FIBA World Championship Preview: Group C, Part Two

FIBA World Championship Preview: Group C, Part Two
Aug 16, 2006, 02:48 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 C consists of Brazil, Lithuania, Turkey, Greece, Australia and Qatar, and is headlined by a slew of promising young NBA players including Leandro Barbosa, Andrew Bogut and Anderson Varejao.

Group C, Part Two

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

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


The Star:

Andrew Bogut, 7-0, Center, Milwaukee Bucks, 21 years old


Jonathan Givony

Last year’s #1 overall pick, Andrew Bogut is coming off a solid, yet unspectacular rookie season in which he flashed great potential at times and showed off his youth and inexperience in others.

Playing out of position at times at the Power Forward spot last year and not always being a big focal point of Milwaukee’s offense, Bogut will be faced with the exact opposite situation with the Australian national team this summer. Despite being only 21 years old, Bogut will be asked to carry his team on his back with his post scoring and outstanding basketball instincts while manning the 5-spot exclusively for the Boomers. How well he handles that will play a huge role in just how far Australia can advance in this highly competitive group and tournament, where just finishing amongst the top 4 in their initial group and making the 2nd round will be considered an accomplishment.

Bogut is exactly the type of outstanding back to the basket scorer that has become increasingly rare in the NBA over the past few years. He has great size, good length, fantastic hands and more than enough agility and coordination to be a major factor in any team’s offense. Bogut is very much comfortable operating with his back to the basket thanks to his solid frame and nimble feet, and is intelligent enough to go to work and create a good shot for himself and finish with superb touch around the hoop. He makes good strong cuts to the basket and is an outstanding target due to his incredibly soft hands and fantastic reflexes to make tough catches and convert in awkward situations.

When double teamed, he has the composure and smarts to find the open man with ease as he is an incredibly gifted passer who uses his court vision and huge hands to make spectacular assists from the mid-low post, often using a crafty bounce pass to a slashing cutter. As a rebounder, Bogut can be dominant on either end at this level thanks to his size, strength, length, smarts and especially his fantastic hands.

Bogut has all-star potential as an NBA center, but is still nowhere near his peak as a basketball player. Conditioning problems, an occasional lack of focus and a certain lack of savvy veteran polish still plague the 21 year old at times and make his presence as Australia’s unquestioned go-to guy a bit of an iffy proposition at this stage.

Bogut isn’t the most experienced player in the world and there are question marks revolving around how well his back to the basket game will translate to the FIBA game that discourages this style of play to a certain extent. Had his face-up game been a bit more advanced than he would be in better shape, but he still isn’t comfortable or experienced enough in the high post to be relied on exclusively here either. Teams will give him 16-18 foot mid-range jumpers and it will be up to him to prove that he can knock them down consistently, something he wasn’t always capable of doing in the NBA.

He will need plenty of help from his fairly unproven supporting cast to will Australia into the 2nd round.

The Upside:

Brad Newley, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Townsville Crocodiles (NBL), 21 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

An offensive-minded player, with a great feel for the game, Newley has a chance to really make a name for himself in his world-wide debut on the International basketball scene. The upcoming World Championships will be the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his skills, as he is a unique prospect who also happens to be very entertaining to watch. He is coming off a fairly solid showing at the NBA pre-draft camp this past June in Orlando, where he elevated his stock, but probably not quite high enough to secure himself as a first round pick.

Newley will probably be coming off the bench to spark the offense with his shooting touch and shot-creating skills. He is athletic enough to compete with most off-guards in that tournament, can get out and ignite the fast break, and despite his size, is lanky and smooth enough to insert himself as a factor against almost any type of opposing defense.

He is a steady and constant scorer and usually has a lot of confidence against one-on-one defenses. He has very good size for the 2-guard position, with very good ball-handling skills, particularly with his left hand. This allows him to beat his opponent off the dribble thanks to his smarts, and be both an interesting slasher and an effective finisher with either hand. Another notably strong part of his game is his off the ball movement, moving constantly and speeding between opponents in order to free himself from his man. He is a pretty smart case of a player and could be very creative and a useful tool for any offensive system.

