FanPost

EuroBasket 2013 Preview: Group B

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

This is the second of four previews for the EuroBasket 2013 which will start next week. Group B is interesting because of its geopolitical makeup: Four of the six competing nations - Bosnia & Herzigovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia - have once been part of the Republic of Yugoslavia. The other two, Latvia and Lithuania have gained their independece from the Soviet Union. Lots of potential for animosities, sympathies and a very special rematch between Lithuania and Macedonia.

You can look up the competition format here. Group stage one is played with 6 teams per group and 3 teams advancing to the second group stage. There, 4 teams advance to the playoffs.




BOSNIA & HERZIGOVINA

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G

Zackary Wright (28)

Nemanja Gordic (25)

G

Muhamad Pasalic (26)

Marko Sutalo (30)

F

Nihad Djedovic (23)

Dalibor Persic (28)

Ante Masic (28)

F

Mirza Teletovic (28)

Edin Bavcic (29)

C

Elmedin Kikanovic (25)

Andrija Stipanovic (27)

Nedzad Sinanovic (30)

Notable absentees:

NBA players: Mirza Teletovic (Brooklyn Nets)

Notable youngers/NBA talent: Nihad Djedovic

Bosnia's team has one superstar who stands out in European basketball: Mirza Teletovic. Okay, don’t laugh now. Right, he had a forgettable campaign with the Nets, but make no mistake – in Europe, Mirza is an offensive monster that can be contained by few defenses, even if he is the only option on a squad like Bosnia's. Being the qualification tournaments second best scorer with 24.3 points, Teletovic led Bosnia to its second EuroBasket in a row.

Offensively, Mirza has two capable sidekicks in 23-year old Nihad Djedovic and Texas-born Zackary Wright. Standing at only 6’6", Djedovic is a versatile do-it-all forward who is extremely dangerous in the open court and as a slasher (159 FGA, 126 FTA’s !! this seasons), also a strong rebounder for his size and can create decently well for others. Djedovic has been on the NBA radar forever but went undrafted in 2013 despite a solid showing in domestic competition for German powerhouse Alba Berlin. A reduced role offensively and a down year in perimeter shooting (especially evident in Euroleague competition where he shot 26.5 % from 3) might have broken his chances of securing a spot on a NBA team for now.

Zack Wright is a point guard with great size (6’5") who lacks range but does a lot of other things extremely well. He is a very strong rebounder (7 rebounds per contest in qualification tournament), is hard to stop going to the rim (58% 2FG this season) and is just a solid pass-first guard even though being a little careless with the ball.

Bosnia lacks the spacing to give Wright and Djedovic the ideal situation for their slashing and cutting. Teletovic is the only constant offensive threat from outside and turnover-prone center Kikanovic’s offensive game has stalled out after strong years while being 19/20 years old. Muhamad Pasalic can be an excellent spot-up shooter and the question whether Wright and Djedovic can be effective might linger on his ability to find and make open shots. Offensively, Kikanovic is a nice complement to Teletovic as far as spacing goes since Elemedin is a good finisher around the rim and can carry a nice usage, but he’s a weak rebounder and the fact that Teletovic is playing away from the basket might make it hard for Bosnia to get second chances.

Bosnia is not deep at all after the starting group of Teletovic, Djedovic and Wright. Nemanja Gordic is a nice player without much range, Sutalo is a big time terrible chucker from 3, Persic plays in the weak domestic league, Masic is a back-up on a weak Croatian team.

The center position might still be controversial. Kikanovic is clearly the most talented of the bigs but his weak rebounding and frame might push Edin Bavcic to play there a lot if the offense is not efficient enough on first attempts. As far as I know, EuroBasket will be the national debut for Andrija Stepanovic and due to his first class rebounding he might even become a domestic shooting star. Bosnia also features the tournament’s tallest player in Sinanovic who is 7’3" and not much else (okay, rebounds well too).

The roster is not ideal and Bosnia should not be much of a factor again, especially in a strong group. Offensively, this team is about 70% Teletovic, so it sure doesn’t help that he had a very frustrating, embarassnig season in the NBA.


