Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What if: The USSR played at the Olympics?

125px-Flag_of_the_Soviet_Union_svg The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a beast -- they launched the first man into space; were a huge World Power; and dominated half the globe up until the fall of communism. Along the way the 'Reds' gave us something to laugh about and made Doug Collins a bitter, bitter man.

After 1991 it all went down hill for the Commies and the once proud, mighty USSR became the states of: Russia (FIBA rank #15), Belarus, Ukraine (FIBA rank #39), Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan (FIBA rank #41), Uzbekistan (FIBA rank #54), Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Estonia (FIBA rank #62), Lithuania (FIBA rank #6) and Latvia (FIBA rank #34). [FIBA rankings are the most recent official ones from after the 2008 Summer Games.] Sure, there is only one nation in the Top 10 . . . but 5 in the Top 50. None of these nations earned a medal at the 2008 Olympics, but these guys can play basketball, let's hypothesize a 12 man rotation for a hypothetical USSR team.

  Name Country Team Ht Positions Notes:
1 Sarunas Jasikevicius Lithuania 
Panathinaikos BC 6'4 PG/SG Former NBA player and current European Point God. 13 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.5 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.5 3PTM/game (@ 39%) in the Olympics. Part of the team that beat the USA back in 2004.
2 JR Holden Russia CSKA Moscow 6'1 PG/SG American born player and only black guy on this team. Averaged 17.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.6 rpg, 1.4 spg and 1.8 threes a game in Beijing. He gets to the foul line and plays 38.6 mpg in a 40 mpg tournament. Of course, if the Cold War was still on, would this guy even be playing for Russia?
3 Ramunas Siskauskas Lithuania CSKA Moscow 6'6 SG/SF Euroleague MVP 2008 who scored 11 ppg (50% shooting, 45% from three), and added 4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 spg while doing a lot of the heavy lifting on offense for his club.
4 Andrei Kirilenko Russia Utah Jazz 6'9 PG/SF/PF European Player of the Year 2007, former NBA All-Star who can pretty much do it all: 15.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.6 spg, 2.2 bpg in the Olympics.
5 Zydrunas Illgauskas Lithuania Cleveland Cavaliers 7'3 C Did not get permission to play in the Olympics, but that would not be an issue if he was a member of the USSR National Team. He would probably be coerced to play . . . forever!
6 Andris Biedrins Latvia Golden State Warriors 6'11 PF/C Young guy with good instincts for blocking shots and rebounding.
7 Linas Kleiza Lithuania Denver Nuggets 6'8 SG/SF/PF The fiery heart of this team shot 40.7 3pt% during the Olympics and netted 11 ppg, 4.6 rpg and got to the line 26 times (making 24).
8 Zaza Pachulia Georgia Atlanta Hawks 6'11 PF/C Stood up to KG in the NBA playoffs, is not intimidated by anyone.
9 Viktor Khryapa Russia CSKA Moscow 6'9 SF/PF Former NBA player (Portland & Chicago) who shot 54.3 fg% and 52.4 3pt% on his way to 13.5 ppg. Also had 6.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 bpg. Made 11 threes in the 4 games he played in China.
10 Simas Jasaitis Lithuania TAU Ceramica 6'8 SG/SF Only got 8.8 ppg, but brought it with 55.3 fg% and 43.3 3pt% (made 13 threes). Contributes in other ways as well, making all of his FTs and getting 3.8 rpg and a few steals.
11 Oleksiy Pecherov Ukraine Washington Wizards 6'11 PF He adds more depth up front for USSR, and can hit the three.
12 Sergei Monya Russia Dynamo Moscow 6'8 SG/SF He had a crappy Olympics, but is a former NBA player (Portland & Sactown) who when teamed up with Andrei and Viktor can become a great defensive force.

Alternates: Kyrylo Fesenko (C), Ukraine; Darius Songaila (SF/PF), Lithuania; other guys on the National Teams that I don't know much about; other ex-NBA players from the former USSR who play in other leagues.

Well, the next logical question would be if this neo-USSR team could be a force in international basketball? I think that they could, and they could have surely won a medal at this past Olympics. (Maybe even to the Gold Medal game) The future of this team looks bright even though Zydrunas is getting up there in years, as there are plenty of bigs to fill in the void -- Kyrylo Fesenko (of the Ukraine) looks to develop into one of the better NBA playing Europeans who are above 7 feet tall.

Would this team have a shot against the Redeem Team? They have an obvious advantage inside, but the guards are not very deep . . . this team *could* have an outside shot at beating the USA in any single game, but I wouldn't bet against our boys in a best of 7 match.