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Russia has enough talent to compete

Starting to tackle the topic of EuroBasket in Slovenia, one can’t help mentioning the issue of numerous high-profile absentees. Too many players withdrew from their national team duties because, obviously, they felt they needed an extended rest after a long and challenging season.

As I’ve said many times, the late start of EuroBasket doesn’t help here at all. I know it’s TV-friendly and stuff, but previously when the tournament was held right after the end of the club season, players were more willing to participate as they knew they still had a large chunk of summer to recover afterwards. Now, it’s a problem. Even after prolonged periods of preparation many teams have used, it’s still extremely hard to sustain the enormous number of high-stake games over the ridiculously short period of time that is EuroBasket.

Now, let’s just think of how many players sustained or aggravated injuries this summer. Look at the list of guys who decided to skip the show for health-related reasons. They’re not just players who suffered injuries at late stages of last season like Victor Khryapa or Sasha Kaun. A ton of guys from different teams went down during the preparation period.

Getting back to the game, Italy really surprised me in the first contest

So, the “who’s in and who’s out” factor will definitely influence the final standings. And while it’s still very early, there’s no doubt that Spain has the depth and talent to go all the way even without Pau Gasol and Navarro. They’re heavily favored despite the loss to the hosts, and deservedly so. The out-of-the-gate demolition of Croatia is yet another proof to the statement above. And they might benefit from the wake up call in the game against Slovenians after going undefeated in the preparation games.

The rest of the field to me is quite evenly balanced from technical and tactical standpoints, which means a lot will come down to chemistry. First two days of EuroBasket already gave us a number of close games, upsets and near-upsets. It’s going to stay like this the rest of the way.

As for Russia, I firmly believe there’s enough talent on this roster to compete. For me, it’ll be very interesting to see Shved play given that he’s obviously the best point guard on his team and one of the best in Europe as well. I wonder how his season in the NBA influenced him – made him better, stronger and changed his perception of a point guard’s duties. Over there PGs are always supposed to score while in Europe they tend to be pass-first. The transition from a gunner to somebody who keeps people involved is the adjustment he has to make in order to help this team to the maximum extent. And it won’t be easy given that he played very well a certain way in Minnesota.

I’ll also be watching younger players like Karasev, Kulagin and Antonov to find out if they’re already up to the challenge. Another point of interest is whether two experienced centers will be able to mesh well with young guns and help the team. And, naturally, I’m always rooting for my players, in this case Fridzon and Voronov. The start wasn’t ideal, but there’s still a lot of games coming up. Let’s all tune in.

Russia’s first opponent, Italy, has had a brutal summer. They were losing players on a weekly basis. They lost Gallinari during the season. Then, after the preparation started, they lost Bargnani, Hackett, Gigli, Mancinelli… All in all, six of their best players went down with some sort of injury. That’s a whole series of huge blows.

I don’t completely agree with those saying that the absence of Gallinari and Bargnani made life easier for the team that now “had fewer me-first prima donnas hogging the ball”. To me, Belinelli, Gallinari and Bargnani are all great players who just maybe tried to do a little bit too much for their own good in the past, which sometimes happens when you come over from the NBA with strong desire to carry your national team. But I think that past three years taught Italy some tough lessons, and now everybody there realizes that you just can’t win without sharing the ball and accumulating a large number of assists. That’s why I’m pretty sure this team will be very good when it gets its top players back. And the emergence of Datome will help a lot. He gives them a new dimension – a reigning Italian League MVP and an NBA-caliber player whose game doesn’t necessarily revolve around shooting the ball. He’s not a one-on-one player; he can effectively play both forward positions and contribute in many ways other than scoring, which could prove invaluable for Italy going forward.

Russia’s first opponent, Italy, has had a brutal summer. They were losing players on a weekly basis

But their backcourt is already quite talented and deep as it is, with USA-born Travis Diener providing spark off the bench. He’s a proven scorer at a club level but here in Slovenia he’s also managed to provide some much-needed playmaking.

By the way, here’s a quick observation. With the exception of maybe one or two guys, all naturalized players here at EuroBasket are point guards. And if you recall, Russia achieved its greatest feat so far with J.R. Holden running the point. That’s yet another indication of how vital it is to have a quality floor general.

Getting back to the game, Italy really surprised me in the first contest. They managed to maintain solid mental discipline throughout the game, making sure that in all tough situations the ball went to one of their two best players. And that’s something you don’t see every day with that team. So, while Belinelli and Datome did what they do, everyone around them chipped with whatever sort of contribution they could offer. I was really impressed with their togetherness and willingness to work hard until the final whistle.

Beating Russia was a great way to start the tournament but there’s still a lot needing to be done if this team is to cause a serious stir in Slovenia.

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