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2008 Men's Olympic Basketball Preview: Spain

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With the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics already in the books and basketball tipping off on the 10th, it's good that these Olympic previews are winding down. Fellow SB Nation blog At the Hive will wrap things up tomorrow with a look at a team that comes from a country which rhymes with "America". Of course you can also check out past reviews in the sidebars at both sites. I'll also give you the option of clicking on the following links: China, Greece, Russia, Argentina, Australia, Iran, Lithuania, Angola, Croatia, and Germany.

Population:
40,491,051

Size in Comparison to a US State: About twice the size of Oregon (slightly bigger)

Suffrage: Universal at 18

Interesting Fact: Why is Ferdinand Magellan (yes he was Portuguese, but he sailed for Spain) credited with the first circumnavigation of the globe when he died in the modern day Philippines on his epic voyage? I understand that on a previous voyage he sailed beyond where he ultimately died. Still a bunch of random, anonymous dudes on his ship made it in one trip. Now that everyone has stopped reading...

Recommended Reading:
Can I Keep My Jersey? - Some insight into playing basketball in Spain. Don't read if you are worried about a book slowly altering your mood in a negative way.

World Rank (Courtesy of FIBA): 3

Qualified: 2006 FIBA World Champion

Dream Match Up in Beijing: Argentina

Dream Match Up That Did Not Qualify:
Puerto Rico

Recent News: If Spain captures the gold it will serve as yet another big moment in a golden age of Spanish sports.

Catch the players after the jump...

José Calderón - Point Guard: Fans of international ball knew he could play. But Calderón thrust himself into the consciousness of NBA fans with his strong play at the end of the 2007 season. Then Ford went down in 2008 and Calderón let it be known that he is an assist to turnover ratio monster. Of course Gilbert Arenas was not impressed:

"On the East side, I don’t know if there were any big snubs. I mean, some people wanted Jose Calderon. Jose Calderon? Who? Come on man, this is All-Star, people. When I’ve seen some of the names that are being thrown around on the ticker as snubs, it’s killing me. I understand Calderon has the best assist-turnover ratio in the league, but you know what’s funny? All back-up point guards have the best assist-turnover ratios. Screw it, Kevin Ollie should be an All-Star then! For like five or six years, Ollie was No. 1 in assist-turnover ratio!

An All-Star is an All-Star! He’s playing at a high level. That means, if you take him off the team, that team should fall down if he’s that one guy. An All-Star means that he is dominating the game of basketball. It’s not even about numbers necessarily, it’s about dominating." - Gilbert Arenas

And there's more where that came from. However, Calderón just kept playing and even Arenas came around a bit:

"He’s playing great. Over the years you can see his development as a player, and he’s really playing well. T.J. might lose that spot to him, but I don’t know. Who knows? As a backup or as a starter right now, he’s playing great basketball.

I watched Calderon last week and he had a really good game. You can take him out of being a backup. He’s a starter now, he’s a starter in this league. You know what? With Jason Kidd gone and if Calderon plays how he’s playing next year and they’re winning in Toronto and he’s still the starter? He might have a shot at being an All-Star, he might have a crack at it." - Gilbert Arenas

Of course the bigger issue here is that Calderón can flat out play. He's an excellent athlete, runs the pick and roll well, has improved his shooting but doesn't need to shoot a ton, can play one-on-one, will look to run, and distributes the rock well. I'm a big fan.

Rudy Fernández
- Shooting Guard: He plays the 2 with size (6-6), shooting ability and ups. (At this juncture it is unclear whether or not he likes Michael Jackson.) He also joins Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, and a host of other guys the Phoenix Suns have drafted (24th in 2007) and traded away. Portland is high on him and the fact that he will play his home games in Oregon this season is yet another reason it's fun to be a Trail Blazers fan right now. Beyond shooting Fernández earns praise for his court vision, fast break play, and defensive and rebounding efforts.

Jorge Garbajosa - Power Forward: I'd be willing to bet that a good amount of the guys from the Dream Team still don't respect international ball. In their defense they're egomaniacs by nature that romped through the '92 Olympics. Well Tommy Heinsohn did tours of Europe when Europeans were incredibly new to the game. He's not the biggest fan of the international guys and yet even he begrudgingly respected Garbajosa. I'm a big fan and I'll keep it simple - he knows how to play basketball. One more thing. He loves playing for Spain.

