FIBA World Championship Preview: Group B

FIBA World Championship Preview: Group B
Aug 12, 2006, 08:45 pm
DraftExpress’ FIBA World Championship coverage kicks off by breaking down the top players participating at the upcoming tournament in Japan beginning August 19th. The teams are analyzed individually from a player perspective, exploring who the leaders and top stars are on each squad, and which intriguing players with NBA upside are lurking on every roster.

Group B consists of Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Panama, Angola and Japan and is headlined by arguably the two best power forwards in the tournament in Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki.

Group B

Games will be conducted in Hiroshima, Japan from August 19th to 24th.

Read more about the 2006 FIBA World Championship tournament at the informative official website


The Star:

Pau Gasol, 7-0, PF/C, Memphis Grizzles, 26 years old


Jonathan Givony

Possibly the most polished post player in the FIBA World Championships, Pau Gasol will be expected to shoulder quite a load in leading one of the favorites to come away with Gold Medal.

After taking a summer off International competition last year to focus on resting and getting stronger in anticipation of the grueling 82+ schedule that awaited him with the Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol is rested and hungry to come in and finally help the Spaniards cash in on their always intriguing talented roster. This year’s might be its strongest version yet, with two more NBA players besides him (Calderon, Garbajosa), another young talent just drafted in the first round (Sergio Rodriguez) and yet another international star in Juan Carlos Navarro who would be in the NBA as well if he weren’t tied down to a mammoth deal in Spain. Gasol’s team will be expected to go deep into the tournament and anything less than a medal will be considered another disappointment for what has been a perennially underachieving team in recent years.

To do that, Gasol will have to muster up every ounce of talent and energy he has in the tank, on both ends of the floor. When he’s focused, there isn’t a player at this tournament who can stop him from getting his shot and scoring at the rim.

Gasol is a legit 7-footer with superb quickness, coordination and balance, showing nimble feet, excellent offensive instincts and the type of versatile big man skill-set that makes NBA general managers drool. He is at his best facing the basket and using his athleticism and ball-handling skills to put the ball on the floor, spin off his defender and use either hand to finish creatively in the post.

Few 7-footers in the NBA beyond Dirk Nowitzki can create their own offense the way Gasol does on a consistent basis, being somewhat of a prototype for possessing a fundamentally sound modern post game from 16 feet and in.

If his defender sags off him to prevent him from putting the ball on the floor, Gasol has no problem knocking down the mid-range jumper from anywhere on the floor thanks to his outstanding touch. Double team him as many teams often try to do and he’ll usually do a good job finding the open man cutting to the basket or spotting up on the wing. Fully meshing with his teammates and establishing good chemistry will be a must, since Gasol is the type of player that needs excellent spacing and the type of teammates that understand his unique strengths and are willing to work for him in their off the ball movement.

Defensively he’s adequate at the NBA level, but capable of being much more than that in the International game thanks to his excellent size, fluidity and length. A solid shot-blocker back in the States—with either hand mind you--don’t be surprised at all to see him become more of a force here as Spain’s starting center.

The biggest questions about Gasol and whether he’s a legit go-to guy and true franchise player revolve around his ability to deliver in the clutch. This is an especially touchy topic for the Spanish national team in general, so it will be fascinating to see how they react in close game situations, which will inevitably present themselves throughout the tournament. He’s gotten tougher, more aggressive and quite a bit more willing to take over games during the past season, but concerns about his true mental toughness still quietly abound in NBA circles. He has a chance to answer those and then some in Japan.

The Upside:

Rudy Fernández, 6-5, SG, DKV Joventut, 21 years old


Luis Fernandez

Still 21 years old, Rudy Fernández has already some significant experience with the Spanish National Team. After the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2005 Eurobasket, this will be his third major international tournament with the senior squad. And it’s about time for him to start playing an important role in the team, as much as he might be overshadowed by Juan Carlos Navarro, the starter at his position and main offensive reference in the backcourt.

