Spain is good with a depth of talent we know about. Argentina has the best player so far in the tournament in Luis Scola. Brazil already almost beat the USA. Greece has been very good and has the motion offense that can give the USA fits.
Turkey is playing better than all of them. And Turkey might be the toughest matchup for the USA. If these two teams meet, the USA could meet their match.
The World Championship hosts have shown flashes of spectacular play in international tournaments before — at the last Eurobasket they beat Spain (as well as Lithuania and Serbia). Then they lost to Greece in the round of 8 and that was that. Then they came into the World Champions as host but without Mehmet Okur, still recovering from his Achilles injury in the NBA playoffs. A lot of people, myself included, looked past them.
But Turkey is a beast — as shown in their 95-77 destruction of France. Slovenia is next and Turkey should have no problem there. Then likely would come Spain in the semi-finals and, theoretically, the USA in the championship game.
The USA may prefer Spain right now. For two reasons.
One is Turkey has proven to have the best front line in the tournament. They start Omer Asik (coming to the Chicago Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix Suns). Then they bring in soon-to-be Celtic Semih Erden.
Turkoglu had not impressed through the group stage of the tournament but broke out in a big way against France scoring a game high 20 and hitting 4 of 7 from deep. Basically 2009 in Orlando Turkoglu showed up. If he does that will be hard for everyone else to stop. Meanwhile Ilyasova has averaged 15 points and 8.2 rebounds a game through the tournament and is hitting 56 percent of his threes.
Basically the undersized USA would have to take on a long, skilled front line — Turkey’s strength is the USA’s weakness.
The second Turkey has going for it is the best defense in the World Championships. In pool play, they allowed just 81.1 points per 100 possessions, best in this tournament and for comparison no team in the NBA was under 100 points per 100 possessions last season. (Thanks John Schuhmann of NBA.com for the stat.)
Turkey runs a 2-3 matchup zone, but it is much more aggressive than any other in the tournament. The guards out top extend the pressure up high, backline guys will chase shooters into the corners. While the USA’s zone looks like a zone, the Turkey zone really employs man-to-man principles and uses a lot of pressure.
Combine that halfcourt defense with a skilled long front line and the USA could struggle against them.
Fortunately, the USA would not see Turkey until the finals, if it can get past Spain. But either way, when the USA gets to the gold medal game they will be in for a real battle.