Group A consists of Argentina, France, Lebanon, Nigeria, Serbia & Montenegro and Venezuela, and is headlined by San Antonio Spurs stars Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Group A, Part One
Games will be conducted in Sendai, Japan from August 19th to 24th.
Read more about the 2006 FIBA World Championship tournament at the informative official website Fiba.com
Manu Ginobili, 6-6, SG, San Antonio Spurs, 29 years old
No other player in this tournament is more important to his teams chances besides possibly Dirk Nowitzki to Germany, not just for what he brings on the court, but what he brings off it. The same things that make Ginobili one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA2nd amongst NBA guards in points per shotalso make him one of the best teammates anyone can ask for, as the San Antonio Spurs would readily tell you.
He has outstanding leadership skills and is incredibly unselfish with the way he creates shots for others, not to mention one of the highest basketball IQs of any player in the world. Being more than just a fantastic passer and shot-creator, Ginobili is one of the most unique and entertaining players the World Championship organizers could have asked for, and his presence along with his fantastic set of role-playing teammates make Argentina one of the leading favorites to come away with the gold when taking their chemistry and sheer talent into consideration.
Ginobili is first and foremost a slasher. His outstanding first step and ball-handling skills make him a threat to break defenses down off the dribble unexpectedly and finish with creative lefty flair amongst the trees. He gets to the free throw line at will and has the court vision to make breathtaking passes in the rare occasion that knifing through the lane is not quite an option.
What will be interesting to see is how he adjusts to the different style of refereeing in international play, where hand-checking is more tolerated and slashing guards in his mold dont have the same built in advantage as they do in the NBA. The good news for Argentina is that Manu has quietly become an effective 38% shooter from behind the NBA arc, which makes him even tougher to guard when considering the fact that hell be shooting the equivalent of mid-range jumpers for his International 3-point attempts. This ability to hit long range will be tested by his opponents, but if an open shot isnt there, dont expect Manu to try and force things.
To further emphasize the talent gap he enjoys over almost every player here in Japan, we must mention his outstanding perimeter defense, having the quickness to stay in front of any guard at this level, the tenacity to make this a point of emphasis and the savvy to know how to step in and take the charge/flop if his matchup tries to over-penetrate.
This championship will be a great opportunity for Ginobili to show the world that he can be a legit go-to guy without the presence of a player in the mold of Tim Duncan, but he will hardly do it on his own, having to rely heavily on the inside presence of Luis Scola and Fabricio Oberto as well as the playmaking skills of Pablo Prigioni and Pepe Sanchez.
Walter Herrmann, 6-8, SF, Unicaja Málaga or Charlotte Bobcats?, 27 years old
Herrmann draws attention because of his excellent physical set, which is truly NBA caliber. He has the right size for a small forward, hes strong, enjoys a good wingspan and amazingly big hands that allow him to snatch the ball out the air like a tennis ball. Hes also an athletic guy who gets rather easily off his feet.
Offensively, were basically talking about a finisher. He has a nice perimeter shot, but its a static one and he needs space to effectively knock it down. He looks pretty well for the open corner to deliver them when being left alone.
He has a very basic mid-range game, especially off the dribble. If he attempts a slashing move, its usually to go all the way to the basket and take advantage of his big right hand to leave the ball in the net. even against opposition. His ball handling is average, but enough to penetrate if it doesnt mean changing directions in the process. Defensively, Herrmann perhaps lacks a bit of lateral movement to battle quicker wings, but he can usually get the job done relying on his excellent physical set.
On a team like Argentina, with a rotation that is pretty well settled and with Andres Nocioni ahead of him, its not likely that he will enjoy any major role. Instead he will likely settle for a few minutes here and there every game off the bench, perhaps trying to become an offensive spark just like he was in the last Olympic semifinal against the US Team. Still, it looks like Carlos Delfino will enjoy significantly more action off the bench on the wings than him.
Herrmann is on the verge of signing with the Charlotte Bobcats. Apparently theres already a verbal agreement, so he will join his countrymen Ginobili, Nocioni, Delfino and Oberto in the NBA.
Boris Diaw, 6-8, SF/PF, Phoenix Suns, 24 years old
To further justify the huge leap Diaw has made over the past 12 months, hes been named the Captain of the French National team; quite an accomplishment for a player who was considered too meek and timid to not be an offensive liability for the Atlanta Hawks, at least according to them.
Now Diaw comes to Japan as one of the most recognizable stars in the basketball world and with the expectations of the leader for a team that is considered one of the favorites to come away with the Gold.
What was once considered his biggest weakness has now become his biggest strength playing for one of the most innovative coaches and systems in the NBA under Mike DAntoni and the Phoenix Suns. Diaw is essentially a player without a position, featuring the passing and ball-handling skills of a guard, the length and size of a forward, and the toughness and basketball IQ to even defend Centers like Yao Ming if asked to. It works for the Suns, but there are many more conservative coaches who wouldnt quite know how to utilize him.
Diaw is a mismatch threat waiting to happen, comfortable facing the basket and using his athleticism to get by players and finish with the utmost creativity. While his perimeter shooting is still quite poor, he excels at finding the open seams in the defense with his freelance off the ball movement to knock down mid-range jumpers.
Aggressive and instinctive, Diaw is an outstanding rebounder who is particularly good on the offensive end. What really makes him an elite level player is his incredible court vision, though. Diaw averaged an astounding 6.2 assists last season from the power forward or center position for Phoenix, many of them downright spectacular.