However, so far the preparation games haven’t shown us any improvement in this regard. He’s not managing to provide consistent offensive punch, sticking to a very complimentary role. Although on a different level, it was a bit of the same story at DKV Joventut this past season: where he played extremely well, but mostly as a complimentary guy. We’re waiting for him to step up, both in the National Team and his ACB team, especially this following season, with Joventut playing in the Euroleague and Rudy being automatically eligible in the draft. He has the tools to be a go-to guy; he just needs to believe in it.

And which are those tools? As repeated on many times, Rudy is a very complete player. He’s a nice shooter, even if he’s struggling a little bit lately from three-point range; a productive slasher who takes advantage of his ball-handling skills, quickness and leaping ability; an excellent passer who understands the game; and a reliable backcourt defender. He’s very fundamentally sound and is very active for the most part. Active in every department, but in taking over games; which he has eventually showed in Joventut to be capable of doing on occasion.

Besides that extra scoring punch, Rudy should bring Spain better ball movement coming off the bench. He’s a player who usually makes good decisions, and the Spanish team sometimes gets in offensive jams. If he starts playing well, expect coach Hernández to play him even at the small forward position for some stretches of the game, sharing the wing with Navarro. He’s still a skinny guy, but in international competition it's not rare to see three guards filling the perimeter.

Marc Gasol, 7-1, C, Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, 21 years old

Luis Fernandez

Just a few weeks ago, nobody would have expected that Marc Gasol could make the final roster of the Spanish squad. After all, he hasn’t been anything else than a very marginal player at Winterthur F.C.Barcelona this last season. However, the injury of Fran Vázquez opened a spot in the National Team’s roster that coach Pepu Hernández decided to fill with a big body that can add some size to the frontcourt.

If there’s one thing that Marc definitely has, its size. He’s not only big in height, but he’s a strong guy who--why not come out and say it--is a bit overweight. He’s doing a good job trying to eliminate all the baby fat he gained when he joined his brother Pau in Memphis during his first two seasons with the Grizzlies (‘Big Marc’, some fans joke). While he is improving his athleticism hand in hand with working on his conditioning, Marc will never be a very athletic player. He’s a bit slow and heavy footed, and that’s why his NBA potential is limited.

However, the young Gasol is a rather skilled player and delivers some nice intensity. He can play in the low post, although he could take better advantage of his big body and improve his jump-hook, he has a decent mid-range jumper, can pass the ball, understands the game and can even put the ball on the floor, although it’s not that much of a help considering his limited quickness. Even if not the most aggressive guy around, he’s rather tough. On defense, he lacks a bit of mobility, but he doesn’t show bad positioning, has a good attitude, and can eventually provide excellent size down low if needed (only his brother Pau has center size in the Spanish squad).

Still, he’s a bit immature, and needs some seasoning at the top level, something that he hasn’t been able to get in Barcelona and will search for next season at Girona, where he has been loaned for two seasons. He will need to work hard to make his way into the rotation, though; we're talking about a team with high expectations, with Svetislav Pesic as head coach and Dalibor Bagaric already signed for the center position.

With the Spanish National Team, he’s not expected to see a good deal of action. Indeed, with only three big men besides him in the roster (Pau Gasol, Jorge Garbajosa and Felipe Reyes), it’s highly likely that Carlos Jiménez, a small forward, will be moved to the power forward spot in the important games if necessary.


The Star:

Dirk Nowitzki, 7-0, PF, Dallas Mavericks, 28 years old


Jonathan Givony

As arguably the biggest non-American NBA star in this tournament on an otherwise extremely weak team, everything will start and end for Germany with Dirk Nowitzki and his ability to take over games. Although the International game is one that is based on team play more than individual matchups, look for most of Germany’s offense to revolve around getting Dirk in position to use his height to get his shot off in the spots he feels comfortable scoring from, while playing off the rotations he forces and the double teams he will surely draw.

Dirk will play the power forward position for Germany as he does for the Dallas Mavericks, and will be even more of a mismatch using all of his 7 feet of height, excellent mobility and coordination to put the ball on the floor, receive the ball in the mid-high post and just shoot over the top of his man with his deft touch and high release, or stroke the three pointer when the opportunity presents itself.

