Photo: U.S.A. - Nike, Inc.
The Spanish, Argentine and Brazilian Olympic men’s basketball squads will all be battling for podium spots and looking to pull off a huge upset over a powerful U.S. team, which is filled with NBA stars and is the clear gold medal favorite at the London Games.
The United States boasts arguably the best lineup of perimeter players in basketball history with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but questions have been raised about its inside play, teamwork and tendency to gamble and commit blunders on defense.
The team considered best equipped to capitalize on those weaknesses is Spain, which features a big front line of brothers Pau and Marc Gasol - both seven-footers - and 6-foot-10 Serge Ibaka, all of them key players for playoff-caliber NBA teams, as well as Felipe Reyes and Victor Claver, who are both 6-foot-9.
The Iberian nation also complements its inside power with solid play on the perimeter, particularly from sharpshooter Juan Carlos “La Bomba” (The Bomb) Navarro, shooting guard Rudy Fernandez and point guard Jose Calderon.
Depth is lacking, however, with the team especially hurt by the loss of one of the NBA’s brightest young talents, Ricky Rubio, who tore his ACL during a game between his Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Lakers in March.
In its favor, Spain has a very experienced and cohesive unit that has played together in international competitions for years with few lineup changes.
Argentina is another team filled with experience and savvy and its best players can hold their own with any other side, but depth on the bench is a major concern for head coach Julio Lamas.
The South Americans’ starting five of Pablo Prigioni, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola does not have the size the Spaniards possess but they are superior in terms of slashing to the basket and getting to the free-throw line.
The team, however, is especially vulnerable to fatigue and injuries in a competition with a compressed schedule featuring games every couple of days.
Brazil is more of a long-shot for a medal but, despite its lack of Olympic experience, it has enough quality to make an impact on the international basketball scene.
Brazil’s starting line-up of Marcelinho Huertas, Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao, Nene Hilario and Tiago Splitter gives the squad a fighting chance, but its limited options off the bench will be difficult to overcome.
Other countries in the men’s basketball medal hunt include France, Australia and Russia.
The men’s basketball tournament gets underway on Sunday, although the battle for medal position will begin in earnest in the quarterfinals, which tip off on Aug. 8.
The gold medal match will be played on Sunday, Aug. 12.