Before the draw for the three remaining teams for FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament draw, France coach Vincent Collet expressed a desire that his team would be drawn in the same bracket as the United States.
Aside from France, the other two nations to book the last flights to Rio include Serbia and Croatia.
I asked Collet why he preferred to be in the same group as the powerhouse United States and the long-time French coach who has piloted Les Bleus to four medal finishes since 2009 (bronze in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, gold in the 2013 EuroBasket, silver in the 2011 EuroBasket, and bronze in the 2015 EuroBasket) explained: "I think it’s quite better to play with the US. (We will) try to be the second of the group. If not, it will be difficult to qualify (for the later stages)."
In the Olympics, only the top four countries of each group will advance to the knockout stages. In the quarterfinals, the top seed of Group A will play the fourth seed of Group B, while the Group A runner-up will battle Group B’s third-place team.
When I asked if he thought that Group B was the “Group of Death” as it had four Top 10 teams than Group A, which only had three, Collet, answered rather cryptically and refused to give any other team any motivation about a lack of respect. "Most are very difficult. The only thing is there are very good teams. If you qualify, you can beat them.”
For the sake of argument, if France does finish second in Group A, they could either face Argentina, Brazil, or Croatia in the quarterfinals. I believe they like their chances of going for a medal finish that way.
Collet now has the position of adding France’s other missing NBA players who were unavailable for the OQT in Manila.
The team that qualified for Rio in Manila included Thomas Heurtel, Nicolas Batum, Antoine Diot, Joffrey Lauvergne, Charles Kahudi, Tony Parker, Florent Pietrus, Nando De Colo, captain Boris Diaw, Mickael Gelabale, Kim Tillie, and Adrien Moerman. Shooting guard Edwin Jackson, who suits up for Unicaja in the Spanish league, was one of the last cuts yet he joined the team in Manila.
Collet could opt to add Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who was unavailable due to contract concerns, Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier, Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi, New York Knicks center Joakim Noah, and possibly Lithuanian club Zalgiris Kaunas' point guard Leo Westermann. New Orleans Pelicans Alexis Ajinca was not selected over issues regarding commitment.
The power forward-center platoon — Diaw, Tillie, Moerman, and Lauvergne -- combined for 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds. The guards collectively tallied 43.6 points and 9.2 assists.
The concern is at the small forward position where right now Batum, Pietrus, Kahudi, and Gelabale rotate. The quartet combined for 13.1 points.
Although Collet mentioned that he will give special consideration to the team that played in Manila, I don’t believe that they didn’t fight through this tough tournament and not go with an even better line-up to Rio. Nevertheless, they won’t make too many changes. I thought that the team in Manila lacked that slashing forward (Batum seemed content to loft jumpers). Most of the incursions came from Parker, De Colo, and Heurtel. When Kahudi was found on the fastbreak, he drove hard.
My best bet is Tillie and Moerman will be placed in reserve while Gobert and Noah (or maybe Mahinmi) take their spots. That would shore up their lane defense and add some passing savvy down low.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.