Despite being a star from an early age in both his local league and the junior National teams, Newley has shown to be a cooperative teammate, with the ability to score but also create for teammates, thanks to his very good court vision, above average passing skills and notable unselfishness, up to the point of even passing up good shots in favor of a pass sometimes. This doesn't mean that his shot selection isn't good, but that he should trust himself even more often, particularly when he has the defense beat.

One downside to his game is that he’s a bit too thin to defend right now against stronger and more experienced wing players. Although he is fluid and crafty and will surprise you at times with his willingness to sacrifice his body, he lacks the proper defensive fundamentals and lateral quickness to consistently stay in front of his man.

Moreover, although he is an above average athlete overall, it is still obvious that this is enough to make him stand out at the next level, particularly the NBA where his explosiveness would be considered average at best. His potential is lessened somewhat due to that.

Overall, Newley, whose always-high morale and offensive minded game should boost the Boomers for sparks, is a very interesting young player, certainly a mainstay for years to come on the Australian perimeter, and potentially the successor of Shane Heal and Andrew Gaze and the necessary complimentary piece for Andrew Bogut.


The Stars:

Dimitris Diamantidis, 6-5, Point Guard, Panathinaikos, 26 years old


Dimitris Ritsonis

Just like in last year’s DraftExpress Eurobasket preview, everything on the Greek National team begins and ends with Dimitris Diamantidis. Considered one of Europe's best at his position and tested in a number of various situations, Diamantidis paced Greece in last summer's Eurobasket triumph and then continued with another fine Euroleague season, where he won the Defensive Player of the Year award for the second straight season.

At 6-5, Diamantidis excels mainly on defense and has significantly improved his court vision. Not being a prolific scorer, he settles for a minimal offensive role in Panathinaikos' perimeter game and offered only complementary help when the more offense-oriented Jaka Lakovic and Vassilis Spanoulis were benched.

A wonderful defensive player and an all-around guard overall, Diamantidis has gained a lot of confidence both in zone and man to man defenses, becoming a very useful tool of the coach who usually pushes him to guard the best offensive player of the opposing team, or allows him to lead his teammates in a very well worked team defense plan.

His body type, characterized by his long arms and strong legs allow him to come up with more steals than almost anyone in Europe. Aided by his smarts, toughness and above average vertical leap, he’s an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker for his size, with most of the blocks coming on rotations.

Offensively, despite his lack of a decent long-range shot, he can use his slashing skills well enough and either finish or look for the open teammate.

On the other hand, though, as good and effective as a player like him can be in International play, Diamantidis has a few shortcomings which severely limit his potential in the individual game, with most of them coming on the offensive end and stemming from his lack of creativity. His court vision, although improved, still needs much work, as it lacks the initiative to create scoring opportunities for teammates, except if he is given specific directions on that.

His offensive game is and will always be limited, as he is not a shooter and his inability and often hesitance to take any type of shot but a layup causes defenses to lax, and thus, his game becomes quite predictable.

On defense, his feet are strong, but he lacks the necessary athleticism to follow some quicker players, especially off the dribble, even though his defensive game will not meet any significant problem, as he is more athletic than most European guards.

Overall, Diamantidis stays on court more than any other Greek player and, despite the existence of some terrific perimeter guards in the team roster, he is the most valuable player of that team; always flexible enough to move to any perimeter position on both ends and either be the star or the role player. The lack of a fluid offensive game doesn't mean that he will not be the guy that will always be on court, even in a complementary role to help his teammates achieve easier baskets, as it is obvious than whenever he is benched, Greece lacks the spark and patience needed to win the game and keep the pace stable.

Theo Papaloukas, 6-7, PG/SG, CSKA Moscow, 29 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

Coming off the best season of his career, a year where he gathered every award possible and won every tournament that he participated in either with CSKA Moscow or with the Greek national team, Papaloukas will have enough confidence and energy to be the leader of the European champions in this World Championship. His ability to lead CSKA Moscow to the triple crown this year made Papaloukas one of the highest-paid players in European basketball, while his leadership and his clear mind in the crutch are now obvious in all major tournaments of international basketball.

Papaloukas will be coming off the bench, the same way he did last summer for Greece and over the past four years of his career with CSKA. He is a very good ball-handler, showing great court vision and the ability to perfectly organize his teammates on both sides of the court. Using more often his smarts and strength to cover for his lack of athleticism, Papaloukas is a nice guy to have in a team’s ball movement and create scoring opportunities both for him and his teammates.

