Olympics Basketball Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 07/23/2008
I'm a Canadian. That means that I'm able to approach this year's Olympic men's basketball tournament with some objectivity and detachment. After all, Steve Nash is the only real basketball talent we have now that Rick Fox is an actor and Jamaal Magloire decided that he would rather not be good, and Nash didn't play in the qualifying tournaments, so we didn't stand a chance of making it to Beijing. I feel lucky that I can be objective about this tournament because it seems pretty clear that no one else is. That's pretty much the only way that you can explain why Sportsbook.com has the U.S. favored at 1/5 to win the tournament.
I don't dispute for a second that the Americans should be favored. They have incredible talent and a very cute nickname - The Redeem Team. It's just that we aren't exactly in the golden era of American international basketball, and there are several teams with more than a little talent, so it is ridiculous to think that any team would be a virtual lock in a 12-team tournament with a single elimination playoff. Go ahead and bet on the Americans at this price if you want, but be braced for the fact that I am going to call you a moron if you do.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time looking at the American team. By now we all know the team well, and people are obviously very comfortable with them. I want to be clear - I would pick the Americans to win this tournament without hesitation if I had to pick one team. It's just that they are so far from a value pick that they aren't worth any more attention. Instead, it makes sense to look at some of the other key contenders because people clearly aren't paying enough attention to them.
Spain (3/1) - The Spaniards are second favorites on the strength of being the current world champions. The year after winning the world championship they won silver in the European Championship. The team will be more familiar to American basketball fans than you might think - six of the players have NBA ties. The leader, and the MVP at the worlds, was Pau Gasol. He, brother Marc, and Jorge Garbajosa make up an impressively big and talented frontcourt. Jose Calderon is the point guard, and he's good enough that the Raptors have hitched their wagon exclusively to him. There's more impressive talent too - Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez - a first round pick last year, and stud 17-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio who has NBA scouts drooling. Spain doesn't have the depth that the Americans do, but they have more than enough talent to be competitive.
Argentina (9/2) - The defending Olympic champions are back for another shot. They hold an important distinction - they are the only team to have beaten the pro American teams twice - at the last Olympics and the 2002 worlds. The last time the teams met though, at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, the Americans came out ahead, and that was much the same roster as here. They have five NBA players, and a couple are particularly good. Luis Scola was the MVP of the Americas Championship even though his team lost the final, and Manu Ginobli is the most ridiculously overqualified bench player in the history of the NBA. The Americans will have a clear edge if and when they meet Argentina, but it certainly isn't insurmountable for the South Americans if they have their best day.
The Field (10/1) - It may seem odd to go to the field before we look at either of the two teams, Greece and Lithuania, that have individual prices assigned to them (I am ignoring Italy and Puerto Rico, too, even though Sportsbook.com has odds assigned to them, but I have a good reason - they didn't make the tournament) but the field is far more intriguing than either of them. If you bet on the field you are stuck with four teams without a hope - Iran, Croatia, Angola and Australia. You also get three that are pretty interesting, though - China, Germany and Russia.
The Russians won the European Championship last year, and they have talent led by Andrei Kirilenko and recent Kansas grad Sasha Kaun, a couple of other former NBA players, and American J.R. Holden. They also have an American coach, David Blatt. Blatt has coached in Israel and Europe since his playing days at Princeton, but he is tabbed by many in the know as a future NBA coach. He'll have his team ready for the American style of play. Germany only got into the tournament at the last possible moment, but they still can do some damage. Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman give them size and versatility. You also get the hosts. China has never won a significant international medal, though they did make the elimination round in the last Olympics when Del Harris coached them. They have a real talent deficit, but Yao Ming is back in action, Yi Jianlian has shown he can hold his own, and the team has been preparing for this event for years. They are obviously a long shot, but it will be interesting to watch.