London 2012: Men’s Basketball Preview

Basketball is a sport with little international parity, far less than soccer, hockey or even baseball. Without a doubt America produces the best players in the World even 20 years after the 1992 Dream Team inspired kids all over the world to pick up a basketball.

And while Team USA did go through a dry spell on the international level (third place at 2004 Olympics, no wins at FIBA world championship between 1998 and 2006), those difficult times seem to be over.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony anchored the gold-medal-winning team in Beijing, and a good portion of the winning group from the 2010 FIBA world championship will be heading to London with them.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski will likely run with this as his starting 5 in London: PG – Chris Paul, SG – Kobe Bryant, SF – LeBron James, PF – Carmelo Anthony, C – Tyson Chandler.

That’s a potent lineup but the USA will miss the likes of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin. James and Anthony will likely spend the majority of their time in the paint because of the absences of those big bodies.

Basketball consensus says that this is America’s tournament to lose . Team USA is a -1000 favourite with Spain the only real threat in the eyes basketball pundits. Here is a run down a few of the top competitors starting with the Spaniards.

Note: NBA rookies for upcoming season were not included in each country’s number of NBA players.

Spain
Odds to Win Gold: +800

Number of current or former NBA players: 6

Spain’s strength is size, which could pose a problem for the USA should the two sides meet in the gold medal game. The Gasol brothers (Marc and Pau) are arguably the two most offensively-gifted big men in the NBA. They’re both excellent passers and enjoy playing beside each other.

It’s up to Toronto Raptor point guard Jose Calderon to get the ball to his big men. Rudy Fernandez and Juan-Carlos Navarro are dangerous spot-up shooters, who can make defenses pay for pinching down in the paint.

Russia
Odds to Win Gold: +2500

Number of current and former NBA players: 3

Only three NBA guys on this team and one of them (Andrey Kirlenko) didn’t play in the Association last season. Big man Alexander Kaun played four years of college ball in the States and won the 2008 national championship with Kansas, while youngster Aleksey Shved averaged 10.5 points and 5.0 assists in Olympic qualifying.

Still, not a lot of household names on this squad.

France
Odds to Win Gold: +2900

Number of current or former NBA players: 5

It would have been great to see Chicago Bulls big man Joakim Noah suit up but that troublesome ankle injury from the postseason will keep Noah from playing in London. Team France also got a scare when its best player, Tony Parker, got some glass in his eye as an innocent bystander at the now-infamous Drake-Chris Brown bar fight.

Parker will play and you’ll see him sporting some protective eyewear to keep that left eye out of harm’s way. Teammate Boris Diaw is still a bit chunky but he’s as skilled as they come for big men. Nicolas Batum is a nice player who the Blazers want to keep and the Timberwolves want to pry away from Portland.

France’s lone medal in basketball at the Olympics came in 2000 (silver) and its track record has been just as feeble at the FIBA world championships.

Argentina
Odds to Win Gold: +3400

Number of current and former NBA players: 4

Manu Ginobili is the big name on this team but there are a number of serviceable NBA pros joining him. Forward Luis Scola finds ways to score despite a lack of athleticism. Carlos Delfino is a swing man who does a lot of things but doesn’t excel in any one area of the game.

Andres Nocioni used to be a solid contributor in the NBA but he’s been seen riding the pine rather than the court for the better part of two seasons now.

Argentina won the gold in the ’04 Olympics, finished third in ’08 and had a runner-up showing in the 2002 world championship. This is probably the most consistent basketball power, outside of Team USA, in men’s basketball over the last 10 years.

Brazil
Odds to Win Gold: +4900

Number of current and former NBA players: 4

Brazil possesses three NBA centers on its squad and not much else. The challenge will be how to get as many minutes with Nene Hilario, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter on the floor. Each player’s natural position is center so it’s possible we could see a triple-tower lineup.

Leandro Barbosa has played some point in the NBA but he’s really always been more of a combo/scoring player than a setup man.

Lithuania
Odds to Win Gold: +5900

Number of current and former NBA players: 3

Lithuania has been at the big boy table of men’s international basketball since breaking away from the Soviet Union. The country won bronze at three straight Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000) and placed fourth at Greece and Beijing. Lithuania also finished third at the last FIBA world championship in 2010.

Make sure to watch center Jonas Valanciunas. The 20-year-old was the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and the consensus is he’s the second best rookie entering the NBA this upcoming season.