Eurobasket (Men's European Championships) Preview: Group A

Eurobasket (Men's European Championships) Preview: Group A
Sep 07, 2005, 02:53 am
DraftExpress’ European Championships coverage kicks off by breaking down the top players participating at the upcoming Eurobasket tournament in Belgrade beginning September 16th. 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 A consists of Germany, Italy, Russia and the Ukraine, headlined by NBA all-stars Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko.

Group A

Games will be conducted in Vršac, Serbia and Montenegro from September 16th to 18th

Read more about the Eurobasket tournament at the informative official website


The Star:

Dirk Nowitzki, 7-0, PF, Dallas Mavericks, 27 years old


Jonathan Givony

Much to the chagrin of Mark Cuban, Dallas’ star power forward will be here helping out his national team once again despite initially threatening not to participate unless his coach and longtime mentor Holger Geschwindner is released from jail in Germany for accusations of tax evasion.

As the biggest NBA star in this tournament on an otherwise extremely weak team, everything will start and end for Germany with Nowitzki and his ability to take over games. Although the European 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. 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. 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 an already weak squad that is now reeling from a string of unfortunate injuries to many of its key contributors, 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.

The Upside: None


The Star:

Massimo Bulleri, 6-2, PG/SG, Armani Jeans Milano, 28 years old

Dimitris Ritsonis

Bulleri is not an NBA-caliber player, but he’s still about as close to a European star as you will find on this powerful team oriented Italian roster. He has been one of Italian basketball's most important players during the past few years and has made his name known very well in International basketball when he was selected as the MVP of the Italian Championship in 2003. In the same season, he became a regular for the Italian National Team and along with fellow guard Gianluca Basile and forward Giacomo Galanda helped Italy finish 3rd in the last European Championships in Sweden and consequently earn a ticket for Athens Olympics, where they finished 2nd.

As a PG, Bulleri is one of Europe's best during the past three seasons. He is very quick and smart and although his passing is not the best part of his game, he has the maturity and the decision making that separates him from a simply good player. He is not afraid of going up against any opponent and is a great shooter that can create confusion for whoever is guarding him. While not being a dominant man to man defensive player, like all Italian guards, he can be a team defender in Italy’s zone defense, which has been tested again and again and proved to be very effective, with the big man cooperating inside and the smart help that the guards provide.

Bulleri is very good creating fast break opportunities, he sees the open man fast enough and has the experience to decide what to do before acting. In general, he is one of Europe's best old-school PGs, who, given Gianluca Basile's less than inspiring game this summer, is expected to be Italy's first offensive option in Belgrade.

The Upside:

Stefano Mancinelli, 6-8, SF/PF, Climamio Bologna, 22 years old


Dimitris Ritsonis

Mancinelli should be an important factor in this year's Italian National Team from what we’ve seen in the preparation games so far. Already a successful rookie in the Euroleague with Climamio Bologna, he is constantly maturing and seems able to become a significant 15 minute per game type addition off the bench for Carlo Recalcati’s squad.

In the exhibition games so far he was used both as a SF and a PF, although in the Eurobasket, the games’ decisiveness may force his coach give him more time at PF, as he has many tools that can help his team add versatility on the offensive side. Stefano is smooth, smart and freakishly athletic for the European game. He has a nice touch from all distances when his feet are set, with the maturity and experience needed to know his weaknesses and cut down on unnecessary turnovers, which is crucial for such a young player at a tournament like this. Mancinelli will be expected to bring energy off the bench for the Italian team, running the floor in his typical frantic fashion and finishing explosively and attractively at the rim with NBA caliber dunks when the opportunity presents itself. He is also an effective passer that plays for the team and understands how to find the open man in position to score.

Defensively, he is a scrappy type that is not afraid to stick his nose in to come up with a timely steal or offensive foul. This same attribute, along with his strength allows him to be an effective rebounder as well. Mancinelli’s job in Serbia will be to do all the little things for the Italian team, specifically using his game changing NBA caliber athleticism which could eventually make some teams wonder why they decided to pass on him in last year’s NBA draft.

The Upside:

Angelo Gigli, 7-0, PF/C, Reggio Emilia, 22 years old

Luis Fernandez

The National Team is providing Angelo Gigli an excellent chance to overcome his disappointment after not being selected in the draft this past June. There is nothing better than playing in such a competitive tournament like the Eurobasket to focus on what really matters, which is basketball. Gigli, like Mancinelli, is fresh blood for an Italian team whose core is just about to pass its prime. For Italian basketball it’s crucial to start adding youth to their National Team, and try to minimize the negative effect of the less talented generations that preceded it and should have been the natural replacement for this current crop. For Gigli, this is a very good opportunity to gain experience at the top international level. He’s a talented player, but still in the developmental process.

