Today, we continue Olympic Madness with a preview of France!
FIBA World Ranking: 12th
Qualfied By: 2nd at the 2011 Eurobasket
Previous Olympic Appearances: 7 (1936, 1948-1960, 1984, 2000)
NBA Players: Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), Nicolas Batum (Portland Trail Blazers), Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs), Ronny Turiaf (Miami Heat), Kevin Seraphin (Washington Wizards)
History: France has always been in the upper tier of European basketball nations historically, owing to the country's large size and general interest in basketball. They were rather successful in the 1950s, but gradually fell into the crowd, giving way to die hard basketball countries like Italy and Greece. France has had a couple recent runs of success, grabbing the silver medal in the 2000 Olympics after a fantastic tournament run, and grabbing high finishes in the Eurobasket and FIBA World Championship in 2005 and 2006.
Overview: But France really put themselves on the basketball map in 2011, with a convincing 2nd Place finish in the 2011 Eurobasket. The French national team had always been able to rely on Tony Parker, but they never got such a dearth of NBA talent to commit to the national team until recently. Most notable about 2011 was the arrival of Nicholas Batum and the return of Tony Parker, diversifying the French scoring attack. There was also the arrival of Joakim Noah, giving the team a post presence it never had. Alongside were longtime national team members Boris Diaw, Ali Traore, Mickael Gelabale, and Nando De Colo, who all had experience playing together.
That being said, Tony Parker still remains the main focus of this French team. He was the leading scorer at the 2011 Eurobasket with 22.1 points per game. The added options on offense for France have really helped to open up the floor for him, along with the increased pace of play that comes with the more athletic NBA players.
However, France will really be hurt by the loss of Joakim Noah this year. He's only a moderate scoring threat, but he did average 8 rebounds a game during the 2011 Eurobasket, helping France control the ball despite their wild style. He also formed one of the best defensive tandems in international basketball with Ali Traore, which was a large part of the reason they were able to overcome Russia in the Euroleague Semi-Final.
Traore will be returning, and in to replace Noah is the energetic Ronny Turiaf. Turiaf might be a step below Noah offensively, but he does very well when given limited minutes, and provides more of a shotblocking presence then Noah ever did. It changes the dynamic of France significantly, since the vast majority of their points will have to come from guards or swingmen.
This doesn't necessarily leave them perimeter focused, as many of their guards, including Parker, Nando De Colo, Boris Diaw, and Mickael Gelabale get the majority of their points from inside the arc. Batum is really the only player who likes to stand on the perimeter a lot, and he only takes shots when he's open, mainly from the corner. However, they may look for more production from Kevin Seraphin, the little-used backup big. He was very effective in limited minutes during the Eurobasket, winding up as the team's second most efficient scorer (behind Parker).
Below: Strengths and Weaknesses, Why Nigeria is Ballin', Highlight Reels, Notable Players, Outside Quotes, Outlook For the Olympics and Beyond!
Aside from the scoring focus shifting to the smaller players, France still has a number of challenges to combat. They usually only have one traditional big on the floor at a time (unless they're trying to defend against a post scoring duo, like Dirk and Kaman or Gasol and Gasol), meaning that they're a weak rebounding team. They're also susceptible to pressure, having high turnover rates in most of their losses. In essence, France isn't very good at controlling the ball, so they're not very good at closing out games. So when they end up facing a team who pressures and rebounds well (like Spain), they'll get totally destroyed.
In terms of strengths, the French team generally has one of the world's more efficient scoring attacks. Though the points come from guards, they don't focus on one particular area. They're coordinated beautifully by Tony Parker, and do a good combination of mid-range jumpers, three pointers, getting fouled, and stealing the ball in order to run the break. They're also very athletic, having high flyers like Batum, Gelabale, and Florent Pietrus and quicksters like Parker and De Colo.
