FIBA World Championship Preview: Group A, Part Two

FIBA World Championship Preview: Group A, Part Two
Aug 09, 2006, 01:45 am
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 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 Two

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


The Star:

Olumide Oyedeji- 6-10, PF/C, Santruce (Puerto Rico), 25 (?) years old


Jonathan Givony

A terrific athlete who never really panned out as far as the NBA is concerned, Olumide Oyedeji is a "summer league warrior" type who has a great chance of showing NBA scouts exactly what they are missing out on in a leading role with the Nigerian National team in Japan. In the absence of Ike Diogu, who was listed on the preliminary roster for Nigeria but will not be attending, Oyedeji will have to be the team’s star.

Oyedeji is an impressive physical specimen, featuring great size, terrific length and a chiseled NBA body. He gets up and down the floor extremely well and possesses the right amount of quickness and explosiveness to get the job done effectively inside. He has raw footwork once establishing position inside but a good enough touch around the hoop to knock down shots from close range when a dunk isn't an option. Olumide plays extremely hard and is not afraid to throw his weight around in the paint. He'll even surprise you at times by stepping back and knocking down a mid-range jumper. His biggest strength has to be his ability to hit the glass, though. Oyedeji utilizes all of his terrific physical attributes here to come up with rebounds outside of his area, particularly his length and sheer tenacity in which he goes after boards. He impressed the DraftExpress staff in last year's Vegas Summer league by putting up 9 points and 7 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game, but apparently not the NBA scouts in attendance who warned us that he "does this every summer and then never pans out." If he's anywhere close to his listed age of 25 (most have their doubts) then the book on Oyedeji might not be closed quite yet as far as the NBA is concerned.

He is a well known player who was projected as a lottery pick back in the 2000 draft after a dominant performance in the Hoop Summit, only to fall to the middle of the 2nd round after concerns over his true age saw his stock plummet. Oyedeji already has 3 years of NBA experience under his belt playing with the Orlando Magic and Seattle Supersonics, but has been bouncing between Europe, China, Korea and the Puerto Rican league stockpiling as much cash as a super strong and athletic big man can, which is quite a bit.

He's been a fan favorite everywhere he's gone, and the stories of his generosity if giving back to his fellow Nigerians (particularly with the basketball camps he sponsors) have made their way around the world. It remains to be seen how much interest Oyedeji has in returning to a bench-warming role in the NBA, but he has an outstanding opportunity to show teams that he is capable of much more than that with the way he's developed in the past few years.

The Upside:

Champ Oguchi- 6-4, SG, Oregon Ducks (NCAA), 20 years old

Jonathan Givony

One of the youngest players at the World Championships, doubling as an intriguing high-major NCAA prospect, it will be interesting to see what type of impact—if any-- Champ Oguchi can make in Japan.

Coming off a breakout sophomore season (nearly 10 points a game in 19.4 minutes per) for the Oregon Ducks, Oguchi made some very serious noise particularly towards the end of the college year, scoring 20 points or more in 7 of his last 13 contests. His rise in production unsurprisingly coincided with the sharp increase in playing time he began receiving over the last 6 weeks of Oregon’s extremely disappointing season.

The fact that he put up great numbers almost whenever he was given a serious chance to get playing time shouldn’t come as a shock at all when considering the type of player he is. Oguchi is a volume scorer who is capable of coming off the bench and providing instant offense for a team in search of a spark. He’s a lethal outside shooter whose accuracy shouldn’t suffer one bit from the slight increase he’ll see comparing the International 3-point line with the college one.

Oguchi has NBA range on his jump-shot and will prove that to you almost any time he gets a sniff of the ball. He has no conscience whatsoever--for better or for worse--and will hoist up shots instantaneously if you give him just an inch of daylight. He is excellent coming off screens thanks to his heady off the ball movement and possesses very nice elevation on his jump-shot complimented by a lightning quick release, a pretty follow through and the excellent elevation he gets off the floor. Oguchi is quite a trigger happy player and is prone to streaks of extremes in regards to his accuracy, going from red-hot to ice cold unpredictably and seemingly for no particular reason.