Angelo will provide Italy with some intimidation in the paint. He’s easily the best shot blocker on a team that needed an athletic big body like his. However, despite his accurate lateral movement, he still could improve as a defender. Gigli needs to gain toughness around the rim, which likely will go hand in hand with the bulking up process that he should address, but also just by playing games at top competition (he’s played in the Italian first division for only one season). On the offensive end, Angelo follows the path of starting power forward Giacomo Galanda with a face-up oriented game, being able to hit three pointers, as well as having the ability to slash towards the basket. Gigli has nice handles for a guy his size, as well as being rather quick, which makes him hard to stop for whoever is guarding him. However he’s not as prolific as he could be at times, and in the National Team it gets worse being a rookie at this level. Angelo can help in a couple of departments where Italy already feels very comfortable: he’s a fine passer to add fuel to the solid Italian ball movement, and he loves to run the court, which Italy likes to do for some stretches during the games. At the end of the day, Gigli will surely help Italy in many games, although it’s probably a bit early for him to step up as a key player.


The Star:

Andrei Kirilenko, 6-9, SF/PF, Utah Jazz, 24 years old


Jonathan Givony

Just like the last Eurobasket tournament in Sweden in 2003, AK-47 is the man who will have to step up with his all-around game for the Russian team in order for them to be able to expect to compete for a medal. Despite his 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game, Russia was eliminated in the quarterfinals last time around at the hands of France.

Kirilenko is a face-up Power Forward in the International game, and is a huge mismatch for any team to guard. His incredibly long arms, freakish athleticism, and unstoppable motor make him a load for any team competing here to deal with. He will have to slash and get to the line, hit his free throws at a good clip like he does in the NBA, rebound with purpose, defend on and especially off the ball, and above all score inside the paint and around the basket (Russia is especially lacking in quality post players) for Russia to have any chances of making noise here in Belgrade. No one player in this tournament will be asked to do more on both ends of the floor than Kirilenko will for Russia. The biggest question that will be asked of Kirilenko—and this pertains to the NBA as well—is just how much of a go-to guy he can be for his team while playing at a high level. His ball-handling is still questionable, as is his outside shooting and shot selection, which leads to some extremely poor decision making when Kirilenko decides to do too much at the wrong time. Kirilenko has a fairly huge task ahead of him in Belgrade, and many in Europe and the US wonder whether he is ready for it at this point in his career.

The Upside:

Anton Ponkrashov, 6-6, SG, Spartak St. Petersburg, 19 years old

Luis Fernandez

Russia seems to be a team that is willing to give a chance to it’s youngsters at the moment. More than a means to jumpstart this young Russian’s career, it could just be a necessity due to a lack of talented players at his position that this country has been lacking lately. Despite the impression you might get through the NBA draft, Russia is producing few competitive players at the top international level in terms of quantity, many times failing to fulfill the potential of its promising prospects. In this situation, and after a pretty good performance at the U-20 European Championship, Anton Ponkrashov might have benefited from a spot in the final roster. There’s only 13 players left on the Russian squad, and he’s still one of them, which should immediately raise the eyebrows of NBA scouts looking over the rosters and help his cause as an NBA draft prospect.

Ponkrashov is a poised guard, a player who always looks under control. While still far from being a pure point guard, he successfully played that position in the U-20 European Championships squad this summer, helping his team win the tournament on their home floor. This should speak volumes about his maturity on the court, and it’s a big reason for his presence in the senior National Team. Of course he has some very useful skills. He’s a nice ball-handler even if he’s not extremely quick with the ball in his hands. He’s also a rather good passer, taking advantage of his good size in the backcourt. While not being a prolific scorer, Ponkrashov enjoys a pretty good perimeter touch. His athleticism is not particularly remarkable, though, probably lacking a degree of quickness. Besides, he’s not the most intense player in the world, which becomes evident on defense, particularly team-wise, although he does a decent job with his individual assignments. Even if his potential is not outstanding, he could become a very nice player at least at the European level. Anyway, if Anton makes the final roster, he’s not expected to see meaningful playing time, therefore not having any kind of decisive role on the team. Despite Russia’s problems at the point guard position, he’s probably not ready to play there at the senior level. However, the current preparation stage and the trip to Belgrade could be quite a good experience for a player as young as him.

The Upside:

Sergey Monya, 6-8, SF, Portland Trailblazers, 22 years old


Dimitris Ritsonis

Monya could be viewed as a player that is just a step before breaking out in one of the most competitive European Championships of all time. After being selected low in the first round of the NBA draft in 2004 by Portland (which was quite a surprise, as many expected him to be a lottery pick), Monya combines not only the physical attributes and raw skills that a modern basketball player needs in order to shine in any type of competition today, but also the maturity that a young player needs to present in order to be trusted with rising responsibility despite his youth.

Monya is a 6-8 swingman who has been known for quite some time as a very solid role player for European powerhouse CSKA Moscow during the past three seasons. The 22 year old has improved over the past few years and did it patiently, accepting the limited minutes that the team offered him, as they were using veteran players at his position to try and realize their lofty Euroleague goals.

