In the lead-up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball’s August 30 start date, we’ll be previewing each of the four groups at the big tournament—breaking down the top storylines, key players to watch and how we think the group stage will shake out. Today, Group A.
Group of death
Featuring four of the top 11 teams in the FIBA rankings in Spain (No. 2), France (No. 8), Brazil (No. 10) and Serbia (No. 11), Group A is definitely the strongest in the tournament.
Other than the United States (of course), Spain—Olympic silver medallists in 2008 and 2012—features the most NBA talent in the tournament with six current and three former NBA players. They are undoubtedly the class of the group, with a peerless inside-out attack built around the interior skills of Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers.
France and Brazil also have their fair share of NBA talent with the likes of Nicolas Batum (FRA), Boris Diaw (FRA), Tiago Splitter (BRA) and Nene Hilario (BRA) suiting up for their nations, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see either upset Spain in the volatile round-robin stage of the tournament, where teams play five games in six days.
Serbia doesn’t feature the kind of top-end talent of the group's big three, but its bruising, defensive style of play always helps even up the skill difference. Led by former NBA centre Nenad Krstic, the Serbians whittle opponents down with a punishing inside assault and physical guard play.
The final two teams in Group A, Iran and Egypt, should just be happy to be here. Despite both nations winning their respective qualifying tournaments last year, the chances of either making much noise in Spain—particularly slotted in with four powerhouse programs—is at best unlikely. Iran does, however, boast a nice Canadian connection, as former University of Winnipeg standout Erfan Nasajpour is on the team.
Bottom line, though, with four teams advancing to the knockout stage, this group won’t have much drama outside the jockeying for first place.
Can France find success without Parker?
France captured its first EuroBasket title last year thanks to Tony Parker, the tournament’s leading scorer and MVP.
This was a huge blow to his country's hopes in this tournament. France is a long, athletic team, but really needs a point guard to direct the action on the floor, a role Parker clearly excelled in on his national team.
With that said, France is still a talented squad. While Parker’s absence does limit a lot of what the team can do, that length and athleticism should still cause opponents headaches and earn France some Ws.
Three players to watch
Gasol brothers - Spain
Marc and Pau Gasol combine to create the engine that drives the formidable Spanish attack. They’re two of the best big men in the NBA, and in the international game their skills become even deadlier. In FIBA competition, it’s vital for big men to be able to pass and shoot. Both brothers are elite passing bigs and both of have range out to 20 feet. They’re already fun to watch individually, but when they team up, it’s a thing of beauty.
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Leandro Barbosa - Brazil
The man nicknamed the “Brazilian Blur” may have lost a step or two, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still blow past defenders. Barbosa will be banking on that speed at the World Cup, and not only to help Brazil win, as he's also looking to help himself secure an NBA contract for the 2014-15 season. With so many NBA eyeballs paying attention to the tournament, you can bet the 31-year-old will be looking to raise his stock.
Boris Diaw - France
With Parker taking the summer off, expect to see France run some of its offence through Diaw at the forward position. Diaw is an exceptional passer anywhere on the floor, and giving him more responsibility to get France into its sets could be a huge boon for the team. There’s also a good chance we’ll get to see more of this.
Non-NBA player to look out for
Last season’s Euroleague Rising Star (an award for the best player in Europe under 22), Bogdanovic is a deadeye shooter (37 percent from deep last season with his club team Partizan) who was taken 27th overall in the first round of this year’s NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns. He won’t be with the Suns this season, but the World Cup will give fans a good chance to see what this highly touted 22-year-old is all about.
When it comes down to it, Spain is the class of this group, with talent and skill at all positions. After that things get a little muddy, but France—even without Parker—should still come out in second because its top-end talent eclipses that of Serbia and Brazil. The Serbians will finish ahead of the Brazilians to close out the top four because they’re much better defensively and their offence is a little more structured, giving them consistent options when they need a bucket.