Unfortunately that’s about all there is to his game at the moment, culminating in the fact that an absurd 75% of his field goal attempts (189/252) come from behind the 3-point line. What’s sad is that Oguchi is actually an above average athlete who possesses a nice first step, even if he lacks some strength and vertical explosiveness to get the job done in the rare occasion that he will make his way all to way to the rim. His ball-handling can’t be described any other way but poor at best and a downright liability at worst, featuring no left hand and really no willingness to do anything except catch and shoot off screens or pull up off the dribble.

On a Nigerian national team that doesn’t really have a great offensive shot creator to drive and dish to a shooter on the wing, nor a big man who can draw double teams and pass out to the open man, Oguchi’s effectiveness could be severely minimized when you take his one-dimensional status and extreme lack of international experience into consideration. As an NBA prospect, he obviously still has a long ways to go in terms of proving himself as a draftable player.

Serbia & Montenegro

The Star:

Darko Milicic 7-0 PF/C, Orlando Magic, 21 years old


Kristian Hohnjec

The upcoming World Championship could be a coming out party on the international front for Darko Milicic, whose career is clearly on the upswing after being traded from the Detroit Pistons to the Orlando Magic. Joe Dumars made two mistakes regarding Milicic, first when he selected an unproven youngster with the 2nd overall pick over college stars like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, but the bigger one was this spring when he gave up Milicic for a future 1st round pick and the luxury tax breathing room which was used on signing Nazr Mohammed. Even if the 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks he posted in a Magic uniform aren’t eye-popping numbers, Darko showed tremendous potential as the 7-foot skilled athlete that made him such a desirable prospect in the first place.

After an embarrassing performance at last summer’s Eurobasket on their native soil (only being able to participate in this year’s world championship thanks to a special wildcard from FIBA), new coach Dragan Sakota is bringing a fresh young team to Japan, which for various reasons does not include NBA players such as Peja Stojakovic, Nenad Krstic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Marko Jaric and Aleksandar Pavlovic. During the preparation games Serbia posted surprisingly good results, and Darko appears to have emerged as the true team leader as Serbia’s best player in almost every game.

Unlike last year’s European Championship when he logged 40 minutes (4.5ppg 4.0rpg 1.3bpg) in the entire tournament—but still showed some terrific sparks at time--Darko is now expected to be their go-to-guy on both ends of the floor. His excellent size, length and athleticism are a huge asset for Serbia in the middle, given that he is one of the premier shot-blockers in today’s international game. Milicic’s potential to become a defensive stalwart was already noticeable last season playing for the Magic, but what was less visible was his offensive ability since he didn’t get many opportunities to create offensive game.

During the friendlies so far, Darko showed that he can be an inside-outside threat and a focal part of the team’s offense, showing nice touch on his jump-shot while hitting a few three-pointers in the process. He got carried away and settled for too many jumpers in the next game, but this doesn’t appear to be as much of a reason for concern as it was in the past. Due to his immense physical gifts he is also a force down low, although his footwork and skill-set in that regard still have a ways to go, Darko is able to get good position on the block and is a very effective passer out of the double team.

The World Championship will be a big test/opportunity for Milicic, who has never enjoyed the status of being his team’s star in any senior competition before. Is he ready for such a role after not getting playing time in such a crucial age in a player’s development? Is he good enough to lead Serbia to a respectable result, which they so desperately need after three straight underwhelming international tournaments? Japan will offer answers on these questions. The basketball world will be watching closely.

Igor Rakocevic, 6-3, PG/SG, Tau Ceramica, 28 years old

Kristian Hohnjec

The more established of Serbia’s stars, Igor Rakocevic has proven himself as an elite scorer in Europe after an unsatisfying NBA experience with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since coming back to Europe, Rakocevic has been changing uniforms every summer, while leading every team he appeared on in scoring. Rakocevic’s ability to put the ball in the basket hasn’t translated into the type of team success that might have been expected from the squads he’s been on.

Although he garnered some interest from the NBA in the form of minimum contracts, Rakocevic accepted a more satisfying offer financially in the form of a lucrative multiyear contract from Euroleague powerhouse Tau Ceramica. Being 28 years old and knowing Tau Ceramica’s reluctance to let players go for the NBA, Rakocevic’s window is just about to close as far as the NBA is concerned. Considering that he’s “been there” and “done that”, though, it doesn’t seem like he seems to mind that all that much.

