By JAMES SARGENT
FIBA World Rank: #9
Notable Players: Patty Mills, David Andersen, Brad Newley, Matthew Dellavedova
Olympic outlook: Australia is always solid at the Olympics, making it into the knockout stage eight of the past nine times, but they haven’t been able to get over the hump and return home with a medal. This year will most likely follow suit since they will be without star center Andrew Bogut as he recovers from last season’s injury. Without Bogut, the team falls into the hand of San Antonio Spurs’ guard Patty Mills. Mills is no where near the caliber player that Bogut is, however, Mills and company should still be competitive. Look for the Australia-China game to be a good one, as China is their biggest rival outside of New Zealand.
FIBA World Rank: #13
Notable Players: Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao, Marcelo Huertas
Olympic outlook: Move over Argentina, Brazil looks to the be the new South American powerhouse. As mentioned in the previous article, Argentina is fading with age, while Brazil has loads of talent, young and old. Brazil should be stoked because their best player, Nene, is finally playing for them. He will be helped with two other front court big men, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. And if they need a bucket, Leandro Barbosa is definitely their man since he has proven in the NBA that he can score in bunches, and on anyone. My favorite player, after watching Team USA play Brazil, is Marcelo Huertas. He is of the same mold as Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio. He sees plays develop five steps before they happen and some of the passes he makes are quite remarkable. On paper, Brazil should be able to hang with the likes of Spain and the United States, but we will see what actually happens. A lot of things look great on paper but never go as planned.
FIBA World Rank: #10
Notable Players: Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei
Olympic outlook: No Yao, no problem. China still has plenty of size; maybe not 7’6” size, but center Wang Zhizhi and power forward Yi Jianlian are both 7 feet tall. As for the skill Yao brought to the team, that won’t be replaced. This has turned into Yi’s team, but as we have seen from what he has accomplished in the NBA, he is no where near Yao in the numbers he put up. Their backcourt is solid with Sun Yue and Liu Wei, but when you compare them to other guards in group play — Barbosa, Huertas, Mills, all of Spain — they are going to have quite a hurdle to leap. China could luck out and make it to the knockout stage, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
FIBA World Rank: #43
Notable Players: Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Joel Freeland, Andrew Lawrence
Olympic outlook: The only reason Great Britain is in this tournament is because they are the host nation. They will surely be the worst team and will need a miracle to make it out of group play. Great Britain’s only hope lies with Chicago Bulls’ forward Luol Deng. He is by far their best player and has a great shot to be the tournament’s leading scorer. Deng will actually have to do everything for the Brits — score, rebound, pass and defend. Pops Mensah-Bonsu could perhaps help Deng out on the scoring end, and Joel Freeland, new Portland Trail Blazer, should help out on the rebounding end as well, but nothing is for certain. A nice, young player to keep your eyes on is College of Charleston guard Andrew Lawrence. He has improved every year in college and will look to show off his skill to the NBA and other European leagues that will be watching.
FIBA World Ranks: #11
Notable Players: Andrei Kirilenko, Timofey Mozgov, Viktor Khryapa, Sergei Monia, Alexey Shved
Olympic outlook: Andrei Kirilenko is as important to this Russian team as Deng is to Great Britain. The only difference is that Russia has a better supporting cast. Alexey Shved is bringing his talents over to the NBA and the Minnesota Timberwolves along with Kirilenko, and the Russian tandem could prove to be a huge help in this tournament. Russia surely will make it to the knockout stage, but they need to make sure they finish third or higher in Group B. The fourth seed plays Team USA which is suicide. A medal could be a little out of reach for Russia, but again, this team will go as far as Kirilenko leads them. On a side note, I’m sure Mozgov is happy Blake Griffin isn’t in this tournament.
FIBA World Rank: #2
Notable Players: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon, Victor Claver
Olympic outlook: Spain will be the United States only real competition for the gold medal. Talent wise, they are the only country that comes close to Team USA. They have a better frontcourt with the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, and that could really hurt the Americans. Tyson Chandler will have his hands full, and if he gets into foul trouble early, USA will be very undersized. Athletically, the United States still holds the edge, but not by much. Spain is looking to become a real rival and not just the younger brother that always gets beat up. A gold medal would surely send a shockwave through the United States and Spain will finally be able to say they have won gold at the Olympics.