Monya was just a useful bench player this past season in CSKA, despite high expectations of becoming a starter and breaking at the European level before making the jump to the NBA. Although he was somewhat of a disappointment during the season, Sergey has been very good in his national team preparation games this August, looking ready to continue his very good tradition at this level, after a steady and impressive first experience in Sweden two years ago. Using his very strong legs, he is a very effective defensive player, whose body is well built and difficult to overrun by most offensive shooting guard/small forwards in European basketball. Sergey’s decision making on both sides of the floor is rational and rarely hurts the team, which is critical for such a young player his age to make an impact at this level.

Offensively, he can be very impressive. He is a solid shooter, a very good slasher and an impressive dunker. What could be characterized as a problem is his often-seen hesitation to take over the team's leadership, something which is not exactly unexpected when considering the presence of two alphas such as Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holder in the Russian team.

Both him and Viktor Khryapa are going to be Kirilenko and Holden's supporting cast, but for Russia to go deep in this tournament, they will need to step up, take more shots, play tough defense, balance out the ball-movement and provide leadership, as they could both probably start at the 2" and 3 spots for Russia. Monya will be playing next year for Portland in the NBA and his maturity and durability in this tournament will be a great test for next season, along with a terrific opportunity to give the Trailblazers a taste of what they can expect starting in October. Portland representatives will reportedly be on hand in Serbia and Montenegro to evaluate the progress of their back to back first round picks in 2004, Monya and Viktor Khryapa.


The Star:

Slava Medvedenko, 6-10, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers, 26 years old

Jonathan Givony

This Eurobasket will be a crucial tournament for Ukrainian power forward Slava Medvedenko. Not only is it an opportunity for him to return to form from a few years ago and show that he still has some basketball left in him, it’s also a terrific chance for him to either up his trade value on the open market or show Phil Jackson and the Lakers that there is reason for optimism regarding the 26 year old who saw little action in last year’s NBA campaign.

In terms of talent, there is no doubt that he can be an impact player for Ukraine if he’s managed to find a way to stay in shape in his prolonged absence from the basketball court. Medvedenko is far and away the most skilled player that the otherwise extremely weak Ukrainian team has to offer, and his matchup with Dirk Nowitzki and Germany will likely be the deciding factor in which team will move on to the next round of elimination games and possibly the quarterfinals afterwards.

Medvedenko is an athletic face-up forward who, when at his best, shows great skills on the perimeter. His outside shooting skills are his best weapon, but his ability to beat his man off the dribble using his ball-handling skills could also be an excellent mismatch source for an otherwise offensively depleted team. Despite his height, he has shown little to no ability to play with his back the basket besides shooting fade-away jumpers, and has done a poor job endearing himself to his team thanks to his extremely questionable shot selection and overall decision making. Thankfully for Slava, he will most likely have the green light to fire up shots at will playing for Ukraine, which actually could lead to some explosive scoring games from him if his beautiful jump-shot is falling for him at the time. Defensively, he will most likely struggle no matter who he is guarding if what he’s shown in the NBA is any indication. He is fairly soft and shows little to no interest in making his presence felt on this side of the ball. His rebounding skills are—not surprisingly—below average as well.

The biggest question for Medvedenko, and one that can certainly be answered in the Eurobasket, is whether or not his skills have completely eroded over the past few years seeing sporadic playing time of the bench. He has a terrific opportunity in front of him to prove that he is still an NBA caliber player, and this tournament could go a long way in helping his return some of the form that saw him become an active contributor on the offensive end two seasons ago playing for LA. According to sources, trade proposals have had him shipped anywhere from Toronto (in an expiring package for Jalen Rose) to Memphis (in a deal for Lorenzen Wright). Los Angeles’ lack of depth at the 4 spot actually means that Medvedenko could see some playing time once again under Coach Phil Jackson if he can manage to show a pulse here in Serbia and Montenegro and continue that in Training Camp.

The Upside:

Oleksiy Pecherov, 6-11, PF/C, BC Kyiv, 20 years old


Luis Fernandez

In a National Team as weak as the Ukrainian (a clear candidate to be the worst team of the Eurobasket), the talent of Pecherov is hard to hide. However, he’s not a player ready to make any difference at this level of competition. Beyond his own flaws, it hasn’t helped him to have played last season mostly with the BC Kiev B squad in the second division of the Ukrainian League. He’s a 20-year old kid who needs to gain toughness in the paint and learn how to deal with stronger bigs, particularly on the defensive end. But we’re talking about a nice prospect here, even if his development lately might have been a bit disappointing.

Pecherov is a long and athletic power forward with the typical face-up offense approach that many Europeans share. He can nail the three pointer with ease as well as put the ball on the floor to take advantage of his nice combination of size and quickness, although in some preparation games he has looked less comfortable than expected with his slashing game. On the other hand, he seems to be working on his post-up game, even if it’s to release turnaround jumpers. In general, he’s a skilled player and rather fundamentally sound, but still has a long way to go in terms of development. Playing for the Ukrainian national team here in Serbia and Montenegro, he has the bad luck of sharing the power forward position with the two best players of the squad, Stanislav Medvedenko and Sergei Lishouk, although the lack of centers will make room for all of them, meaning that Pecherov should see some meaningful minutes every game.

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