Basketball International's Simone Sandri breaks down all 12 squads
Dozen Teams Courting Success
From Angola to Lithuania to the United States, what should fans expect from the 12 teams in Athens? NBA.com talked to one of the hosts of NBA TV's "Basketball International", Simone Sandri (L), to get a detailed breakdown on every squad in this year's Olympics. From 12th to first, take a look at who could pull off some upsets, and who has a shot at gold. The teams are listed in Sandri's predicted order of finish.
Sandri's Analysis: Angola is a team that can score -- they have a lot of shooters -- but they don't have a player over 6-8. They're the weakest team in the competition. Their team leader is 35-year-old Antonio Carvalho, a veteran player who can fill it up from long range. Another player who hoops fans might recognize is Joaquim Gomes, who played his college ball at Valparaiso. He rebounds well, but at 6-8, he plays center, which tells you how thin this team is up front.
Bottom Line: They don't have enough size to compete at this level.
Sandri's Analysis: This is a team that will go as far as Yao (R) will take them. Dirk Nowitzki told China coach Del Harris, "This team is easy to coach. Just go inside to Yao," which about says it all. They obviously need to do all they can to get Yao going, but China actually has a very solid frontcourt. Xiu Fangyu is a strong wing player. He's versatile, has decent size (around 6-8) and can go outside. Jian Lian Ji (or Yi) is also a very interesting player. He's a young (rumored to be anywhere from 17 to 20 years old) seven-footer (7-1) who loves to play outside. His moves and shooting make him the next big prospect coming out of China. These Games could serve as his introduction to the world.
Bottom Line: China is going to be good in the future, but they don't currently have enough around Yao. They're lacking the experience to make a real run.
Sandri's Analysis: This is a team of shooters. New Zealand -- along with Angola and China -- aren't supposed to contend, but then again, they made one of the greatest runs in international basketball by going all the way to the semifinals of the World Basketball Championships in 2002. On paper, they shouldn't advance, but because they have 3-point shooters, they're dangerous.
Kirk Penney (R), who played in two games with the Miami Heat in '03-04, is a great, great shooter. He's a pure shooting guard who had an excellent career at Wisconsin. And Pero Cameron is the team leader. He's a stocky 6-7 former rugby player who does all the little things for the team. He defends and passes very well, stays active around the hoop and can hit the clutch shot.
Bottom Line: New Zealand is a good shooting team that could advance if they shoot lights-out as they did in Indy. But if they don't, they'll fight to avoid the bottom of the table.
Sandri's Analysis: For the first time in a long time, Australia won't have basketball legend Andrew Gaze leading the charge. He hasn't missed an Olympics since dressing in 1988, and is probably still good enough to play in this one. But he decided to focus on his club obligations instead of making the trip to Greece.
In Athens, Australia will be led by Shane Heal (R), who played with the Timberwolves and the Spurs. Even though he's just 6-1, he's a deadly scorer due to his accurate shooting touch and quick release. After Heal, the Aussies will look for big things from seven-footer David Andersen. He's a young guy who can pass and hit the open jumper, his range even extending out to the 3-point line. He's a difficult matchup due to his size.
Bottom Line: As they enter into the post-Gaze era, they have a decent roster and should be able to hang with Puerto Rico and Greece, but just making the second round would be a huge victory. They have no medal shot.
Sandri's Analysis: This team is difficult to break down. They have a lot of athletic guys and could easily advance, but it's hard to say they'll compete for a medal. NBA players like Arroyo (R) and Santiago team with 6-1 European star Larry Ayuso to give Puerto Rico a good talent base. And then they have 41-year-old Jose "Piculin" Ortiz to lead them. Ortiz is Puerto Rico's Michael Jordan. At a solid 6-11, he's an extremely intimidating guy who is the ultimate leader. He's tough and he still moves very well. He should also be especially fired up, as this will most likely be his final Olympics. Though with Piculin, you never know ... he just might play again at 45.
Bottom Line: Puerto Rico will fight with Australia for fourth place in their group. With Piculin leading this talented team, they can give anyone a tough game.
Sandri's Analysis: Greece faces an uphill battle, as they're missing two of their best big men: former Sixer Efthimios Rentzias and the Grizzlies' Jake Tsakilidis. But they have three factors working in their favor.
One, the home crowd will be a huge advantage. Two, the entire nation is coming off a huge boost from the country's recent surprising success at the European Soccer Championships. Now all of Greece, basketball team included, believes anything is possible. And three, they still have legendary small forward Fragikos Alvertis in uniform. Alvertis is a 6-9 scorer who's a threat from 3-point range and taking it to the hoop. He can give anyone problems.
