Mike Taylor, Head Coach of the Polish National Team looks ahead to the Olympic Games and gives his insight to the upcoming competition in Tokyo.
Basketball at this summer’s Olympic games in Tokyo Tips off today (Sunday July 25th) with 12 teams in 3 groups of 4. The top two teams advance into the knock-out stages along with the best two third place teams. Quarterfinals start Tuesday August 3rd with semi-finals on Thursday August 5th and the Gold Medal Game on Saturday August 7th along with the bronze medal 3rd place game. Below is a detailed look at all 12 teams and first round predictions for each Group.
GROUP A UNITED STATES
It was a preparation unlike any USA basketball fans had seen before. Upset losses to Nigeria and Australia raised concerns before Team USA beat Argentina and Spain in Las Vegas. Critics pointed to too much one on one play, no real distributor and a lack of physicality while supporters encouraged everyone not to over-react to preparation game results. Waiting for last roster additions from the NBA finals that could potentially include Devin Booker, Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday, surprising roster moves changed the team as Bradley Beal was lost to covid 19 protocol and Kevin Love left the team.
Covid19 protocols also claimed Chicago Bulls guard Zach Levine and he did not travel with the team to Tokyo but there is hope for his late arrival. Center Javale McGee and forward Keldon Johnson were added as replacements. Johnson, who plays for Team USA Head Coach Gregg Popovich with the San
Antonio Spurs, sparked a third quarter run and finished with 13 points on 6 of 7 shooting in Team USA’s 83-76 preparation victory over Spain in Las Vegas Sunday July 18th. Top to bottom, Team USA’s talent is unparalleled in this Olympic competition with NBA All-Stars Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum in primary roles. Currently ranked second on Team USA’s all-time Olympic scoring list with 311 points, Durant will likely pass Carmelo Anthony (336 points) this summer in Tokyo. Durant already ranks first all-time for Olympic scoring average at 19.6ppg and most three pointers made with 59. Lillard brings his explosive scoring ability to lead Team USA at the point and his efficiency will determine how well Athletic center Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat is primed for a key front-court role while Draymond Green will provide front-court depth behind Adebayo, defensive energy and front-court playmaking for America. Adjusting to the FIBA style of play, Team USA must value every possession, bring physicality, commit to playing both ends of the floor and emphasize teamwork for good shots on offense. Over-reliance on 1 on 1, isolations or breaking plays in an attempt to simply out-score opponents is not a game plan for success. Expectations are at maximum but the team’s talent provides all they need. A main challenge facing Team USA is finding a way to be efficient in the FIBA game and playing to their strengths. I believe Team USA will rise to the challenges and play excellent basketball in Tokyo. Facing France in their first game in Tokyo, Team USA will be tested by another medal contender immediately before taking on Iran and then the Czech Republic.
Gold Medal odds 1-3.
A team to watch and one many consider a pre-tournament contender, France features an outstanding Olympic roster with tremendous talent at the disposal of Head Coach Vincent Collet. Guard-play is a great strength for France led by skill-full Nando De Colo, versatile Frank Ntilikina, talented Thomas Heurtel and experienced Andrew Albicy. De Colo (10.7ppg 4.3ast in preparation) has emerged as a primary play-maker for France and his ability to make plays for himself or his teammates in the clutch
can be a key for France in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Ntilikina (10ppg in preparation) has the potential to shine as a secondary play-maker playing along-side the other talented point guards. Heurtel (7ppg 4ast in preparation) has been an important floor general for France for the last several years and underrated Albicy is a proven veteran who can shine in big moments. On the wing, Evan Fournier (17ppg 2ast in preparation) is always hunting shots as he provides a three-point threat and Nicolas Batum’s size, length and skill make him a difficult match-up. Batum produced 8.5ppg 4.5reb 4ast in preparation. Rudy
Gobert’s shot blocking gives France arguably the best rim-protector in the entire competition. Gobert looks to be in top form after averaging 11.5ppg 6reb 3ast and 1 block per game in preparation for France. Physical Guerschon Yabusele (8.7ppg 7.3reb in preparation), the former Boston Celtic power forward, is a newcomer to the French National team and his potential impact could be significant.
Yabusele plays with tremendous energy and looks to fill the front court void left by legend Boris Diaw. Behind Gobert, 7-foot center Vincent Poirier and 7’2 Moustapha Fall will play an important role.
Timothe Luwawu Kongbo, an athletic forward looks to add depth on the wing while power forward Petr Cornelie looks to earn a role behind Yabusele. France will face USA in a first-game show-down in Tokyo before meeting the Czech Republic and finishing up with a game against Iran.
Gold Medal odds 20-1
Known in the sports world as an Ice hockey power, over the last few years, Czech Republic has written one of the more inspiring stories in FIBA basketball. After a 5th place finish at the 2019 World Cup in China, the team won this summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, Canada where they fought off upset minded Uruguay, held off host Canada’s late rally before sealing the hard-fought win in
overtime and then punching their ticket to Tokyo by convincingly beating Greece 97-72 in OQT Finals. It will be the Czech Republic’s first Olympic appearance in 41 years. The team embodied their “Rvi Se Jako Lev” motto which means fight like a Lion in Czech. Head coach Ronen Ginzberg loves the up-tempo style and has expertly developed his roster to their strengths. Current Chicago Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky is the driving force behind the attack. Saty’s size and length are an advantage at his point guard position but his leadership and clutch play have lifted the Czech Republic to new levels as demonstrated by his game winning overtime bank shot to beat Canada 103-101 this summer. While Satoransky is the leader, naturalized forward Blake Schilb has been the team’s offensive punch exploding for 31 points and 7 assists on 7 for 12 three-point shooting in the Czech win over Canada.
In the front court, athletic big man Jan Vesely protects the rim, crashes the boards and is a high-light reel finisher. Along with Vesely, center Ondrej Balvin provides a presence in the paint and the ability to establish an offensive low post scoring threat — his 14 point 19 rebound Double double against Canada and 14 points 7 boards against Greece powered the Czech team in the Victoria OQT. Hard-working Patrick Auda gives the team quality and physicality at the power forward spot. Auda’s blue-collar play was another key in the Victoria OQT as he led his team in scoring with 20 points in the big win over Greece. Jaromir Bohacik has also emerged as a key player for the Czechs showing the ability to hit shots and play off screens. Veteran Vojtech Hruban returns to the team for the Olympic games after missing the Qualifying Tournament and his three-point shooting perfectly compliments Satoransky’s penetration and playmaking. From the bench, the Czech Republic brings crafty left-handed point guard Jakub Sirina, Lukasz Palyza gives the team a three-point threat, intelligent big man Martin Peterka. Away from the national team for some time, sharp-shooting wing David Jelinek could give the team a boost with added firepower from behind the three-point line. Hard-nosed playmaker Tomas Vyoral also provides depth at
the point. Patrick Samoura and Ondrej Sehnal round out the roster. The Czech team tips off Olympic play in Tokyo against Iran before facing France and finally the USA.
Iran struggled in their preparation games scoring only 57ppg while giving up 92ppg in losing two games to Spain. Benham Yakhchali led the Iranian attack with 10.5ppg and 2reb in preparation while Mohammad Jamshidi added 9ppg and 5.5ast, Aaron Geramipoor produced 8.5ppg with 5reb and Samad Bahrami 8ppg and 3.5ast. Former NBA center and key Iranian player, Hammad Haddadi chipped in 4.5ppg 4reb during the build-up. Arslan Kazemi led the team in rebounding during preparation games at 7.5reb. Head coach Mehrain Shahintab and the Iranian team have their work cut out for them in the countries 3rd Olympic appearance. Iran opens up action in Tokyo against the Czech Republic before meeting Team USA and finishing up against France.
GROUP A PREDICTION
Team USA beats France in a hard-fought important first game before taking care of business against Iran and Czech Republic to position themselves for the knock-out stages. The key game sets up to be France and Czech Republic. In an upset, Czech Republic tops France to finish second and advance. France also advances as one of the top 3rd place teams. Iran is eliminated after the first round.
GROUP B AUSTRALIA
Currently 3rd in the FIBA World rankings, Australia is primed for a deep run in Tokyo. In what will be the countries 15th Olympic appearance, timing could be right for their first medal especially with a talented roster featuring several elite level players. Sharp-shooting guard Patty Mills (19.5ppg 4.5ast in preparation for Olympics) may be the team’s biggest name and his leadership and scoring will be key for the Aussies. Playmaking forward Joe Ingles (16.5ppg 3.0ast in preparation for Olympics) adds a unique dimension to the team’s offensive attack. Josh Giddey (14.0ppg 4.0reb 3.0ast in preparation) is an underrated shooting guard with length and combo guard Christopher Goulding (11.3ppg in preparation) plays a key role. Hard-nosed guard Matthew Dellavedova brings grit and defensive toughness while Dante Exum’s size and athleticism at the point guard position creates natural advantages. Matisse Thybulle gives the team an athletic perimeter defender. In the front court, veteran big man Aaron Baynes (7.0ppg 4.5reb in preparation) looks to stabilize the middle for Australia. After a great year playing for Melbourne United and leading the team to an NBL championship along with a finals MVP award, 6’11 center Jock Landale (9.3ppg 5.7reb in preparation) seems ready for a great run in Tokyo.
