Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014 FIBA World Cup Preview

Links:  Pre-Camp Breakdown; FIBA website

It was announced late last Friday night that Pistons C Andre Drummond had made the final cut and will travel as part of the 12-man Team USA roster to the FIBA World Cup in Spain.  Group play begins on Saturday, August 30th and the US will open action with a relatively easy matchup against Finland.  Before we get into the breakdown of what to watch for, what to expect and what kind of role Andre Drummond might play, here's a look at Team USA's roster and the teams participating in this year's FIBA World Cup:
Team USA Roster
PG
Derrick Rose
Kyrie Irving

SGSteph CurryKlay Thompson
SFJames HardenDeMar DeRozan
PFRudy GayKenneth FariedMason Plumlee
CAnthony DavisDeMarcus CousinsAndre Drummond
*In bold is my estimate of the starting lineup

2014 FIBA World Cup Groups (World Rank)
Group AGroup BGroup CGroup D
Spain (2)Argentina (3)USA (1)Lithuania (4)
France (8)Greece (6)Turkey (7)Australia (9)
Brazil (10)Croatia (16)New Zealand (19)Slovenia (13)
Serbia (11)Puerto Rico (17)Dominican Rep. (26)Angola (15)
Iran (20)Phillipines (34)Finland (39)Mexico (24)
Egypt (46)Senegal (41)Ukraine (45)Korea (31)
GROUP BREAKDOWN
If you're unfamiliar with the FIBA World Cup format: A team will play every team in its group once; the top four teams from each group advance to a 16-team knockout tournament 

Group A:
Spain is the obvious favorite here, buoyed by the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt and a roster composed of players with NBA experience.  Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez likely start in the backcourt, with assistance from Jose Calderon.  Outside of the US, there isn't a roster deeper than the one that Spain brings to play.  France will be without the services of Tony Parker, so they'll have to rely on budding SF Nic Batum.  The frontcourt boasts solid depth, with the services of Rudy Gobert (who displayed improvement on Utah's summer league squad), Boris Diaw and Joffrey Lauvergne, a recent pick of the Memphis Grizzlies.  The French may not have the wing talent to challenge Spain and win the group, but they're a lock to advance.  Brazil also sports a deep frontcourt, a trend that is prevalent in Group A.  Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter, Nene and Guilherme Giovannoni should allow the Brazilian squad to hang with the French and Spanish teams.  A lack of talent on the wings will likely relegate them to 4th place, if they can't manage a win over a Serbian team that lacks NBA regulars, but has some of Europe's most accomplished players.  Half of the Serbian roster is 6'10 or taller.  Iran has been improving lately, working their way up to 20th in the world rankings.  In any of the other three groups, they may have a realistic chance to surprise somebody and earn a spot in the bracket.  However, with four established, talented rosters, it'll be hard for them to break through.  The casual American basketball fan may recognize the names of C Hamed Haddadi (Memphis Grizzlies) and SF Arsalan Kazemi (Oregon).  Egypt enters play with probably the best of the team page banner photos, and nothing more.  They likely don't have a chance at a W unless they can upset Iran.
Mean muggin'/Ready to give tax advice/Possibly pooped himself


Group B
Argentina lacks the high end talent that it had in their heyday in the 2000s.  The likes of Ginobili, Delfino and Oberto are done wreaking havoc on the international basketball community.  However, the Argentinians will likely still be a formidable squad behind Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni, Walter Hermann and Andres Nocioni.  Greece has the talent to wrest away the top spot in group play, with a solid mix of NBA talent and established European players.  NBA players Kostas Papanikolau, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nick Calathes will join a roster packed with size, experience and talent.  I'll take Greece to win Group B.  Croatia, similar to Greece, has a roster that's a good blend of NBA talent and established European players.  2014 lottery pick Dario Saric is joined by Damjan Rudez (Pacers) and Bojan Bogdanovic.  19-year old G/F Mario Hezonja may not play much in this event, but has received early mention as a potential top-5 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Third place in group play seems likely.  Puerto Rico is led by Carlos Arroyo and JJ Barea.  They're joined by former first round pick Renaldo Balkman and several other players with short NBA careers.  Of little importance: FIBA lists C Daniel Santiago as standing 6'12.  If I were putting money down, it would be on Puerto Rico to advance as the 4th team out of Group B.  However...The Philippines could stand in their way.  That is, if Andray Blatche can carry the load.  The Philippines roster is extremely under-sized, but if Blatche is at the top of his game, it may be enough to upset Puerto Rico.  Senegal will have to rely heavily on Gorgui Dieng, and has a very small chance of advancement.

