The medals have been handed out, everyone has headed home from Beijing and it's not too soon to think ahead. Let's take a team-by-team look at where each nation is exiting the Olympics and looking forward to the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey and the 2012 London Olympics.
Angola: This was a disappointing effort for the African champs, whose closest game was a 17-point loss to China. By contrast, Angola finished 10th in the 2006 World Championships, all three losses coming by 10 points or fewer. The matchups weren't great; China with 7'6" Yao Ming and Germany with two seven-footers in Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki were well-suited to exploit Angola's lack of size. However, Angola ought to have been more competitive. they should remain an African force. We'll see if Angola can return to the 2006 level of play against the weaker competition in the World Championships.
Argentina: Unable to defend the gold medal, Argentina nonetheless medaled for the second time in the country's history. With Carlos Delfino stepping into a larger role and Andres Nocioni and Luis Scola still in their primes, Argentina figures to stay amongst the world's elite even as Manu Ginobili ages. The biggest looming issue down the road is at point guard. Pablo Prigioni is 31 and played the vast majority of the minutes in Beijing.
Australia: By beating Lithuania and giving the USA a game for a half, the Boomers showed what they are capable of doing in the years to come. Nineteen-year-old Patrick Mills is poised to be an international star and supplant veteran C.J. Bruton at the point. Andrew Bogut and Brad Newley round out a fine trio of young players who will lead Australia going forward. The Boomers can score; the challenge is improving a defense that ranked 10th in the Olympics.
China: By reaching the quarterfinals, China achieved its goal in Beijing. However, China still needs to improve to truly be competitive on the world stage. Improved depth would be a big help. We saw against both the U.S. and Spain that China started strong and faltered down the stretch. The good news is key players Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue are young and developing. If they step into bigger roles, that will take a lot of pressure off of Yao Ming.
Croatia: Making their first appearance in a major international competition since the 1996 Olympics, Croatia acquitted itself quite respectably. I missed, over the course of the tournament, just how inconsistent Croatia's offense was. Croatia had a 130.7 Offensive Rating in wins, 95.9 in losses. Three-point shooting went from a crazy 62.5 percent in wins to 25.5 percent in losses. To take the next step, Croatia will have to diversify its offense. By finishing sixth, Croatia likely guaranteed a wild-card spot in the 2010 World Championships even if they fall short in Euro 2009.
Germany: The addition of Chris Kaman gave Germany a second high-caliber player, though Kaman never did much after a big game against Angola. Meanwhile, the German guards remain inadequate. Only Steffen Hamann rated as above replacement level over the course of the Olympics. If Germany plays at this level next summer, qualifying for the World Championships will be challenging.
Greece: Greece was reduced to the role of spectators by the semifinals, but that was more of a math problem than anything else. There were five teams that separated themselves from everyone else and only four spots in the semis. Had Vasilis Spanoulis' three-pointer just before the buzzer against Argentina gone down, we might well be talking about the Greeks' bronze medal. Looking ahead, Greece only has one player on the roster over 28. Unfortunately, that's emotional leader Theo Papaloukas, who at 31 already looks to be on the downside of his career, though he's still an elite player.
Iran: For Iran, making the Olympics was an enormous accomplishment. As recently as 2005, Iran had finished sixth in the FIBA Asia Championship. With China automatically qualifying for the Olympics as host, the door was open, and Iran took full advantage. This appearance was more about gaining experience than really competing. With no one on the roster over 26, however, Iran could develop into a threat. Star center Hamed Hadadi has been cleared by the State Department to sign with an NBA team after some earlier red tape and is expected to join the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lithuania: The semifinals curse continued for Lithuania, which has lost on the doorstep of the gold-medal game in each of the last five Olympics. For the second straight time, Lithuania also lost in the bronze-medal game and was denied a medal. Still, it was a strong run for Lithuania. It might have been the last for 32-year-old Sarunas Jasikevicius, and as difficult as Jasikevicius' game will be to replace, Lithuania will especially miss his leadership ability. Linas Kleiza is the rising Lithuanian star, but his game was woefully inconsistent in Beijing.
Russia: By far the biggest disappointment of the Olympics was Russia failing to advance a year after winning the FIBA European Championships. Russia beat both Croatia and Lithuania along the way, then eeked out a win over Spain in the final. This time, Russia lost to Croatia and Lithuania as well as an underdog Australia squad. Russia suffered close losses against quality competition; still, the European Champs have to get out of group play. The only age issue for Russia ahead is star guard J.R. Holden; we could see younger Travis Hansen take Holden's spot as Russia's naturalized American down the road, though Russia doesn't have much in the pipeline in terms of point guards.
Spain: No shame whatsoever for Spain in winning silver. In fact, in the wake of how well Spain played in the gold-medal game, it's wroth considering whether the team was keeping something in the tank in the early 37-point loss to the U.S. and other games. The biggest difference, however, was that shots simply fell for Spain in the final, particularly for Juan Carlos Navarro. Spain figures to have a slightly different look by the time 2012 rolls around, though no one is worried about their talent level. Navarro and Pau Gasol will be 32 by then, but Ricky Rubio will be 21 and will likely have a few years of NBA experience under his belt, while Rudy Fernandez will be in his prime at 27.
United States: Result in Beijing: Redemption. The New York Times looked ahead and asked several players whether they plan to play in 2012. Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams all leaned toward continuing if asked, with Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade leaving the door open. Jason Kidd is the only player for whom age is an issue. Some others, especially the group that has played in the last two Olympics, could pass. Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy are amongst the players who have been part of USA Basketball and are most likely to join the squad in four years.
When it comes to looking ahead, the best news is this: NBA training camps open in less than five weeks. Covering the Olympics has been fun and the gold-medal game was as good as any we're likely to see any time soon, but the time has come to return our focus to the professional game and the 2008-09 NBA season.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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