevic are out, while Zoran Planinic’s knee surgery will keep him from full practice for a while yet. A win against Italy gets Croatia this high in the rankings, but this tournament figures to be an uphill battle.
14. (↔) Germany. Without Dirk Nowitzki for the tournament, in the short term Team Germany almost has a best-of-both-worlds advantage: The national team gets to break in a roster chockfull of young talent from Tibor Pleiss and Lucca Staiger on down from a group in which Germany has a puncher’s chance to advance.
15. (↑) Canada. Potentially, the lovable “gritty, never-say-die” team of the tournament. Plus, Joel Anthony and the boys open against Lebanon – sure, that’s worth the 15 spot.