A busy summer of international tournaments concludes with this year’s premier event, the EuroBasket tournament. Loaded with NBA and top international talent, EuroBasket should fill the offseason void, offering high pressure games, familiar NBA faces in more prominent circumstances, and a glimpse of the top stashed players.
After knocking off two-time champion Spain in 2013, France returns with a stacked squad poised to repeat, and several countries are eyeing a 2016 Olympics bid in Brazil. The top two finishers are guaranteed a spot in next summer’s Olympic, the next five a spot in a future pre-Olympic qualifying tournament—to be determined by the third and fourth place teams and a consolation bracket of quarterfinal losers. With most of its roster from 2013 available, France may be the early favorite, but it won’t be easy with several other tough challengers.
Teams: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, France, Israel, Poland, Russia
Starting the tournament in their home country, France should have little trouble finishing in the top four of their grouping, but do face some pressure to win the group outright if only to avoid Spain or one of the other heavy-hitters from Group B.
France boasts a roster of NBA rotation players—Tony Parker, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert—and quality international players in Nando de Colo, Mickael Gelabale and Joffrey Lauvergne.
This is a well balanced team that can win in a variety of ways, with an offense directed by Parker and Diaw and a stout defense anchored by Batum and Gobert.
Alexis Ajinca was withheld from the tournament by the New Orleans Pelicans due to an Achilles injury, and was replaced by Mouhammadou Jaiteh, who adds size but is less refined than Ajinca. Though the injury shouldn’t prevent them from winning the title, it will make things difficult if Gobert gets into foul trouble—though France likely won’t be tested until the knockout stage.
If any team can challenge France early, it’s Russia—though they’ll have to overcome a number of obstacles.
Russia has been through some drama over the past few months, being briefly suspended by FIBA before being reinstated after electing Andrei Kirilenko as federation president. Many of the names vaguely familiar to Americans are out, with Sasha Kaun retiring from international play and Timofey Mozgov and Alexey Shved out with injuries. But what they lack in familiarity they make up for with size at every position and the leadership of point guard Anton Ponkrashov.
While Poland has Marcin Gortat and Finland has Petteri Koponen, who can give France trouble, it won’t be enough to overcome the strength of France.
Future NBA players to monitor: Nedim Buza, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Przemek
This group is rich with current NBA talent but light on prospects for NBA fans to keep their eye on. It suffers from Dragan Bender not playing for Croatia after a dispute earlier this summer over footwear at the U19 Championships, which could have given the country a fun young pairing with Nedim Buza. Buza, after pulling out of the 2015 draft, currently sits in the second round of Draft Express’ 2016 mock draft and the 20-year old could cement himself as a draft-and-stash player with a good performance.
Karnowski is huge at 7’1”, 300 pounds and has strong back to the basket skills, but seems to be the type of classic big man the NBA is moving away from; though he and Domantas Sabonis should give Gonzaga Bulldogs fans reason to watch.
Teams: Germany, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Spain, Turkey
Group Favorite: Spain
The toughest group in Eurobasket is still Spain’s to lose, despite several missing Marc Gasol (who may return for the Olympics), Serge Ibaka and Ricky Rubio. But the Spaniards still have enough firepower and chemistry to win the group and go deep in the tournament.
Mainstays Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez provide enough scoring balance to take back their crown after relinquishing it to France in 2013. The core group has played together for years and although 2016 will be the last major tournament for many, they collectively have enough left in the tank to challenge France.
The most interesting storyline is how Nikola Mirotic performs for the Spanish team, after being plugged in as the power forward next to his Gasol, his Chicago Bulls teammate, and won’t be asked to play in a tough position for him at small forward—giving Hoiberg a glimpse of how he can use him in the Bulls’ offense.
Other Possible Eurobasket Champion: Serbia
Several teams could challenge Spain for the top group spot and end the tournament by advancing to the Olympics (or qualifying tournament), including the Dirk Nowitzki-led Germans, Turkey or Italy. The best bet may be Serbia who, despite their lack of NBA stars, has plenty of NBA role players and fringe players who can take on larger roles with their national team.
Point guard Milos Teodosic has been one of the top Euroleague players for CSKA Moscow the past few seasons and will be a steady hand for their offense. Bogdan Bogdanovic (rights held by the Suns), Nemanja Bjelica, Miroslav Radulijica and Nemanja Nedovic (briefly appeared for the Warriors) round out the core group for Serbia, giving the Serbs a balance of strong guard play and competent big men.
Serbia won the silver medal in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, where they had a great run to the final before falling to the USA by 30. Serbia opens the tournament against Spain Sept. 5, which should set the tone for the group and vault one of them into excellent position.
Future NBA players to monitor: Kenan Sipahi, Furkan Korkmaz and Cedi Osman, Turkey; Guillermo Hernangomez, Spain; Nikola Milutinov, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, Serbia; Alessandro Gentile, Italy; Tibor Pleiss and Paul Zipser, Germany
Group B provides a nice mixture of incoming rookies, draft rights players and draft eligible players. Bjelica will try to carve out minutes in a crowded Minnesota front court as part of the upcoming rookie class and should be one of the offensive weapons for Serbia. Bogdanovic was named the Eurobasket Rising Star of the Year and may come over to the Phoenix Suns in the next season or two.
Furkan Korkmaz is currently listed as the no. 12 pick in DraftExpress’ 2016 mock draft, while Kenan Sipahi will be a possible stash candidate if he continues to perform well, providing Turkey with some strong young talent alongside Cedi Osman who may be in the NBA by 2017.