Video: NBA's The Association feature on Mirza Teletovic's life in Bosnia during wartime

LITHUANIA

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G

Mantas Kalnietis (27)

[ Vytenis Cizauskas (21) ]

G

Renaldas Seibutis (28)

Adas Juskevicius (24)

Tomas Delininkaitis (31)

F

Jonas Maciulis (28)

Martynas Pocius (27)

Mindaugas Kuzminskas (24)

F

Linas Kleiza (28)

Donatas Motiejunas (23)

Ksystof Lavrinovic (34)

C

Jonas Valanciunas (21)

Robertas Javtokas (33)

[ Darius Lavrinovic (34) ]

Notable absentees: Sarunas Jasikevicius, Simas Jasaitis, Rimantas Kaukenas, Darius Songaila, Paulius Jankunas

NBA players: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors), Donatas Motiejunas (Houston Rockets)

Notable youngsters: Vytenis Cizauskas

Lithuania has a population of just 3.2 million and might be the only country where basketball is far and away the number one sport. To the majority of Lithuanian, it might be part of their identity.

Their team has lost their identity a little with the retirement of vets Kaukenas and Songaila, and the absence of legendary Sarunas Jasikevicius (you’re still not allowed to laugh) and Simas Jasaitis. Thus, the situation at the wings has thinned but fortunately, the tiny nation is never short of breeding amazing basketball talent. Without the vets, Linas Kleiza has been named to lead the spartan-like squad as a genereal alongside young stud Jonas Valanciunas. After a forgettable NBA season that ended with being amnestied by the Raptors, Kleiza has looked rusty in the preparation games though.

Valanciunas was nothing short of amazing in the preparation games, making shots, rebounding the ball on both ends, drawing fouls, blocking shots and looking like a total badass in his new bald-and-beard look. He was the MVP in the armagedonic (is that a word?) 82-51 blowout over Russia, scoring 17 points (11 at the free throw line), getting 8 rebounds and blocking 4 shots. At just 21 years of age, Jo looks ready to take over and prove that he’s the real deal.

Lithuania has a super deep, tall and talented and versatile frontcourt with guys able to play 4-5 either as inside or outside players. Kleiza and Valanciunas are backed by the talented, yet inconsistent and undisciplined Motiejunas who gives them wonderful spacing (hit three threes against Russia), efficient low-usage bully Robertas Javtokas (very cool shark tattoo) and the Lavrionvic twins (they look exactly the same!!). The twins haven’t played for a few years for Lithuania and it might be surprising that they’re called up at the advanced age of 34 again, but their superb deep shooting range and bullying of Marc Gasol is a welcome luxury to have. They are very heavy up front so one of the twins might get cut before the tournament starts. Ksystof had a terrific shooting season and is more comfortable stepping out than his brother and making room for guys like Valanciunas or Kleiza, so he might have an advantage.

6’5" Mantas Kalnietis has the ungrateful job of replacing Jasikevicius as a ballhandler. He’s had a nice season with Russian side Lokomotiv Kuban, but is the only player who is a pure point guard. Vytenis Cizauskas nomination has been a surprise, but given the drought at PG for this tournament understandable. He is a very interesting 21-year old bully of a point guard who has some chemistry with JoVal spending time in youth teams, but played limited minutes this season after transferring to the Spanish. He had very strong all-around outings in the U-20 Euro and U-19 World Championships but it might be too early to give him significant time as a back-up point so he might get cut and one of the off-guards Seibutis and Juskevicius function as ballhandlers.

Kuzminskas might be a player to watch. Even though he seems to be buried in the depth chart a little, 6’9" tall Kuzminskas had a terrific season and is just a great threat outside as inside as a post player and rebounder. If Motiejunas keeps being inconsistent, Kuzminskas could take his minutes.

A constant on this team is its size (Cizauskas is the shortest at 6’3" and is very likely cut candidate) and three point savyness around the perimeter and even the frontcourt. Even though Lithuania has had very dominant player personalities over the years like Jasikevicius and now JoVal, their approach is always system over player and it’s a thing of beauty to watch them play when they click, much like the Spurs. In the win over Russia, the ball was just flying around left to right, front to back and Lithuania ended up shooting 11 three pointers on 22 attempts in a cooking gym in Vilnius. Lithuania is missing key pieces. However, if they click on offense as they have throughout most of preparation games and Valanciunas is a threat offensively as defensively, they should contend. Well, that’s what a lot of people say but don’t be fooled by that. I just don’t see that unless Kleiza steps up significantly and Kalnietis somehow transforms into as rabbit and deadly a dog as Jasikevicius. They will still be very entertaining.

