6 Reasons You Should Watch the 2014 FIBA World Cup
The FIBA World Cup doesn't tend to drum up as much excitement as the NBA season or another international competition you might have heard of—the Olympics. However, it should still be on basketball fans' radars, if for no reason other than the absence of other high-level contests during the summer doldrums.
Except there are plenty more reasons.
The World Cup, which will begin on August 30 this summer, is a big deal, important enough to draw the top talents from all the major basketball nations. Some All-Stars may be sitting out for Team USA, and injuries/health concerns will keep guys like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker out of the competition, but there are still plenty of notable names set to suit up at the end of the month in Spain.
If you're already planning on tuning in, fantastic. Pat yourself on the back as soon as you get a chance to do so without drawing too many strange looks from those around you.
But if you're not, well, it's time to convince you that you're missing out.
Who Doesn't Love Team USA's Dominant Point Guards?
Non-American point guards. That's who.
Even without Derrick Rose, Team USA's crop of point guards figured to put on some must-watch television when the World Cup begins on August 30. After all, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard would still be on the roster, and each plays one of the most exciting brands of basketball in the world.
Between Irving's dazzling handles, Lillard's underrated athleticism and all-around explosiveness, and Curry's pure stroke from the perimeter, the point guards were always going to put on a show. This was the strongest position on the roster—by far—and would routinely torch the overmatched international opponents, creating offensive highlights galore.
And now Rose is looking elite? That's not my word, but rather one coming straight from the mouth of Mike Krzyzewski.
"I think he's exceptional in every way. He went right at it," Coach K explained to the assembled masses after a Team USA session, via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. "The first defensive exchange in the camp, he was all over the ball handler, moving his feet, attacking him. There was a buzz right away because it was basically his saying, 'Look, I'm not just back. I'm back at a level that's elite.'"
He continued with the following:
Derrick was sensational the whole week. He really did that every day, how fast and strong and decisive he was. He really created an air of excitement for the team because we all were anxious to see who he was right now. And who he is is very, very good. We're ecstatic about it and so happy for him.
Talk about making a strength even stronger.
Chances are, the American point guard rotation is so strong that either Irving or Lillard will be cut from the final roster, just as John Wall was earlier in the proceedings. There's no better way than that to describe just how good this position is—superstars won't be making the cut.
Enjoy watching unsurpassed excellence from the 1.
Development from Team USA's Young Frontcourt Studs
Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond are just about set to take over the NBA, at least to some extent, and their journeys should continue at the FIBA World Cup.
The former, one of the squad's leaders and boasting some prior Olympic experience, is a lock to play a large role throughout the festivities, while the latter isn't guaranteed a roster spot on the American squad. Here's Jessica Weber of the Detroit Free Press:
Whether Drummond makes the 12-man roster has yet to be determined, but Krzyzewski said whether he makes the cut or not, he sees USA Basketball in the big man’s future.
'He is in full consideration for a spot going forward,' Krzyzewski said on Drummond in a teleconference on Tuesday with USA National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo.
If Drummond is a part of the 12-man delegation, he'll be counted on for versatile defense and his insane rebounding skills. Even though he can't legally consume alcohol in the States until August 10, he's already become arguably the NBA's best player on the boards (13.2 RPG last year).
Will he show off more than those niche skills while playing international ball? Seeing some offensive improvement would be huge for the Pistons, and this competition could be the first glimpse of a more well-rounded game from the promising big man.
Improvement seems like a sure thing for "The Brow," though. The better question involves how much we'll see from him.
Davis is coming off a season in which he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game while pacing the Association in rejections (2.8 per game). Now, it's time for him to continue expanding that impressive arsenal, and the court spacing of FIBA ball should promote that.
If we're seeing mid-range shots dropping on a regular basis, the rest of the NBA should start quaking in its collective boots.
Kevin Durant Doing Kevin Durant Things
The 2014 NBA MVP is back in action for the first time.
Kevin Durant is coming off the best season of his career, and he's set to dominate the international competition, just as he did in London two years prior. At the Olympics, KD was Team USA's leading scorer, averaging 19.5 points and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and a mind-boggling 52.3 percent from beyond the arc.
As a scorer, Durant is always unfair.
In FIBA competition, though, "unfair" doesn't do Durant justice. He can take advantage of the shortened three-point arc, and he has the length (6'9") and athleticism necessary to record a few putbacks when the ball is hanging on the rim, a play that would be considered goaltending under NBA rules.
He's just a machine.
There are plenty of individual stars on the Team USA roster—Curry will be particularly fun with that shortened arc—but Durant stands out in a class of his own. Without LeBron James suiting up, he's the clear-cut No. 1 attraction, and the American coaching staff should give him free rein when he's on the floor.
