Most Impressive and Disappointing Performances on Day 2 of FIBA World Cup
Every team that suited up for Day 1 was back in action on Day 2 of the FIBA World Cup on Sunday, as the message arrived early that there'd be no rest for the weary in Spain.
Some of the sorriest stories from Saturday's opening action reversed course, with soundly defeated Finland rallying to put on one of the most impressive bounce-back efforts imaginable. And Team USA found the going a bit tougher in its Sunday contest, especially in the first half.
A few squads maintained the positive momentum established on Day 1, as Slovenia got terrific performances from the Dragic brothers and Luis Scola did his best to keep Argentina afloat against a game Croatian squad. That tilt went the way of the Croatians, thanks largely to the single most impressive individual showing of the tournament so far.
You won't believe what Dario Saric did against Argentina.
There were some disappointments as well.
Dante Exum continued to be nearly invisible, Puerto Rico slipped to a record nobody expected and Spain refused to give the people what they wanted.
The games are coming fast and furious in this World Cup, and we've already seen how yesterday's goats can quickly turn into today's heroes. Here's where things stand after a jam-packed Day 2.
Impressive: Double Dragon
You know the old saying: Two dragons are better than one.
That's an old saying, right? Well, if it's not, it should be. And as proof of its accuracy, we have the performance Goran and Zoran Dragic put on in a very comfortable 89-68 win over Mexico on Sunday.
Goran, the NBA's reigning Most Improved Player and Slovenian superstar, piled up 18 points on just eight shots. He handed out six assists, grabbed a steal and played with the general crafty flair to which we've all become accustomed.
His brilliance was impressive, but it was hardly a surprise.
Zoran, brother of Goran and decidedly less heralded of the two dragons, was the one who made the real splash against Mexico. He poured in 22 points with ridiculously unblemished efficiency. Zoran finished the game a remarkable 8-of-8 from the field, 4-of-4 from long distance and 2-of-2 from the foul line.
Slovenia isn't recognized as much more than a fun-to-watch fringe contender in this tournament, but you can bet Zoran's performance is catching eyes.
Per a tweet from Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
"Also pleased to hear, since writing about ZORAN Dragic yesterday, that a few NBA teams are indeed tracking him. Hope for a two-Dragic NBA!"
Now's the time for an opportunistic NBA team to strike. If Goran's growth trajectory is any indication, it'll take a few years for his brother to really hit his stride. Considering the fact that Zoran might actually be ahead of his superstar brother at this stage of his development, it might not be crazy to expect an even higher ceiling.
*Extra hat tip to Gustavo Ayon who, like Zoran, was perfect from the field. The Mexican center went 9-of-9 and scored 23 points in the losing effort. No wonder the San Antonio Spurs are "interested," per Stein.
Disappointing: Dante's Lukewarm Inferno
That slide title is contradictory, I know. Infernos are unbearably hot, and they're not supposed to be described with a tepid adjective.
You know what, though? Rangy 6'6" lottery picks with incredible quickness aren't supposed to ride the pine, either. So we're dealing with a pair of contradictions.
Dante Exum scored just four points on 2-of-6 shooting, as Australia handily downed South Korea by a final score of 89-55 on Sunday, giving him two consecutive underwhelming efforts. His impact was even smaller in a 90-80 loss to Slovenia on Aug. 30: zero points, two rebounds and one assist.
Australia's other guards, including Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles, are more experienced than young Exum. And it's not like the Aussies needed major contributions from everyone to roll over the overmatched South Koreans.
But it sure would be nice to see even a small flash from Exum, who wasn't great in summer league play and has yet to show much justification for his predraft hype.
Basketball Insiders' Nate Duncan offered some consolation after Exum's uninspiring first game on Saturday:
Dante Exum did little today, going 0-2 with a turnover and tallying a -9 in only 11 minutes. However, he did not play poorly. He did not have any huge defensive lapses, had a couple of nice passes and generally did not mess up.
It seems that the edict from the coaches is to take it easy and move the ball, as he eschewed several chances to attack. But it was not at all a bad performance from him.
So maybe there's some hope yet.
Impressive: Vintage Scola
Had we been cataloging impressive performances after Day 1 of the FIBA World Cup, the entire Argentina front line would have warranted mention. Luis Scola, Walter Herrmann and Andres Nocioni combined to dominate Puerto Rico in a 98-75 win on Saturday—a contest in which that trio combined for 50 points and 30 rebounds on 19-of-32 shooting.
Unfortunately for Argentina, only Scola showed up for Day 2 of the tournament. He dropped 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds on 11-of-19 shooting against Croatia on Sunday, but the lack of support from his teammates doomed the Argentines to a 90-85 defeat.
The Indiana Pacers, in desperate need of offensive help after losing Paul George and Lance Stephenson this offseason, would probably like to bottle some of these efforts from Scola and store them up for the regular campaign.
They'll need the buckets to survive in an improved Eastern Conference.
Disappointing: The Bogdanovic Bummer
Unless you're a dedicated student of international basketball, you've probably been struck by "Bogdanovic Confusion Syndrome," which afflicts nearly nine out of 10 NBA basketball fans. Don't worry, you're not alone.
Bojan Bogdanovic is a Croatian small forward selected by the Miami Heat in 2011. He'll suit up for the Brooklyn Nets this coming season.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is a Serbian guard drafted by the Phoenix Suns this past June.
In an obvious attempt to further confuse everyone, both Bojan and Bogdan are wearing No. 7 in this tournament.
Of course, there's also a famous architect named Bogdan Bogdanovic who was born in 1922...as if this weren't already complicated enough.
Now, though, we've got an easy distinction: Bogdan Bogdanovic is the one who committed a costly turnover against France on Day 2 of this World Cup. With four ticks remaining in a tight game, Bogdanovic was stripped of his dribble (and possibly fouled), giving the ball back to France for a final possession.
In a somewhat controversial play, Frenchman Joffrey Lauvergne drew a foul and hit a free throw to complete a surprising 74-73 comeback win.
According to a tweet from David Pick of Eurobasket.com, Bogdanovic registered his team's worst plus-minus against France as well, a putrid minus-11.
It's hard to know if one unfortunate moment will help us remember which Bogdanovic is which, but it can't hurt. If Bojan coughs up a costly late-game giveaway at some point in this tourney, we'll be right back at square one.
Impressive: The Finnish Bounce-Back
Finland deserves an "atta boy," or whatever the Finnish equivalent of that phrase is.
After getting absolutely smashed by Team USA on Aug. 30, Finland shook off the 114-55 result, collected itself and defeated Ukraine by a final score of 81-76 a day later. Shawn Huff led Finland with 23 points, and the team shot a much more respectable 46.8 percent from the field.
That may not sound like much, but after going without a bucket for the entire second quarter against the Americans, decent shooting was a major step in the right direction.
Per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), forward Kimmo Muurinen's anecdote from the Day 1 drubbing included some rare sideline conversation: "We kind of talked a little on the bench a little bit, 'Hey, everybody remember when we scored the last time?'"
It probably helped that U.S. defenders weren't hounding Finland into 31 turnovers on Day 2, as the Ukrainian squad managed to force just 10 giveaways. Turns out it's a lot easier to avoid scoreless quarters when you can actually retain your hold on the ball.
Finland actually has a shot to make it out of Group C, though the road won't be easy. It'll take better ball control, opportunistic scoring and, of course, resiliency.
We can now say that last requirement won't be a problem.
Disappointing: Puerto Rico
Sometimes, these slides write themselves.
Puerto Rico came into the tournament with a shot to do some real damage. The backcourt had NBA-tested firepower in J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo, the latter being notorious for his confidence and intensity in international play. Toss in Renaldo Balkman and a roster including many players with Division I collegiate success, and the makings of a dangerous team were all in place.
But after catching a beatdown from Argentina on Day 1, Puerto Rico stumbled again on Day 2, this time dropping an 82-75 decision to Senegal.
That led to an unfortunate consensus on Twitter.
"Wow, Senegal going to beat PUR. PUR definitely biggest disappointment so far in the tournament," Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders tweeted.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com echoed: "Well, Puerto Rico's clearly the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far."
Sitting at 0-2 and looking ahead to a matchup with Greece on Sept. 1, Puerto Rico must find a way to pull it together if it hopes to survive the group stage. Nothing's decided yet, but Croatia sits undefeated atop Group B, Argentina is 1-1 and can compete with anybody and Senegal just proved it can't be taken lightly.
Making matters worse, Arroyo went down with an injury against Senegal. Things are looking grim.