Video: Lithuania nom nom noms Russi's defense, Shved still looks cool.

MACEDONIA

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G

Bo McCalebb (28)

Darko Sokolov (27)

Aleksandar Kostoski (25)

[ Kristijan Nikolov (17) ]

G

Vlado Ilievski (33)

Damjan Stojanovski (26)

[ Marko Simonovski (24) ]

[ Andrej Magdevski (17)

F

Vojdan Stojanovski (26)

Vladimir Brckov (24)

Stojan Gjuroski (21)

[ Gorjan Markovski (21) ]

F

Pero Antic (31)

Gjogji Chekovski (34)

Bojan Krstevski (24)

C

Predrag Samardziski (27)

Todor Gechevski (36)

Ljubomir Mladenovski (18

[ Aleksandar Sterjov (27) ]

Notable absentees: Ivica Dimcevski

NBA players. Pero Antic (Atlanta Hawks)

Interesting youngsters: Kristijan Nikolov, Andrej Magdevski

Macedonia was the surprise hit at the EuroBasket 2011, beating heavily favored host Lithuania and putting its capital into a frenzy. Macedonia reunited the heroic squad of 2011 and expanded it into a giant preparation squad by inviting a number of very interesting, young players to challenge the vets.

The team is led by naturalized 5’10 guard Bo McCalebb who is a lightning quick, excellent ballhandler able to get into the lane at will, drawing lots of fouls and finishing at the rim masterfully. His lack of size and outside shooting is made up by the Stojanovski twins who should start in the backcourt and are ready recipients of McCalebb’s outlet passes when he drives to the lane to get the defense’s attention. Like many other players on this squad, Damjan is playing in the weak domestic league which is a general disadvantage for Macedonia. After a nice campaign in Ukraine, his brother Vojdan has secured a spot with German Euroleague side Alba Berlin and should be able to take more of a scoring load in the national team. They will share minutes with Vlado Ilievski, more of a point guard, who has had a nice run in European basketball, playing on good teams in Italy and Spain, but is already 33 and merely in a back-up role in the Croatian League. He is still capable of going off and turning games, but has to bounce back from an atrocious shooting performance in the last EuroBasket.

The rest of Macdeonia’s backcourt rotation is unreliable, short and features lots of point guards without much wing material. 17-year old Nikolov and Magdeveski left Macedonia early to train in some of the best European youth programs like Real Madrid, but haven’t had any pro experience. 21-year old Gjuroski barely sees playing time in the NCAA and 21-year old Markovski sees limited playing time in the domestic league.

The starting frontline is solid but nothing special with the newest member of the Atlanta Hawks, Pero Antic, and Predrag Smardziski. Samardziski hasn’t really come out of a back-up role at the club level, but is a very good rebounder up front with great size (7’1") but has stones for hands and thus not a great partner for McCalebb. Antic is a powerhouse who likes to step outside and shoot from long range a little too much, he’s also been on the decline for a while and had two rather disappointing seasons which he turned around a little by delivering in the Final Four of the Euroleague to help Olympiacos get two championships in a row. He did play well at the last EuroBasket however and generally seems to be able to turn it on when things get serious and emotional. For Macedonia to do anything, they’ll need him to be a plus player.

The rest of the big rotation is mercilessly thin with a few young guys who are nothing special and serve as back-ups in the domestic league or guys like Chekovski and Gechevski, who are far past their prime and do not really belong in international competition.

With the brutal lack of depth, it is hard to see Macedonia repeating the coup of 2011 and maybe even making it into the next round. McCalebb will need Pero Antic and Ilievski to be consistent contributors and Vojdan Stojanovski step up a lot.

Must see Video: Macedonia breaks Lithuania at EuroBasket 2011 IN Lithuania as lithuanian fans watch in shock and horror, starting to hate stupid life.

