Biggest Threats to Team USA Basketball at 2014 FIBA World Cup
The United States is the heavy favorite in any international basketball competition it enters, and the 2014 FIBA World Cup will be no different.
With that being said, Team USA is a little more vulnerable than it's been in past years. The injury to Paul George and the withdrawal of talented frontcourt players like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love means that the best possible team won’t be on the floor for the World Cup.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski still sounded confident in a press release on the USA Basketball website:
We’re excited about where the team is headed. Really all 16 guys have a chance to make to the team, which usually does not happen in a training camp, and it shows that all of the guys thus far have done an excellent job. Then it’s just a matter of finding what chemistry that we can develop with the entire group and I don’t think we’ll know that until we play some exhibition games. The 16 guys give us a chance to look at a way of playing in a number of different ways and we just have to figure out what those ways are and then the 12 who will fit best.
There’s still plenty of talent, and there’s still Kevin Durant, but with other international teams getting younger and stronger, this could get interesting pretty quick.
Although there are a few traditional powerhouses we’ll leave off this list, like an aging and somewhat depleted Argentina team, let’s take a look at five other teams that represent the biggest threat to the United States in the 2014 World Cup.
Not much has changed here. The Spanish national team is by far the biggest threat to the United States, as it has two of the most skilled big men in basketball in Pau and Marc Gasol.
With USA lacking depth in the frontcourt, and international rules only allowing for five fouls, the Gasol brothers could create some serious problems.
Serge Ibaka is also the perfect combination of a floor-spacer and rim-protector who is absolutely vital against a USA backcourt that features multiple guys who can get to the rim. It doesn't hurt that Ibaka, Pau and Marc are all completely interchangeable, either.
Spain has more than just an incredibly strong frontcourt, though. It has confidence and a healthy leader in the backcourt. Here's more from FIBA.com:
[Juan-Carlos] Navarro, who had an operation last summer and like Gasol did not play at EuroBasket 2013, says he feels well both mentally and physically.
He loves his games with Barcelona, but places just as much importance on his time with the national team.
There are many in the country who are predicting a Spain v USA title showdown but the veteran says many games have to be won by both sides before that can happen.
"The United States has not won the World Cup before playing," he said. "You still have to earn it."
Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio are two elite distributors at point guard, and Navarro is one of the most underrated scorers on the planet. The deep floaters on the drive and long jumpers from "La Bomba" are incredibly difficult to stop, even with elite defenders to utilize. Rudy Fernandez's athleticism on the wing should help a great deal as well.
Spain has the experience together and the size to give Team USA a whole lot of trouble. It may be a tad short on perimeter shooting, but Spain is the perfect foil and can exploit some of team USA's biggest weaknesses up front.
After missing out on the Olympics in 2012, Greece should come storming back with a strong performance in the 2014 World Cup.
Even without Kosta Koufos on the roster, Greece will have plenty of size to work with. The average height of the 15-man projected roster is 6'8", which should help Greece beat up on some of the smaller teams and potentially hang with the United States on the glass.
Greece has a well-balanced starting unit, with solid role players like Memphis Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes running the point and Kostas Papanikolaou on the wing.
The main reason Greece could surprise and make a deep run, however, is the presence of Milwaukee Bucks wing Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although he's young and may not get the huge minutes you'd expect, Antetokounmpo is insanely competitive and has all the physical tools to match up with Team USA.
Antetokounmpo is really the only player on this roster not yet in his prime, so Greece should have the experience to challenge some of the younger and more inexperienced teams.
Lithuania's roster is another that features legitimate NBA talent and size, as up-and-coming young center Jonas Valanciunas of the Toronto Raptors and Donatas Motiejunas of the Houston Rockets are both on the team.
Valanciunas is the type of active big man needed to match the athleticism of the USA team, and scoring guards like Mantas Kalnietis should help pace the team offensively while the bigs solidify things up front. Valanciunas has been on the verge of a breakout for a while now, and this could be where he really puts it all together.
Lithuania may not feature as many big names as some other teams in the World Cup, but a second-place finish in the 2013 Eurobasket bodes well for this year.
This is another experienced roster with great size, so there's a lot to like here. Lithuania would need some breakout performances from its backcourt and wings to really make a deep run, but there's a solid foundation in place.
Catching the theme yet? Teams with big, talented frontcourt players might be able to take advantage of younger guys like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee and the rest of the young frontcourt options eligible to make the final U.S. squad.
Brazil has a great mix of energy and scrappy big men to supplement the skill of the roster.
Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao are the type of hustle players and active defenders that can defend pick-and-rolls extremely well and find chances on the offensive glass. In Nene, Brazil has a big man that can step out and hit jumpers and can play in big lineups with either player.
The backcourt should be pretty solid, too. Marcelo Huertas is a very crafty scorer and pick-and-roll player, and Leandro Barbosa still has a little left in the tank.
The depth on the wings is a big question mark, but Brazil should have one of the very best starting units in the World Cup. This is a roster that could simply outwork opponents.
Australia is a bit of an underdog compared to a few more traditional powerhouses listed here, and you could certainly understand replacing the team with the likes of Argentina or Turkey.
Still, the reason it may be a bigger threat is because of the unknown and potential of the young talent on the roster. That starts with electric guard Dante Exum, who flashed signs of being a star player down the line in summer league this year for the Utah Jazz.
Exum will have a solid backcourt partner in Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova, an excellent shooter and smart player with the ball. Team USA typically thrives on turnovers, so the presence of two capable ball-handlers in Exum and Dellavedova would help quite a bit.
There are other young players to like here. Brock Motum was one of the biggest surprises in summer league, displaying strong athleticism and a high basketball IQ offensively.
Chicago Bulls rookie Cameron Bairstow is a legitimate stretch 4 that can knock down those shorter international threes with regularity. San Antonio Spurs center Aron Baynes can bang down low with anyone in this competition.
It's a shame Patty Mills is out with injury, because Australia has the young talent to really do some damage. Like a few other contenders, depth could be an issue, but don't sleep on this well-balanced starting lineup.