Group C:
Team USA is the overall favorite, and easily the favorite to win Group C, likely with little resistance.  More on those guys later.  Turkey will only carry one NBA player on their roster in Spain, that being Omer Asik.  The roster is full of size, but doesn't have the perimeter punch to challenge the US.  Looking at a 2nd place finish in the group.  New Zealand is led by former Wisconsin G Kirk Penney, and looks likely to advance into the bracket portion of World Cup play.  Will need to avoid a loss to any of the teams ranked below them, because they likely aren't going to beat the US or Turkey.  The Dominican Republic will be led by Francisco Garcia and several former American college players, including Edgar Sosa (Louisville) and Eloy Vargas (Kentucky).  The fourth and final spot in this group will likely be decided between The DR and Finland.  The Finnish squad is headed by former 2nd round pick Petteri Koponen.  Cleveland Cavaliers PF and Florida alum Erik Murphy should contribute in the frontcourt.  Ukraine doesn't look likely to compete, but 17-year old phenom Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Kansas-bound) will be a player worth watching if he gets to play.  Former Univ. of Portland G Pooh Jeter will likely lead the Ukranian squad.


Group D:
Lithuania features Donatas Motiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas in the frontcourt, and depth from strong Euroleague talent.  The roster is built on size, with an average height of 6'8.  They could face a tough challenge from a deep Australia squad.  Dante Exum, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles form a nice backcourt.  David Andersen, Nate Jawai, Aron Baynes, Cameron Bairstow and Brock Motum form a deep frontcourt.  I'll take Australia to win Group D.  Slovenia could also factor heavily in Group D, buoyed by Goran and Zoran Dragic.  The rest of the roster is built on solid, young European pros.  They're a sleeper team to win this group.  The fourth qualifier out of this group is...well...that's hard to say right now.  Angola is my default pick, as they're the highest ranked and I know little of any of the three teams.  Mexico has two NBA players in Gustavo Ayon and Jorge Gutierrez, although they are one of the smaller teams in FIBA play.  Korea is the smallest team in FIBA play, with an average height of 6'4.  38-year old PF Moon Tae-Jong, born Jarod Stevenson, and was the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year in 1998 at Richmond.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The basketball World Cup, formally known as the World Championships, will never be as popular as the soccer World Cup, for obvious reasons.  First, it doesn't have the rich, long-running tradition of being exciting as hell.  Second, when one country/team tends to dominate a competition, things stop being entertaining.  Lastly, the tournament tends to, as it does this year, coincide with the beginning of the college football season.  However, that doesn't mean there won't be excellent storylines playing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

The casual observer would likely assume that the US has a history of dominating FIBA World Cup/Championship play, similar to their power over Olympic play.  However, that's not exactly the case.  Going back to 1986, the US has only won three of the last seven FIBA World Cups, and has only taken home gold in one of the last four.  In 2002, the US failed to medal all-together, finishing 6th behind a largely uninspiring roster.  In recent years it has again become commonplace for prominent players to participate in international competition, lending a sizeable advantage to the US squad.  However, they figure to face a stiff challenge from a Spanish team that boasts a major advantage in the frontcourt.  Anchored by Pau and Marc Gasol, the world's 2nd-ranked team will be looking to avenge a hard-fought seven point loss in the gold medal match at the 2012 Olympics.  Look for the US and Spain to play a rematch of the 2012 gold medal match, this time on the Spaniards' home court.

A US-specific storyline will involve a close watch on the health of some of the NBA's best and brightest.  With the gruesome leg injury suffered by Paul George in a US intrasquad scrimmage, international play has come under fire from NBA franchise owners.  Any amount of minor or major injuries will likely dredge back up the rhetoric that the big investments made by owners should prohibit the game's brightest stars from competing for their country.  I, for one, think that it should be up to the players and hope to go the duration of the tournament without any players suffering an injury that will lead to reactionary moves against players competing in international tournaments.

No individual player has as much to gain in the public eye from this tournament as Anthony Davis.  Davis is on the brink of becoming a superstar and should benefit from the withdrawals of Durant, Love and Griffin.  With all of the established scoring options gone, there may be an opportunity for the known defensive stopper to show the world the improvements he has made to his offensive game.  He has the talent to shoot out to international three-point range, the length and athleticism to dominate the offensive glass and the skill to score around the basket.  Now all he needs is the ball, and he just might get it.  Davis is already one of the world's best players, the world just doesn't know it yet.  Watch for that to change.

ANDRE DRUMMOND'S ROLE

Seeing as this is a Pistons blog, it's a great source of pride that Andre Drummond was able to earn a spot on the US roster for the World Cup.  However, he doesn't figure to have a huge role in any game that's within 15 points or less.  Drummond received a roster spot as a way of keeping him interested for future tournaments and as an insurance policy against Cousins and Davis if there's foul trouble against Spain.  With the US being in such a non-competitive group, he should see considerable minutes in group play blowouts.  He should benefit from international rules, which allow for offensive goaltending, assuming he remembers that he's allowed to do it.  Whether he plays meaningful minutes or not, this should be a positive learning experience for Andre Drummond, and help him come into training camp with a heightened focus.

Follow Six Championship Drive on Twitter, @Kevin6CD.  There's a small chance I might tell a funny joke about basketball.

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