MONTENEGRO

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G

Tyrese Rice (26)

Nikola Ivanovic (19)

G

Bojan Bakic (30)

Suad Sehovic (26)

Marko Popovic (28)

F

Sead Sehovic (24)

Aleksa Popovic (26)

F

Bojan Dubjlevic (22)

Vladimir Dasic (25)

Milko Bjelica (29)

C

Nikola Vucevic (23)

Blagota Sekulic (31)

Notable absentees: Nikola Pekovic, Marko Todorovic,

NBA players: Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic)

Notable youngsters: Marko Todorovic

As there is only one spot for a naturalized player, the coaching staff decided somewhat surprisingly to give Tyrese Rice the nod at point guard ahead of Taylor Rochestie. Both had terrific seasons for their respective clubs in decent leagues, but Rochestie had a better shooting season and led the team during the qualification tournament, so I thought he’d get the job. Much like Macedonia, Montenegro is not very deep with 19-year old Nikola Ivanovic having to back up the starting point guard. Ivanovic is another very young and interesting player with pro experience, but plays in the weak domestic league which he didn’t set on fire so he should be outmatched if he even plays much. He became somewhat of a hero though by being a key player in a stunning last second defeat over Serbia. The perimeter is very unremarkable in general with wingers who play in inferior leagues and do not posess great scoring instincts.

Nikola Pekovic's presence would put this team on another level with a real go-to option and a terrific frontcourt with Nikola Vucevic. Pek’s absence should trigger more minutes for Wolves draftee Dubljevic who could give Montenegro great floor spacing alongside Vucevic, even though it is questionable whether the guards apart from Rice could take advantage of that space. Dubljevic shot 47% on threes on 76 attempts in the Spanish league and 38% on 36 attempts in the Eurocup, averaging 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds internationally. Given their young age, their defensive potential is questionable, but they are backed by very experienced Blagota Sekulic who had a fine campaign in the Spanish league. It is somewhat stunning that 21-year old FC Barcelona center Marko Todorovic did not make the cut after Pekovic’s decline, but he seemed to have battled an injury that might have led to that decision. That’s disappointing. Dubljevic, Vucevic and Todorovic would have been must see tv for people interested in youngsters who are/could become interesting to the NBA. I still linked to his Draftexpress profile.

The strong frontcourt could carry Montenegro into being a top 10 team as many people see them. A lot will depend on Dubljevic’s and Vucevic’s logging big minutes at a pro tournament for the first time. I don’t really see them as strong as most people though. Nobody is scared of them, but nobody will take them as lightly as 2011 either.


Video: Montenegro makes up 13 point defecit in last 5 minutes of game and beats Serbia with crazy buzzer beater.

SERBIA

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G

Milos Teodosic (26)

Stefan Markovic (25)

Vasilje Micic (19)

G

Nemanja Nedovic (22)

Nikola Kalinic (22)

Danilo Andjusic (22)

F

Bogdan Bogdanovic (21)

Nemanja Krstic (20)

F

Nemanja Bjelica (25)

Djordie Gagic (23)

C

Nenad Krstic (30)

Vladimir Stimac (26)

Rasko Katic (33)

Notable absentees: Dusko Savanovic, Novica Velickovic, Zoran Erceg, Vladimir Lucic, Aleksandr Rasic

Notable youngsters: Nemanja Nedovic, Vasilje Micic, Bogdan Bogdanovic

Serbia is a team that has had great squads that have underachieved ever since gaining independence. This year they present themselves with an extremely young team that will revolve around their mad mastermind Milos Teodosic.

The missing Savanovic and Erceg hurt Serbia extremely because they are the number 1 and 2 options at the 4. Bad news for Serbia, good news for Timberwolves fans as Nemanja Bjelica is the only true option at power forward and should see a bulk of the minutes there. With his shooting and rebounding, Bjelica might finally take his unique level of talent and deliver alongside veteran Nenad Krstic who will anchor the defense among this extremely young and inexperienced squad.

Milos Teodosic might be one of the greatest if not greatest contemporary European ‘what if he ever went to the NBA?’ players. He might lack the body and defensive potential to be anything more than a spark plug in limited minutes in the NBA, but boy is his offensive arsenal and style entertaining. As with many great shoot first point guards genius borders dangerously near madness and the risk of Mr. Milos harming his team by being Dr. Teodosic is high on this young team with few guys who could keep up with his ego. Golden State Warriors fans might want to zap into Serbia games as one of Steph Curry’s newest back-ups, hyper athletic shooter Nemanja Nedovic, will propably start at shooting guard to bolster the quality of the starting five and give a ballhandling relief for mad scientist Milos.

