FIBA World Championship Preview: Group D, Part One

FIBA World Championship Preview: Group D, Part One
Aug 17, 2006, 02:19 am
DraftExpress’ FIBA World Championship coverage continues 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 D consists of Italy, Slovenia, Puerto Rico, Senegal, China, and the US, and is headlined by no less than 15 current and a number of future NBA players competing in just one group.

Group D, Part One

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

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

Puerto Rico

The Star:

Carlos Arroyo, 6-2, Point Guard, Orlando Magic, 27 years old


Jonathan Givony

Coming into this championship right in the prime of his career and straight off playing some of the best basketball in his career after being traded from the Detroit Pistons, Carlos Arroyo will shoulder the burden of the scoring and ball-handling load for an always pesky and talented team from one of the most passionate basketball countries in the world.

The Puerto Ricans will go as far as their headstrong point guard will lead them, as Arroyo is capable of absolutely erupting at times to bury nearly any opponent. He is also prone to devastating bouts of inconsistency and unpredictability that can make him go from an incredibly productive consummate lead guard to the hapless, disorganized undersized shooting guard that went undrafted almost instantaneously.

Confidence has never been a problem for this often electrifying shot-creator, for better or for worse. For him, every shot he takes is a good one, and there is no such thing as a tough situation that a little nifty dribbling and wild floater can’t get him out of.

Arroyo excels at using his outstanding ball-handling skills to keep defenders on their heels all game long. He is a master at using screens to get by his man and either pull-up for a sweet mid-range jumper or find the open man creatively spotting up on the wing.

His in-between game is probably the best attribute he brings to the table, showing a terrific knack for getting his shot off in awkward situations either from 14-16 feet out off the dribble or making his way to the basket and kissing it high off the glass. Arroyo is equally adept at driving either left or right and controls the ball on the move as if he’s handling it on a string.

His court vision is average and he is prone to severe mental lapses in which he will seemingly implode and just heave up difficult shots with multiple hands in his face or run into bricks walls uncontrollably, but when he is on, there isn’t a player at this championship who can stop him from getting his shot off. In the NBA Arroyo struggles at times to finish around the basket due to his lack of size, length, strength and explosiveness, but at the International level this becomes less of a concern due to the lesser emphasis on athletic shot-blockers.

His biggest weakness by far has to be his perimeter shot, though, noticeably lacking range once he steps out of his 15-17 foot comfort zone in which he is a threat to pull up and knock down shots with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever. How honest he can keep defenses from sagging off him in anticipation of the drive could play a large role in whether or not Puerto Rico can make it to the next stage.

Most NBA coaches won’t stand for how dominant he is offensively with the ball in his hands, but the Puerto Rican national team simply has no choice but to give him the rock and just hope for the best.


The Stars:

Beno Udrih, 6-4, PG/SG, San Antonio Spurs, 24 years old

Jonathan Givony

After a bit of a disappointing season in which his minutes and production went down when the Spurs decided to sign Nick Van Exel to fill the backup combo guard role off the bench, Beno Udrih will be looking to show his team both what they missed out on and what they can look forward to next year with his timely outside shooting, passing and mature play with the extremely talented Slovenian national team.

Udrih’s bid to showcase his talent to his fellow Europeans fell short last year the Eurobasket tournament following an injury, which means he should have even more motivation to help his team finally live up to their massive potential and make a deep run in this tournament.

Udrih is in an interesting situation playing with Slovenia. He is a pure point guard in a shooting guards body playing next to a dangerous shooting guard in a point guard’s body in Jaka Lakovic.

The versatile Udrih will be starting at either the 1 or the 2 for his team, taking a good amount of the playmaking duties on his shoulders, providing leadership despite his youth and trying to get all of his many talented offensive options involved while trying to get his own offense going at the same time.

Udrih is a talented ball-handler who knows how to use a wide array of sharp cuts and head and body fakes to get into the lane with ease. He understands the team concept and has shown excellent potential in terms of controlling the tempo of the game and running an offense. He also has deep range on his jump-shot and the ability to play intelligently off the ball to free himself up on the perimeter to take advantage of that. Defensively he is fairly solid as well because of his size and high basketball IQ.

His weaknesses mostly lie in his lack of experience playing at a high level of basketball such as this, along with his average athleticism which is more of a problem in the NBA than it should be here in Europe. Udrih has seen sporadic playing time over the last four years, but will be thrown straight into the fire and asked to lead a talented, but unproven (with Charlotte Bobcats center Primoz Brezec, Nuggets draftee Sani Becirovic, Pacers draftee Erazem Lorbek, Raptors rookie Uros Slokar, New Jersey Nets swingman Boki Nachbar and others) team into at least the quarterfinals of the Championship. There will be very little margin for error for the 24 year old Udrih and it will be very interesting to see how he handles the pressure.

