It’s a new possession, and the clock starts to tick down. Your team has 24 seconds left on the shot clock to attempt a shot. 24 seconds defining the maximum length of each possession in basketball.
Consequently, the FIBA Basketball World Cup – the biggest global festival of hoops – features 24 of the world’s top teams vying for the top prize. If each World Cup is a possession, then each team is a second of the ticking clock, getting closer to the top as we approach the big buzzer. The 17th FIBA World Cup tips off in Spain today – Saturday, August 30th – and will conclude with the final on September 14. Six cities in Spain – Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Barakaldo, Seville, and Las Palmas – will play host to some of the best basketball in the world over the next few weeks. And in the end, when the final buzzer sounds, only one team will emerge to the top.
Will hosts Spain – who’ve been the second-best team in world basketball for several years – finally turn their silvers into gold on home soil? Will there be a breakout performer that is able to secure an NBA contract based on his performances at the World Cup? Could one of the underdogs at the global stage like the Philippines or Senegal, pull off a memorable upset? Can anyone really stop the USA, who haven’t lost a competitive international game since 2006?
Over the next two weeks, some of the top basketball players in the world (minus a few superstar names, of course) will provide answers to these and many other questions. Don’t miss out on the shot clock: Here are 24 things to look forward to for the FIBA World Cup!
24. The first-ever ‘World Championship’ was in 1950 in Argentina, where the hosts defeated USA to become the first winners of the tournament. Only ten teams took part that year.
23. This year will be the first time that it’ll be called the ‘World Cup’: The tournament was known as the FIBA World Championship from 1950-2010; finally, in the 2014 (17th) edition, the name has been updated to ‘World Cup’. Smart choice.
22. You can watch all the games live online, but you’ll have to pay – on LiveBasketball.tv
21. The 24 participating teams are Spain, Serbia, France, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Philippines, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Turkey, USA, Finland, New Zealand, Ukraine, Slovenia, Lithuania, Angola, Korea, Mexico, and Australia. The teams are divided into four groups of six teams each, and four teams from each group will qualify for the knockout round.
20. The World Cup will feature a record 45 current NBA players as well as a record 75 total players who have played in the NBA at some point or the other. It will also have 17 former NBA draftees whose rights are currently held by NBA teams, taking that number up to 92. A total of 288 players from all over the world are taking part.
19. Where are the national teams from? Answer: 10 from Europe, six from the Americas, three from Asia, three from Africa, and two from Australasia.
18. Yugoslavia are the most successful World Cup team with five previous trophies. USA have four, USSR have three, Brazil have two, and Spain and Argentina have one each.
17. 22 NBA teams have at least one player on World Cup national team rosters. Leading the way are the Cavaliers and Rockets with four players each.
16. Outside of the United States, Spain has the most current NBA players with six. France and Australia feature four current NBA players, Brazil and Greece have three, and Argentina, Croatia and Lithuania with two.
15. FIBA will face protests on the ‘No Headgear’ issue by Sikhs & US Lawmakers. Yes. Over the six weeks, there have been two incidents of FIBA banning Indian Sikhs from wearing their traditional turbans at two different Asian championships. In response, members of the Kalgidhar Society planned to stage a demonstration against FIBA at the latter's 23rd World Congress being held at Seville during the World Cup.
14. A number of big stars will NOT be at the World Cup. The list is long and, on paper, discouraging, especially for the Team USA. USA will be missing most of the players that won them the gold medal at the London Olympics or the previous World Championship gold medal in 2010, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin. Additionally, 2010 MVP Kevin Durant pulled out of USA during camp and Paul George suffered a tragic injury. Some of the top players from other contenders will be missing in action too, like Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina).
13. But these are the stars you should watch out for. Don’t worry, there are going to be a lot of big performers to make up for the absences. For USA, Anthony Davis is likely to be the fulcrum in the post and might be headed for his big international breakthrough. James Harden will have to carry the team’s primary offensive responsibilities in Durant’s absence. Stephen Curry is probably the best shooter in the world.
And don’t forget Derrick Rose, who will be set to prove the world that he can be an elite player despite missing the better part of the last two years. For the home team Spain, the Gasol brothers – Pau and Marc – will be looking to carry their team to glory as the team’s golden era enters its twilight. Slovenia’s Goran Dragic could be a dark horse for the MVP award at the tournament. Luis Scola (Argentina), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Dante Exum (Australia), Enes Kanter (Turkey), and Nicolas Batum (France) are all players to keep your eye on, too
12. 2010 Finals rematch early in Group C: Kevin Durant scored 28 points to lead USA to a 81-64 win over Turkey in the final of the 2010 tournament in Istanbul. This year, the two finalists have been grouped together in Group C and will face off against each other on the second day of the tournament. Turkey are relatively weaker than they were four years ago, but it will be interesting to see their attempt to pull an upset and score some revenge over the Americans.
