1. United States
The ingenuity of this roster — Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are as talented as they are flexible, allowing the United States to concoct a deadly arsenal of small ball lineups — could make any concerns over their size irrelevant. They still haven’t developed a consistent rapport over the course of an entire game, just stretches, but perhaps they discover an impervious formula in a series of relatively easy matchups against Tunisia and Nigeria. They are a team, as currently constructed, that don’t typically dominate from the onset, rather their methodical attack slowly aggregates until the deficit is suddenly insurmountable.
Following Spain there is a definitive gap though it’s not nearly as pronounced as the gap between them and the United States. Jose Calderon is an immense asset; he’s one of the best international point guards in the tournament and he gives Spain a way to ward off Team USA’s daring defense. Marc Gasol, too, will be a nice addition. His ability to consistently pick apart a furiously recovering defense when they are their weakest, after the initial point of attack, is an easy, yet brutally efficient, way of turning a team’s supposed strengths into a weakness.
Brazil, on their surface, appear to be a team that could rival Spain. Their inability to consistently play to their theoretical talent has held back Brazil, who could potentially compete for a silver medal if they put two and two together. Their frontcourt isn’t as potent as Spain’s but it’s certainly above-average. The lack of depth behind Marcelinho Huertas is a reason to worry and Leandro Barbosa isn’t the most reliable creator because he’s inefficient. But no team is perfectly constructed and Brazil boasts a talent level that should net them a medal.
The reason I didn’t pin Argentina as a medalist, even though I absolutely love watching Manu Ginobili navigate tight enclosed spaces, is their age. While it’s true that their passel of talent — Carlos Delfino, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola — translates exceptionally well to FIBA and they’ll benefit from an undeniable rapport, their core isn’t leaps and bounds better than Brazil and Spain. Brazil and Spain have the same quality and the rewards of youth, most notably the inability to wear down over time.
Against a limited team like Great Britain, Andrei Kirilenko excelled. Alexey Shved added in 16 points and 13 assists to support Kirilenko, who finished with 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting. Russia is an interesting team because they are so reliant on a few players to carry the team rather than systemic excellence. A bad game from Kirilenko and they will be hard-pressed to beat any team much less contend for a medal. The odds are high that Kirilenko doesn’t have a bad game because he gets to the foul line frequently to assuage any semblance of inactivity.
Australia is similarly dependent on the quick Patty Mills to control the game. For the majority of the first half against Brazil, Mills was the only competent scorer/shot creator/basketball player on the Australian side. Eventually David Andersen and Joe Ingles pitched in, providing the right amount of ancillary support to nearly supplant Brazil — before a questionable rule ostensibly wiped out their chances.
On talent alone, France would be ranked ahead of Russia and Australia. On the other hand, continuity has been an obvious problem and Tony Parker, sans a nice first quarter against the United States, hasn’t been able to sustain much success. Depending on how Parker progresses and their play against Argentina tomorrow, they could either jump to a medal contender or fall even further.
I was tempted to place Lithuania above France but I don’t have as much confidence in their core though they haven’t showed nearly as much problems. Jonas Valanciunas is an important cog and depending on his play, he could be the difference between merely participating and contending.
This team won’t be a push over as evidence by their performance against Spain but they likely wont be much more than that — a scary team that could win a game with the right amount of luck and skill.
Nigeria has an outside shot at making a tangible dent in the competition — as long as Ike Diogu and Al Farouq Aminu perform well. They contributed 28 points and 19 rebounds in a close victory over Tunisia.
11. Great Britain
It’s pretty important that Britain wins a game in London in order to instill confidence in an underwhelming, but improving, basketball program. Luol Deng is a good enough player to make this happen once and Pops-Mensah Bonsu has been a valuable member as well but they’ll have to do so with only one advantage — home-court.
They played well against Nigeria but that was probably their best chance at a win in London.