6’11 center Duop Reath provides a paint presence and rim protection. Shooting guard Nathan Sobey and center Nic Kay give the Aussies quality depth. While the team may be missing recognizable names like Ben Simmons or Andrew Bogut, look for this Australia team to get hot in Tokyo this summer. Head coach Brian Goorjian and an excellent coaching staff hope to help Australia break through and win their first Olympic medals besting four 4th place finishes in their history. With their “play for your mates” mentality, Australia opens up their first round against Nigeria before meeting Italy and then Germany.
Gold Medal odds 8-1
Italy’s surprising 102-95 upset win over European Power Serbia in the Belgrade Olympic Qualifying Tournament was impressive. Most experts predicted Serbia would emerge victorious on their home- court but the talented young Italian team took them down. Now, NBA star Danilo Galinari will return to the Italian lineup in Tokyo and his presence should raise the level of the team. Galinari can take over a game and get buckets in winning time, a dimension every team aiming for a medal run needs. Head coach Meo Sacchetti looks to integrate the talented Galinari within the strong team performance established in Belgrade in late June. Forward Achille Polonara (15.7ppg 7.7reb in OQT) led the Italian attack in the big win over Serbia with a 22 point 12 rebound double double. Talented young Point guard Nico Mannion (12.3ppg in OQT) scorched Serbia for 24 points in the Olympic Qualifying tournament final. Simone Fontecchio was also a key in the upset win over Serbia finishing with 21 points and 8 rebounds. Shooting guard Stefano Tonut (15ppg 3.5ast in OQT) gives Italy a perimeter threat while veteran power forward Nicolo Melli (12ppg 4reb in OQT) gives the team front-court skill and versatility. Veteran point guard Michele Vitali (8ppg in OQT) adds size and experience to the back-court. In 12 Olympic appearances in their history, Italy claimed two silver medals in 1980 and 2004. This summer in Tokyo, Italy opens up Olympic action against Germany, in a re-match from preparation in the Super Cup at Hamburg, Germany earlier this summer. Game two for Italy is against Australia before Game three against Nigeria.
Following strong preparations in Las Vegas including a headline making preparation game win over Team USA, Nigeria will make their 3rd Olympic appearance and are in search of their first medals. Head coach Mike Brown has 8 players with NBA experience on his final 12-man roster and this Nigeria team looks to challenge in Tokyo with hopes of becoming the first African country to advance to the knock- out rounds at the Olympics. In fact, after Team USA, Nigeria’s 8 NBA players is the most on any Olympic roster. Gone are key players with Olympic experience Ike Diogu, Ben Uzoh, Stan Okoye and Michael Gbinije. Fresh faces for Nigeria include Precious Achiuwa (7.3ppg 6.7reb in preparation), Jahlil Okafor (11ppg 6reb in preparation), Miye Oni and Kezie Okpala. Epke Udoh has established himself as one of the top big men in the Euroleague. Point guard Gabe Vincent (10.7ppg 2.3ast in preparation) played the starring role scoring 21 points sinking six three pointers in the upset win over the USA. Jordan Nwora of the Milwaukee Bucks is expected to join D’Tigers in Tokyo after the NBA Finals. Rounding out the Nigerian roster are Josh Okogie (8ppg 2.3reb in preparation), Chimezie Metu (7ppg 4reb in preparation), Ike Nwamu (6ppg 2.7reb 2.3ast in preparation), Obi Emegano (7ppg in preparation) and Calab Agada (8ppg 3.3reb in preparation). Nigeria meets Australia in the Olympic opener for both teams before facing Germany then Italy in Tokyo.
