FIBA World Championship Preview: Group A, Part One

FIBA World Championship Preview: Group A, Part One
Aug 08, 2006, 02:14 am
DraftExpress’ FIBA World Championship coverage kicks off by breaking down the top players participating at the upcoming tournament in Japan beginning August 19th. The teams are analyzed individually from a player perspective, exploring who the leaders and top stars are on each squad, and which intriguing players with NBA upside are lurking on every roster.

Group A consists of Argentina, France, Lebanon, Nigeria, Serbia & Montenegro and Venezuela, and is headlined by San Antonio Spurs stars Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Group A, Part One

Games will be conducted in Sendai, Japan from August 19th to 24th.

Read more about the 2006 FIBA World Championship tournament at the informative official website


The Star:

Manu Ginobili, 6-6, SG, San Antonio Spurs, 29 years old


Jonathan Givony

Despite initially deciding to leave the Argentinean national team for what became a two year absence from international play following their Olympic triumph in Athens, Ginobili is back in his native country’s uniform, claiming that he “missed playing for the national team.”

No other player in this tournament is more important to his team’s chances besides possibly Dirk Nowitzki to Germany, not just for what he brings on the court, but what he brings off it. The same things that make Ginobili one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA—2nd amongst NBA guards in points per shot—also make him one of the best teammates anyone can ask for, as the San Antonio Spurs would readily tell you.

He has outstanding leadership skills and is incredibly unselfish with the way he creates shots for others, not to mention one of the highest basketball IQ’s of any player in the world. Being more than just a fantastic passer and shot-creator, Ginobili is one of the most unique and entertaining players the World Championship organizers could have asked for, and his presence along with his fantastic set of role-playing teammates make Argentina one of the leading favorites to come away with the gold when taking their chemistry and sheer talent into consideration.

Ginobili is first and foremost a slasher. His outstanding first step and ball-handling skills make him a threat to break defenses down off the dribble unexpectedly and finish with creative lefty flair amongst the trees. He gets to the free throw line at will and has the court vision to make breathtaking passes in the rare occasion that knifing through the lane is not quite an option.

What will be interesting to see is how he adjusts to the different style of refereeing in international play, where hand-checking is more tolerated and slashing guards in his mold don’t have the same built in advantage as they do in the NBA. The good news for Argentina is that Manu has quietly become an effective 38% shooter from behind the NBA arc, which makes him even tougher to guard when considering the fact that he’ll be shooting the equivalent of mid-range jumpers for his International 3-point attempts. This ability to hit long range will be tested by his opponents, but if an open shot isn’t there, don’t expect Manu to try and force things.

To further emphasize the talent gap he enjoys over almost every player here in Japan, we must mention his outstanding perimeter defense, having the quickness to stay in front of any guard at this level, the tenacity to make this a point of emphasis and the savvy to know how to step in and take the charge/flop if his matchup tries to over-penetrate.

This championship will be a great opportunity for Ginobili to show the world that he can be a legit go-to guy without the presence of a player in the mold of Tim Duncan, but he will hardly do it on his own, having to rely heavily on the inside presence of Luis Scola and Fabricio Oberto as well as the playmaking skills of Pablo Prigioni and Pepe Sanchez.

The Upside:

Walter Herrmann, 6-8, SF, Unicaja Málaga or Charlotte Bobcats?, 27 years old

Luis Fernandez

We have dealt with Walter Herrmann many times here in DraftExpress, to the point that he’s apparently finally getting his shot this upcoming season in the NBA. He’s guy who despite sometimes having looked on the verge of international stardom, has become pretty clear now that he has settled down into a complementary role. That’s how he looked in Unicaja Málaga this season while helping his team to win the ACB League, and that’s how he looks playing for his native Argentina.

Herrmann draws attention because of his excellent physical set, which is truly NBA caliber. He has the right size for a small forward, he’s strong, enjoys a good wingspan and amazingly big hands that allow him to snatch the ball out the air like a tennis ball. He’s also an athletic guy who gets rather easily off his feet.

Offensively, we’re basically talking about a finisher. He has a nice perimeter shot, but it’s a static one and he needs space to effectively knock it down. He looks pretty well for the open corner to deliver them when being left alone.

He has a very basic mid-range game, especially off the dribble. If he attempts a slashing move, it’s usually to go all the way to the basket and take advantage of his big right hand to leave the ball in the net. even against opposition. His ball handling is average, but enough to penetrate if it doesn’t mean changing directions in the process. Defensively, Herrmann perhaps lacks a bit of lateral movement to battle quicker wings, but he can usually get the job done relying on his excellent physical set.

On a team like Argentina, with a rotation that is pretty well settled and with Andres Nocioni ahead of him, it’s not likely that he will enjoy any major role. Instead he will likely settle for a few minutes here and there every game off the bench, perhaps trying to become an offensive spark just like he was in the last Olympic semifinal against the US Team. Still, it looks like Carlos Delfino will enjoy significantly more action off the bench on the wings than him.