Why This Team is Ballin':
Okay, so, in case I haven't said it already, this team is REALLY athletic. When a writer classifies a team as such, it usually means that the team is run and gun, and likes to push it up the floor constantly. While France does run the break and get easy dunks, they also have a fantastic half-court offense, and their athleticism really comes to light in such a situation. In the first dunk shown above, he blows right past Andrei Kirilenko, one of the best defenders in the world, for an easy dunk. In another, he easily catches the defense napping for another easy dunk. What athleticism Team USA shows with aggression, this team can show with finesse.
Also, if you want to see something funny, here's a video of Ali Traore losing his shorts. And French fashion designers calling in Nicholas Batum and Steve Nash so they can overthink some soccer jerseys.
Best Highlight Reel:
There's no highly-stylized highlights of France on YouTube, but this standard highlight reel does a good job of dramatizing a close game. The narrowest win France got in the Eurobasket was against Lithuania, and the way in which they won it late shows their guile when facing a solid home court team. It also shows France's ability to come back from behind, as they were down 6 in the third quarter but managed to be on top for the majority of the fourth.
Other Highlights: Eurobasket 2011: Win vs. Germany, Win vs. Israel, Win vs. Italy, Win vs. Serbia, Win vs. Turkey, Loss vs. Spain #1, Win vs. Greece, Win vs. Russia, Loss vs. Spain #2
Players to Keep an Eye On (click on their name for highlights): Tony Parker, you know how he do. Nicholas Batum, one of the best French players at running the break. He can cut to the basket fairly well, and he's the team's best three point shooter. Boris Diaw, one of the most versatile players in the world. He's great at moving the ball while playing off-ball, and he's the teams second best scorer. Nando De Colo, who is basically Tony Parker lite, and the future of the French team. Ronny Turiaf, an energy player who excels at blocking shots and providing hustle. Ali Traore, the post lynchpin of the French team. He's mainly there for garbage points and defense. Mickael Gelabale, a decent scoring wing with great hops. Kevin Seraphin, a developing prospect on the Wizards and potentially the team's only decent post scorer. Florent Pietrus, older brother of current Boston Celtic Mickael Pietrus. He's basically an athletic defender, much like his brother.
What Others Are Saying:
There was no other option for France at this summer's EuroBasket in Lithuania than to clinch a top-six finish.
A national team that had underachieved for several years had to seal a place at the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament or this generation of Les Bleus would go down as one of the biggest disappointments in international basketball history.
So did center Ronny Turiaf, who despite breaking his hand in the build-up to the EuroBasket, stayed with the team for the entire summer and made sure they had a veteran presence to help with the development of Kevin Seraphin, a star on the rise.
If there was a blemish on the French performance in Lithuania, it was the 96-69 humiliation against Spain in their Second Round encounter, a game in which Collet rested Parker and Noah instead of going hard at a national team that had thrashed them in the EuroBasket 2009 Quarter-Final.
Does This Team Have a Shot at a Medal? France is a medal favourite, as they are probably the third most talented team in the world, behind Team USA and Spain. And I'd pick them as the favourites in any matchup France had outside of those two teams. But, the problem is, they will get obliterated by Team USA in any head-to-head game, and probably Spain as well. The only reason they might beat Spain is the added defense of Ronny Turiaf, but I doubt that would make much of a difference in terms of turnovers, which Spain are very good at forcing. So I'll say this. If they are to somehow, someway, able to avoid a matchup with the USA or Spain in the tournament, they could very easily win the Gold. Otherwise, in my opinion, they're the leading competitor for Bronze. Not a lock though, as there are other teams who could still potentially beat them.
Future Outlook: The immediate future for this French team looks bright, with most of the team's players at a relatively young age, and players like Batum, Seraphin, and De Colo only getting better. But the days of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw on the squad are numbered, and the team's performance for the next Olympics will hinge on whether France has talent on the level of Parker and Diaw at that point. Either way, they'll always remain one of the better teams in Europe, and a very entertaining squad to watch.
How do you think France will finish? Do they have a shot at beating Team USA? Vote in the poll, post a comment!