If he wants to function as a distributor, he can do it. If he wants to put up 30 points in a game, that's his prerogative.
Bryant's, not Hdidane's.
Sneak Preview of Young International Talents
The amount of young talent playing in this tournament is absolutely astounding.
If you're an avid basketball fan, do more than just watch Team USA's games. Even if you aren't interested in many of the international veterans (you should be), there are plenty of up-and-coming prospects and NBA players with little experience who are worth watching. This is a great opportunity for them to develop, and you can tune in to watch a few of them for what's probably the first time.
The following is only a snippet of the young talent. There are notable names not mentioned below, but the following young guns should all resonate—if not now, at least within the next few years:
- Australia: Dante Exum
- Croatia: Bojan Bogdanovic, Mario Hezonja, Damjan Rudez, Dario Saric
- France: Rudy Gobert, Joffrey Lauvergne
- Greece: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Lithuania: Donatas Motiejunas, Jonas Valanciunas
- Serbia: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Dangubic, Ognjen Kuzmic, Vasilije Micic, Nemanja Nedovic
- Turkey: Enes Kanter
That's a lot of names.
To pare things down further, don't miss an opportunity to watch the young Serbian team. Micic in particular is worth looking out for, as the 20-year-old is a 6'5" point guard coming off a draft night in which he was selected with 52nd pick by the Philadelphia 76ers.
As Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien wrote, "There's no point guard in this draft class with better vision and pure passing skills. Micic averaged 7.5 assists per 40 minutes in the Adriatic League in 2013-14, which few (if any) collegiate point guards could have pulled off."
Other must-watch youngins include Bogdanovic (who will be joining the Brooklyn Nets in 2014-15 after dominating the European scene), the sharp-shooting Rudez (now with the Indiana Pacers), Saric (even if he won't join the Sixers for years) and Mario Hezonja (set to be a top-10 pick in 2015).
Only tuning in to Team USA's games would be a mistake.
There may not be a non-NBA player in the field who's more entertaining than Brazil's Marcelinho Huertas.
The 31-year-old point guard plies his trade for FC Barcelona in the Spanish ACB, but he's still one of the best 1-guards in the world. That was on full display during the 2012 Olympics, when he dazzled spectators to the tune of 11.3 points and 6.0 assists, the latter trailing only Argentina's Pablo Prigioni among the large field.
Right after the competition, Yahoo Sports' Dan Devine awarded him a spot on what essentially amounted to an All-Olympic Second Team squad:
Maybe I'm just biased toward point guards. But watching the 29-year-old Huertas, frequently feted as the best point guard not playing in the NBA, turn Tiago Splitter into a legitimate scoring threat near the basket during Brazil's run to the quarterfinals was sensational. Huertas' pace in the halfcourt, control in the pick-and-roll game, court vision in transition and ability to complete passes others might not attempt made him a gripping watch throughout the tournament, and while Brazil came up just shy of the medal round, Huertas showed in the five-point loss to Argentina that he's willing and able to call his own number when needed, scoring 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting. (Just lay off the one-foot 3-pointers late in the fourth, OK, Marcelinho? There's such a thing as too much swag.)
Nothing has changed in two years.
Now, the flashy Huertas is coming off playing the hero against Valencia, recording 22 points, nine assists and the game-winning bucket to advance to the Endesa final against Real Madrid, which his team would end up winning.
RealGM.com shows that he averaged 8.8 points and 4.3 dimes during the 22.2 minutes he spent on the court during the average game in 2013-14, and now he's set to thrive in international competition once more. Flanked by Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao, the assists are going to pile up again for this 6'3" floor general.
So too will the highlights.
Seemingly Inevitable USA-Spain Game
Will Team USA foil Spain's title hopes for the second major competition in a row, or will the silver medalists from London end up getting revenge over the Americans during the FIBA World Cup?
At this point, a clash between the two international powerhouses seems like the only possible conclusion to the festivities, especially because the games will be played on Spain's home turf. Even without LeBron, Chris Paul, Kevin Love and so many other superstars, Team USA is still the prohibitive favorite, but it's not as though Spain is just a pushover.
Juan-Carlos Navarro, a teammate and close friend of the Spanish 7-footer, even brought up the Americans by name: "The United States has not won the World Cup before playing. You still have to earn it."
He's correct, and any route to the title is probably going to go through Spain.
After all, the country ranked No. 2 in the FIBA world rankings boasts the services of the two aforementioned players, as well as Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon, Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio. Nothing is easy against them.
Many games in the group stage will be entertaining, and so too will most of the knockout contests. However, it still feels as though everything is procedural and leading up to this seemingly inevitable showdown for all the marbles.