The good old times are gone
THE STAR: Andrei Kirilenko
The 6-9 small forward had a superb rookie season with Utah Jazz and a disappointing performance in this year's Rocky Mountain Revue. He has not seen action ever since because the Jazz didn't allow him to play exhibition games, so it may take him some time to find the rhythm of competition in Indianapolis. The Russian team really needs him to play up to his potential.
THE BACKCOURT: No new faces. Sergei Tchikalkine, who will turn 27 in December, is the youngest guard in the Russian team. His outside shot -arguably one of the best you'll see in the tournament- will be one of the biggest weapons in the squad. The Pachoutine brothers and a quite rusty Vasily Karassev can shoot the ball too, but not with that accuracy. They all have good size for their position -- the shorter Russian player stands at 6-3 --, but their lack of athleticism and quickness will be a concern. No way they can guard players like Emanuel Ginobili or Juan Carlos Navarro.
THE FRONTCOURT: Andrei Kirilenko will probably be one of the top shot blockers and rebounders in the tournament. He'd better be one of the top scorers as well since there is no other forward in the squad able to consistently put points on the board. The Russians have a clone of Kirilenko in Viktor Khryapa (very good first step, great athleticism, no reliable jump shot), but he is still too young and raw to contribute.
Ruslan Avleev and Sergei Panov will bring toughness. In fact, Avleev is so tough that he was once banned from all competition after punching and kicking a referee during a game. He may lack some size and mobility, but can play some basketball. Same can't be said with Panov, once a respectable strong small forward and now a threat for his own team due to his lack of concentration. Looked completely out of shape in recent exhibition games and will hardly recover his game in time for the World Championship.
The best of all centers is Nikita Morgunov, who is not exactly a pure center. Once considered an NBA prospect, Morgunov is a fine offensive player with shooting range up to three point land. He creates matchup problems, but does not get much involved in the battle in the paint. Standing at 6-11, he averages slightly more than four rebounds per contest. Alexis Savrasenko and Alexander Bashminov will do the dirty work.
STRENGTHS: They have size and very good shooters. Andrei Kirilenko should be one of the best players in the tournament.
WEAKNESSES: Most players seem to give up too easily. Save Kirilenko and Khryapa, there is no athleticism at all. Too many players are on his thirties. You can say they are experienced. You can also say they are too old.
WILL PLAY IN... Group D with Argentina, Venezuela and New Zealand.
PROJECTION: Should reach the quarter finals.
Jorge Sierra is the editor of HoopsHype.com
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