His offensive weapons are not amazing, as he rarely attempts a shot unless he knows that he can make it, while, despite his proven perimeter shooting skills, it is obvious that he is not a stable threat behind the arc, given that his mechanics are just average and he needs more space to create his own shot.

On defense, he is a scrappy type of guy who will come up with a couple of steals and use his big frame and strength to prevent opponents from taking advantage of space and slash. He is more of a vocal leader than any European player and tries to challenge opponents to get the job done.

He is not particularly quick, nor explosive, and can be outrun by opponents quite often in one-on-one defenses, but he can be rather productive and, along with his experience, he makes a really good addition to any given situation. Expect for Papaloukas to come off the bench once again, but always be there at the closing minutes of the game and personally take over some offensive plays.

The Upside:

Vassilis Spanoulis, 6-4, PG/SG, Houston Rockets, 24 years old


Dimitris Ritsonis

Fresh off signing with the Houston Rockets just a month ago, Spanoulis will be a key player for the first time with his National team, after two summers in which he saw limited playing time due to a lack of necessary experience in major club competition.
However, his excellent Euroleague season with powerhouse Panathinaikos, where he was at times the team's best perimeter player and was a 2nd-team All-Euroleague selection, proved that Spanoulis not only will be able to contribute in a bigger role for the Greeks in this World Championship, but that he is NBA-ready and will likely be there to fight for a spot in Houston’s rotation.

Spanoulis can very well be introduced to the fans of Houston Rockets, as this will be the first tournament that he will be mature enough and will have the confidence to showcase his skills for the Greek national team. He is an up-tempo combo guard with very good ball-handling skills, outstanding lateral quickness, a good shot off the dribble, a nice first step, notable athleticism and the ability to take advantage of his individual talents, especially when the team needs his perimeter shot. Although he is not Greece's best and steadiest shooter, he is a daring guy, even if he is quite streaky--little aspects of his game that have lately improved his leadership skills. He lacks a fear or failure and can sometimes be blocked in a slashing attempt or release a untimely three, but most of the times he is creative enough and is a helpful tool for his team.

On defense, he makes excellent use of his size. Due to his ability to follow most point guards in the international game and guard players even after their first step, he is a very sound defensive player and can be a factor in those strict defensive 3-guard systems that Greece almost always uses to strangle their opponent. His defensive positioning is excellent, allowing him to draw offensive fouls very often, while his smarts and strength are not easy for any opponent to overcome.

He might not be mature enough to be a leader of such an experienced team yet, but Spanoulis should continue his excellent season with Panathinaikos and then be an immediate factor off the bench for both the Greece team and the Houston Rockets next year. He will need to show that besides being talented, he is also a patient and stable role player.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis, 6-9, Center, Olympiakos, 21 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

Playing in his first ever senior International competition, Schortsanitis is a rare case of a basketball player.

Having an amazing combination of strength and athleticism, Big Sofo is one of Greece's best guys off the bench and should be an immediate help in the low post, especially knowing that he is sometimes practically unguardable at this level with one on one defenses. His ability to use his size and get to the basket rather easily thanks to his nimble feet and almost plastic finishing ability makes him a very tough player to guard with any type of defense.

His size is immense, but doesn't slow his outstanding quickness and explosiveness, which allow him to run the court in transition and usually finish most plays with an impressive dunk. Schortsanitis, coming off his first Euroleague season with Olympiakos, was an important player for his team and a big reason for his team's trip to the quarterfinal round.

He is constantly improving and has dropped over 50 pounds over the last year, trying to regain the form that got him drafted three summers ago by the Los Angeles Clippers. Although he is young and is just now on the verge of slowly becoming a go-to player for his club, Schortsanitis has immensely improved his offensive game and is a guy that comes usually off the bench to completely distract the opposing defenses.

However, Schortsanitis has some obvious problems with his game that make him only a 10- or 15-minute addition off the bench, at least for this upcoming World Championship. First of all, he might have dropped a lot of weight, but he still needs to get even slimmer and more explosive. His massive frame and very high body fat relative to his size limits his conditioning level and make his offensive outburst short and inconsistent.