Bottom Line: Even though they're missing their big guys, the home floor advantage means anything could happen.
Sandri's Analysis: In upsetting the U.S., this team showed it's capable of anything. Led by Giacomo Galanda, a 6-11 gunner, this is a team that has the talent to win a medal. But the problem is that now they won't be able to surprise anyone. Plus, they run the risk of becoming complacent with their big win over Tim Duncan and company. They have to maintain their solid chemistry and stay motivated in the Olympics. But if they do, they have the talent to make some noise.
Bottom Line: They showed they can play as well as any team in the world. Can they maintain this high level of performance? If so, the silver, or even gold, isn't out of their reach.
Sandri's Analysis: This is a very intriguing team. They're very young -- they're nicknamed the "Boys of the 80's" because they were all born in that decade -- but because they all grew up at the same time, they have a lot of experience playing together. Team chemistry won't be a problem with Spain (although they will miss Jazz point guard Raul Lopez).
Even without Lopez, though, this is a very talented team. High-energy guard, and Wizards draftee, Juan Carlos Navarro will lead the charge on offense. He'll be complemented by Manu-esque, 6-6 shooting guard Rudy Fernandez, and a player that is very familiar to NBA fans, Pau Gasol (R).
Bottom Line: They're young, but they certainly can spoil some teams' ambitions. The talent, experience and team chemistry is all there for Spain to make a run at a medal.
Sandri's Analysis: Not having Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac on the team is obviously a big blow for Serbia & Montenegro, but this team will still compete for the gold. They have great team chemistry and a lot of talent; most of these players could play in the NBA, starting with Dejan Bodiroga. Bodiroga is a 6-9 swingman who has arguably been the best player in Europe for the last seven or eight years.
Flanking Bodiroga is shoot-first point guard Milos Vujanic. Vujanic, whose rights are owned by the Suns, will play in the NBA soon, and will be a star in the U.S. He could score 20-30 points per game in the NBA.
Bottom Line: Even without Stojakovic, this is still an extremely talented team. They can beat anybody.
Sandri's Analysis: Lithuania is one of the only countries in the world that has basketball as its national sport. And it shows. Along with the U.S., Serbia & Montenegro and Argentina, Lithuania, the defending European champions, should be considered among the favorites to win the gold.
The squad is led by Europe's ultimate winner, Sarunas Jasikevicius. In each of the last two years, and with two different teams (Maccabi and Barcelona), Jasikevicius has won it all -- Euro league, league title and league cup. He's a flashy player (think Jason Williams) who manages to play under control. He should be playing in the NBA, and U.S. fans might know him from his days with the University of Maryland.
Jasikevicius teams with Arvydas Macijauskas to give Lithuania a superb backcourt. In my opinion, Macijauskas is the best pure shooter in the world, the NBA included.
Bottom Line: This team is confident and going into the competition with the idea that they will compete for the gold. There's no reason to think they won't.
Sandri's Analysis: First, the U.S. is definitely still the team to beat. And while the intimidation factor is gone, especially with their recent loss to Italy, don't think that when other teams step on the floor with players like LeBron James and Tim Duncan, they aren't impressed. They are. The rest of the world knows that when the U.S. is playing its brand of basketball, it's physically impossible to stay with them. No country has players that can match guys like Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson.
But they need to figure out how to play to these strengths. And so far they've had trouble with the differences between international basketball and NBA basketball. From big men defending 3-pointers to moving without the ball to shooting with consistency from the outside, there are questions surrounding this team. If they can answer these questions, they can obviously win it all. But can they do it in such a short amount of time?
Bottom Line: I know it's a long shot, but I think Argentina will top the U.S. in either the semifinals or the finals.
Sandri's Analysis: This is one of two or three teams that has a realistic shot at winning the gold. And for Argentina, their hopes all start with Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (R). He's been the heart and soul of the national team, and has emerged as one of the best players in international basketball. He's an athletic go-to guy who's also a great leader. Ginobili's numbers in the recent Diamond Ball tournament weren't great, but that's because the Argentinian coach didn't play the starters much. But the bottom line is, Ginobili has to play well for Argentina to reach the podium.
Another key contributor will be Andres Nocioni, an extremely athletic 6-7 forward who has started at all five positions, including center, over the course of his career. He likes to drive to the hoop and is a fearless player. Also expect to see former NBA guard Pepe Sanchez starting at point guard.
Bottom Line: Why did I pick them to win it all? Because this is a team that can exploit the weaknesses that the U.S. has shown in friendlies. Argentina plays together on offense, they have great chemistry, lots of talent, and they beat the U.S. already (in the WBC), so they're not intimidated. They'll create a lot of problems. Yes, they are an upset pick to win the gold, but I think they can do it.