Canada’s SMNT Group Preview

Prepping Canada's chances against the other teams in its Olympics group.

Some people are calling it the Group of Death. It took over three months, but Canada’s senior men’s basketball team finally knows which teams will join them and Australia in Group A at the Olympics. Both Greece and Spain qualified through the Olympic qualifying tournament. All are dangerous, talented, and highly regarded programs.

All four teams, including Canada, could conceivably make it out of the group, which is why it’s being called the Group of Death. But Canada is a heavy favourite to win the group, according to the oddsmakers. The top two teams in each of the three groups will automatically qualify for the Olympics, while two of the three third-place teams will also qualify to the quarters on point differential. 

Let’s take a deeper look into each of the teams Canada will face in Group A. 

Australia, ranked 5 in the world:

Australia is the closest match to Canada in terms of NBA talent. Unlike both Spain and Greece, who predominantly play European-based players, Australia will pose a threat with NBA athletes all over the court. Having a mixture of FIBA and NBA players can be a major advantage. Australia will bring eight NBA players: Josh Giddey, Dyson Daniels, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Jock Landale, Dante Exum, Josh Green, and Duop Reath. The roster also includes former NBA player Matthew Dellavedova. (The Australians cut NBAer Matisse Thybulle.)

Australia won the bronze medal at the last Olympic games in Tokyo. However, this Australia team is in transition from the era in which Mills and Ingles dominated, to the new wave of younger players such as Giddey, Greenm and Daniels. What Australia does not have is the star power of a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or a Jamal Murray, which Canada enjoys.

However, they match up well with Canada at the wing and point guard positions. Jock Landale, who plays sparingly for the Houston Rockets, is a great FIBA big who can shoot and rebound in a similar way to Canada’s Kelly Olynyk. Australia has incredible athleticism — Canada’s transition game might not be an advantage, as it was against virtually everyone at the World Cup.

Canada opens the tournament against Australia on July 27 and it will be imperative for the Canucks to stimy Australia’s perimeter shooting and play to a draw on the boards. If the Aussie perimeter defenders play excellent defence, and the team mounts a high clip of threes, they will be a tough challenge for Canada. If it is a close game, Canada will rely on Gilgeous-Alexander and Murray to power through. They are closers unlike any Australia possesses.

Greece, ranked 14 in the world:

Giannis Antetokounmpo, that’s the tweet. Giannis willed his Greek team to win the Olympic qualifier on home soil over the weekend. He won tournament MVP. Giannis was a one-man wrecking ball as he averaged 22.7 points on 65-percent shooting from the field in 22 minutes per game. 

Greece is not just a one-man team, though. Nick Calathes, who had a cup of coffee with the Grizzlies from 2013-2015, is a veteran EuroLeague player who can shoot and create for his teammates. 

Canada will have a stiff challenge trying to stop Giannis and the variety of shooters that Greece has around him. With Andrew Wiggins not on the team, Canada will rely on Dillon Brooks and Lu Dort to contain the Greek Freak. They are strong, but there’s a difference between strong and able-to-stop-Giannis-on-the-move. If he does get by his primary marks, Giannis may also be able to take advantage of Canada’s lack of rim protectors, with Canada’s center rotation looking to be Dwight Powell and one of Khem Birch or Mfiondu Kabengele — who are not elite shot blockers. 

Nevertheless, aside from Giannis, Canada will have the undisputed talent advantage. The key to success will be to bully any non-Giannis minutes while also coming in waves offensively, exploiting Greece’s defensive liabilities in the backcourt: Gilgeous-Alexander and Murray should be able to feast. Canada will have a huge talent advantage in the frontcourt.

You stop Giannis, you stop Greece, it’s as simple as that. 

Spain, ranked 2 in the world: 

It has been a golden age for Spanish basketball over the past two decades. But Pau and Marc Gasol, as well as Ricky Rubio have fallen to the basketball wayside. Nonetheless, with a new crop of players including Santi Aldama, the Hernangomez brothers, and Usman Garuba, combined with the ageless wonder Rudy Fernandez and ex-905 legend Lorenzo Brown, Spain still had enough talent to qualify for the Olympics. 

Despite the perceived downgrade from Spain teams of the past, this team was just a few seconds and possessions away from ripping Canada’s Olympic hopes out in Jakarta at last summer’s World Cup. If it wasn’t for an incredible fourth quarter rally with Gilgeous-Alexander and Brooks raining down threes, Canada might not have made it. 

The reason Spain tested Canada was because of their chemistry and passing, which Spain demonstrates on every possession. The team is relentless and formidable in its approach to the game, winning the margins, and never letting go of the rope. Spain is led by former Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo (who sat down with Raptors Republic last summer) who brings tactical wizardry, smarts, and the ability to make Spain better than the sum of its parts. Spain picked apart Canada through back cuts, rebounding, and 3-point shooting. 

Still, this Canadian team is bigger and more talented than last summer’s team. 

It may be the Group of Death, and there may not be any easy game. But there’s every reason to hope that Canada will win their games and advance from Group A to the quarter-finals matching how far they went in the 2000 Olympics.