Olympic Basketball seems like a foregone conclusion every four years. No team can come close to the talent that team USA boasts on paper, and almost every game gets boring after a quarter of play is gone because of the sheer dominance of the Americans. Unfortunately, many casual basketball fans seem to forget that other nations have plenty of talent that could end up becoming NBA stars in the future. They have as much talent as any team in the Olympics has ever seen save the Dream Team in 1992 and the 2012 team, but the USA Olympic Basketball team has one disadvantage: this group has barely any experience playing as a team.
The team that could end up shocking the world by making a deep run in the knockout stages of the tournament is Croatia. They have a roster laden with NBA-caliber talent, they have already shown they can play well together by winning the European Olympic Qualifying Tournament, and they have a very complete team.
Inside, there are the likes of Ante Zizic, who played a big role on the Lakers NBA Summer League team, and Dragan Bender, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, who is looked at as a power forward who can also distribute and act as a de facto point guard. Zizic will be the primary rim protector for the Croats while Bender will be one of the team’s top scoring options in Rio.
On the wings are the team’s two stars, Mario Hezonja and Dario Saric, two players who will be looking to shine in the Rio Olympics and take that momentum into the regular NBA season. Hezonja came from FC Barcelona to the Orlando Magic by way of the 2015 NBA Draft, where he was the fifth overall pick, and Dario Saric is making his way to Philadelphia after being a draft-and-stash prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft, where he was the 12th overall selection but stayed with his Turkish club team, Anadolu Efes, for two years. Hezonja is a great athlete who can also shoot from outside, so he will be hard for opponents to guard with his blow-by speed and sweet shot. Saric is a 6’10” sharpshooter who, like Dragan Bender, is also a point forward. He shot around 70 percent from behind the three-point line in the Turkish League finals. With his height, vision, and stroke, he will draw many mismatches throughout games and likely burn his man with a jumper, a post move, or a pass many times each game.
Although Croatia has no true point guard, they most certainly do have playmakers. With NBA players Damjan Rudez and Bojan Bogdanovic able to take the scoring load off the likes of Saric and Hezonja when needed and Ante Tomic being an experienced, reliable option off the bench in the paint, the Croatian team is dangerous. Clearly, they do not have the pure talent that team USA have, but with the cohesiveness the team has already and the matchup problems they will give to opposing defenses, get ready to see the Croatian team go far in the Olympics.