Rio 2016 Men’s Basketball Preview

In anticipation of the 2016 Rio Olympics starting two weeks from today, here is a preview of the 12 qualifying countries for the Olympic basketball tournament. Some rosters are more recognizable than others to NBA fans. To be fair to all, I assessed each country’s roster so fans and viewers alike will know who to watch and what to expect when competition starts on August 6th.

The 12 countries are split into two groups of six teams. Teams will play in a round robin style within their group. After group play, the top four teams in each group will advance to the quarterfinals. From there, it is a standard eight team bracket to eventually determine the Gold Medal winners.

Group A

Australia

How They Qualified: 2015 FIBA Oceania Championship

Players to Watch: NBA veterans Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut (pending injury), Matthew Dellavedova, and Patty Mills are the biggest names on this Australian team. It is a shame that first overall draft pick Ben Simmons is not on this team, but expect him to play for Australia in the 2020 games.

Outlook: The Boomers have made every Olympic basketball tournament since 1972 in Munich. While they have never medaled, they have made it out of group play in the last two tournaments. Considering the talent on this squad, I would expect a quarterfinals appearance again in 2016.

China

How They Qualified: 2015 FIBA Asia Championship

Players to Watch: China has a few recent NBA draft picks to keep an eye on. Wang Zhelin was drafted 57th by the Memphis Grizzlies and Zhou Qi was drafted 43rd by the Houston Rockets. Also, former NBA lottery pick Yi Jianlian will once again play for Team Dragon.

Outlook: This will be the ninth Olympic games for China’s basketball team. In London 2012, they finished as the worst team in group play after losing all five games. While China’s roster has an interesting mix of veterans and rising stars, I do not expect them to get out of group play once again.

France

How They Qualified: 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Players to Watch: Nic Batum, Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert, and Tony Parker are the big NBA names on this roster. This could be Parker and Diaw’s final Olympics as they reach the twilight of their playing careers.

Outlook: While Les Blues have had an influx of star talent the past few Olympic games, it has not translated to overall success. They barely edged Canada in a qualifier a few weeks ago to even make it to Rio. France should get out of group play, but they have not shown enough to expect any more from them.

Serbia

How They Qualified: 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Players to Watch: Denver Nuggets breakout star Nikola Jokic is probably the only name American basketball fans will recognize. Jokic was MVP of the qualifying tournament earlier this year that got Serbia into the Rio games. Bogdan Bogdanovic has also been impressive in international play and has future NBA potential for the Sacramento Kings.

Outlook: Serbia has been an international basketball powerhouse for years. They have been in 12 Olympics, but have not medaled since 1996. I think that streak continues this year, as their roster is not deep enough to compete with some other countries. I do think they make it out of group play though.

United States of America

How They Qualified: 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup

Players to Watch: The entire Team USA roster is packed with NBA talent once again. The Americans are led by Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. I want to see how Durant plays with his new Warrior teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Carmelo also usually plays his best basketball in international play, and it might be his last chance to win something meaningful in his playing career.

Outlook: The two time defending Gold Medalists under Coach K, Team USA enters as the favorite in Rio. Anything less than a Gold Medal will be a huge disappointment for this team. Even though some of USA’s best players (LeBron James, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook) withdrew from the Olympics games, Team USA will still cruise to a Gold Medal next month.

Venezuela

How They Qualified: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship

Players to Watch: University of Maryland alumni will be happy to see Greivis Vasquez lead the Venezuela squad in Rio. Vasquez is the only current NBA player on the team. College basketball fans may also recognize David Cubillan (Marquette), Anthony Perez (Ole Miss), and Greg Echenique (Creighton) on this roster.

Outlook: This is just the second time ever that Venezuela has qualified for the Olympics, and the first since 1992. Last year, they beat Argentina in the 2015 FIBA Americas Finals, so this team has show it can compete with some of the top teams in the world. However, I do not expect them to advance past the group stage of this tournament.

Group B

Argentina

How They Qualified: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship

Players to Watch: The aging Argentine squad is led by NBA veterans Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola once again. You will also recognize former NBA players Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni on this team.

Outlook: The ‘Golden Generation’ of Argentina basketball is coming to an end. The 38 year old Ginobili can only do so much at this point in his career and there is not very much young talent to speak of on this roster. The 2004 Gold Medalists will put up a good fight, but anything more than a quarterfinals appearance would be quite surprising.

Brazil

How They Qualified: Host Nation (Automatic Qualifier)

Players to Watch: Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao, Nene, Leandro Barbosa, and Marcelo Huertas are the recognizable names on the Brazilian roster this year. Varejao, Nene, and Barbosa are all past their primes, but are still good enough to give the home fans some hope.

Outlook: The host Brazilians really want to impress in the basketball tournament this year. Their roster is aging, so this might be their last chance for a while to make a run. After placing fifth in London, I expect Brazil to bring their A game this Olympics and use their home crowds to get to the semifinals.

Croatia

How They Qualified: 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Players to Watch: Croatia could be one of the most fun teams to watch. Led by NBA players Mario Hezonja and Bojan Bogdanovic, this team will play a fluid European style of basketball and catch some teams off guard. Also, watch for Philadelphia Sixers draftee Dario Saric on this team before he comes to the NBA in the fall.  

Outlook: Croatia is back in the Olympics after failing to qualify in 2012. They are in a tough group, and I sadly do not see them finishing ahead of anyone besides Nigeria. This is a young team though and watch for them to compete in future international contests.

Lithuania

How They Qualified: EuroBasket 2015

Players to Watch: Toronto big man Jonas Valanciunas and Oklahoma City draft pick Domantas Sabonis are the two most recognizable names on this Lithuanian roster. The team is packed with European league talent though and is currently ranked third in the world according to FIBA.

Outlook: Lithuania has made every Olympic basketball tournament since 1992 (only China, Australia, and USA can also say that). This is a very good team that should not be overlooked because of their lack of NBA players. I think they will surprise some viewers and sneak into the semifinals before losing to Spain or USA.

Nigeria

How They Qualified: AfroBasket 2015

Players to Watch: Nigeria is quite talented, fielding twelve players with NCAA basketball experience. This roster includes Al-Farouq Aminu, Festus Ezeli, Ike Diogu, and Ekpe Udoh. Aminu and Ezeli will team up next year on the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA. Sadly, their captain Olumide Oyedeji announced Wednesday that he is withdrawing from the Olympic team.

Outlook: Nigeria is back to the Olympics again this year after making their first Olympic appearance in 2012. In London, they won one their first game in group play over Tunisia. That was the only game they would win though and they failed to make it out of group play. I would expect a similar result out of Nigeria this year as well.

Spain

How They Qualified: EuroBasket 2015

Players to Watch: The Spaniards once again field a very formidable roster for the Olympics. Jose Calderon, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Ricky Rubio all have years of NBA and international experience. Although two notable players missing this year are NBA All-Star Marc Gasol and new Orlando Magic Forward Serge Ibaka.

Outlook: Spain gave Team USA a good fight in the Gold Medal game in London in 2012, losing by just seven points. Spain has won the Silver Medal in back to back games, but I am sure this Spanish team has its eyes set on Gold in Rio. I think they will fall just short again, losing to Team USA in the finals for the third straight time.

-Nick Bair

Photo Credit: The Sporting News

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