The United States will face heavy competition at the upcoming FIBA World Cup, which will take place in China. The competition begins on August 31, with the final game scheduled for September 15.
The cup will see many NBA stars play for their national teams, with some of the top names of the league spending their preseason in their countries’ jersey. For instance, the current NBA MVP will be there, as well as three other last season’s All-NBA squad members. The reigning champions Toronto Raptors’ starting center will also make his way to China. The only problem here, however, is that the majority of those high-profile players will not fight for the United States’ colors.
Namely, many of the best American players will not be participating in the World Cup, either due to injury or, more frequently, out of personal choice. Other international stars have not made such a decision. As we’ve said, current MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will represent Greece, and Nikola Jokic will be on the Serbian team. Accompanying those two, Rudy Gobert will play for France, as will Marc Gasol for Spain. They will be the torchbearers of the best basketball league in the world, but none of them play for the United States.
Speaking to the media ahead of the World Cup, Denver Nuggets’ star center, Nikola Jokic, said that Serbia’s goal was to win a medal. Not just any one as the European team seeks to win gold, which would put them ahead of the U.S. in terms of most titles won. The two countries are currently tied in first place with five gold medals each. If they manage to do so, it won’t come as much of a surprise as the Serbian team is one of the favorites alongside the U.S. team.
First Loss Since 2006
In the pre-tournament friendly game, Australia beat the U.S. 98–94 in front of a packed stadium-turned-court. The defeat meant that Australia beat the U.S. for the first time in history. It also meant that the 78-game winning streak came to an end. Australia, together with France, will have five NBA players on its roster, while Serbia will have four. Altogether, the World Cup will have over 60 players who play in the NBA. Only a dozen of those will represent the United States.
Nicolas Batum of France said that this year’s tournament could prove to be the most intense one in history. There are a lot of quality teams that can compete for the title, but there can be only three medalists. So according to Batum, the competition will be fierce. He added that any team, including France, would have to be at the top of their game if they wanted to bring home a medal. Batum is the only player who will play this year that was a member of the 2014 World Cup All-Tournament team.
The only player who will represent the United States at the World Cup and was an All-NBA last season is Kemba Walker, who switched the Charlotte Hornets for the Boston Celtics. If you take a look at the last season’s statistics, you’ll find that the leading scorer, the top three in assists per game, and best seven rebounders are all international stars who will play on someone else’s roster.
Rest of the World Getting Stronger
Some experts find this to be a sign that the rest of the world is catching up with the United States and a win is no longer a guarantee. U.S. head coach, Gregg Popovich, said that there were going to be a lot of other contenders for the title and the U.S. should take the tournament seriously. Despite the United States being the only team whose roster is made up entirely out of NBA players, many believe that it’s a vulnerable team. The roster is far from being a star-studded Dream Team.
However, there are those who still see the American team to be the number one favorite. For instance, Sergio Scariolo, Spain’s head coach who’s also Toronto’s assistant coach, pointed out the difference in salaries. The U.S. team has a combined NBA salary that is by far bigger than other teams’ rosters. Namely, when Spain played against Americans in an exhibition match on August 16, the U.S. starting five had a combined salary of $105 million. In this regard, no other team comes even close.
Serbia and Greece Up For It
Despite this, there are signs that the team isn’t as dominant as before, as pointed out by the loss to Australians in Melbourne. With the world watching over, other teams now won’t be as fearful going into the match against the two-time defending champions. Serbia head coach, Sasha Djordjevic, said that they would let the U.S. team play their basketball, and Serbia would play theirs, with the better one being the winner. He jokingly added that if the two teams met, “may God help them.” It is clear that success in this tournament would mean a lot to Serbia. And they are not the only nation feeling this way.
Antetokounmpo, known as the Greek Freak, claimed that he would gladly give back his MVP award in exchange for the gold medal with Greece. His teammate with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brook Lopez, who will represent the U.S., said that he believed Giannis was telling the truth. It was obvious how much he wanted it.