You can see why this is problematic: Eight years ago, Team USA was led by Paul Pierce and a baby-faced Elton Brand, and the gold medal FR Yugoslavia team (yes, Yugoslavia!) was led by a spry Dejan Bodiroga and a young, athletic Peja Stojakovic. Needless to say, what happened in 2002, 2003 and 2004 has amazingly little impact on what will happen in 2010. That's why we have these subjective power rankings.
Some teams not playing in Turkey are included because they should be on the bigger stage within the next few seasons. Some teams in the Worlds field don't make our top 25 -- all apologies to Tunisia, Jordan and Cote d'Ivoire. Keep in mind that these rankings are based on where the teams stand right now. An injury to a key player or a surprising roster cut could change things dramatically. Enjoy.
Update: The rankings were adjusted on August 25. Argentina, Turkey and Australia moved up, based on prelim play and injuries to other teams. Brazil, who lost Nene, France, who lost Rodrigue Beaubois and Serbia, who may lose Nenad Krstic, moved down.
|FanHouse Rank / Nation||Region||Recent Results||FIBA Rank|
||Europe||2nd '08 Olympics, 1st '09 Eurobasket||3|
|Spain succumbed to the USA's Redeem Team in Beijing. But the Redeem Team isn't going to Turkey, and Team USA didn't exactly blow the Spaniards out in the Olympic final, with Kobe Bryant needing every bucket to hold off a surge led by Juan Carlos Navarro. Sure, Spain will be without Pau Gasol, its best player. But Team USA will be without its entire 2006-2008 roster; the current squad's best player, Kevin Durant, might be the only player better than his 2008 counterpart (Carmelo Anthony) at any position, starting or reserve.
Meanwhile, nearly all of Spain's key players save Pau have returned; many of them are young, and improving. Spain won every knockout game at EuroBasket last summer by 20. They are the Team USA of Europe, and they have to be considered to be on par with the Americans at this point.
||Americas||3rd '06 Worlds, 1st '08 Olympics||2|
|That the United States is the overwhelming Vegas favorites at the Worlds is a sign the betting public has no short- or long-term memory. Hasn't Team USA already proven chemistry can't be conjured in two months? Remember, the first travails of the Redeem Team ended up defeat (and some would say humiliation): in 2006, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard first got together, Greece knocked them out of contention in the semifinals of the World Championship.
Never mind that the current roster is a half-dozen steps below the previous version in terms of talent -- there's still no chemistry here. Team USA has one set of teammates (Durant and Russell Westbrook), while players on other teams have been playing together for 5-10 years. That's a hard deficit to overcome, no matter how amazing Durant can be and how solid the backcourt looks. Team USA should blow out most teams, but the fellow contenders will challenge the Olympic champs.
||Europe||3rd '09 Eurobasket||4|
|Greece had a rough EuroBasket, despite the bronze, but were missing key stars Theo Papaloukas and Dimitris Diamantidis, both of whom have returned to the fold for Turkey. Led by Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas, who ran the Chinese program in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics and who has EuroBasket and Olympic medals from his days coaching Lithuania, Greece figures to be a top-rung contender out of Group C. Don't forget that the Greeks are the last team to beat Team USA in major international competition.|
||Americas||3rd '08 Olympics, 3rd '09 Americas||1|
|In all likelihood, Argentina will lose its No. 1 spot in FIBA's official world ranking after this tournament, barring a real surprise. Certainly, the brackets have set up nicely for Argentina; if the team can win its group over Serbia and Australia, it would potentially avoid both Spain and the United States until the final. Not to say Argentina won't have its challenges in group play (Serbia is tough, and Australia can cause problems) or in the early knockout stage (Greece or Turkey loom), but the path to a medal is far easier for the winner of Argentina's Group A. The Argentines likely need the help: Manu Ginobili is out, Andres Nocioni can't practice and -- while Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola should be among the top five in tournament at their positions -- the talent isn't terribly deep at this point.|
||Americas||1st '09 Americas||14|
|Brazil is more of a team on the rise than an established contender; the Brazilians, after all, haven't qualified for three straight Olympiads and haven't medaled at the World Championship since 1978. Brazil finished a disastrous 17th in the 2006 Worlds in Japan, winning just one game. Against Qatar. But the tide is changing for Brazil. The nation ran through the 2009 FIBA Americas field, taking gold over Argentina, Puerto Rico and Canada.