More than ever, though, he will have to show that he can first and foremost hurt his matchup inside the arc before he steps outside, much like he did this past season with the Mavs. This is a terrific opportunity for Dirk to show his always improving post up game, as few players anywhere in the world can stop him when he receives the ball with his back to the basket before spotting up for a quick fadeaway jumper.

Last summer, Nowitzki went out and solidified his spot as one of the top International players ever with an incredible showing at the Eurobasket tournament in Belgrade. Nowitzki led an injury riddled German squad, which most pundits had written off as marginal candidates to even make the quarterfinals, all the way to the finals against Greece, averaging a tournament high 26 points while pulling down 10 rebounds per game.

The way he carried that team on his back, while never forcing the issue or doing anything less than making everyone around him better, truly set the standard for showing us how a legit superstar can perform on a stage like this.

With the competition stiffening here in Japan, Nowitzki will likely have to repeat his incredible form from a year ago, even though he only had just a few weeks to rest after taking his team to the NBA finals and playing no less than 111 games (including preseason) in 9 months. Fatigue could play a big part in how far he can lead this German squad, since they’ll need every drop of energy he’ll be able to muster up for them.

One reason for that is since helping his team out defensively and especially on the glass will be a must for Germany to reach the advanced stages of the tournament. Despite the challenged involved with playing with such a weak supporting cast, Dirk will also have to make his teammates better. No one wins games by themselves in the International game, but Germany and Nowitzki will come about as close as you can get.

New Zealand

The Star:

Tab Baldwin, Head Coach, 48 years old

Wojciech Malinowski

With Kirk Penney seeing a very limited role for Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season, and other players not being the hottest names around the basketball world as of late, we decided that searching for a New Zealand star requires a different approach.

The person who really deserves a closer look is their Head Coach, Tab Baldwin. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Thomas Anthony Baldwin arrived in New Zealand in the late 1980s and quickly became a name there, successfully coaching the Otago Nuggets and Auckland Stars, as well as the U-20 NT. Baldwin was the coach of the "Tall Blacks" team four years ago in Indianapolis that made a surprising run and finished in 4th place at the World Championship.

An even bigger surprise was that it took Baldwin more than 2 years to be signed by a European club as a Head Coach - and it wasn't even a "big name" team. Instead, Baldwin was signed by low level Turkish Bandirma Bavitspor in February of 2005. That season he helped them avoid relegation from the TBL, giving us a small glimpse of the magic he can create with a group of underachievers. The next year, Banvitspor become a huge sensation on the Turkish scene -- advancing to the semifinals of the TBL, where they were defeated by Ulker Stambul 3-1, Ulker’s only loss of their entire playoff competition.

It was an impressive run considering the limited budget of Banvit in comparison to teams like Fenerbahce or Turk Telekom and the fact that their roster consisted of players who were not considered the biggest names, even on the local Turkish market.

So how did they do it? In the most fundamental way possible -- playing solid team defense, limiting their turnovers, really executing offensive set plays and not giving out any gifts for opposing teams. And this is what we can expect from a scrappy New Zealand team in Japan.

An even bigger surprise occurred a few weeks later - Baldwin and Banvitspor parted ways, with differences over his National Team duties being the biggest factor in this decision. With a good result in Japan, Baldwin can become a hot commodity on the European market, especially with his deal with New Zealand Basketball expiring in a few months. For teams which don’t have the biggest budgets, but do want to be competitive in domestic and international competition and are looking to find different ways to win, Baldwin and his unique "Red" defense (defensive system built on switching defenses during the opponent’s offensive sets) could be the perfect choice.

The Upside:

Craig Bradshaw, 6-10, PF, Winthrop Eagles (NCAA), 23 years old


Jonathan Givony

Representing New Zealand for the third straight summer in a row (including the Olympics in Athens in 2004) while doubling as a student athlete at an emerging mid-major program at Winthrop University, Craig Bradshaw is gaining some much needed experienced and exposure in what could end up being a fairly prominent role in Japan.

According to the boxscores we’ve seen, the media reports we’ve read, and the way New Zealand’s roster is shaping up so far, Bradshaw could be one of the most intriguing young players at the World Championship to look out for. “Craig Bradshaw, he's the best player in the team at the moment," New Zealand captain Pero Cameron was quoted saying recently. "He's playing the best ball in the group. Craig's come back from Winthrop on a mission and he's taken the next step for us."