His size, although immense, is limited, as he cannot be constantly dominant for a 40-minute game at the center position, standing only 6-9. Therefore Schortsanitis will need to improve his outside shot and his free throw percentages, in order to be a threat from outside the post too. Right now, his weak free throw shooting allows opponents to foul him quite often in order to avoid easy baskets, and Schortsanitis usually rewards them for their hack a Sofo-techniques by shooting around 50% from the charity stripe.

His mid-range and three point shot are definitely not reliable, while, although he can present a decent number of post moves, he can still be blocked in the paint, if the space is minimal and the opponent's reach is significant enough. At that point, his limited court vision and lack of patience can be a hindrance, and although easily explained by his age and character, they are not useful for a coach who wants his big guy to be a part of his team’s ball movement, particularly when he is double teamed.

Overall, an amazing talent, with some great potential, mainly thanks to his explosiveness, strength, quickness and athleticism, Schortsanitis will be the back up center, a guy who will need to offer some of his individual skills in order for this team-oriented group to achieve some easy baskets when the guards and starting big man Lazaros Papadopoulos won't be able to contribute.


The Star:

Kaya Peker, 6-9, Power Forward, Tau Ceramica, 26 years old;
Serkan Erdogan, 6-3, Shooting Guard, Tau Ceramica, 28 years old

Kristian Hohnjec

Following their embarrassing defeat at the hands of Germany in the 1/8th finals of last summer’s Eurobasket, the Turkish National Team suffered an even bigger defeat in the lockeroom through a near brawl between its main players. Just like on the court, the main protagonists were Mirsad Turckan, Hidayet Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur. Coach Bogdan Tanjevic, who surprisingly survived on the bench, will now be without those three star players at the World Championship.

Under these circumstances, and with aging sharpshooter Ibrahim Kutluay not being the player he once was, the cornerstones of the team will be proven Euroleague players Serkan Erdogan and Kaya Peker. Not the typical stars you’ll find here on what was once considered a talented team that should be (but almost never was) a factor at any International tournament, but solid players nonetheless.

Erdogan is a 6-3, 28-year old shooting guard, who truly emerged on the European scene just two seasons ago by scoring 16.7 points per game in the Euroleague for Ulker Istanbul. After this prominent season, he moved to Spanish powerhouse Tau Ceramica, where he become an important part of the club’s success, averaging 10.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in the last Euroleague campaign.

Erdogan has a nice all-around game, with shooting being the best part of the package, although he shot only 28.9% from downtown in his last Euroleague campaign (compared with 44.2% the year before). Serkan is also a very good ball-handler, even handling some point guard duties when Pablo Prigioni or Roko-Leni Ukic were out with injuries this past season. He can slash all the way to the hoop, but prefers to stop and elevate for a mid-range jumper, which he nails with good accuracy. He also brings above average passing skills and a high basketball IQ.

Serkan is undersized for a shooting guard, being only 6-3 and without the athletic ability to make up for it. Erdogan is a decent athlete by European standards, but nothing exceptional, with his leaping ability being poor and noticeably lacking an explosive first step.

Kaya Peker enjoyed a great start to the season this year, even being named Euroleague player of the month in November. Later on, due to injuries, his game dropped and he finished the season averaging 10.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game playing for Efes Pilsen. It was still impressive enough to earn himself a transfer to the richer and more respected Tau Ceramica of Vitoria.

Peker is a very strong and tough player in the low post, being one of best back to the basket scorers on the Old Continent. He has an array of moves down low, including an effective half-hook shot, spin move and drop step. Kaya has also improved his shooting in the last few years, now being reliable from mid-range area which gives him some added versatility to his offensive game.

Just like Erdogan, Peker lacks more size and athleticism to get serious looks from NBA teams. However, his strong body and solid lateral movement make him good man-to-man defender on the European stage. On the glass his lack of size and leaping ability becomes exposed, as Kaya is a very average rebounder for a big man.

The fact that we had to choose two solid, but not spectacular Euroleague players as team stars tells enough about Turkey’s quality and ambition at this tournament, being probably the weakest European side present in Japan. It will still be an interesting team to watch, though, mainly because Tanjevic invited five players who won the gold medal for Turkey at the U-20 European Championship this summer - Cenk Akyol, Ersan Ilyasova, Hakan Demirel, Oguz Savas and Semih Erden.