Heading into the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Split Croatia, few favored Germany to claim the ticket to Tokyo. Without Dennis Schroeder due to insurance issues, also missing NBA big men Daniel Theis and Maxi Kleber, Germany’s roster looked like a shell of it’s potential. Even more adversity struck Germany when key wing Paul Zipser, coming off an outstanding season for Bayern Munich suffered a Brain Hemorrhage forcing him to miss the Olympics. The German Federation itself did not seem to believe in the team. But head coach Henrik Rodl rallied the troops and led the team on a great run in Split Croatia to OQT title. It was once again proof that basketball is a team game and teams with great
chemistry win. Beating favored Brazil in the OQT final, big man Moritz Wagner exploded for 28 points in 28 minutes on 9 for 12 shooting including 3 of 6 threes. Team Captain Robin Benzing also stepped-up scoring 13 points including 2 for 3 from three. Center Johannes Voigtmann added 8 points and 11 rebounds as Germany reached their 5th Olympic games in history. Point guard Maodo Lo who went for 29 points and 8 assists in Germany’s 86-76 OQT semifinal win over Croatia in Split, small forward Niels Giffey and three-point shooting threat Andreas Obst (13ppg in preparation) all played important roles for Germany. Guard Joshiko Saibou (18ppg 4reb 2ast in preparation) adds skill to the perimeter while big men Danillo Barthel (10ppg 6reb in preparation) and Johannes Theimann provide size, skill and depth to the front court. Germany will take on Italy in their first game in Tokyo. The two teams met earlier this summer at the Super Cup in Hamburg, where Germany topped Italy 91-79 on June 20th.
Games two and three are not any easier for the Germans as they will face Nigeria and Australia respectively.
GROUP B PREDICTION
Australia tops Nigeria, Italy and Germany to win the group. I like Australia’s balance and experience in this group. But it will not be a cake-walk. Italy, Germany and Nigeria battle for second place in an epic three-way battle. When the dust settles, Nigeria becomes the first African team to advance to Knock-out stages in Olympic play. No third place team advances from Group B.
GROUP C SPAIN
A clear contender, Spain heads to Tokyo with an experienced roster in search of a fourth straight Olympic medal after winning Silver in 2008 and 2012 along with Bronze in 2016. Head Coach Sergio Scariolo, one of the most respected coaches in the European game, has guided Spain to the 2019 World Cup championship in China and now hopes to add another trophy to Spain’s Golden generation’s trophy case. Big men brothers, Pau (7.8ppg 5.5reb in preparation) and Marc Gasol (6ppg 3.8reb in preparation) headline the team while point guard Ricky Rubio (15ppg 2.4reb 3.6ast in preparation), shooting guard Sergio Lull (7.8ppg 2ast in preparation), small forward Rudy Fernandez (6.4ppg 2.8reb in preparation) and power forward Victor Claver (3.4ppg 2.0reb in preparation) have achieved so much in their national team careers. Willy (9ppg 5.2reb in preparation) and Juancho Hernangomez (5.7ppg 2.7reb in preparation) play with excellent energy and are just as important to the team’s success as the bigger- named Gasol brothers. Veteran point guard Sergio Rodgriguez (7.6ppg 3.6ast in preparation) is the definition of a floor general that compliments Rubio extremely well and young center Usman Garuba (4.4ppg 5.8reb in preparation) represents the next generation and will gain valuable experience in Tokyo after starring in recent years for Spanish youth teams. Alex Abrines (6.3ppg in preparation) adds three- point shooting to the Spanish offensive attack. For Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, the Olympics in Tokyo will be an impressive 5th appearance at the summer games. Spain opens Olympic action against host nation Japan before playing Argentina and Slovenia in two of the competition’s most attractive match-ups.
Gold Medal odds 10-1
Leading Slovenia to their first Olympic appearance in history, super-star Luka Doncic elevated the entire team in an impressive Olympic Qualifying Tournament run in Kaunas, Lithuania earlier this summer.
