Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hedo Turkoglu - EuroBasket Turkey Preview

For your casual basketball viewer, the season ends in mid-June and doesn't start up again until October. I'll kindly disagree with that mentality. You have the NBA Draft, then July is all about Summer League. August is really truly the only typically 'quiet' time (and Dwight has crushed that theory the past two offseasons), and even then international friendlies take over whether it's in preparation for the Olympics, the FIBA World Championships (now referred to as the 'World Cup'...ugh), EuroBasket, and the FIBA Americas Championship. August 30th we're back on the 2-year cycle of the FIBA Americas tournament hosted in Venezuela this campaign, and on the 2-year cycle of EuroBasket hosted in Slovenia beginning September 4th. The end goal of participating in EuroBasket and the FIBA Americas is to qualify into the Olympics and FIBA World Cup. However, there's tremendous prestige in winning these 'qualifying' tournaments. Don't tell that to USA basketball who very rarely participates in the FIBA Americas Championship simply because they typically dominate and win gold at the Olympics and FIBA World Cup and have the options to elect not to send a team to the FIBA Americas tourney.

The top 6 finishers of the now expanded 24-team EuroBasket four-group format punch a ticket for Spain in next year's FIBA World Cup. If Spain finishes in the top 6 (Spoiler Alert: They will), then the team that finishes 7th also gets an automatic invitation without having to endure a crummy qualifying campaign to get into the tourney. The top 4 finishers in the 10-squad FIBA Americas two-group competition earn automatic berths for next year. Remember, the U.S. already has their invite by virtue of winning the London Olympics. Expanding from 16 to twenty-four teams for the first time ever at EuroBasket may water down the quality in the first round, but it's still known as a more entertaining tournament than the Olympics or the FIBA World's. The FIBA Americas tourney is shorter and less grueling on its competitors. But the atmosphere and passion lacks in comparison to the other tournaments discussed. Still, it's fun when your country competes or your player(s) is out there. 

So for this Magic man international preview let's check in on...wait...Hedo Turkoglu is still a member of the Magic? Yes, our assumptions of Turk being bought out haven't come to fruition. Yet. That'll change sooner rather than later. Hedo is fighting for a continuation of his NBA career. Otherwise, Turkoglu will have to settle for balling in Turkey. Even if Turk performs well at EuroBasket, it's still highly unlikely another NBA franchise would call up Rob Hennigan and request Hedo's services. Still, a slim chance is better than none. So it's worth keeping our eyes on Turk. If for nothing else, it's to pay our respects to an important player in - and best Orlando SF - Magic history. Remember, all EuroBasket matches can be viewed on ESPN3.  

Hedo will forever go down in Turkish history as the man who was significant in helping put his country on the map in international basketball. Hedo is entering what could be his final international tournament and will be doing so off the bench. Hedo will be playing his favorite position of 'point forward' with Kerem Tunceri out and Ender Arslan being the only true point guard - but as a 6th Man - with Emir Preldzic rightfully starting ahead of Hedo at SF. Turkoglu appeared to be in good shape during the August exhibitions and provided his usual average defense that we've become accustomed too. At the start of this Serbia friendly 4 weeks ago Turk was drilling dribble step-back jumpers with ease which is encouraging. Here's another friendly against Serbia from last week where Hedo fouled out and you can see more of a decline in his athleticism. Still, Hedo will be expected to average at least 20 minutes on the court and is an important playmaker.  

At EuroBasket 2011, which I analyzed thoroughly, Hedo was atrocious from 3-point range - 15.6% on 5-of-32 from deep to be exact - as Turkoglu mirrored the overall disappointing 11th place showing of his team. Which meant that Turkey didn't send a team for the London Olympics last year. A far cry from the silver medals Turkey earned at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in their backyard. Hedo did manage 54.2% on two-pointers 2 years ago in those eight EuroBasket contests in Lithuania which is something Turkish supporters would beg for in the coming week(s). 

A 34-year-old Turkoglu actually fits in with an aging roster whose youngest player in their finalized 12-man roster is 24 years old. Hedo is only the 3rd oldest on a squad that's average age is almost thirty. August 31st was the last warm-up contest in Turkey's preparation for its first EuroBasket match on September 4th against Finland. It also marked Hedo's 300th career game in a Turkey uniform that dates back to 1995 when Turk was participating for the youth squad. Turkey won the game 81-68 over Marcin Gortat's Poland side. Hedo posted 11 points, 4 boards in 5 assists which has actually been par for the course for Hedo during August.

Throughout his busy 13-season NBA career Hedo always found time to serve his country and that'll always earn you massive respect. Quite a remarkable run that also included a 2001 EuroBasket silver medal.