11. Keep an eye on the Asian teams. The top three teams of last year’s FIBA Asia Championship in Manila – Iran, Philippines, and Korea – will be Asia’s representatives at the World Cup. Little is expected from the Asians; since Philippines finished third in the tournament back in 1954, no Asian squad has sniffed at a medal in the World Cup yet. Iran have been on fire at the continental level, as the winners of the FIBA Asia Championship and this year’s FIBA Asia Cup. But does the squad – led by Hamed Haddadi – have enough to spring a surprise or two and make it out of their group? Meanwhile, China, who are usual Asian representatives, will be missing out this year after finishing fifth in Asia last year.
10. Philippines are coming reloaded with Andray Blatche. Through a process wonderfully explained by Rafe Bartholomew of Grantland, the Philippines were able to secure the services of NBA big man Andray Blatche for their World Cup roster by nationalizing him just in time. Blatche now joins a basketball-mad country hungry for more international success. The Philippines are going to be the underdog favourites throughout the tournament, but if they can move on past the group stage, expect some fun and fireworks.
9. Australia will be fun to watch. NBA rookie Dante Exum and the Spurs’ Aron Baynes will have to carry forward a squad which is heading to the World Cup without Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut. It’s unlikely that Australia will get very far, but they should still be an exciting team for neutral fans to follow, especially for those interested in seeing Exum at the biggest stage yet of his young career.
8. Does Greece have an outside medal shot? The golden age of Greek players is over, peaking in 2006 when they defeated USA at the World Cup Semi-Final back in 2006. But this new squad has potential for some big game performances, too, led by Greek-American Nick Calathes at point guard and the young up-and-comer, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
7. Never underestimate Lithuania. Lithuania always find a way to be relevant in international basketball tournaments. This national squad was runners-up at last year’s EuroBasket and third place at the 2010 World Cup. Lithuania will once again feature a deep rotation led by Jonas Valanciunas, Sarunas Vasiliauskas, and Donatas Motiejunas.
6. Brazil are big and confident, too. Brazil will be another fun team to watch, with an experienced, NBA-calibre front-court featuring Nene, Tiago Splitter, and Anderson Varejao. The backcourt is a little weaker, but the likes of Leandro Barbosa and Marcelinho Huertas have a knack of showing up big for their national side. If I had to pick a third team beyond USA and Spain at the World Cup, it would be them.
5. Fear Spain’s last hurrah: The last dozen years – an era revolving around the talents of Pau Gasol – has been the golden age of Spanish basketball. Since 2003, Spain has won two Olympic silver medals, one FIBA World Cup gold, two golds, two silvers, and two bronzes at FIBA EuroBasket. Now at home, this might be Spain’s chance to end the Pau-era with a last hurrah at home.
‘La Roja’ feature a formidable frontcourt of Pau and Marc Gasol, plus Congolese-Spanish big man Serge Ibaka. In the backcourt, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Rudy Fernandez can all be game-changers. All signs are pointing at a Spain vs. USA showdown in the final, just like the last two classic Olympic finals. But can Spain use home-court advantage to finally upset the mighty Americans?
4. This might be the weakest USA side in eight years, but… USA usually saves their best players for the Olympics and sends a ‘B Team’ to the World Championship. The 2014 World Cup team is more like a ‘B- Team’, and the responsibility of carrying the team to greater successes has been handed down to relatively inexperienced hands. But that said, USA should have enough juice in the rest of their talent pool to take care of business in Spain, even though the journey will be much tougher than it has been in the last three major basketball tournaments for the Americans.
What USA lack in forward depth, they more than make up in form of star-power at guard. It will be near-impossible to defend any combination of Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson, and DeMar DeRozan, and USA has enough bigs between Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee, and Kenneth Faried to give the bigger teams (like Spain and Brazil) some competition, too.
3. The breakout star of the tournament will be… In every tournament, one relatively unknown player shines at the big stage and turns nonbelievers into fans. Since players from the USA are already quite well known internationally, they must be judged on a different scale to others. I predict that the breakout American performer will be the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried, who will start in Durant’s absence and use his energy and hustle to fuel the American campaign on both ends of the floor.
Outside Team USA, I predict that the other individual star to carry this team deep into the tournament will be Slovenia’s Goran Dragic. Dragic is an electrifying point guard capable of changing games on his own. With the keys to his national squad, he might just be the most entertaining player to watch in Spain.
2. The tournament MVP will be… Breakout players aren’t necessarily the best players. The best player – or the MVP – will be the most successful player in a successful team. And just like Kevin Durant four years ago, I predict this award will go to an American: Anthony Davis. Davis is a perfectly suited big man for the international style of play and he’s going to be USA’s prime weapon at the World Cup. The Brow is going global!
1. And the World Cup winner will be… Sorry to be safe and boring, but with such a massive gulf in talent, there are only two real choices for finalists: USA and Spain. Once again, these rivals will face off in a memorable finale in Madrid. Spain is going strike with a performance for the ages, but I believe that the American superstars like Davis, Derrick Rose, and Stephen Curry will peak at just the right time and prove to be the difference in a closely-contest finale. I predict that the winners (and repeat champions) will be USA.