The 2019 FIBA World Cup was another dazzling display of the growing worldwide talent in the sport of basketball, supported by the record-setting number of NBA players that participated (54).
Much like this upcoming NBA season, the usual powerhouse (USA) was not as heavily-favored entering the tournament. Add to that the fact that it was perhaps the first time in a recent memory that the best player in the tournament was not from the United States (Giannis, and even Jokic), and there was thus a different excitement fueled by the uncertainty.
Let me dissect the last two weeks of highly competitive basketball by looking at the true winners and losers of the FIBA World Cup.
Olé Olé Olé Olé!
The Spaniards are back on top of the basketball world for the first time since Pau Gasol led them to FIBA gold in 2006. This win comes at a perfect time for Spain who, despite being ranked number two in the world, were starting to show some signs of decline.
Many of Spain’s stars getting older and with fewer youngins coming into replace them, and thus they became the forgotten child of the tournament. They were relegated to the back of the list behind the reeling gold standard (USA), sexy pick (Serbia), and underdog stories (Australia, Argentina).
But Spain dispatched their competition at all levels. They remained undefeated in the group stages, overcame a highly competitive game against just-happy-to-be-here Poland in the quarterfinals, outlasted the Boomers in a classic Double OT thriller in the semis before cruising past Argentina in the Finals.
In the end, the Spaniards had the optimal mix of experience, chemistry and pure talent that kept them unbeaten for over two weeks of highly competitive basketball. Make no mistake about it: Spain was the overall best team in the FIBA World Cup.
That, or maybe this is just really year of Marc Gasol.
USA trotted out easily on of its weakest rosters to the FIBA World Cup for the first time in nearly two decades. However, with a roster ranging from NBA rotation players to All-Stars, the undisputed World Number 1 still easily had the most talented teams on paper amongst all those sent to represent their nations in China.
Team USA ended up getting knockout in the quarterfinals by eventual third-place France in a game wherein Les Blues clearly looked like the superior team. The Americans would then get throttled by Bodgan Bogdanovic and Serbia the next day, a result that had them settle for their lowest finish in history (7th place).
The lack of starpower on Team USA is due to a mix of several things. As of last year, the NBA moved their start date a week earlier. With training camps now set to begin in late September, players participating in FIBA will come in exhausted right before the beginning of the season. With the path to the title wide-open this year in the NBA, definitely have their site set at another championship.
The looming question here is: How much will team USA value the FIBA World Cup moving forward? It’s clear that the Olympics serve as the more prestigious event for the Americans, meaning a bunch of stars are likely to come out in 2020. But will USA look to make up for this embarrassing loss in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, or is this a sign of a change in the Amiercans’ valuation of the World Cup?
Loser: Boston Celtics
Another Loser courtesy of Team USA’s subpar performance has to be the Boston Celtics. The national tam offered a unique opportunity for the Celtics to get an early look at next season’s core, with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart joining their new star Kemba Walker on the squad.
The end result was… less than ideal. While each showed flashes, none really inspired much optimism that the Celtics may replicate the IT-led Celtics from a couple of years ago. This may all change when the team gets more time to gel in their real system under Brad Stevens. But for now, Celtics fans may be a bit nervous entering the 2019-2020 NBA season.
The Argentinians were easily the best feel-good story of the World Cup. Of the eight teams that qualified for the knockout stages, only Argentina and Poland were without a current NBA player. But the Latin Americans were supposedly at the downswing, having lost virtually all of their past stars like Manu Ginobili and Andre Nocioni.
All that remained of that bunch was a grey-haired 39 year-old named Luis Scola. But the former Houston Rocket was arguably the best player in the tournament, feasting on every mismatch that was thrown his way while empowering a team that relied on training and chemistry to lead it.
To show how dedicated the Argentina was to optimizing their team with the best possible training, let’s look at this tweet from Phoenix Fuel Masters Coach Louie Alas, one that will also serve as the best transition to our last loser of this list.
Argentina havent been home for 60 days(training,tournament,tune up games)in prep for World cup,yun Gilas 10days lang nakumpleto,tas hanapan ng magandang result)come on!— Louie Alas (@CoachLouieAlas) September 11, 2019
Loser: Gilas Pilipinas
That was a tough set of games for Gilas. Technically, they only lost one game less than their 2014 counterparts, but the comparison between the performance of the two is night and day. Unfortunately, the 2019 version is the one that took a giant step back, and with all that’s gone on behind the scenes, it’s tough to blame any specific player or coach when talking about the team’s decline.
Lucky for Gilas is that they’re already assured of a slot in the next tournament, with the Philippines set to be one of the hosts for the 2023 FIBA World Cup. With qualifying out of the way, the hope for Gilas is that they find a way to solve all the other looming questions.
Will Gilas finally be able to assure that the best possible players be allowed to go? Can they finally have a more regular training regimen so as to build the team chemistry? Who’s the next coach? Import?
There are so many questions, and Gilas and SBP have four years to try to figure it out.