Quite well even with no Tunceri and Enes Kanter not participating. I'll be shocked if Turkey doesn't land one of those 6 spots. Coach Bogdan Tanjevic is a great coach selection to lead this bunch. He knows that he needs to lean more on Ersan Ilyasova, Omer Asik, and Emir Preldzic with veterans like Turkoglu, Onan, and Arslan playing solid supporting roles. Coach Tanjevic believes they can win this EuroBasket. I don't, but I think they can come quite close if the Turks find their form from 3 years ago which was enough to beat everyone but the unstoppable Team USA. Weakened Spanish, French, and Russian 12-man rosters leave the door slightly open for Turkey to shock us and take the 'ship. Oh man, if Hedo can also find the Fountain of Youth then watch out. 

Turkey is in Group D with a dilapidated Russian side, Finland, Greece, Italy, and Sweden. All Sweden has is Jeff Taylor and Jonas Jerebko. Finland have an aging team that's improving surprisingly as their cast of Koponen, Gerald Lee, Kotti, and Shawn Huff are never easy to dispatch. The Italians don't have Bargnani or Gallinari and will depend on Marco Belinelli, Luigi Datome, Alessandro Gentile, and (FORMER MAGIC MAN ALERT) Travis Diener. That's right, Diener nation still lives and it has prospered with Sassari over the past few years. The 31-year-old guard has played so well - and married an Italian - that Italy naturalized him and will be a critical part of whether Italy progresses or not. 

5 matches in six days are played beginning Wednesday. Top 3 from the group move on. Turkey's matches in order: Finland, Italy, Greece, Sweden, and Russia. I have Turkey finishing first, Greece 2nd, and a crumbling Russia 3rd with Italy nabbing that last spot should Russia be an even extra mess. Russia lost their first pick Head Coach, don't have Kirilenko, Khryapa, Mozgov, Sasha Kaun, and Vorontsevich. Still, Russia has a young Sergey Karasev, Shved, Fridzon, and Sergey Monya. That's a decent core of talent and experience for the 2007 EuroBasket champs. I have Turkey running the table and not dropping a match in Group D. 

The game they could lose would be against Greece. However, I don't trust their new coach Andrea Trinchieri and my Greek boys are missing some needed depth with no Nick Calathes or Kostas Koufos participating. Also, Turkey's day off comes on September 6th before their 3rd game (as does Greece and the rest of the group) against Greece which leaves time for rest and extra preparation and a potentially heated match and definitely the most hyped meeting of the group. Both squads are more even than either side wishes to admit.

So okay, barring some unforeseen choking, Turkey will have made it into the second round robin that is named 'Group F' where the top 3 teams from Group D (I predicted Turkey, Greece, Russia) would meet the top 3 teams from Group C (I say Spain, Slovenia, and Croatia in that order with Poland having an outside chance to overtake Croatia's spot if Marcin Gortat beasts). So those teams carry over their results from the previous round with the results from the teams already eliminated disappearing from the points table. Teams face opponents they didn't already play in the first round robin group stage. Got it? If you're confused, this illustration greatly helps. So I have Turkey dropping a few matches to superior Spaniard and French squads. The top 4 teams from groups E and F each move on to the Quarterfinal knockout stage. 

Here are my Quarterfinal matchup predictions that I'll probably punch myself over later: Spain v. Serbia; Turkey v. FYROM, Greece v. Lithuania, and hosts Slovenia v. France. Winners I have in bold. So my predicted Semifinal matchups then become: Spain v. Turkey and Greece v. France. Not freaking bad and both are games that I implore any basketball fan to watch for a plethora of current and historical matchup reasons. 

From there, I have Spain beating Turkey and France beating Greece (Yes, I anticipate Tony Parker getting his EuroBasket 2005 revenge) to set up a possibly epic Spain-France gold medal match and a tension-filled Turkey-Greece battle for a bronze finish. Still, that means all 4 of these teams will be in Spain next year for the FIBA World Cup (I also have Serbia, Slovenia, and Lithuania joining them to round up all 7 automatic qualifications). 

I have Turkey beating Greece in the 3rd place match that would land Turkey on the podium for bronze medals. That would be quite the last hurrah potentially for Hedo and a few other team members. Ah who am I kidding, if this were to happen then you know Hedo is coming back next year to fulfill another summer of NT duty. 

So individually what would be a successful EuroBasket for Hedo? Shoot over 40% from 3-point range, shoot over 50% overall. Point totals don't matter but filling the rest of his stat sheet would be great. 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds per contest would be outstanding and signs of a man not ready to relinquish the NBA dream. I hope Hedo plays well, I just don't want Turkey beating Greece. Sounds like a fair compromise to me.  

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