Can aging Argentina fend off the Greek Freak?

Even without Manu Ginobili, Argentina has the experience to fend off Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of Group B. (Photo: FIBA.com)
August 27, 2014, 10:55 AM

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 B.

Teams

Argentina, Croatia, Greece, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Senegal

The Storylines

Can Argentina win without Ginobili?

At first glance, Group B appears to be ripe for the picking for Argentina. After all, the Argentines are a veteran team with championship pedigree and a roster that features some of the most recognizable names in international basketball.

However, given the team’s surprisingly disappointing third-place finish at last year’s FIBA Americas championship, could it be that Argentina is no longer a team of crafty veterans? Are they now just plain old? And is this team capable of playing championship-level basketball without Manu Ginobili, who had to withdraw from the competition due to injury?

All of Argentina’s key players are in their mid-30s and, owing to their admirable commitment to the national team every summer, have played a ton of basketball over the years. In the past, Argentina would’ve been able to get by without Ginobili—still a more-than-capable scorer even at 37—but it seems that is no longer the case as players like Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni and Andres Nocioni have seen their skills diminish of late.


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Like any great team losing the battle with Father Time, Argentina will show flashes of its previous greatness, but those are likely to be few and far between. The team is still good, but it isn’t the runaway train it used to be, meaning there will be nervous moments and maybe even a loss in the round-robin stage. However, the Argentines should still be favoured to win the group.

Greek hopes rest on Giannis

Greece disappointed in last year’s EuroBasket, getting bounced in the second round. The team only made it to the World Cup on a wild card selection and, despite its No. 5 FIBA ranking, is looking like it could disappoint again… with one big exception.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the difference for Greece. And they’re going to need him even more than usual, as their best player—Vassilis Spanoulis—won’t be in Spain, opting to take the summer off.

Spanoulis’s absence means there will be a lot of responsibility thrust onto the 19-year-old Antetokounmpo. If his rookie year in the NBA was any indication of his mindset and competitive spirit, he’s more than up to the challenge.

Three players to watch

Giannis Antetokounmpo – Greece

Pressure aside, the “Greek Freak” is a must-watch player in any context, just look at this:

Andray Blatche – Philippines

Wait, what? Andray Blatche is Filipino? Actually no, he isn’t, but that didn’t stop him from getting his Filipino citizenship so he can play in this tournament. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Blatche averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game off the bench, and considering the Phillipines’ talent deficiency, don’t be surprised if you see him put up some video game numbers in this tournament.

Bojan Bogdanovic – Croatia

Another Brooklyn Net, recent signing Bojan Bogdanovic is an absolute force when he suits up for his native Croatia. During last year’s EuroBasket, Bogdanovic averaged 17.4 points per game and lead his team to a fourth-place finish in the tournament. The 25-year-old is a classic swingman and his scoring acumen and the way he uses his body to create space for himself have seen him draw comparisons to Paul Pierce.

Non-NBA player to look out for

Carlos Arroyo – Puerto Rico

A former Toronto Raptor, Carlos Arroyo always plays well internationally. If he shows flashes of the moves he dazzled the United States with in their recent exhibition, then taking the time to watch Puerto Rico play will be well worth the investment.

Group Prediction
  1. Argentina
  2. Croatia
  3. Greece
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. Philippines
  6. Senegal

They may lose a game, but when it comes down to it, Argentina is still the best team in Group B and should win it. Greece’s No. 5 FIBA ranking is deceptive in this tournament because Spanoulis isn’t playing, meaning Croatia is the better team talent-wise and that the Greeks may even be vulnerable to Puerto Rico. As for the Philippines and Senegal, it’s going to be tough for them to take a game off the top four.

FIBA World Cup of Basketball previews: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

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