Outside of being a fixture on’s rankings and mock draft over the past year, though, Bradshaw has received very little attention outside of his native New Zealand. That is beginning to change now as he establishes himself on the International level this summer, scoring 25 points in a recent matchup against Andrew Bogut and Australia, and knocking down a clutch 3-pointer to win the game for the Kiwis over their arch-rivals in the process. With Sean Marks out of the picture and New Zealand desperate for a scoring presence from their frontcourt, Bradshaw has been praised repeatedly by his teammates and coaching staff for the production he’s given them and the work ethic he’s shown: “I know with Craig there's a lot of ice under water right now. We're only seeing the tip. This kid could be a tremendous basketball player,” remarked head coach Tab Baldwin.

Bradshaw has been displaying some intriguing tools for quite some time now as he heads into his fourth and final season at Winthrop University in the Big South Conference. He averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds this past season on an extremely talented team that took #2 seed Tennessee down to the final possession as a #15 seed in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. NBA scouts have quietly been trickling down to Rock Hill, South Carolina, to watch him both practice and play against the many high major college programs Winthrop fearlessly adds to its schedule every season. Head Coach Gregg Marshall has been quick to sing his praises to us on a number of occasions.

What they’ve seen is a 6-10 big man with nice mobility, good length and an intriguing package of skills from the perimeter. He runs the floor intelligently, has good hands and is quick off his feet to challenge a shot or put back an offensive rebound. Bradshaw can put the ball on the floor, spot up with range and solid touch from the college 3-point line and surprise you with some of the moves he makes on the perimeter at times.

He still needs to become better at using his size, body and length to score in the post, as well as improve his defense and rebounding skills, but the improvement he’s shown over the past few years has been steady and constant. Going from a player who had to basically beg his way onto a mid-major scholarship with a home-made highlight reel he made from New Zealand, it’s been both encouraging and inspiring to see the progress he’s making now.

If he continues to put up the type of numbers he’s had in a half a dozen or more friendlies over the past month for New Zealand, hovering around the 20 point mark more often than not and filling up the stat sheet consistently with double-doubles, Bradshaw will put himself in a great situation to have real NBA decision makers at every game he plays next year and possibly parlay that into being drafted next June.


The Stars:

Ruben Douglas 6-4 SG/SF, Pamesa Valencia, 27 years old

Kristian Hohnjec

Ruben Douglas is a very well rounded player, enjoying a successful European career after being an absolute star as a collegiate at New Mexico and leading the NCAA in scoring in 2003/2004.

Douglas started his European travels in Greece, at a mid-level team in Panionios where he quickly turned the attention of richer European clubs by putting up 20 points per game in the Greek League. Italian powerhouse Climamio was his next destination, and Douglas`s offensive role was reduced, but he still averaged a respectful 13.4 points per game in the Euroleague and helped them claim the Italian league title. Last season Douglas was a member of Dinamo Moscow, one of the richest European teams on the continent, where he reportedly makes around 850 thousand dollars net per year. Ruben was a key reason for Dinamo’s triumph the in ULEB Cup along with Mire Chatman, which secured them participation in next season’s Euroleague. He averaged 16 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. Ruben’s travel around Europe continues, after Greece, Italy and Russia he will be playing in Spain next year for a very strong squad at Pamesa Valencia.

Douglas plays mostly as a SF in Europe, where some of his deficiencies are well hidden. Being 6-4, Douglas barely has legit size to be a shooting guard in the NBA, not to mention his natural position skill-wise which is at the "3". If you look at him as a shooting guard, you will notice that he lacks the speed to be an effective player on both ends at a high level. On defense his lateral movement is not good enough to defend NBA caliber guards, and on offense lacks the explosiveness to get off the ground and finish at the rim. Douglas’ ball-handling lacks some polish, he can drive to the hoop when the lane is open and perform a couple of short dribbles to get his shot off, but he comes up short on the more advanced moves which would enable him to create his own shot at the NBA level. The mismatches he creates at the European level with his strength and offensive instincts would be nowhere near as profound in the NBA as DraftExpress discovered at the Vegas Summer League in early July when he played for the Phoenix Suns.

