(Photo Courtesy of Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Another international men’s basketball tournament, another USA victory. The USA men’s basketball team has reclaimed its position atop the helm of international basketball. After the 2004 Olympic loss in Athens, it seemed as though international basketball had caught up to the talent, pace, and style required to compete with the USA. This World Cup was held in Spain and many experts, as well as fans were bracing themselves for a mighty finals matchup between the host nation and a USA team much different from those of years past. Surely this is not how it played out as there were some surprises and feel-good stories along the way.
This World Cup was missing several stars from international basketball that had been seen in the past. Certainly you would have to expect bigger names to consider playing had this been an Olympic title run instead of a World Cup, however it was not just team USA that was down notable studs. Argentina was missing a leader in Manu Ginobili and although he’s 37, Manu still has what it takes to compete internationally (as well as in the NBA, just ask Chris Bish, I mean Bosh). A certain French teammate of Manu’s was also missing from this World Cup. Tony Parker reportedly had played through a nasty sprained ankle for much of the post-season and sat out this competition to get healthy for next year. While Tony had made this decision on his own, Ginobili was told by the San Antonio Spurs that he could not represent his nation and compete in this tournament. Parker has stated before that he wants to play in the 2016 Olympics; an appearance that I believe will be his last for his homeland. Manu may not have the same opportunity as he will be 39 by that time and who knows what his health status will be by then (he already pulls a hammy every time he dunks). As a fan, I hope Manu gets to go out properly with his international club as he has brought them so much success, not to mention his own pride.
Regarding the USA roster, names such as LeBron, Melo, CP3, Kobe, Blake, K-Love, KD, Dwight, and D-Wade were missing from this year’s roster. Much of this had to do with certain players needing rest after deep playoff runs, offseason uncertainty and new homes for others, and a chance for the younger guys to get acclaimed to FIBA basketball before the next Olympic run. The Olympic roster has always attracted bigger names for whatever reason, whether it be pride, or the joy of winning gold for your nation. Some doubted how strong this team would be after Kevin Durant opted to be removed from the roster and Paul George suffered his gruesome injury. Following this news, Rudy Gay was asked to join, a true international baller as he fits the stretch/wing position perfectly and has been here before. This roster presented new opportunities: youth, defense (minus Harden – lol JK, but seriously), and insane rebounding skills.
Young guns such as Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, and DeMarcus Cousins OWNED the glass and paint on both sides while Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, and oh yeah, that guy Derrick Rose rotated roles along the perimeter. DeRozan and Gay made contributions when their name was called, Gay more as a leader, and DeRozan for a burst of energy and length. This USA team went 9-0 on its way to the top and this tournament, as a whole, was a pretty serious let down. Everyone wanted Spain-USA and with the two clubs on opposite sides of the bracket after qualifying, it seemed as though the dream matchup was a lock.
This tournament was huge for Derrick Rose. He got to go through the rigor of practicing and playing with the world’s best before he gives it another shot with the Chicago Bulls this fall. I am certain this was a good experience for Rose as he needs all the confidence he can find. However, as a team and unit, USA wanted a finals matchup with Spain. Many amongst international ball had called Spain the “favorites” in this tournament and I believe that gave USA the gas to want to knock them off in the finals, in their house.
Spain is a large team and also the major reason why Damien Lillard was cut from the team and big men like Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee were kept. The Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka on the court at the same time can be a matchup nightmare on both sides as they can each step back and knock down jumpers as well as dominate the paint, in their own right. Quick spoiler alert in case you slept through this tournament but this matchup was never realized. France came into the knockout stage on something fierce and defeated Spain in the QUARTER FINALS. Boris Diaw kept his impressive all-around play going and while he filled the stat sheet, Nicolas Batum put on an offensive show. France had the ability to gain a lead, but also blow one.
These games showed a team that could be a defensive stopper to get back into games and the ability to score rapidly to make up for poor play early. If France had the talents of Tony Parker in this competition, I believe they would have faced the USA in the Finals. Perhaps Spain would not have slept on France in that case however. Maybe France had not fired up Spain for this matchup and Spain took it easy only to get upset at home and fall flat on their faces. The Spanish team could not provide their fans and international basketball with what they had wanted the most, a shot at taking down the USA. Hell, they couldn’t even come in third place now, an honor France would earn after falling to Serbia in the semi-finals. After knocking off Spain, I heard France described perfectly as a college team that had just pulled off a major upset in the NCAA tournament, but did not have energy left for the next round. Serbia earned another matchup with the USA and France got to duke it out with Lithuania.
If you watched that France-Lithuania game, you got a treat. This was an awesome game for fans, a true shootout and entertaining match undoubtedly. The game went down to the wire and France came out on top. Normally I strongly dislike the French, but I was happy for Boris Diaw as he is having quite the resurgence. As the average USA fan, one would be happy that we eventually beat Serbia in the finals, but as a basketball fan, I was displeased by the cakewalk and lack of competition. USA walked over everyone winning by an average of 33 points, shooting 52.3% from the field and 40.1% from behind the shorter than NBA three-point line.
I had thought the rest of the world had caught up and was keeping some pace with United States basketball, but it appears that USA is back atop the rankings and not a soul is close to knocking us off. If this squad could dominate the competition, imagine if LeBron, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony were on the court. While France had a feel-good tournament and Serbia showed that it indeed had some players, USA is still number one. A team to watch in the future? Australia. With the eventual return of Patty Mills, their leading scorer, and leading scoring from the last Olympics, they can excite and put on a nice show of their own. While it appears no team is as dynamic as the USA, we take a break from basketball and let the offseason really soak in. Same faces, new places in some cases, while trophy cases get filled.
Kyrie Irving was named MVP of the Tournament, an honor a certain LeBron James is most likely comforted if not impressed by. This young team displayed player growth and I have to say I was incredibly impressed with our bigs. Let us appreciate the dominance of American basketball, but hope for more challenging future opponents as the game of basketball continues to grow globally. Now these players get a break as the NBA regular season awaits full of new story lines.
Oh and also in case you missed it, KENNETH FARIED IS THE KING OF TIP SLAMS!! But seriously he had to have a dozen put back dunks, here’s one:
Here’s a nice Top 10 that shows some solid international highlights including that crazy Turkey shot against Australia and some “spurseque” passing by France: