Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pau Gasol Isn't Afraid of Americans

While you all sit in your living rooms, on your computers, thinking Team USA is going to run through the Olympics, get the gold, and be called “The Redeem Dream Team”, Spain is thinking otherwise. You may say that Spain doesn’t have a shot against the States but if you ask me, it’s going to be closer than you think. Spain only lost by 11 points in the 2008 Bejing gold medal game and they expect to give them an even harder run, as this may be Pau’s last and best chance to put Spain at the top.

Before Pau started playing for Spain, the team was just getting back to playing good basketball. They qualified for the 2000 Olympics for the first time since 1984 while giving an appreciative outing, coming in 9th. This was the beginning, as Pau was exactly what they needed to enter the squad. Gasol gave Spain a go-to guy in the low post that was a great complement to the shooters they had. As the years went on, Spain basketball looked brighter and brighter.

Every year, European counties always have competition in the summer if they’re playing at a high level. Since Spain has been a top team in Pau Gasols era, every summer Spains ready to ball and their squad is competing. After Spain made the 2000 Olympics, they continued to qualify for every Eurobasket, World Championship, and Olympics to date, playing together eleven summers in a row (12th this year) and getting better every year. Spain has won back to back Eurobasket championships while taking the 2006 FIBA World Championship when Greece upset the US to go on and play in the gold medal game, only to get crushed in a 23 point blowout to the Spanish.

In Pau’s Olympic history, his squads gotten closer every outing. Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Rudy Fernandez have been with Pau since his first Olympic run in 2004 when Spain placed 7th. Four years went by and Spain was back and wanting to get closer, getting to the gold medal game and losing in a closer game than expected, when Spain was able to put an impressive 107 points on the US, but let up defensively allowing 118. This was another step towards Pau’s goal of getting that gold around his neck.

This Spanish team may look weak at the wing with Rudy Fernandez being their best defender while having to play small most of the time with Juan Carlos Navarro, nevertheless this team is the US’s most threatening opponent and that’s because Spains front court towers over the American big men. US are going to be small without Dwight Howard, and they could even use a guy like Pau Gasol who plays in the post and around the rim. Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, and Anthony Davis are the big men on the US and don’t expect Davis to play much. Spain’s going to have both Marc and Pau Gasol starting with last years top shot-blocker Serge Ibaka rotating off the bench. This leaves the US to try and outrun and outgun the Spaniards since they won’t be the most efficient team around bucket.

The run and gun could end up playing to the Spaniard’s strengths, as Raul Lopez, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Rudy Fernandez would be fine with making the game a transition game. If the US decide to go small and put few small guards on the floor at once (Deron, Westbrook, Paul, Harden) this would benefit Spain who like playing Navarro, a 6’3 shooting guard, alongside Calderon. Also having Jose Calderon healthy, who’s been at the top of the league in assist to turnover ratio since entering the NBA, will be key for this Spain team to move the ball and spread the scoring with Pau, Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Rudy Fernandez all expected to score the bulk of the points on this squad.

Can this Spain team really be THAT good? Head coach Sergio Scariolo wasn’t shy to compare his team to the current EuroCup champion Spanish soccer team. Scariolo says there is the “same atmosphere” in the locker room as them and also praised Spain for “exceeding expectations” in preparation for London’s tournament.

Pau Gasol has two NBA rings, two Eurobasket golds, one FIBA World Championship, and zero Olympic golds. A gold in London should solidify his spot in the basketball HOF. Some may say Pau saved his energy during the 2011-12 season just so he can go 120% in this years Olympics. If he did or didn’t, Pau still played at a high level and Bynum stole a ton of his touches. Pau doesn’t mind Bynum letting him save energy though, as Pau’s going on full blast.

“My team mates and I will fight for the gold medal,” Pau Gasol told reporters. “We’re afraid of no one.”

Thanks for reading my blog! Photo editing credit to Payton Wales, as he's the man who puts our awesome images together. Follow me on twitter @mitch_mcclure


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