Brazil has its full complement of players, including NBA names like Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao. But the team's best player might be Tiago Splitter, who will play for the Spurs next season. Splitter, MVP of the Spanish league last year, is a brilliant big man who, in combination with Varejao and Nene, figures to give Team USA's limited frontline depth a real challenge. And we know Brazil will get the opportunity to do so: the nations meet on the third day of group play, August 30, potentially with the top spot in Group B on the line. Something we'll discuss more as the tournament approaches is how important the hiring of legendary Argentinian coach Ruben Magnano, who led his home nation to Olympic gold in 2004, is for Brazil.
||Europe||8th '09 Eurobasket||18|
|Turkey's 8th-place finish in Europe last summer is misleading. The team played brilliantly until Greece, a power in its own right, knocked the Turks out in the quarterfinals. In the consolation bracket, Turkey tanked. But before all that, Turkey had beaten Spain, Serbia and Lithuania. Mehmet Okur is out, but Turkey might have the deepest frontline outside of Brazil. Semih Erden, Omer Asik, Ersan Ilyasova and Hedo Turkoglu -- that's a multi-skilled set of bigs who could pose problems for smaller opponents.|
||Europe||2nd '09 EuroBasket||5|
|Legendary Serbian coach Dusan Ivkovic led the wonderful Yugoslav teams of the late '80s and early '90s to a top-three finish in every major tournament the nation played in. He returned to Serbia in 2008 to lead the nation back from its embarrassing string of performances, which began at the 2003 EuroBasket and extended through the same tournament in 2007. Serbia, on its own or as a part of Yugoslavia, had won five of six EuroBasket titles before 2003. All of a sudden, it was hanging out with the Portugals and Polands of basketball.
But Ivkovic and a fresh influx of talent changed all that, and the squad ripped through EuroBasket qualifying in 2008 and surged all the way to the bronze in Poland last summer, even beating Spain in early rounds before succumbing to the almighty power of Pau in the final. Like Brazil, Serbia needs to prove it on the world stage. But recent success and a deep, deep roster have to bolster the nation's confidence heading in. Winning Group A would set up a nice path to a medal for Serbia; they'll have to beat out Argentina and Australia to get there.
||Oceania||7th '08 Olympics||6|
|Australia continues to grow as a basketball-producing nation, and it shows on the national team, where four NBA-level players -- Andrew Bogut, Patrick Mills, David Andersen and Nathan Jawai -- contribute. Unfortunately, Bogut is still recovering from his gruesome arm injury and won't play in Turkey. Jawai has also been scratched. That leaves it to Mills, backcourt-mate Brad Newley and an assortment of skilled big men. The Boomers have a chance at beating out either Argentina or Serbia in Group A, but no one would be surprised if Australia fell to third in the group. That means trouble in the knockout round -- the third team from Group A draws the second place team from Group B, which will likely be Brazil or Team USA.|
||Europe||5th '09 EuroBasket||15|
|Since Vincent Collet took over as coach of Les Bleus in 2009, France has gone 12-3, with wins over Greece, Turkey, Russia and Croatia (twice). In fact, the French lost just once at Eurobasket '09, fewer times than any other team (including champion Spain). However, that loss came to the Spaniards in the quarterfinals, knocking Les Bleus into the consolation bracket. A key deficit in the time since EuroBasket: star point guard Tony Parker won't play in Turkey. Instead, Nando de Colo of Valencia will run the floor. France's NBA-level frontcourt of Joakim Noah (Bulls), Boris Diaw (Charlotte) and Ian Mahinmi (Dallas) will pose problems for smaller opponents.|
||Europe||4th '09 Eurobasket||20|