Defensively, Diaw is almost equally as impressive, utilizing his long arms, excellent toughness and superb athleticism to bother players bigger or smaller than him in the post or on the perimeter.
Diaw's often excessive unselfishness will be put to the test in Japan where he will be forced to shoulder a bigger offensive load than he usually does with the Suns. How he will handle this task will tell us plenty about the player he has evolved into at age 24 and just how ready he might be to step up and take the Phoenix Suns to the next level year while competing for an NBA championship ring.
The difference between playing with a point guard like Tony Parker instead of Steve Nash will also become crystal clear in the evaluation process. Further complicating matters is the fact that he's looking for a long-term extension in the 50+ million dollar range this summer, with top decision maker Mike D'Antoni not far away watching. If he has the type of summer many envision from him, look for the extension to get done now rather than waiting for restricted free agency next year.
Tony Parker, 6-2, Point Guard, San Antonio Spurs, 24 years old
In terms of sheer quickness and explosiveness, Parker is in a class of his own here in Japan when excluding Team USA. NBA defenders find it almost impossible to stay in front of him when he decides to make his way to the basket, so it will be fascinating to see how this translates over the World Championships and how much of Frances game will revolve around his ability to penetrate and score rather than running a traditional half-court offense as most of the other teams here will do. It will also be interesting to see how he performs without the benefit of playing next to the #1 player in the world in Tim Duncan.
Last year at the Eurobasket in Belgrade, Parker was absolutely atrocious early on in the tournament, to the point that he was benched and had the embarrassment of seeing his team play much better basketball without him. Despite getting going late, he averaged only 12 points on 34% shooting from the field and 21% from behind the 3-point line, and dished out 2.6 assists compared with 2.3 turnovers. Once his role was reduced, the French team took off, and without the pressure of being the absolute star for his team Parker returned to form and helped Les Bleus win the Bronze medal behind a stellar 25 point, 5 assist game in a win over Spain.
Parker must show better decision making ability in this tournament--especially in the clutch-- than he has so far in international play and even in the NBA playoffs when things really matter. His inability to consistently knock down the three pointer has been an Achilles heel for him in his career so far, and it will be fascinating to see how opposing teams defend him as this can be a major problem (not just for him, but for France in general) in the International game. Especially since his team doesnt have a great frontcourt presence in the most traditional sense. Even free throws are too often an issue for Parker, as evidenced by the 57% he shot from the line last summer in Belgrade. The French will only go as far as their star PG will led them, but they will need him to be consistent and under control.
Mickael Gelabale, 6-7, SF, Real Madrid/Seattle Supersonics, 23 years old
He then finished off his breakout season by being one of the best French players in the European championship for his first international appearance. During the tournament he showcased his premiere defensive ability, based on his athleticism and basketball IQ. Gelabale also was active on the offensive end, finishing with 8 ppg and 3.1 rpg on 63 % shooting. He also made his three pointers and free throws when needed ( 5/10 and 5/6).
His second year in Madrid was not as successful as the first one. His relationship with Bozidar Maljkovic, Real Madrids coach, worsened during the year when Gelabale said he was thinking about the NBA. He was left out of the ACB playoff roster and Real Madrid lost against Winterthur Barcelona in the quarter finals.
He regardless still got a two year guaranteed contract to play in Seattle this fall which he signed just a few weeks ago before going to the French national team training camp. During exhibition games with France, Gelabale has not shined as much as he did last year, especially on the offensive side, due to a more balanced offense. But his role is still decisive for the French NT.
Expect him to bulk up his game when the World Championships start, which will give him more valuable experience before arriving in Seattle this fall. He will bring his all around game and unselfishness, doing all the little things a role player is expected to do. He should quickly adapt to the league, especially on the defensive end. On the offensive side, his quickness and positioning will help him find easy buckets from mid-range and in transition. Considering the present roster of the Sonics, he could very well be the first wing player off the bench behind Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
Yannick Bokolo, 6-3, PG, Le Mans, 21 years old
On the offensive end, he has been a full time PG only for one year now, but his learning curve is pretty high here and hes showcasing nice playmaking abilities so far. The drive and dish play is what he excels at the most so far. While his handle is not perfect, it does not result in too many turnovers. Another weakness is that hes not consistent from the three point line and that he is a 60 % free throw shooter.
Bokolo was a starter with LeMans this year and he has done very well during many important games. First he had a great showing at La Semaine des As, the French counter part of the Spanish Kings Cup. He led his team to the victory with an awesome control of the game and passing display. He was also instrumental in the French League Finals, especially in the second half, giving boosts to LeManss offense that helped them go on and winning the championship to secure a spot in the Euroleague for next year.
During exhibition games, Bokolo has typically been very active on both ends of the court even though he hasnt gotten much playing time. He can be the defensive specialist for opposing small guards, but his role with the French team will probably be minimal in these Championships. Playing behind Tony Parker isnt the easiest thing in the world, but this experience is huge for Bokolo, especially since he will discover the Euroleague next year as the primary point guard of his team.
After putting his name in the NBA draft this year to test the waters, Bokolo will be automatically eligible next year and will surely draw the attention of the scouts both in Japan and in the Euroleague next year.
Miguel Marriaga, 6-9, PF/C, Guácharos de Maturín, 22 years old