London Calling: semifinalists aim for more medals
Veteran sportswriter and Euroleague.net collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. Now, he is in London covering his seventh Summer Olympics and blogging about the men's basketball tournament for Euroleague.net.
Well, here we are, in the semis, and without major surprises, I would say. The last four teams left in the Olympic Games men's basketball competition are, in fact, the best four teams. Some, like Spain, have barely made it to this stage, but in the moment of truth showed real character and are now just one step away from the podium. These four semifinalists already have 30 Olympic medals between them: the USA have 15 (13 golds, 1 silver - which they never accepted in Munich 1972 - and 2 bronzes). Russia, as the heir of the old USSR, has 2 golds, 6 silvers and 2 bronzes, but under its current name, is fighting for its medal. Argentina has one gold and one bronze, both won by this very generation of players, while Spain has two silvers (1984 and 2008).
All four teams have things in common, but also their differences and particularities. The United States, the main favorite, has a great core of several superstars with lots of experience, like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, but also young stars like Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Russell Westerbrook, all of them with 23 years old, while James Harden is 22. The average age in the USA team is 25.8 years and their average points total is 118, slightly better than the original Dream Team of Barcelona 1992, which scored 117.2 points per game. In some games, they have shown that they are also human, but when the opponent gets close, they switch to fifth gear and pull away for good. They are still the main favorites but the most dificult part of the tourney is ahead of them
The second-best scoring average is for Argentina (88.3 points) and after them come Australia (82.7), Russia (80.5) and Spain (80.0). The main weapon of the Americans is their shooting: 59% from two-point range and a superb 45% on three-pointers. They also lead the competition in rebounds (45.7), but the difference there is not so big. Spain follows with 42 rebounds per game. If assists are a sign of playing a collective game, then the passing of the four semifinalists justifies their presence in this medal phase: USA 27 assists per game,, Argentina 21.5 and Spain 19.5.
The veterans of Argentina have met expectations once more, reaching the semis for the third straight time. Their class and experience were enough to defeat archrival Brazil in the quarterfinals. Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni and Andres Nocioni are the four players that led Argentina to the top in the last decade, and they deserve to say goodbye with another medal. Spain and Russia, gold and bronze medal respectively in the last EuroBasket, have confirmed that, together with France - last year's European Championships silver medalist in Lithuania - they are the best European teams at this point. Spain, like Argentina, is still exploiting its golden generation, but with a renewal plan that is more clear than Argentina's, since Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull, Marc Gasol, Victor Claver and the injured Ricky Rubio guarantee the Spaniards a brilliant future. Russia has a great team built around veteran superstar Andrei Kirilenko, but the rest of the players join him to form a solid mosaic. The main frame of the team is formed by Alexey Shved at guard, Kirilenko at forward and Timofey Mozgov at center. Then come several players in their prime: Vitaly Fridzon, Sasha Kaun, Sergey Monya, Viktor Khryapa and Anton Ponkrashov, all of them protagonists in the upcoming Turkish Airlines Euroleague season.
Other semifinalists that we will see in the Euroleague soon are Juan Carlos Navarro, Victor Sada, Andres Nocioni, Rudy Fernandez, Fernando San Emeterio and Felipe Reyes. Some of them will arrive to the new season proudly displaying a new medal on their chests, which will surely be an added stimulus, since the Euroleague will finish in the same building as these Olympics: The O2 in London, venue for the 2013 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four. There is no doubt that all the medalists will be dreaming of going back to the site of their Olympic success.
Vladimir Stankovic, Euroleague.net
Thursday, August 09, 2012