Herrmann is on the verge of signing with the Charlotte Bobcats. Apparently there’s already a verbal agreement, so he will join his countrymen Ginobili, Nocioni, Delfino and Oberto in the NBA.


The Stars:

Boris Diaw, 6-8, SF/PF, Phoenix Suns, 24 years old


Jonathan Givony

One of the most improved players in the world over the past year, International or not, Boris Diaw has gone from being an underachieving prospect with the Atlanta Hawks to one of the most highly unique and sought after forwards in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns. What ironically might have jump-started his career and gave him the confidence he needed to cash in on his awesome potential was the stint he had in last summer’s Eurobasket Tournament in Belgrade, where he helped France to the Bronze medal.

To further justify the huge leap Diaw has made over the past 12 months, he’s been named the Captain of the French National team; quite an accomplishment for a player who was considered too meek and timid to not be an offensive liability for the Atlanta Hawks, at least according to them.

Now Diaw comes to Japan as one of the most recognizable stars in the basketball world and with the expectations of the leader for a team that is considered one of the favorites to come away with the Gold.

What was once considered his biggest weakness has now become his biggest strength playing for one of the most innovative coaches and systems in the NBA under Mike D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns. Diaw is essentially a player without a position, featuring the passing and ball-handling skills of a guard, the length and size of a forward, and the toughness and basketball IQ to even defend Centers like Yao Ming if asked to. It works for the Suns, but there are many more conservative coaches who wouldn’t quite know how to utilize him.

Diaw is a mismatch threat waiting to happen, comfortable facing the basket and using his athleticism to get by players and finish with the utmost creativity. While his perimeter shooting is still quite poor, he excels at finding the open seams in the defense with his freelance off the ball movement to knock down mid-range jumpers.

Aggressive and instinctive, Diaw is an outstanding rebounder who is particularly good on the offensive end. What really makes him an elite level player is his incredible court vision, though. Diaw averaged an astounding 6.2 assists last season from the power forward or center position for Phoenix, many of them downright spectacular.

Defensively, Diaw is almost equally as impressive, utilizing his long arms, excellent toughness and superb athleticism to bother players bigger or smaller than him in the post or on the perimeter.

Diaw's often excessive unselfishness will be put to the test in Japan where he will be forced to shoulder a bigger offensive load than he usually does with the Suns. How he will handle this task will tell us plenty about the player he has evolved into at age 24 and just how ready he might be to step up and take the Phoenix Suns to the next level year while competing for an NBA championship ring.

The difference between playing with a point guard like Tony Parker instead of Steve Nash will also become crystal clear in the evaluation process. Further complicating matters is the fact that he's looking for a long-term extension in the 50+ million dollar range this summer, with top decision maker Mike D'Antoni not far away watching. If he has the type of summer many envision from him, look for the extension to get done now rather than waiting for restricted free agency next year.

Tony Parker, 6-2, Point Guard, San Antonio Spurs, 24 years old

Jonathan Givony

Fresh off a breakout season in the NBA, Parker comes to Japan as a one of a kind commodity for a tournament like this. A case study for your “typical” American style point guard, Parker will be especially intriguing to follow as he highlights the differences for us between the NBA and International game.

In terms of sheer quickness and explosiveness, Parker is in a class of his own here in Japan when excluding Team USA. NBA defenders find it almost impossible to stay in front of him when he decides to make his way to the basket, so it will be fascinating to see how this translates over the World Championships and how much of France’s game will revolve around his ability to penetrate and score rather than running a traditional half-court offense as most of the other teams here will do. It will also be interesting to see how he performs without the benefit of playing next to the #1 player in the world in Tim Duncan.

Last year at the Eurobasket in Belgrade, Parker was absolutely atrocious early on in the tournament, to the point that he was benched and had the embarrassment of seeing his team play much better basketball without him. Despite getting going late, he averaged only 12 points on 34% shooting from the field and 21% from behind the 3-point line, and dished out 2.6 assists compared with 2.3 turnovers. Once his role was reduced, the French team took off, and without the pressure of being the absolute star for his team Parker returned to form and helped Les Bleus win the Bronze medal behind a stellar 25 point, 5 assist game in a win over Spain.

Parker must show better decision making ability in this tournament--especially in the clutch-- than he has so far in international play and even in the NBA playoffs when things really matter. His inability to consistently knock down the three pointer has been an Achilles heel for him in his career so far, and it will be fascinating to see how opposing teams defend him as this can be a major problem (not just for him, but for France in general) in the International game. Especially since his team doesn’t have a great frontcourt presence in the most traditional sense. Even free throws are too often an issue for Parker, as evidenced by the 57% he shot from the line last summer in Belgrade. The French will only go as far as their star PG will led them, but they will need him to be consistent and under control.

