France (4-1) vs. Spain (3-2)
Spain (5/1) is the favorite for the silver. With the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, and a talented host of perimeter players that includes point guards Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez, Spain should be able to play a versatile inside outside game that will give all the squads, the US included, a lot of troubles defensively. They have the shot blocking with the Gasol brothers and league leading shot blocker Serge Ibaka, so the US’s perimeter players will be thinking twice before taking it right to the hole.
France (25/1) must also be taken seriously, due to the fact that they have some real weapons that NBA fans will recognize. Tony Parker of the Spurs leads the way, and is joined by the versatile forward Nicolas Batum. They also have a few role players from NBA teams to round out the squad in Ronny Turiaf, Boris Diaw, and Kevin Seraphin. France could be a danger to any team if they get hot from behind the arc, but they lack the size necessary to match up with the U.S. and many other teams, accounting for their long-shot odds status.
Spain tanked their final game on purpose to draw France instead of the US in medal play. It was sneaky, but unsurprising. Getting hammered by France would be a good payback for playing a game half-assed in an event that deserves only one’s best effort.
Still, it is hard to blame the Spaniards for it, and their 3-2 record should be easily viewed as 3-1. They did lose by 6 to Brazil to close out pool play today, and again, it’s hard to know whether they really should have. Their other loss came to the strong Russian team.
In the loss to Russia, Pau Gasol had a big game with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting, but no other Russians made huge contributions, with only Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez reaching double figures with 10 a piece. Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro have both been pretty solid throughout the tournament, but the Spaniards clearly could use rookie standout Ricky Rubio, who is still rehabbing in the hopes of returning to the NBA soon.
Spain has yet to face the US, of course, and they obviously don’t want to. Their three wins all came against teams they should beat. They dispatched of Australia by 12, England by 1, and China by 16 in their opener. None of those games are particularly impressive victories, and the one point victory over Luol Deng and the Brits should be downright troubling. Not only did Spain give up 26 points to Deng, but they also allowed 6’10” former NBA draft pick Joel Freeland to score 25 in his own right. Spain has some obvious weaknesses to rectify before they can be taken seriously as medal contenders.
France, meanwhile, was the favorite for the bronze leading into ths event. They’ve shown why, but have also failed to show that they could be anything more than a bronze or silver medal winner. The US team punished France and made it clear to the Frenchmen that Tony Parker will be their only advantage at any position, and a very slight one at that. The French have 5 NBA players, but other than Parker, and possibly Batum (according to your opinion), are NBA standouts.
Batum has the defensive skills to slow either Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but he can’t cover both at once, and Batum’s defense is going to be needed against Spain to slow down Rudy Fernandez and maybe even Serge Ibaka. It certainly doesn’t help that two of Spain’s top three players play center. That just means a more vicious headache for Ronny Turiaf.
As good as France is, I feel Spain was favored for a reason, and they still should be favorites despite a 3-2 record vs a 4-1 record. I also realize France only lost to the US, but they’ll face a real test playing a team with as many weapons as Spain has. I’m not predicting a total blowout, but Spain should win this by 7 to 10 points.