Doncic posted a 31 point 11 rebound 13 assist triple double in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament championship game to lead Slovenia to a 96-85 victory over host Lithuania in Kaunas. This was after a 23 point 9 rebound 13-point performance in the OQT semifinals against Venezuela. But this Slovenia team is far from a one man show. Denver Nuggets power forward Vlatko Cancar is ready to let the basketball world know his high-level talent. Cancar was also in top-form in the OQT championship game against Lithuania finishing with 18 points and 5 boards in the win. Veteran wings Jaka Blazic (16ppg 4reb 2ast in preparation) and Zoran Dragic (6.5ppg 2.5ast 2.5stl in preparation) play both ends and know how to win. Three-point threat Klemen Prepelic (22.5ppg in preparation) adds firepower from the perimeter. Former University of Virginia center Mike Tobey (26ppg 11reb in preparation) is a perfect compliment as a skilled big man in pick and roll. Tobey tallied 27 points with 12 rebounds in Slovenia’s 98-70 OQT semi- final win over Venezuela. Team captain and veteran forward Edo Muric stretches the floor as a perimeter shooting threat in the front court. Physical center Ziga Dimec does the dirty work down low for the team. Hard-working wing Gregor Hrovat played extremely well in Kaunas. Aleksej Nickolic and Luka Rupnik provide depth at the point behind Doncic and Jakob Cebasek adds more shooting from the bench. From the performance in Kaunas, Slovenia will enter Tokyo with tremendous confidence. Head coach Aleksander Sekulic has done excellent work developing the team and establishing the culture, but the best part may be integrating the super-star Doncic and creating a platform for him to make everyone better. Not only will Slovenia be one of the most fun teams to watch, but their group features some of the best match-ups of the first round. Slovenia meets Argentina in their Olympic opener before taking on host Japan and then finishing up first round play against Spain.
Gold Medal odds 20-1
One of the most entertaining teams to watch in Tokyo will be Argentina. After a fantastic World Cup 2019 run to the Silver Medal in China, Argentina is focused to add to their Olympic medal collection of Gold in 2004 and Bronze in 2008. Head coach Sergio Hernandez looks to lead his team to peak at the right time after preparation game losses to both Nigeria 94-71 July 12th and the USA 108-80 July 14th. The last remaining player from Argentina’s golden generation, 41-year-old center Luis Scola (16.7ppg 5.7reb in preparation) continues to build his legend. Earlier in preparation, Scola scored 25 points with 8 rebounds in an 87-84 loss to Australia. The brilliance of Denver Nuggets point guard Facundo Campazzo (9ppg 3.7ast in preparation) is now appreciated around the world. Along with Campazzo, point guard Nicolas Laprovittola (9.7ppg 1.3ast in preparation) gives Argentina high-level play-making and arguably the best two-point guard lineup in FIBA. Playing with both Campazzo and Laprovittola, New York Knicks mid-season signee Lucas Vildoza (9.3ppg) creates a tremendous three-guard attack for Argentina.
Talented power forward Gabriel Deck (4.3ppg 4reb in preparation) impacts the game in a variety of ways and big man Marcos Delia (7ppg 5.7reb in preparation) compliments Scola well. Patricio Garino (5.7ppg 2.3ast in preparation) adds quality to the wing and flies under the radar as opponents focus attention on Scola and the Argentina guards. Playing two outstanding opponents in their first two games, Argentina faces Slovenia and Spain in two much anticipated match-ups before finishing up against host Japan.
Hosting the Olympic games gave Japan and automatic place in the 12-team competition and the hosts hope to create a home court advantage in Tokyo despite being ranked lowest in FIBA World ranking at
42nd. Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura headlines the roster after joining the Japanese team for an 87-59 preparation game win over Belgium in Saitama on July 16th. Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe and Melbourne United (Australia) guard Yudai Baba will also be key players for Japan. Head coach Julio Lamas leads Japan into the countries 6th Olympic appearance as the hosts hope they capitalize on their momentum building 81-75 win in preparation over France July 18th. Rui Hachimura top-scored with 19 points while Yuta Watanabe added 18 for Japan against France. Japan also features naturalized US born forward Gavin Edwards who plays for the Chiba Jets in the Japanese B-League.
Japan will face Spain first, Slovenia second and Argentina third as they host the Olympic games in Tokyo. Of note, Rui Hachimura will do the honor of standing as flag bearer for host nation Japan at the July 23rd opening ceremony.
GROUP C PREDICTIONS
In what may be the most intriguing and entertaining group, Spain, Slovenia and Argentina provide basketball fans with fantastic first round match-ups. How far can Luka Doncic lead Slovenia in their first Olympic appearance? Is this finally the Olympics where the Golden generation of Spain win a Gold medal? Where does the outstanding guard play from Argentina take their team? I can not wait to watch these Group C games. The easy prediction is with the hosts — Japan is eliminated after the first round. Spain wins Group C, Doncic leads Slovenia to second place and Argentina still advances as a top 3rd place team.
TEAMS ADVANCING TO THE KNOCK-OUT ROUNDS
GROUP A: USA, CZECH REPUBLIC, FRANCE
GROUP B: AUSTRALIA, NIGERIA
GROUP C: SPAIN, SLOVENIA, ARGENTINA
Photographs courtesy of FIBA.basketball