|Slovenia is richly talented, with brilliant guard Goran Dragic and solid big men like Primoz Brezec, Uros Slokar and Bostjan Nachbar. Unfortunately, two other NBA players -- Beno Udrih and Sasha Vujacic -- have clashed with team management over playing time and won't make the trip to Turkey. Star power forward Erazem Lorbek also won't play. On one hand, the team should be fine with Dragic and point guard Jaka Lakovic, currently Ricky Rubio's backup at Barcelona. On the other hand, having players as good as Udrih and Vujacic can't hurt. Slovenia just needs to beat out Iran and Tunisia to advance from group play, which should be easy enough. It gets trickier from there, of course.|
||Europe||6th '09 Eurobasket||15|
|Led by former Raptor Roko Ukic and Real Madrid center Ante Tomic, the Croats always seem to be on the precipice of breaking through ... but just haven't pulled it off. The team may never recapture the glory of the Petrovic-Kukoc-Radja era, but Croatia can be better than it has in the recent past. It will sure get some high-profile opportunities, landing in Team USA's Group B. The Americans will actually be Croatia's first test, on August 28.|
||Europe||4th '08 Olympics, 11th '09 Eurobasket||6|
|Perhaps I put too much stock in recent performance, as while Lithuania finished a dreadful 11th at EuroBasket, the team did win bronze in Euro 2007 and finished fourth in Beijing. But the team looked so bad in Europe, beating only Bulgaria the entire tournament, that it's hard to ignore. Lithuania has such a beautiful basketball legacy, but this team just doesn't have the talent the squads of lore had. Let's hope Robertas Javtokas and Linas Kleiza can renew our faith.|
|13. Puerto Rico
||Americas||2nd '09 Americas||10|
|Puerto Rico is similar to the mid-tier European teams like Slovenia and Croatia: just good enough to beat anyone, but not good enough to beat everyone. Puerto Rico finished just behind Brazil at FIBA Americas last summer, and still counts its 2004 win over Dream Team IV in the Athens Olympics as its most famous game. Since then, P.R. hasn't been terribly good in international play, finished 17th at the 2006 Worlds and failing to win an Americas tournament. But again: it's a dangerous team.|
||Europe||2nd '08 Olympics, 1st '09 Eurobasket||3|
|American fans may recognize two players on Russia's Worlds team: Timofey Mozgov, a new Knick, and Sergei Monia, a former Blazer. There are no other big names on board -- no Andrei Kirilenko, no J.R. Holden, not even any Viktor Khryapa. The Russians return just three members of the brilliant 2007 Euro champion team: Monia and point guards Sergei Bykov and Anton Ponkrashov. That's it. If coach David Blatt can take this club into real medal contention, he deserves all the accolades one could summon.|
||Europe||10th '08 Olympics, 11th '09 Eurobasket||7|
|It's hard to simply explain away Germany's chances by noting Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman aren't playing this summer. After all, Nowitzki and Kaman did play in Beijing, and the team was awful. At least there are some interesting prospects on the German side to pay attention to in Turkey -- rangy small forward Robin Benzing should be a first-round pick next year, Gonzaga big Elias Harris will be a sure lottery pick and 7-footer Tibor Pleiss was picked up by the Thunder in the last draft. Guard play is still too big a problem, though, for Germany to make real noise in Turkey.|
||Americas||4th '09 Americas||19|
|Canada's biggest name in Turkey will be Joel Anthony, so there you go. Actually, I take that back -- Andy Rautins, a new Knick who starred at Syracuse, should be one of the team's top scorers. But considering NBA players like Steve Nash and Samuel Dalembert call themselves Canadians, it's disappointing to have such a middling roster.|
||Asia||8th '08 Olympics, 2nd '09 Asia||9|
|Of course China misses Yao Ming -- without him, China lost the Asian Championship to Iran last summer. Yi Jianlian injured himself early in training, and it's unclear whether he'll play in Turkey. If he doesn't, China could very well get skunked in group play (despite having a game against Cote d'Ivoire in there) or at the very least not get out of the group. Honestly, without Yao, this program just isn't very good.|
|18. New Zealand
||Oceania||2nd Oceania (by default)||13|
