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Consider USA, Spain favorites for 2012 London Olympics

Oct 3, 2011, 9:31 PM EDT

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There are 298 days left until the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.

We, as Americans, expect a gold medal in basketball as our birthright, as we expect inexpensive gasoline and a well-grilled steak. To make sure we get what we want, USA Basketball will be sending its big guns — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, etc. — and America will be the prohibitive favorite in London.

But a year out, who is our biggest threat?

Spain primarily, but once we get to the one-and-done part of the tournament, a few teams can be scary. There’s a fantastic breakdown of what to expect next July over at The Painted Area today (one of the best sites for international hoops opinions), where they talk about Spain coming off its European championship.

MVP Juan Carlos Navarro was in full La Bomba mode during the knockout round, but it’s Pau Gasol who is the lynchpin for this side. Pau easily led the EuroBasket with a whopping 36.9 PER (20 and 8 on 54% FG in 26 minutes per game).

While the return of Pau was essential for Team España, the addition of newly naturalized Serge Ibaka was an intriguing personnel game-changer for Spain. Ibaka, who was a force in the gold-medal game with five blocks in 21 minutes, adds a welcome dose of athleticism. The equation of Gasol brothers plus Serge might well equal the best rotation of bigs in London, depending upon the frontline players Team USA is able to assemble.

We have talked about this before — when Coach K sits down to assemble this version of Team USA, he is going to have to account for the size and athleticism of the Spanish front line. Playing Dwight Howard at the five then Carmelo Anthony at the four will not cut it against the Gasol brothers.

Everyone goes into the Olympics expecting a Spain vs. USA gold medal rematch from 2008.

Who can spoil that party? How about France? They have Joakim Noah to play defense in the paint but they were able to score during EuroBasket as well.

Certainly, the return of Tony Parker after a year off was critical to the French offense. Parker was the best guard in the tourney, averaging 22.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals in 35 minutes per game. Also, Nic Batum delivered a fine EuroBasket, averaging 13.8 points and 2.0 steals with 53.5% FG in 31.5 minutes, an improvement on his play in Turkey in 2010 (12.5 points and 1.3 steals with just 42.9% FG in 28.5 minutes). France still has room for improvement, as they could potentially add players like Ronny Turiaf, Roddy Beaubois or Mickael Pietrus to this year’s squad.

Argentina will make one last run at it with their golden generation of Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and others. This is a team that is more seasoned and has played together longer than anyone else in London, and they are a threat.

Brazil will be right in there too. They came in second at FIBA Americas behind Tiago Splitter and a bunch of guys you don’t know (and you may not no Splitter all that well as Gregg Popovich kept him on the bench plenty last season). But they can add Nene, Leandro Barbosa and Anderson Varejao, which will make them a threat.

Go read the entire Painted Area post. There are teams like Lithuania and Russia could be a threat in a one-and-done scenario.

That said, we’re Americans and basketball is our sport. We expect our gold medal and we don’t really care how we get it.

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