The Upside

Mickael Gelabale, 6-7, SF, Real Madrid/Seattle Supersonics, 23 years old


Malek Ait-Kaci

Gelabale burst onto the international scene came last season when he transferred to powerhouse European squad Real Madrid and quickly became a starter there. He had success in both the Euroleague and ACB, being an instrumental part of Real Madrid’s championship squad. Being 22 at the time, he was eligible for the draft and ended up being picked 48th by Seattle, which could very well end up being a steal for them that late in the second round.

He then finished off his breakout season by being one of the best French players in the European championship for his first international appearance. During the tournament he showcased his premiere defensive ability, based on his athleticism and basketball IQ. Gelabale also was active on the offensive end, finishing with 8 ppg and 3.1 rpg on 63 % shooting. He also made his three pointers and free throws when needed ( 5/10 and 5/6).

His second year in Madrid was not as successful as the first one. His relationship with Bozidar Maljkovic, Real Madrid’s coach, worsened during the year when Gelabale said he was thinking about the NBA. He was left out of the ACB playoff roster and Real Madrid lost against Winterthur Barcelona in the quarter finals.

He regardless still got a two year guaranteed contract to play in Seattle this fall which he signed just a few weeks ago before going to the French national team training camp. During exhibition games with France, Gelabale has not shined as much as he did last year, especially on the offensive side, due to a more balanced offense. But his role is still decisive for the French NT.

Expect him to bulk up his game when the World Championships start, which will give him more valuable experience before arriving in Seattle this fall. He will bring his all around game and unselfishness, doing all the little things a role player is expected to do. He should quickly adapt to the league, especially on the defensive end. On the offensive side, his quickness and positioning will help him find easy buckets from mid-range and in transition. Considering the present roster of the Sonics, he could very well be the first wing player off the bench behind Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

Yannick Bokolo, 6-3, PG, Le Mans, 21 years old

Malek Ait-Kaci

Bokolo is a very athletic and active guard who has been a pro for three years now, playing for French powerhouse LeMans. He has excellent lateral quickness, stays in front of his man nicely, and can defend both guard positions, with pressuring the opposite point guard being his best asset. His height still limits him when guarding bigger swingmen. His great leaping ability enables him to be an important factor when it comes to rebounding on both sides of the court.

On the offensive end, he has been a full time PG only for one year now, but his learning curve is pretty high here and he’s showcasing nice playmaking abilities so far. The drive and dish play is what he excels at the most so far. While his handle is not perfect, it does not result in too many turnovers. Another weakness is that he’s not consistent from the three point line and that he is a 60 % free throw shooter.

Bokolo was a starter with LeMans this year and he has done very well during many important games. First he had a great showing at “La Semaine des As”, the French counter part of the Spanish King’s Cup. He led his team to the victory with an awesome control of the game and passing display. He was also instrumental in the French League Finals, especially in the second half, giving boosts to LeMans’s offense that helped them go on and winning the championship to secure a spot in the Euroleague for next year.

During exhibition games, Bokolo has typically been very active on both ends of the court even though he hasn’t gotten much playing time. He can be the defensive specialist for opposing small guards, but his role with the French team will probably be minimal in these Championships. Playing behind Tony Parker isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but this experience is huge for Bokolo, especially since he will discover the Euroleague next year as the primary point guard of his team.

After putting his name in the NBA draft this year to test the waters, Bokolo will be automatically eligible next year and will surely draw the attention of the scouts both in Japan and in the Euroleague next year.


The Star:

1514 Hector Romero

This title was quite easy and obvious to fill with the presence of 6-6 monster mismatch extraordinaire Hector Romero, fresh off an outstanding performance at the Las Vegas Summer League with the Portland Trailblazers. All that changed 9 seconds into a recent friendly with Argentina, where the heart and soul of their team Romero hit the deck and badly injured his elbow following a collision with Manu Ginobili. Romero is scheduled to be out for 3-4 weeks, meaning his participation in Japan is highly doubtful. With him, the Venezuelans had a chance to at least be competitive in most of their games, but without him it’s difficult to see them standing any type of chance against the strongest teams in their group. In addition, Venezuela will be missing starting guard Diego Guevara. Oscar Torres, a 6-5 shooting guard who plays for Khimiki in the Russian league will be expected to shoulder most of the offensive load.

The Upside:

Miguel Marriaga, 6-9, PF/C, Guácharos de Maturín, 22 years old

Once considered a potential draft prospect after an intriguing showing at the U-19 World Championships in Greece three years ago, Marriaga might be able to use this tournament as his ticket out of the Venezuelan league. Not much is known about Marriaga besides the fact that he is a good athlete who has not improved all that much over the past few years. With Romero out of the lineup, he’ll have a chance to step up and show the many NBA and European scouts in attendance what his game is all about.

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