Marc Gasol - Center: Cinderella story, out of nowhere, makes the Spanish National Team for the 2006 World Championship. Meanwhile, his Eurobasket 2007 profile praised his game: "Gasol is a very skilled player who can score in the low post and with mid-range shots. Besides that, he is a great passer for his size, plays solid defense and rebounds well." And Chris Wallace did too, shortly after Gasol signed a deal with the Grizzlies. Here's my question. If the younger Gasol can play was the deal that sent his brother to LA that bad? I'm excited to see what he can do. Not in a Rudy Fernández/Ricky Rubio sense, but excited nevertheless. And yes a lot of that excitement has to do with the fact that everything I've read about him in the US makes him out to be a stiff.

Pau Gasol - Forward/Center: Few 7 footers, if any, can run the floor, pass, and finish with either hand like Gasol can. He's a fantastic offensive player. Meanwhile, I'd argue that the repeated assaults on his toughness are unjustified. I don't feel like scrolling through a comments section mine field. Just know they're out there. Although Gasol was noticeably more effective in the Finals when Kendrick Perkins was not on the floor. That doesn't help his cause either. Regardless Gasol can play and everyone likes him. Bonus points because the Gasol/Kobe dynamic of any USA/Spain match up is an awesome storyline.

Carlos Jiménez - Small Forward: During his brief time in the NBA I thought of Garbajosa as an excellent glue guy. Well he might have nothing on Jiménez in that regard. Though he does not look for his own shot, Jiménez plays and contributes with rebounding, passing, and defense. He's also extremely experienced when it comes to national team play.

Raúl López
- Point Guard: He's quick, looks to pass, and sees the floor well. López is a bit of a household name, as he was drafted by Utah, missed a season because of an ACL injury, played a full year for the Jazz, was part of the epic deal that was most notable for sending Qyntel Woods to Boston (sarcasm at its finest), and made his way to Europe after that.

Àlex Mumbrú - Small Forward: I'm intrigued by any player that can hypothetically play (play not guard) the 2, 3, and 4, while also incorporating "very interesting low post moves" and "unusual dribbling". If he's going to contribute it will be in an offensive role as a reserve.

Juan Carlos Navarro - Guard: One of the randomly, under the radar entertaining aspects of the 2008 season was watching Juan Carlos Navarro come off the bench to gun 3s. Just awesome. And while you may never appreciate "La Bomba" as much as Matt from Hardwood Paroxysm, his quickness, dribbling, and of course 3-point shooting can be mesmerizing. As a side note Juan Carlos Navarro is sort of like the National Football League in the sense that there is a tendency to avoid abbreviating them. At least there will be if I have any say on the matter.

Felipe Reyes - Forward/Center: Though initially known for rebounding and aggressive play, Reyes has improved his offensive game. And here's some ESPN footage that backs that up - the bank is open! He definitely moves well for his size (6-9) and it will be interesting to see where he fits in with the Gasols and Garbajosa healthy. As it stands he's a nice option off the bench.

Ricky Rubio - Point Guard: Simone Sandri called Rubio "the greatest teenager I've ever seen." Of course that begs the question: Did Sandri ignore the LeBron James experience or see it and still put Rubio at #1? And even if you ignore LeBron's high school ball, he did throw up 20.9 points, 5.5 boards, and 5.9 assists in the Association at age 19. However, this is about Rubio and Sandri is right, the Spaniard can play. The scouting reports on him are absolutely glowing due to the numerous skills he possesses at such a young age. Consider nbadraft.net's take on him:

"The problem with Ricky Rubio is: Where to start? He has more skill than anyone in his worldwide age group. Including but not limited to: Defense, anticipation, intelligence, ball handling, PG (vision) creation, rhythm, coordination, ambition, scoring and personality...He is practically ambidextrous, has good foot speed (not great) and excellent body control."

And there's way more where that came from, including the fact that he is well versed in the flop. Alas. Of course Rubio is also a YouTube sensation (the play at the 1:55 mark is fantastic). I just want to see how he does on the Olympic stage against the best basketball players in the world. If you're scoring at home he's the third point guard on Spain's roster. 4th if you count Juan Carlos Navarro.

Berni Rodríguez - Shooting Guard: Understands the game, looks to pass, will score, and lock down the opponent's best. Rodríguez is the type of player that worked like crazy to get where he is and currently stands as further proof that this team is loaded. Meanwhile, his summer basketball course - "Basketball: A Social Phenomenon" - at the University of Malaga sounds like the kind of thing American basketball players should take at their colleges and universities. It's definitely more informative than Jim Harrick Jr.'s class.