Eurobasket preview & power rankings: 5-8

We continue our preview and power ranking of the upcoming Eurobaset. Today we analyse the rest of the projected quarter-finals level teams. We will continue with the rest tomorrow.

5. SERBIA

Will it be the summer of craziness for Dusan Ivkovic’s Serbia? The Serbs’ great 1986 to 1989 generations are barely included in this squad. Apart from veteran centers Nenad Krstic and Rasko Katic and the sole representatives of the previously mentioned generations in Stefan Markovic and Nemanja Bjelica, the 12men squad is full of rookies in a big competition, where Serbia struggled to even qualify for last summer. Milos Teodosic, the biggest star of the country as well as Partizan’s top scorer Vladimir Lucic, will both miss the tournament due to long-lasting injuries that didn’t allow them to be ready on time.

Markovic and the awesome teen Vasilje Micic are the two real PGs that the Serbs have this summer, while Nemanja Nedovic can also play the PG position. Teodosic not playing though will the lineups will be more flexible but will not include Milos’ elite court-vision. Nedovic’s quick first step and defensive tension partly cover for his limited passing skills and smarts but yet again, we’ll most likely see him playing off the ball at stretches. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Andjusic are the most positive surprises of this team in this squad. Noticeable stat here. If they both play, in the last seven games, they are shooting more than 45% behind the arc and this is one of the alternatives that the team has presented apart from passing the ball to Krstic.

That is, a successful one. Nicola Kalinic, who usually starts at SF is more of a glue guy who will likely play defense, make the open shot, more like a poor man’s Gelabale, Papanikolaou or Claver for the Serbs. Nemanja Krstic will back him up at SF, possibly the weakest position for the Serbs.

Nemanja Bjelica is playing power forward this time, with Dusko Savanovic, Milan Macvan, Zoran Erceg and Nole Velickovic all out this summer. He is right now the team’s second most important player after Krstic. Playing as point forward all his minutes, creating, scoring and rebounding rather well, Nemanja keeps struggling with his stability but with increased importance, he has a high self confidence and can be key for them. Katic, as a back up center to Krstic is surprisingly solid and effective as a scorer and while both Dorde Gagic and Vladimir Stimac are fine role players, none of them will see many minutes, despite Stimac being a proven banger at an elite European level (yet not much more than that).

Overall and, if the Serbs come alive out of a very tough group (Lithuania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Latvia), it will all depend on their chemistry and their ability to overcome the typical age barrier (this is a rather young squad), especially in the first matches. Once they go through, they can really raise some eyebrows this September.

6. SLOVENIA

The old saying is always about Slovenia being the country that always presents a promising team, with talent, good coherence but severe breakdowns in the knock out stage. Hard to overcome that, but the hosts are going to have a good chance to prove that these things belong to the past, at least for this summer. Mental issues, though, have nothing to do with the competition level. And of course, playing at home is usually adding up to the pressure. Will they resolve that at last?

Slovenia, as always, has been more than decent in these friendly games before the Eurobasket. Once again and despite some key absences (but who doesn’t have absences this summer?), they are presenting a nice team, with relevant depth per position, good chemistry, distributed roles, cool results and above average confidence. Goran Dragic, coming off his first full season as an NBA starter, will be leading the backcourt and, unlike some other star guards, he will not dominate the minutes and possessions. Being backed up by the veteran Jaka Lakovic, Goran will have the necessary help to keep healthy and rested enough after the tough first stage for his team.

Jaka Blazic, Domen Lorbek and Nobojsa Joksimovic will fill in the minutes at SG and while none of them is spectacular as a starting off guard, the spot will likely go to Blazic, who has started in most preparation games. Had Beno Udrih decided to play, Joksimovic would be out of the team, but the Slovenians would have more offensive options, as well as the ability to play with two star PGs, since Udrih can play the two spot as well. His absence though, can guarantee that the locker room will have the necessary stability to go through that demanding tournament.

Bostjan Nachbar, a positive surprise in the friendlies and his likely move to power forward full time, will give him the start at the four spot. He is a skilled and tall shooting forward, smart and adequately athletic. The absence of Erazem Lorbek is leaving the minutes at PF up for grabs and Nachbar could be a very key player for this squad, if not their second option in their offensive plays after Goran Dragic. Goran’s brother, Zoran will be the starting SF, using his athleticism and defensive tension to  keep the hosts strong and an on uptempo pace while he is in. He will be backed up by Edo Muric, a rather similar player, though a better spot shooter.

The rest of the frontcourt consists of long bigs Gasper Vidmar and Mirza Begic at center, both starters at elite Euroleague teams and rather different to each other. The former is stronger and more athletic while the latter is softer but more technical. Back up fours will be the vets Uros Slokar and Jure Balazic. If it wasn’t for Nachbar, this would be the softer position of the lineup, but they are looking better now

Slovenia is playing Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia and Poland at their group stage. They should qualify, but this is the toughest group to get out from.

7. TURKEY

In a Eurobasket where no team presents a particular scare at any position and of course a big favourite similar to the previous summers’ Spain doesn’t exist, there is always a chance for several quality teams to go far. But with the tournament always being anyway the most competitive one in the International level, we may also see a very good team not making it to the quarter-finals.