With that said, Douglas is an elite swingman in Europe. His defense is actually very good, being able to fully take advantage of his strong body and high basketball IQ. He reads the passing lines very well, never risking his defensive position, and his speed and height are not really an issue here given that there is little difference size-wise between the 2 and 3 positions, while his level of athleticism is well beyond NBA standards. Douglas is a reliable jump-shooter, either from mid-range or three point land. He has good form on his J with a high release point, not needing much separation to get his shot off. Ruben is also a very capable rebounder for his size, positioning himself well under the rim and going after boards, even out of his area.

He had a nice showing in the Summer league the previous year for the New York Knicks, but nobody was ready to take a shot at him. This World Championship will be another chance to showcase himself in front of NBA executives as he will be the leader of Panama’s squad and probably their first offensive option. Even if he doesn’t fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA, Douglas will make plenty of money with the way he has performed in Europe.

Ed Cota, 6-1, Point Guard, Hapoel Jerusalem, 30 years old


Kristian Hohnjec

After an impressive collegiate career at University of North Carolina (10.2 points and 8.2 assists per game as a senior, three Final Four appearances), Eduardo Cota didn’t get too many serious looks from NBA teams. That was mainly because of two things: size and inability to consistently hit his perimeter shots. While the aforementioned still remains one of the biggest drawbacks about Cota, six years later he is a well known and well respected player in Europe.

Before this past season’s slump when he averaged a poor 3.3 points and 2.7 assists per game in the Euroleague, and was dismissed by Zalgiris after a drunken driving charge, Cota was regarded as one of the finest playmakers on the Old Continent who led the Euroleague in assists while playing in Kaunas for two seasons in a row. He cashed in nicely on a near 7-figure contract with Russian squad Dynamo St. Petersburg, led by recent Italian League Champion head coach David Blatt, and helped them win the FIBA EuroCup title in his one year stay there.

Cota is a rare case of a true pass-first point guard who prefers to look for his teammates rather then finding scoring options by himself. Ed possesses brilliant court vision and passing skills; he will get everybody involved and will do so not only effectively, but also in a flashy, crowd pleasing manner.

He is equally good in transition as he is in the half-court set. Because of his speed and lethal first step, Cota is able to get into the lane at will, finding the open man under the basket or kicking the ball out to the perimeter more often than taking it at the rim himself. He is a very decent on-ball defender, showing good lateral movement paired with excellent hands and anticipation skills which makes his a consistent threat in the passing lanes. Despite his size, Cota is a very good rebounder for his position, having a "nose" for the ball, and looking very keen to crash the glass.

Size was always an issue for Cota, he is just a hair over 6 feet and doesn’t possess freakish athleticism to compensate for it. He is a good athlete, but not an outstanding one. Cota is still a poor shooter from any range, not showing a very soft touch on his jumper and being rather mechanical with his pull-up. He is also not particularly skilled in terms of his mid-range game, lacking a reliable in-between jumper he can go to, and struggling a bit to finish at the rim due to his lack of size.

Cota, who played for Zalgiris Kaunas and FC Barcelona last summer, recently signed with Israeli ULEB Cup participants Hapoel Jerusalem for next year. Even if he should be at the peak of his career at 30 years old, he was plagued by a lack of game fitness and rumors of off the court issues last season, to the point that he was left off Barcelona’s playoff squad at the end of last season.

According to recent reports he’s continued his streak of average performances and has been somewhat of a disappointment so far for the underrated Panama squad in preparation games. Regardless, he’ll be expected to shoulder a heavy load for his team and he’ll be given every opportunity in the world to show that his problems are behind him.

Speaking of Panama, with some good players such as Ruben Douglas, Jaime Lloreda, Michaels Hicks and Ruben Garces, they have a great chance to advance to the 2nd round of the competition. Anything more than that would be huge surprise, but its tough to count out such a scrappy and experienced squad.

Our initial pick for the “upside” portion of this article, Lakers 2nd round pick Danilo Pinnock, won’t be playing for Panama after being unable to find his passport and not having enough time to get a new one.

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