The Germans have some intriguing players in Pleiss, who will be joining the Jazz this season, and Paul Zipser, currently projected in the 2016 DraftExpress 2nd round. Pleiss can take some of the defensive pressure off of Dirk Nowitzki and his ability to compete against NBA big men will be tested in this group. Zipser is just 21 and if he performs well enough to be drafted, will likely be a multi-year draft and stash player.
Gentile (Minnesota), Hernangomez (Philadelphia) and Milutinov (San Antonio) have been drafted in the past two drafts and are intriguing prospects.
Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Netherlands, Slovenia
Group Favorite: Croatia
Quite possibly the most exciting team in the tournament, Croatia’s games should be wide open with plenty of offense. They have been rolling through pre-tournament friendlies, winning nine in a row, many of them easily. This is the best Croatian basketball team in history, with many of their stars just now entering their primes.
Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja will be the focal points of the team, but will have plenty of help as they navigate through the group stage. Current NBA players Damjan Rudez and Bojan Bogdanovic will provide floor spacing with their three-point shooting and Ante Tomic will be the big man controlling the paint. The Croats have a nice blend of star power, role players and depth to give them the team composition needed to fight through this tournament.
They also have a somewhat easy group, with Greece and Serbia the only teams that can give them trouble. Winning the group puts them in a likely semifinal matchup against France, while second place finish puts them in a quarterfinal matchup against Spain and possibly knocking them into the Olympic qualifying playoff games earlier than expected.
Also watch: Greece
The Greeks have a contingent of NBA talent, most notably the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, who should be trusted with the keys to the offense for longer stretches of time as the future of their basketball program. Few teams have the type of athleticism to matchup with the versatile forward and this tournament should accelerate his learning curve. And while Kousta Koufos and Kostas Papanikolaou aren’t stars, three NBA rotation players is a solid crop of talent for this competition. The backbone of the Greek national team, however, is Vassilis Spanoulis—a rock star shooting guard in international ball who’s spurned NBA advances to star in Europe.
Future NBA players to monitor: Dario Saric, Mario Hezonja and Ante Tomic, Croatia
The Croatians have the only future NBA players currently worth monitoring, with incoming rookie Hezonja and stashed players Saric and Tomic. Saric and Hezonja have already created some highlight plays this summer and could connect for several more, forming the most exciting duo in the tournament. Magic fans will love to see an extended look at Hezonja (while praying he doesn’t get hurt) and Sixers fans can continue to salivate over the future potential of Saric.
Tomic’s rights are currently held by the Jazz and recently signed a three year deal with Barcelona, so he may not be coming over to the NBA in the near future. However, he is one of the best international centers, so a team in need could trade for his rights (as the Jazz have seemingly no roster spot for him) and encourage him to play in the NBA or hold his rights until his current contract is up, although he will be pushing 30 by that point.
Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine
The weakest group of this EuroBasket by far, Lithuania will have no trouble advancing and could even have a cakewalk to the top spot in this group. They are coming off a second place finish in the 2013 Eurobasket and will look to repeat their success and qualify for the Olympics. Fresh off his new extension, Jonas Valanciunas will be the man for Lithuania and being a top offensive option could propel him to a huge season in Toronto. Point guard Mantas Kalnietis will also provide offense after finishing as the 12th leading scorer in 2013.
The Lithuanians don’t have a ton of offense and will need to rely on their defense to survive. Luckily for them, they have an easy group to work out any kinks and pick up their stride before the tournament competition heats up. None of the other teams are a threat to advance past the quarterfinal stage.
Future NBA players to monitor: Janis Timma, Latvia; Domanatas Sabonis and Arturas Gudaitas; Lithuania; Tomas Satoransky, Czech Republic
This group doesn’t feature any superstar potential NBA talent but there are still a few interesting names to see develop. Satoransky might be the most interesting project, drafted 32nd in 2012 by the Wizards. Almost 24-years old, his two-year deal with Barcelona will be up after this upcoming season and word broke this week that the Wizards may be interested in bringing him over for the 2016-17 season. The Wizards look to be set at point guard with John Wall but could look to Sartoransky to be his backup or a promising trade chip as he enters the prime of his career.
Sabonis is one of the top NCAA prospects who could come into play for the 2016 NBA Draft. Being one of the youngest players in the tournament, he may not get loads of minutes but any experience at this level will pay dividends as he heads back to Gonzaga for the upcoming collegiate season. Gudaitas will form a bruising front court with Valanciunas for Lithuania and an impressive showing can help Kings fans become excited for the future of the franchise, after the Nik Stauskas traded landed them his draft rights. Timma is a deep draft and stash player, drafted with the last pick in 2013 by the Grizzlies and subsequently traded to the Magic. His NBA future is uncertain at this time, but Magic fans can have a reason to tune into Latvia games.
It will be quite the competitive tournament, especially once the tournament reaches the quarterfinal stage. Croatia, Serbia, Spain and France all have a legitimate chance to walk away champions. With Spain and Serbia in the same group, it is unlikely that all four will make the semi-finals, robbing fans of a strong final four. However, the knockout stage will be filled with tough teams that will provide some hotly contested games.
France is the pre-tournament selection to defend their EuroBasket title, as they have by far the most impressive collection of talent. They have the top inside-out combo with Parker and Gobert along with quality role players in Fournier, Diaw and Batum, who can provide offense to support Parker. It won’t be a cakewalk, as Europe is loaded with tough international teams, but they have the offensive versatility and defensive tenacity to survive.
Spain or Croatia should join them as automatic qualifiers for the Olympics and either of them matching against France in the final will be appointment television. Serbia, Germany, Greece and Lithuania are the favorites to advance to the 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament, although it shouldn’t be a shock if any of these teams advance to the final and grab an automatic berth. The 2016 Olympics is shaping up to be an excellent international competition and the 2015 Eurobasket will be a nice appetizer for next summer’s main event.
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