This is a good chance to show the Spurs that he is capable of handling substantial backup minutes at both the 1 and the 2 next year and that bringing in more veteran reinforcements will be unnecessary this time around.

Jaka Lakovic 6-1 PG/SG, Barcelona, 28 years old


Kristian Hohnjec

Although Slovenia’s roster features some decent NBA players, such as Primoz Brezec, Bostjan Nachbar and Rasho Nesterovic, we decided to go with Jaka Lakovic as the team’s second star, considering that he was key piece in the Slovenian’s first ever qualification for World Championship. Lakovic posted 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a crucial game for 5th place, which was the last that ensured a World Championship appearance, against Croatia in last year’s Eurobasket.

Lakovic has played very well for Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos over the past four years, being one of most prolific scorers in the past 3 Euroleague campaigns. Last season he averaged 14.4 points and 2.5 assists in the Euroleague on a 37.5% shooting from downtown.

Jaka has moved to Spain this offseason and will play for renowned FC Barcelona. He had training camp invites from the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons, but turned them down and decided to take the substantial guaranteed money in Europe.

The 6-1 combo guard has great touch on his very smooth jumpshot, showing great mechanics and the ability to release the ball in a blink of a eye. Lakovic is a very accurate shooter from both mid-range and long distance, while also being a capable slasher who knows how to make his way to the basket despite not a having brilliant physique. He is very adapt at drawing contact and getting to the line. His 8.1 FTs per game at last year’s Eurobasket was matched only by Juan Carlos Navarro, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko. Once at the line, Lakovic is superb, averaging over 80% for his career.

Despite his obvious strengths, Lakovic has some quite glaring weaknesses in his game, with the first obviously being his size. While a being reasonably fast player, Lakovic doesn’t really shock you with his level of athleticism. He is not much of a leaper, and his lateral quickness on the defensive end is below average for a player his size. Although he has quite good ball-handling skills and decent court vision, Lakovic is basically a shooting guard trapped in the body of a point guard. His questionable decision making and lack of craftiness and creativity when running the point has not been such a issue over the past few years thanks to playing in a system with two other lead guards at both Panathinaikos (Dimitris Diamantidis, Vassilis Spanoulis) and the National team (Sani Becirovic, Beno Udrih). Probably his biggest shortcoming is defense. Lakovic is a lousy defender who doesn’t put much emphasis on this end of the floor.

Even if Jaka has more weaknesses then strengths on first glance, he remains a great scorer who can take over games when he gets hot from perimeter, as well as slash to the hoop. Slovenia has an outside shot of winning a medal in their debut at this stage, and Lakovic’s play will have a lot to do with final result.

The Upside:

Goran Dragic, 6-4, Point Guard, Tau Ceramica(?), 20 years old

Kristian Hohnjec

This Slovenian youngster had a brilliant Adriatic league campaign last season, coming out of nowhere to emerge as one of, if not the most impressive, point guard in the Balkans. His great display was well noticed from both National team coach and top-notch European teams. Even if Dragic probably won’t see much of daylight at the World Championship, it is already an accomplishment for him being on the 12-man roster at the tender age of 20.

Goran is facing an uncertain situation about his destination next year. Even if it was already reported that Spanish powerhouse Tau Ceramica signed him, the General manager of Geoplin, Janez Rajgelj, is not giving up so easy on him, claiming that there was no buyout clause in Dragic’s contract which would enable to move to Spain for just 70,000 Euros compensation, like Tau claims. Instead, he is demanding €700,000 for the team’s star. Since the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the issue will probably be resolved in the court.

With Euroleague stars Jaka Lakovic and Sani Becirovic, together with Spurs backup Beno Udrih manning the guard positions, there isn’t much room for Dragic and he is currently out of the rotation seeing limited minutes or logging DNP’s even in warm-up games. This was expected since Dragic has no experience at such a high level and coach Pipan is obviously not comfortable with him running the point, though this could change in the near future. Goran has a chance to see some playing time against opponents with big, athletic guards, since he has more length, better lateral quickness and overall defensive ability then the aforementioned trio. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see coach Pipan sicking him on USA star Dwyane Wade.