The only silver lining: Balkman showed real signs of life in the loss to Senegal, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing seven boards. Relying on Balkman as a leader is a little scary, but Puerto Rico is in a desperate situation, practically clinging to life in a group it once had a shot to win.
Impressive: Dieng Emerging
Maybe "continuing to emerge" would be more accurate.
Remember, Gorgui Dieng would have crashed the Rookie of the Year race during the 2013-14 NBA season if he'd been able to crack the Minnesota Timberwolves rotation before mid-March.
Once the big man began to log significant minutes, he was a beast. From March 11 until the end of the year, the Louisville product averaged 10.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 52.1 percent from the field, per NBA.com.
Now the centerpiece of Senegal, Dieng is continuing his late-season surge.
He was the best player on the floor against Puerto Rico, piling up 18 points and 13 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting. He also tossed in a pair of blocks and assists for good measure. Just for some context, that effort came after Dieng tallied 21 points and 14 boards against Greece on Saturday.
Best of all, Senegal got its first World Cup win since 1998. With Dieng developing at such a rapid pace, something tells me there won't be another 16-year gap between this victory and the next one.
Disappointing: Team USA Overslept
"It could have been worse" is never an ideal consolation, but it applies to Team USA's somewhat underwhelming performance on Sunday.
After all, the Americans ultimately ran away with the game against Turkey on Sunday, finishing the contest with a 98-77 victory.
But it took the U.S. a good long while to find its footing against an opponent that came in with a sound plan. Team USA trailed by five at halftime, thanks largely to some missed open shots and an inability to create the offense-fueling turnovers that allowed it to crush Finland on Saturday.
Deep into the third quarter, Turkey was trading buckets with the U.S., and a few tough calls very nearly sent guys such as Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins into dangerous emotional tailspins. Thanks to its pesky defense, Anthony Davis' interior efforts and Faried's energy, the U.S. removed any doubt about the outcome in the final period.
The good news is Team USA overcame its sluggish start. But it took some halftime adjustments and a little urgency to overcome the first instance of adversity the team has faced so far.
Realistically, the U.S. is just fine, but if you're looking for reasons to worry, you could point to the lack of focus that led to a bit of a dud after a dominant blowout. Complacency has hurt U.S. squads in the past, so it'll be key for coach Mike Krzyzewski to assure a steadier intensity level going forward.
Impressive: Saric Feels No Pain
There are lots of ways to measure toughness, but you can get a pretty good indication of a player's fortitude if his answer to the question "how many teeth would you have to lose in a game before you stopped playing" is "more than zero."
Croatia's Dario Saric lost six against Argentina on Sunday.
And he kept playing.
The Philadelphia 76ers draftee had his Chiclets knocked loose during the third quarter of Croatia's 90-85 win, left the game and then returned to finish the contest. He killed Argentina's zone throughout the contest, hitting floaters from the defense's soft spot, stretching the floor and moving the ball effectively.
Again: It was without six teeth.
He finished with 16 basketball points, but he also tallied roughly 14 zillion toughness points. The nine rebounds were nice, too.
It's hard to know whether Croatia has the talent to join the upper echelon of U.S. threats like Brazil and Spain, but there's no doubt one of its brightest young stars will be ready to fight until the end.
Disappointing: Spain Is Teasing Us
Come on, Spain; let us see the real lineup.
Serge Ibaka was terrific off the bench in his first tournament action, tallying 18 points and eight rebounds in Spain's easy 91-54 drubbing of Egypt. It was a good sign for the Spaniards that their athletic big man could not only play, but he could also play well after sitting out Spain's first game with a sore hamstring.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com tweeted: "Ibaka has three sky-walking dunks in the third quarter here in Granada. Spain up 30 on Egypt."
How is this disappointing?
It's mainly because we haven't yet seen Spain's fearsome, largely untested starting lineup that features all three of its key bigs. Marc and Pau Gasol got the starting nod, but Ibaka came off the pine against Egypt.
Maybe it's not ideal to slot Ibaka at the small forward spot. Maybe it would put Spain at a quickness disadvantage.
But it's what everyone wants to see.
Ibaka has enough range on his shot to nail the international three reliably, and he looked plenty agile in his debut on Sunday. Just for the sheer matchup nightmare it would create, Spain has to give us a glimpse of its giant front line.
Until it does, we'll remain mildly disappointed.