|I have nothing against New Zealand or the South Pacific in general. I am a fan of both The Flight of the Conchords and Frodo Baggins. But there's no reason Oceania should get two automatic World Championship bids when the region has only two nations that field teams regularly. Seriously, the top two teams from the FIBA Oceania Championship qualify for the Worlds. And only Australia and New Zealand entered. They played the equivalent of a friendly home-and-home. It's madness. Why FIBA won't combine Oceania and Asia and give them 3-4 berths total is beyond me. Neither Australia or New Zealand are good enough to essentially get automatic qualifications to major world tournaments.|
|Perhaps this is a bit premature -- Montenegro is still trying to qualify for the 2011 EuroBasket tournament as of this writing, and has only had independence from Serbia for a year -- but what a stacked young program. Featuring Peja Drobjnak (remember him?), Omar Cook (remember him?), Nikola Pekovic, Vladimir Dasic and perhaps someday soon Quincy Douby, Montenegro figures to leap into the mid-tier of Europe quite soon.|
||Europe||15th '09 Eurobasket||25|
|You can call me a starry-eyed Omri Casspi homer, and you'd probably be right. Color me blue, but I do see Israel making the leap of bottom of Europe's Division A to candidate for World Championship berths within a few years.|
||Asia||11th '08 Olympics, 1st '09 Asia||21|
|Just how low is the quality of play in the Asia, Africa and Oceania regions? Iran trounced China to win the Asian title last year. With essentially the same team a year prior, Iran lost all five of its games at the Olympics. I'd venture to say Europe has 15-20 teams that could beat Iran, the best team in Asia (so long as Yao is on the shelf) regularly.|
||Africa||12th '08 Olympics, 1st '09 Africa||12|
|Angolan basketball is still best known as a Charles Barkley wisecrack, but the team has won six straight African titles, and typically wins a game or two in World Championship group play. Heck, Angola could beat out Germany and Jordan to get a knockout berth out of Group A.|
|23. Dominican Rep.
||Americas||5th '09 Americas||26|
|The Dominican Republic has the talent to be a major international player, with Al Horford, Charlie Villanueva and Francisco Garcia all available and Trevor Ariza a future possibility. But the hump has been too great so far. The D.R. finished second by Puerto Rico in the recent Centrobasket tournament, with only Villanueva playing from the big three. Eric Musselman, the team's new coach, can get this team in the conversation for the 2012 Olympics, but it's going to be a tough slog with Brazil rising and Puerto Rico, Canada and Argentina holding on.|
||Asia||4th '09 Asia||24|
|I just don't want the army of Lebanese basketball fans on Facebook to tear me down. Fans of the team waged a massive Facebook campaign to get Lebanon a wild card berth into the Worlds; it, and the rule all four wild cards couldn't come from the same region, worked. (If not for that rule about regions, Great Britain or Italy would have taken the fourth berth over Lebanon, in my estimation.)
Lebanon actually beat France in the 2002 Worlds; they'll have another shot in Group D on August 29. Don't rule out a Lebanese berth to the knockouts either -- they'd just need to outplace New Zealand and Canada to get there. Watch for 18-year-old swingman Ahmad Ibrahim. If Lebanon is to make noise over the next decade or so, it'll likely be on Ibrahim's back.
|It's been a precipitous fall for Italy since 2004's Olympic silver medal. The Italians didn't even make the EuroBasket field last summer, and are in real danger of missing the cut for 2011 as well, this despite a roster featuring Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli. Italy has certainly beat out France as the most disappointing team in Europe; at least France looks to be back on the upswing. Can't say the same for the Italians.|
Great Britain: Still relying on Luol Deng to make the team competitive even at the lower levels of Europe's Division A, Britain looks like a good bet to make EuroBasket 2011. From there, the team needs Deng, Ben Gordon and some luck to convince the powers that be to add the team to the 2012 Olympic field.