This is the case for many teams and, certainly, Turkey is one of those mid-tier and, usually, underachieving, but with the potential to go far. Strong when playing at home, but usually unspectacular and with several problems in the rest of the cases, the Turks will again be bringing a lot of talent, particularly up front, but several instabilities in the roles of many players as well as a rather weak backcourt for such a competitive summer.

Starting with the easy part, the frontline is looking good and solid both sides and it would have been much better if Enes Kanter was also there, but, recovering from injury and with a very big season coming up for him in Utah, he couldn’t come and thus, his offensive fluidity and rebounding won’t be there to help them. In the friendlies, coach Bogdan Tanjevic started Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova and Oguz Savas and brought off the bench Emir Preldzic, Semih Erden and Omer Asik, keeping Kerem Gonlum as the 7th big man. This is an exciting and big frontcourt with many options in defense, especially in the 2nd unit, the creativity of Preldzic and Turkoglu as well as the sweet mid-ranger of Savas, who will likely get some open looks in the starting lineup. The rebounding of that unit is also solid and it should increase, once Asik gets more minutes in crucial games.

The real problem, however, is their perimeter. Leaving aside the possibility of Preldzic or even Turkoglu seeing minutes at any position below the SF one, the undersized players in that team are including Baras Ermis as the starting point guard backed up by two of Ender Arslan, Dogus Balbay and the youngster Kenan Sipahi who was very good at the U18 Eurobasket. From these, only Sipahi qualifies as a vocal leader and fine passer, but he might indeed be the last cut after all. The size of Ermis and his relevant experience along with an Arslan injury has pretty much decided the minutes in the group games, but Turkey has limited potential in that position and the ball could be seen often on the hands of Turkoglu and Preldzic when it comes to running plays.

Similarly, the SG position, which is going to miss Omer Onan – the most creative and offensively skilled perimeter player they had this summer in the backcourt– is going to be thin. Sinan Guler will probably start now and will also play some PG minutes, while maybe Preldzic will play a lot or exclusively the 1 and 2 positions. Onan’s substitute, Birkan Batuk might actually not see many minutes at this stage.

Overall, Turkey should not worry much about making it out of their group, which includes a clear-cut favourite in Greece, two problematic squads in Italy, Russia and two more limited ones, Finland as the dark horse and Sweden as the last one in the queue. But going further than that will depend on several factors and of course, how the guard minutes will be distributed by Tanjevic.

8. FYROM

Of all the Eurobaskets one has watched, of all the amazing results (Russia winning it all in 2007 in Spain; Germany or Greece winning their home-based tournaments in 1993 and 1987, beating all the great favourites), the 2011 had maybe the most spectacular case that anyone can remember of. A small, new country, not of the basketball tradition that would explain the magic of the skill, chemistry and persistence, just a tourney full of game-by-game upgrades and the goal of beating anyone they could play against. Macedonia (or FYROM) was the story of that summer, when they went on finishing fourth, just losing by a basket to Sergey Monya and Russia in the 3rd place game.

But it was their shockingly great run over the tournament, which was capped by their epic semi-final battle against the ultimate favourites, Spain, which needed huge games by Juan Carlos Navarro, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol in order to prevail against that small team led by Bo McCalebb, Pero Antic and Vlado Ilievski.

Well, this was two years ago and nothing was looking the same anymore after last summer’s failure to make it past the pre-Olympic tournament. Nevertheless, the Macedonians are all back for a last show. McCalebb is not so good anymore. His last season in Fenerbahce proved so, but it might be a typical case for anyone who plays for the two main Istanbul teams recently and we could have a chance of seeing him performing up to potential once again this summer. Ilievski as his right hand, back up PG and most often SG in the final minutes of games and the two Stojanovskis (Vojdan and Damjan) in the wings, likely starting as SG and SF, will also be alongside the team’s star and will try to make sure that the chemistry in the backcourt retains a similar level of stability. One of Darko Sokolov and Aleksandar Kostoski might be the last cut from the team at the end of the day.

The frontcourt will also be back there at its full, especially after Antic, Ilievski and McCalebb visited Todor Gecevski to ask him to return to the national team earlier this summer. Gecevski, the team’s key center, had retired but decided to return in order to have a last run with his old fellas. Antic, alongside him, will play the four and the shooting-happy forward is very creative doing so. His creativity and vocal leadership as well as his good chemistry with Gecevski and the other two main bigs Gjorgi Cekovski and Predrag Samardziski is what the Slovenian coach Ales Pipan  is most likely happier about in this tournament.

Once (and if) this team gets out the toughest group of the competition (Lithuania, Serbia, Montenegro, Latvia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are their opponents), things should get handier. Their chemistry and experience should be valuable in the later stages. Whether or not they will repeat a run like 2 years ago, it’s a matter of several factors, one of which is their thirst to succeed.

All the previews were written by TalkBasket’s UK based associate Dimitris Ritsonis. You can follow him, as well as send any feedback to him on twitter @wardjdim