WBC Preview: Spain
Don't be fooled by Spain's seventh place finish in Athens. The country looked well on their way to medal in the 2004 Olympics with an unblemished 5-0 record in the preliminary round. But the format of the competition had them meeting the United States (3-2) in the quarterfinals.
Spain lost the game and a chance to finish any better than seventh. Needless to say, nobody in Spain was happy with the development, and the national team will make the trip to Japan with a chip on its collective shoulder.
He knows how to take advantage of the international rules and regulations, and perhaps most important, knows how to use them -- such as on tips and deflections when the ball is on the rim. Moreover, with less hand-checking in the lane and more mobility with one's dribble, Gasol's length, quickness and footspeed makes him difficult to stop.
In Athens, Gasol averaged 22.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.86 blocks and shot .614 from the field. The previous fall, he averaged 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and shot .647 from the field in the 2003 European Championship, leading Spain to a second-place finish.
Juan Carlos Navarro, Gasol's longtime teammate growing up on various junior national teams as well as on his former club team, F.C. Barcelona, is Spain's second most dangerous weapon.
Navarro, whose draft rights are owned by the Wizards after he was selected in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft, is known to have one of the best running one-handers in basketball. He's more of a scoring guard than a point guard, but can backup his starting backcourt mate, Jose Calderon.
Calderon, who joined the Toronto Raptors last season after signing as a free agent, finished his rookie year ranked eighth in the league in assists per 48 minutes (9.3), and averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 assists overall.
The duo offers Spain the guard play required to handle the press and protect possessions in late-game siutations, a key ingredient when it comes to being successful in international play. Other than the U.S., the Spanish National Team has one of the best backcourts in the world, and it's not only because of its veteran starters, but because of a pair of reserves in Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez.
Rodriguez -- considered the Jason Williams of Spanish basketball because of his flashy passing -- was selected in the First Round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns and traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, who were looking to add young talent for the future.
The 20-year old averaged 9.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in 23.3 minutes for Adecco Estudiantes Madrid in the Spanish ACB this season.
The 6-9, 245-pound Garbajosa finished second on the team in scoring in Athens (13.3 ppg), and recently signed with the Toronto Raptors after 11 seasons playing professionally in Europe. He averaged 14.9 points and 6.9 rebounds for Unicaja Malaga in Spain this past season and was named Spanish Cup MVP the last two consecutive years.
Reyes lacks height but loves to throw his body around and is a proficient rebounder. At 6-7, he averaged 9.7 points and 7.5 rebounds in 26 minutes per game for Real Madrid in the Euroleague this past season.
Jimenez, a small forward, is another one of Spain's scrappy players. He posted 10.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game competing with Rodriguez for Adecco Estudiantes Madrid in the Spanish ACB this past season.
Center Fran Vazquez, a 2005 lottery selection of the Orlando Magic, will not be with the team because of back injury. F.C. Barcelona seven-footer Marc Gasol, the younger brother of Pau, takes his place.
The Bottom Line
Spain has an NBA All-Star in Pau Gasol and plently of talent surrounding him. That, combined with the fact the team likely feels it has something to correct after the seventh-place Athens finish despite a 6-1 record, makes them one of the most dangerous teams in Japan.