The Upside:

Cenk Akyol, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Efes Pilsen, 19 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

The Turkish team is facing a difficult task after refreshing its roster and inviting some of the country's most talented teenage players. The hope is they will learn from this experience and lead Turkey to bigger and better things down the road in the upcoming European Championships and, in the long-run, in the next World Championships that will be hosted by Turkey four years from now.

One of the potential stars is Cenk Akyol, a wunderkid for Efes Pilsen, who will have all the tools to help with the team's scoring load and leadership. He is a decently, but not freakishly athletic guard with nice shooting touch, creativity, and the necessary mental tools to succeed in the international game and, under some circumstances, in the NBA. He presents excellent size and nice ball-handling skills, while he has enough experience for his age thanks to the faith the National Team has shown in him over recent years and his status as a Euroleague player at Efes Pilsen.

His shooting touch, though streaky at times, has lately improved and, as he is a player whose game depends on confidence and playing time, he sill be doing better as soon as he stays for longer stretches on court.

Although Akyol is a natural basketball talent with a great feel for the game and a potential steal for the Atlanta Hawks (who drafted him late in the 2nd round last year) down the road; he certainly has his shortcomings. As noted before, the worries concerning his athleticism are not that serious at this level, but can still be an issue, particularly as far as the NBA is concerned.

He is big enough to be a defensive factor, but lacks the lateral quickness to follow athletic off-guards on defense, something that could be a problem in the international competition too. More than that and moving again to the offense, his ability to finish around the basket is limited, despite his nice slashing skills. He has the smarts, but not the physical tools and the leaping ability to finish strong, especially in traffic.

Playing for one of the best European teams and also being a constant star for the junior National teams of Turkey, Akyol definitely has all the necessary tools to succeed in the near future and evolve into senior National team's starting shooting guard. He will be seeing good minutes off the bench already starting this summer and his great tournament in the U-20 European Championships has likely helped boost his morale, playing steadily and in high standards throughout the preparation games.

Ersan Ilyasova, 6-9, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks, 19 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

It’s starting to matter less and less whether Ersan Ilyasova is 19 or 22 years old. In his first appearance with the Turkish National team and given the fact that most of the veterans are now out of the picture, Ilyasova is the team's starting power forward, moving to small forward at times and becoming a serious threat on offense for some stretches in the exhibition games so far.

Despite lacking the necessary experience at the senior level, Ilyasova is only getting better and after a productive season in the NBDL, where he averaged 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He looks ready to start evolving into a factor on the young Milwaukee Bucks' frontcourt. In parallel, with the massive adjustments the Turkish roster has seen, he can become the team's go-to player pretty soon, as he probably possesses the most skills and potential than any other player in the country.

Long, athletic and quick, Ilyasova is a talented player on both sides of the court, whose physical condition, despite seeing limited due to injury, is excellent overall and has helped him become a great inside-outside talent. He has a nice shooting touch both inside and from long-range, good slashing and finishing skills and even the ability to score after creating his own shot off the dribble. His nice ball-handling skills and court vision have already been proven among the best attributes of his offensive game, while his inside game is not limited either, being able to post up opponents and present a number of well-worked inside moves, showing that he can be a force at either forward position.

On defense, he has some pretty good potential, fighting for every loose ball and getting many rebounds in the recent national team friendlies. He was extremely well positioned and used his leaping ability to get his fair share of offensive boards, while his athleticism helped him become a pesky guy to overcome. When he recently matched up with Dirk Nowitzki, he did a terrific job holding his own both inside and on the perimeter.

Despite all those wonderful skills that he possesses, Ersan still has a lot to learn. Following the end of the NBDL season, he gained some weight, but still seems rather thin and will probably need to add more in order to survive the NBA physical competition, as well as this upcoming World Championship.

Being young in age or young in experience, its all the same; he needs to play more high level games and become more stable. He’ll too often go unnoticed for long stretches, while on defense, in spite of his great potential, he gets taken advantage of inside.

Despite the inexperience, Ilyasova will need to work through these issues and do so quickly, as the Turkish national team will desperately need him at his best if they are to beat out Australia for the 4th and final spot in the group. This is an exciting time for Ilyasova as he is about to join both a national team and an NBA franchise that will be looking for him to contribute progressively in the near future. Time will tell how ready he is to carry this load.

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