So, the basketball event the whole world except for the US considers THE most important tournament is over. It has been quite an interesting tournament, for my part at least - it had everything a basketball fan would like: blowouts and games decided in the last possessions, vicious dunks and intimidating stops, expected results and surprises, stars shining or fading, unknown players making a statement or remaining unknown. Here's a review of 8 of the 16 teams that made it to the knock-out stage, and of their performance. If you like it I'll do the next part as well.
WARNING: BIASED OPINION MAY OCCUR
note: the teams appear in strict
alphabetical order order of appearance
It was evident, for anybody watching Serbia and Milos Teodosic, that this team could get anywhere, from first to last. Apparently Teodosic had a very inspired tournament, and was there for his team when they needed him (see quarterfinals dagger and sensational double-double in semis). The rest of the team played just as expected (and a bit better), so Serbia made it through a normal-difficulty group to the semi-finals, where it had to deal the host team, the all-turk fans and some questionable officiating. Still, the hosts needed a last-second play by Tunceri (who on that last possession received the ball accidentally) to win, and Serbia was too tired, or too uninterested to focus against Lithuania.
VERDICT: unlucky (everyone is unlucky when they lose a semi-final on a last second shot)
A team mostly relying for scoring on their backcourt (feat. Roko Ukic, Marko Popovich and M. Tomas), they made it out of their group only in order to stumble upon rivals Serbia, a team with equally potent backcourt and more frontcourt options. They played a really european octo-final, relatively low scoring, close game decided at the end. I would call it a surprise if Croatia had won, so it was an expected result after a game played as expected.
Not much else, I'm afraid.
VERDICT: ok. They made the most out of the tournament, and they don't belong in the 8 best national teams.
If there's a team Americans know, that's Spain. The Gasol brothers play in the NBA, Rudy Fernandez plays for the Blazers, Navarro and Garbajosa have had their stints too, Llull is a player the Rockets have drafted, and Ricky Rubio is considered "the next best thing" to come out of Europe. I don't like him, and can't see the reason behind the hype. (I haven't seen a lot of him playing, but he wasn't that spectacular during the Worlds) Anyway, Spain had a group they were supposed to sweep, instead failed to defeat France (for God's sake, France!!) and Lithuania. They were as disappointing in the octo-finals against Greece (i'll get to them later), and relied on personal brilliance and cunning rather than an actual game plan. Still, Navarro has a knack for delivering all kinds of daggers (they feel like daggers when you're on the other side), and that's what got them over an ailing Greece. It was a pleasure to see them fall in much the same way, only in more dramatic fashion.
VERDICT: underachieving. You won't win just because you're Spain. You need to pull yourself together first. Spain was nowhere near the team that almost beat the Redeem Team in Beijing. Not even to the team that pushed this year's US squad to the last possession. But ok, they were missing Gasol.
Greece was a disappointment from the very beginning. Maybe because I'm Greek. The Chinese played a zone defense for 40 frigging minutes, and Greece shot 33,3% from behind the arc (sob). Then they lost to Turkey hands down. Then they appeared to tank the game vs Russia (Russia wasn't exactly trying to win either). In a tragicomic showing of carmic justice Greece fell on Spain (the tanking was meant to help avoid that). It was finally a game worth to watch, but Navarro destroyed any chance of redemption this team had to my eyes (and all chances of redemption of Spain in my eyes).
VERDICT: shamefully underachieving. Losing to Spain is not bad, but the manner in which it happened sucks a lot. I'm getting emotional here, but this team appeared devoid of any game plan whatsoever; I'm dead serious. Apart from a pick'n'roll that all guards currently in field were obliged to run, total chaos reigned over the offense. Defense was a bit better, but only because these guys are all good to excellent one-on-one defenders in their own. Comparing to a team that beat a bunch of serious NBAers in such convincing fashion, this team didn't even have an identity.
That's a team with some veterans - 7 out of 12 are older than 28. Couple that experience with the energy of the younger guys, such as G. Dragic and G. Vidmar, and you got yourself a team. Despite the fact that they had a difficult draw, they performed well in the group stage, even beating Brazil. Australia was not a big deal for tham (shouldn't be), but that's all they got. Turkey was kinda crashing against them, and Slovenia called it quits. A good tournament from a team transitioning to a new generation of players (Lakovic is going to retire, eventually).
VERDICT: well done. Nothing you can say but thumbs up. They played respectively good, had some off nights, but performed well for their talent level.
Considering Bogut was not member of the team after his freak accident, I'd say Australia performed well enough. It cannot respond though - with the current lineup - to the challenge of a moderate, well-coached Europe team. Whenever their prime scorer was defensively checked, the Aussies could not make much out of the other guys. And sorry, David Andersen, but you are not exactly a franchise player. They still gave Argentina a challenge, though.
VERDICT: well done. After all they didn't have Andrew Bogut.
Turkey: (heavy bias, they are Greece's arch-rivals, from like, forever)
The host of this year's championship. This tournament was boom or bust for Turkey; their stars are aging (Turkoglu), and for them to achieve something with that talent, many stars would have to align. Turkey has a strong frontcourt, maybe the strongest (not necessarily the most polished as well; this is really raw at some points) of the tournament (Asik, Erden, Savas, Gonlum, Ilyasova and Turkoglu) but one of the weakest backcourts, featuring five home grown guards. There's nothing wrong with being home grown - only Turkey's basketball league is not exactly one of the most competitive in Europe. None of the aforementioned guards would earn a spot in a top european team, and the better ones (Tunceri and Arslan) are already past their prime. They did have raucous support however, and beneficiary officiating. Example given, protesting a call for longer than, say, 5-7 seconds can earn you a T. Especially when you do so in dramatic fashion. Turkey got away with such theatrics and with other violations (traveling and other stuff). They still played over the tops of their heads, all of them. Tunceri had the game of his life against Serbia, capping it with a last second play that gave his team the win. Turkoglu took the shots when the ball was heavy (and lots more), and the bigs did the dirty work.
VERDICT: overachieving. But I hope it won't happen again. Ever, ever again.
Would you expect a french team without all French that you and I know, to actually make it past the group stage? Well, me neither. But they pulled some miracles off, and well, that's what happens when you discount scrappy teams with no
All-Stars stars. They come and bite you in the back. Apart from defeating Lebanon and disposing of Canada, the French booted Spain, which definitely delighted me. They didn't stand much of a chance against Turkey, all factors considered, but it was a surprise. I bet Parker, Baubois and Noah did think "what if I was there, too? Maybe France could finally make a serious run at a medal!!"
VERDICT: overachieving. They caught Spain unprepared, but that would not happen again. Defeating New Zealand was a matter of defending their best man.
@Moondebah: yes, Zealand shows up wrong in the spellchecker.