Another interesting name in the backcourt is 21-year old Bogdan Bogdanovic who withdrew his name from the 2013 draft. Bogdan is one of my favorite youngsters right now, a 6’6"-shooting guard who can handle the ball extremely well and is not afraid of asking for the ball (well, we'll see how this workes with Milos). Bogdan had a very nice shooting season in his domestic league, but struggled in Euroleague competition which might have been the reason he didn’t take a chance on this year’s draft. Defensively, Bogdan has great potential as well as he has a 6’10" wingspan. The tournament should be a fun deer in the headlights moment for 19 year old 6’4" pure point guard Vasilje Micic who just finished playing in the U19 Euro Championships to compete with the big boys. He’s one to really scout closely the next few years as he’s a sureshot to get drafted to the NBA at some point. Don’t expect him to see minutes behind Milos, Nemanja and pass-first-second-and-third PG Stefan Markovic.

Nemanja Krstic is another poor youngster being fed to the wolves after finishing a decent, if unspectacular stint at the U20 Euro Championship. Krstic, much like Kalinic, had a hefty schedule this year playing well over 800 minutes in the season so don’t expect him to see much court time either. The absence of the natural 4s and starting 3 Lucic and vet Rasic has made minute management at the wing just as hard. Bjelica and Bogdanovic might shift around the 3 spot a lot because other options like Andjusic, the best of the bench wings are actualy too small to play that position.

It’s hard to project this team, especially in a tough group like this one. Only one thing is certain: It will be hard to google EuroBasket press pictures of Teodosic without a basketball. They should underachieve again and this time, they’ll have an excuse because their roster is not ready.


Video: Milos Teodosic has no mercy for Spain, smart shot selection.

LATVIA

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G

Janis Strelnieks (24)

Armands Skele (30)

Kristaps Jancienoks (30)

G

Janis Blums (31)

Dairis Bertans (24)

F

Rihards Kuksiks (25)

Mareks Mejeris (22)

Janis Timma (21)

F

Kaspars Berzisn (28)

Rolands Freimanis (25)

C

Martins Meiers (22)

Andrejs Selakovs (25)

Notable absentees: Davis Bertans, Andris Biedrins

Notable youngsters: Davis Bertans, Janis Timma

Well, unfortunately for Latvia, they have been put into a group with teams that are all superior to them on paper but I’m not sure whether people might be underestimating them a little. They sure do look better than in 2011. The roster is mostly the same with all the youngsters, who were 18-22 in 2011, having more experience under their belt now. Not saying that they look like advancing to the second round but they could make life hard for some of the teams in this group.

The frontcourt took a huge blow in the last few months as Biedrins as well as Bertans will be missed sorely. Bertans, picked by the Pacers in 2011, is an outside oriented 6’11 big with a deadly stroke, great fluidity and headiness on defense. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in July.

A big problem the backcourt faces is that there isn’t much talent that had a significant offensive role on the club level apart from Janis Blums who was a spark plug off the bench for Lithuanian Lietuvos Rytas, and Davis brother Dairis Bertans whose strong play in the domestic league got him a contract with a Spanish team. Still, these guys are not elite scoring talents as some of the other weaker teams have.

Latvia has two interesting young guns in Janis Timma and Mareks Mejeris. 22-year old 6’10" forward Mejeris had a great season in the second Spanish league, averaging efficient 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in a starting role. Timma was taken with the last pick of the 2013 draft by Memphis. Jannis responded remarkably to the brutal schedule of Baltic basketball and played significant minutes in the domestic league, the EuroChallenge and the Baltic league – 58 games, 1309 minutes. 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assts, 1.1 steals on 62.4% 2FG%, 42% 3FG in the domestic league. In the Eurochallenge, 6.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.9 steals,on 46% 2FG% and 43% 3FG%. In the Baltic League, 10.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals on 65% 2FG and 33 3FG%. He’s a very interesting prospect and should be able to see minutes in this tournament. With all the minutes he has played this years as well as Summer League for the Grizzlies, he might not impress at all.

Latvia is not going anywhere with so many teams clearly ahead of them in this group but their preparation results should make them optimistic about not being total fodder in a tough group.

Video: Janis Timma meeting young fans... sorry, that's the best I could do.

So that's Group B. Latvia shouldn't be much of a factor in this group and Serbia might be a negative surprise. Basically, Lithuania should be the runaway favorite with all the balkan states in a n intense competition for the remaining two spots. Whoever loses to Latvia is at a major disadvantage.

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