Fiba Basketball World Cup 2014: can anyone beat Team USA?
Since the first allowed its players to compete in international basketball, the same question has been asked before every major tournament: can anybody beat the USA?
On Saturday, the 2014 Fiba World Cup begins in Spain. Team USA are of course the prohibitive favorites, but the absence of many of marquee NBA players might make them more vulnerable than they have been for a while.
So how does the Fiba World Cup work again?
Second only to the Olympics, the World Cup has been around since 1950. It is formatted a bit like the Fifa World Cup, in that contending nations are divided into groups, in this case four of them with six teams in each. Four of each of those sixes will survive pool play and head into elimination games, until two teams remain for the gold-medal game. The winner receives a place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
So who else is playing?
Group A: Spain, Serbia, France, Brazil, Egypt, Iran
Group B: Philippines, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece, Croatia
Group C: Dominican Republic, Turkey, USA, Finland, New Zealand, Ukraine
Group D: Slovenia, Lithuania, Angola, South Korea, Mexico, Australia
Who’s playing for the USA?
The US roster . The only holdovers from the squad which won the title in 2010 are Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay and Steph Curry. James Harden and Anthony Davis were part of the team that won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, although Davis was coming out of college and was relegated to end-of-the-bench non-duties. He now looks to be on his way to at least an All-Star season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and will be a much more significant presence.
With LeBron James essentially retired from international play, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love pulling out and Paul George , the US have named Houston’s Harden as their leader. It’s not an entirely controversy-free choice, considering that Harden hasn’t been a starter for more than two seasons, doesn’t have the best track record as far as being a team player goes and at times has been bad enough on defense that you could make an entire YouTube playlist devoted entirely to clips of him failing to make any defensive effort whatsoever.
That may be exactly why he has been given this opportunity – he has a chance to prove his critics wrong on an international stage. If anyone should be motivated to play well, it should be Harden.
OK, that’s not entirely true. There’s another star who probably has even more motivation. Rose, of Chicago, is trying to prove himself while coming back from injuries that sidelined him in two straight seasons. He has been having some good games for the US, but his health was a big enough concern that he sat out stretches of an extensive warm-up schedule. Rose may never be an MVP again, but if can stay on the floor and make plays, the World Cup could revamp his reputation.
Here’s the full roster, which will be coached by Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski:
Guards: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson (both Golden State), Derrick Rose (Chicago), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), James Harden (Houston). Forwards: Kenneth Faried (Denver), Rudy Gay (Sacramento), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto). Centers: Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Andre Drummond (Detroit).
Who else will I recognize?
NBA talent will feature for a majority of the teams, although their countries may surprise you. Similar to the Designated Player rule in Major League Soccer, Fiba allows countries to nationalize one player, regardless of whether or not they have any ties to the area. For instance, Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew , who will be representing the Philippines in their first World Cup appearance since 1978. Serge Ibaka will be helping out Spain, although his birthplace was the Republic of Congo.
Sports Illustrated has who will be participating. While some of the more renowned international players, most notably France’s Tony Parker and Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, both of the San Antonio Spurs, are absent, there are still plenty of players NBA fans should recognize. Most notably, Spain will basically be fielding an NBA team, as Chicago’s Pau Gasol leads his brother Marc (Memphis), Ibaka (Oklahoma City), Jose Calderon (New York), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota) and the international-competition legend Juan-Carlos Navarro.
Group A is heavy with NBA talent. Brazil have a core including Nenê (Washington), Leandro Barbosa (Phoenix), Anderson Varejão and Tiago Splitter (San Antonio). While France’s chances of going deep are affected by Parker’s absence, they still do have Nic Batum (Portland), Boris Diaw (San Antonio) and Ian Mahinmi (Indiana).
Nenad Krstic, who had a lengthy pro career that included stints with the New Jersey Nets, the Thunder and the Boston Celtics, will once again play for Serbia, along with Miroslav Raduljica, currently with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Group B also features players who may be on the radar for average basketball fans. While not having Ginobili, who is taking a break along with most Spurs starters after an exhausting NBA Championship run, will hurt them, Argentina still have Luis Scola (Indiana) and Pablo Prigioni (New York).
Normally that would make them the most interesting contenders in Group B, but the most interesting player in this group might be Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, who turned heads last season as a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks. Gorgui Dieng, of Minnesota, will be representing Senegal while his team-mate José Juan Barea joins the ageless Carlos Arroyo (last seen with the Celtics) with Puerto Rico.
Team USA won’t face very much NBA competition in Group C, not when the biggest current NBA player in the group who isn’t representing America would be Turkey’s Omer Asik (New Orleans) or possibly the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia (Houston).
Most of the major-league talent in Group D is with the Australian team, most notably Aron Baynes (San Antonio), Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland) and Dante Exum (Utah). Sadly San Antonio’s Patty Mills, who shone at the 2012 Olympics, will not be participating – yet another reason why the World Cup may be disappointing for those hoping to see more of the 2014 NBA champions.
Outside of Australia, there are only a handful of known quantities. Goran Dragic (Pheonix) will be representing Slovenia. Jorge Guiterrez (Brooklyn) will be part of Mexico’s team. Jonas Valančiūnas (Toronto) will represent Lithuania, who have a habit of being tough to beat even when lacking recognizable names.
Does anyone besides Team USA have a chance?
When we say this team is not as star-packed as previous US teams, keep in mind that this is only by comparison – those previous squads were some of the greatest assemblages of basketball talent in history. Even without James, Durant, George, Love and so on, anything less than a gold medal would be an absolute catastrophe.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone stopping the US from at least making the gold-medal game. Lithuania in London, but they are not the same without . Slovenia in the first half of their tune-up against the US, but still lost big time.
While Brazil and Argentina are usually major threats, they will have to first pull off an upset against Spain. If Ginobili were still playing for Argentina, a repeat of their shocking Olympic victory in 2004 might seem possible. But it’s going to take a great effort for anyone to make it to the gold-medal game instead of Spain and then to pull off a second upset against Team USA.
So we’re basically looking at Spain?
Yep. It’s looking like the whole thing will come down to the USA versus Spain, with the US heavily favored unless something really disastrous comes along.
As back-to-back NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the have shown us, however, it’s never a bad thing for the best two teams to be left at the end, no matter how predictable that seems to be. The only way we don’t get that in the 2014 Fiba World Cup is if there is a massive upset. That sounds like a win-win, entertainment wise.