Dragic is a player with very nice physical attributes, featuring very good size for a point guard combined with a long wingspan, impressive quickness in all directions and an advanced skill-set. He is already a capable defender despite his lack of body strength, showing aggressiveness and a demeanor rarely seen in youngsters. Offensively, he relies on his slashing game, where he is very successful because of his speed and developed mid-range game. His biggest flaws at the moment are streaky shooting from long distance and lack of craftiness and maturity in running the team. Goran is a very talented player, who will be the cornerstone of Slovenia in the future, but this campaign is more about gaining experience than anything for him.


The Star:

Gianluca Basile, 6-3, PG/SG, FC Barcelona, 31 years old


Kristian Hohnjec

Basile is truly an accomplished player, having won multiple titles at both the international and club scene. He is a very charismatic player who should provide great leadership for am inexperienced Italian squad at this Championship, even if his game is starting to decline and he is close to the end of his impressive career. Gianluca was never a big time individual prospect, a true star, however what made him such a recognizable and respected player is his leadership, consistency, winning mentality, clutch shooting and loyalty.

Before signing for FC Barcelona last summer, Basile spent seven great seasons in the basketball city of Bologna, playing for Fortitudo where he became one of the true legends of the club. Basile was always a dependable player for Italian National team, playing among others a big part in their success at the Olympic games in 2004 where they grabbed the silver medal. Dealing with numerous absences, with probably the biggest being that of top draft pick Andrea Bargnani, Italy is not expected to finish near the top at this World Championship.

Basile is most known for his great shooting stroke, which is truly a thing of beauty. He can knock down shots from well beyond the international three-point lane showing great touch and range. Gianluca has good size for a point guard and a good wingspan that helps him on the defensive end, where he shows a very solid level of ability, using his length and smarts to stay in front of opposing guards. Basile has a very high basketball IQ and he exhibits it on the offensive end of the floor constantly, making smart passes, taking good decisions and being very patient waiting for the best opportunity to arrive. He is also a clutch player, handling pressure well and being a very confident free throw shooter with percentages of over 80% in each of his last four Euroleague campaigns.

At 31 years of age, Gianluca isn’t getting any younger. His best years are obviously behind him as last season at FC Barcelona showed. He was never a great athlete, and is now becoming even less impressive after losing quite a bit of his speed. At this stage in his career Basile can’t get into the line as often as desired, and he lacks the drive and dish game of a true point guard. Because of his regressed ability to play of the dribble, Gianluca has been used mostly as a shooting guard last season at Barcelona and is expected to play a similar role for Italy in Japan.

The Upside:

Marco Belinelli, 6-5, shooting guard, Climamio Bologna, 20 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

Coming off the first significant season of his young career, Marco Belinelli is going to Japan as Italy's starting shooting guard. After a promising rookie season in 2004-05 in the Euroleague, Belinelli took off and led Climamio Bologna in scoring last season with a wonderful 13.3 ppg, coming along with significant percentages (48% from the field, 43% behind the arc). Given the fact that Marco had never played with the demanding Italian National team and the veteran-oriented coach Carlo Recalcati, his immediate starting role with the Azzurri can only be viewed as recognition of his talents, improvement and will to learn his role within the group.

Belinelli is a scorer on the rise. He is not only a shooter, but is also a guy who can take over the offensive load for some specific stretches. He can shoot off the dribble, coming off screens, he can create his own shot, and can even do it when being heavily contested. His slashing abilities are also fine when he makes an attempt to, as his lanky body can easily slide between bigger opponents and he can be a very dangerous player, as his ball-handling skills are more than good. His physical attributes may not be out of this world, but he is definitely athletic enough to compete in the NBA and has ample size for the guard position.

On defense, Marco is a factor, despite his small frame. He is a player who uses his smarts and his thin arms to come away with his fair share of steals. He is a passionate and motivated player, and takes pride in locking down his man.

However, Bellineli is lacking some major game fundamentals, which are not going to help him, not only in this upcoming tournament, but maybe in the rest of his career.

Like many gifted scorers of the past, Belinelli is not a true leader. He is more of a role playing guy, whose job is to shoot the ball, regardless of the competition. He does not take advantage of his athleticism and ball-handling skills enough, rarely showing the willingness to put the ball on the floor and make his way to the basket.

His overall skills might be good enough at this age, but his extremely thin frame limits his potential a bit in the long-term, especially on defense. Focusing on becoming more of an all-around player who can rebound, pass and do the little things will be of great help to him in the future.

Besides all the above, Belinelli should be a great addition for the Italians and will boost their game with his shooting skills and enthusiasm. He had some great friendly games and will surely be a factor in Japan. He should always progress and remain on the NBA radar as one of the very best European prospects for the upcoming draft.

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