Given all the withdrawals team of Serbia is facing, Rakocevic will be the first option in the backcourt and is expected to take a huge scoring burden on his shoulders, just the way he likes it. Igor posted impressive stats at last year’s Eurobasket - 16.3 point and 4.0 assists per game - but also saw his team underachieve mightily, suffering from poor chemistry on and off the court that he was no small part of as seems to be the case in many of his stops over the past few years.

Rakocevic is a good athlete with a lethal first step and nice leaping ability, but also an impressive skill-set to compliment his physical gifts. He’s an excellent outside shooter who can also pull-up from mid-range or make his way to the basket thanks to his speed and ball-handling. Igor has good court vision and the ability to play both guard positions, although he is certainly at his best when playing at the shooting guard position, where he isn’t expected to make teammates around him better.

Even through Rakocevic has been part of both a European and World championship squad with his national team of Serbia and Montenegro, he still has a lot to prove as far as winning trophies goes, considering that his role in those tournaments was sporadic and teams that featured him as a star usually underachieved. Although nobody expects this young Serbian team to fight for a title or even seriously contend for medals, it will be a great opportunity for Rakocevic to show his leadership skills and ability to make his teammates better. So far in his career he has failed at those two things, can he change that now that he’s reached his peak as a basketball player?

The Upside:

Uros Tripkovic 6-5 SG, Partizan Belgrade, 19 years old

Kristian Hohnjec

Although he might not have enjoyed the type of season everyone hoped he would, Uros Tripkovic still received Dragan Sakota’s call for the senior National team, more because of his potential than his current skill level.

Since Sakota still has to make two more cuts before finalizing Serbia’s roster for Japan (fellow youngster Milenko Tepic was just let go), it is not sure if Tripkovic will be on it, since he didn’t exactly overwhelm the coaching staff during the preparation period so far. Bojan Popovic, Vule Avdalovic, Igor Rakocevic, Marko Marinovic and Branko Jorovic all seems to be in front of Uros on Sakota’s depth chart currently.

Having evaluated his game here on Draftexpress numerous times, there is no need to repeat ourselves once again, so check the link above for more information about his progress this past season.

For this Serbian team, Tripkovic is coming off the bench as a "shooting specialist." He doesn’t create much off the dribble, waiting on the perimeter for a shot opportunity or moving the ball around with his nifty passing. Uros has put a lot of energy in defending, but with mixed results. He has improved his body strength, but lost some of his lateral quickness in the process, and still doesn’t show enough toughness, aggressiveness and focus on the defensive side off the ball. The biggest concern is his regressed slashing; once known for ability to create his own shot, Uros now doesn’t get into the lane quite as often as before. His first step is very average, and he suffers finishing around the rim since he isn’t very creative with his layups.

Tripkovic has a shot at getting consistent minutes at the World Championship, which is quite a big deal for a 19-year old, thanks to his one particular strength - shooting. He has a lot to gain and nothing to lose at this tournament, since nobody is expecting anything from him outside of knocking down couple of jumpers. A good performance could solidify his stock as a first round pick, and he should attract even more attention from top European clubs than already has this summer, as he is currently being pursued heavily by Greek club Panathinaikos amongst others.


The Star:

Fadi El Khatib, 6-6, SF, Sagesse Beirut, 27 years old


While we don’t know much about the Lebanese national team, one thing we do know is that their star player is undoubtedly Fadi El Khatib.

In September of 2003, the Los Angeles Clippers inked him to the one year non-guaranteed contract that is standard for players invited to come to training camp. The Clippers then waived him just a day later when they found out that he actually is under contract with his team in Lebanon. El Khatib reportedly could not resolve a buyout with his team, Sagesse Beirut, at the time, which has forced him to stay in obscurity for the last three years.

One year prior to that, he made a name for himself at the international level by averaging 17.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.6 steals at the last version of the World Championships in Indianapolis. Despite his excellent individual showing there, Lebanon finished dead last in the tournament. This year, the bookmakers so far are predicting a similar fate. If El Khatib can hope them avoid that and continue to put up the type of impressive numbers he did in Indianapolis four years ago, this time at the ripe age of 27, a shot at the NBA or at least a contract with a top European league could very well still be in his future.

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