With Brazil looking good against Team USA in a warm-up exhibition, Argentina’s golden generation looking for one last crowning moment, Russia cruising through the Olympic qualifier, Lithuania hyped up with Linas Kleiza’s return and Spain arriving as the European champions, France is the one high profile team that has gone under the radar as the 2012 London Olympics approach.
That has been the case because of Joakim Noah’s absence and somewhat disappointing performances in the warm-up exhibitions, as the Frenchman lost to Spain twice, just barely beat against Brazil and then lost to Australia in a two-point game in which the score didn’t justify how much better the Aussies played. Throughout the preparation, this is a squad that has looked uninterested and challenging to trust.
But there is still plenty of talent around on this core that placed second in the European championships last summer, even with Noah’s absence. Tony Parker is arriving from the best season of his career with the San Antonio Spurs, leading them to the western conference finals and just barely falling short to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He led France to tremendous heights last summer and hope is he can do the same this time around, although an eye injury sustained in a night club as a Drake-Chris Brown fight broke out has slowed him down in the preparatory stages.
Alongside Parker, France’s offensive potential is at the wing, with newly added Spurs’ signee Nando DeColo and $46-million dollar man Nicolas Batum. DeColo is also arriving from the best season of his career, leading Valência Basket to the championship game of the EuroCup and a semifinal appearance at the Spanish league. How well he can produce off the ball is in doubt, though. Meanwhile, Batum is more assertive a scorer in international basketball than he is in the NBA, with only his turnover-prone ability slowing down his multi-dimensional skill-set of ferocious rim aggression and quality three-point shooting.
Upfront, Boris Diaw should play a similar role in the national team than the one he played in San Antonio at season’s end now that DeColo and Batum have emerged, focusing more on the passing off the high post or the top of the key and the spot-up shooting rather than trying to manufacture something on his own, which we saw to be brutal in Charlotte. But Diaw isn’t much of a volume rebounder or a lane protector, and with Noah absent, Kevin Seraphin will be relied upon to perform as well as did with the Wizards late in the year at center. Ronny Turiaf is there too but for France to defend at a high level against some of these great frontcourts in the tournament like Brazil’s or Spain’s, it will need the younger, more athletic, better Seraphin.
Placed on ‘Group A’, alongside Team USA, Lithuania, Tunisia, Nigeria and Argentina, it will be a dogfight for France. The goal is to finish second in the group, so it can avoid Team USA in the knockout stages until the gold medal game if it makes that far, but that sure won’t be easy. France beat Lithuania in the European championship last summer, but the Lithuanians were missing Kleiza. Argentina is far inferior in athleticism but will rely on three-point shot and that may break out its way. And Nigeria in on a roll this summer, overachieving its way to the Olympics after overcoming Greece and the Dominican Republic in the qualifier.
The Frenchmen aren’t peaking as the tournament approaches, in fact, they have gone way under the radar because of some underperforming outings in the warm-ups but this remains a legit contender to medal on talent alone. And one has to assume once wins and losses become meaningful on Sunday, we will see this squad attempting to play up to its potential, demonstrated on last summer’s European championships.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘The Basketball Post and an International Scout and Correspondent for NetScouts Basketball. He can be followed on twitter @rafael_uehara or reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.