2014 FIBA World Cup Preview – Part One
We are now less than a month away from the commencement of the 2014 FIBA World Cup (rebranded from the FIBA World Championships of Basketball), to be held in Spain from August 30. Here at And Rise we are going to preview the tournament in a series of parts, to get you all prepped for the greatest international prize in basketball.
It is only appropriate, on multiple levels, that we begin the preview in Part One with a look at Team USA. The Americans are the reigning champions, the most dominant international force in basketball right now, favourites to take out the Cup, and are highly topical given their current preparation schedule and the horrific injury to star swingman Paul George.
WHO WILL THEY PLAY?
Team USA sit in an easy pool, with Group C including FIBA Oceania entrant, New Zealand; Wildcard entrants Turkey and Finland; one of four FIBA Americas countries in Dominican Republic; and finally FIBA Eurobasket team Ukraine. [More on those nations in future parts to this preview series].
WHO WILL STAR FOR THEM?
Good question. Whilst the roster is not yet finalised, we do know who WON’T be repping the star spangled banner in Spain. First of all, we knew that for various reasons, stars LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge were not making themselves available for 2014 World Cup play. Then came the unfortunate news for Coach Mike Krzyzewski that star big men Kevin Love and Blake Griffin were pulling the plug on their participation.
With all of those withdrawals, team camp opened and an intra-squad scrimmage was held. Then came that injury to George. It had a profound impact on team morale, clearly reminding the transcendent stars of their own mortality.
Who knows if it was the key factor involved in his decision, but not long after looking stunned and distressed at George’s downfall came the decision from clear team leader Kevin Durant to also pull the pin on his participation.
The loss of Durant is huge. At the 2010 World Championships in Turkey he was an unrivaled star, seemingly drilling threes from all over the floor at will. He was only going to be more dominant in this tournament given his current career arc.
Now comes the opportunity for a new bevy of players to take up the reigns of the national team and prove that the United States is still the world power in basketball. Derrick Rose is one such player. The dynamic point guard is the only true top-shelf star amongst the remaining squad and despite returning from a series of injuries, is looking impressive in intra-squad play.
Rose will be supported at the point by some combination of Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry – all of whom have an unnerving ability to score the ball, in their own particular ways.
At the shooting guard and small forward position, James Harden is well placed as an experienced National Team representative — one who will be expected to perform at a high level if this team is to achieve their potential. Other swingmen in the mix are Gordon Hayward, athletic DeMar DeRozan, sharp-shooters Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson, new Mav Chandler Parsons, and recently helicoptered in Durant-replacement, Rudy Gay. The shooting of the likes of Korver becomes vitally important to success in the international game where zone defence is more common than in the NBA game.
The big man department is where Team USA is lacking beef. Ironically enough, 21-year old Anthony Davis is perhaps the most experienced big at the international level, with a 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in his possession. Davis will be a key piece with his intimidating shot-blocking ability. Supporting Davis will be a selection of DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and surprise revelation Mason Plumlee. Cousins’ size and unusual talent provides a unique proposition for Coach K to work with, should he choose to take the plunge on the controversial big man. An engaged and switched on Cousins could be the X-Factor that most countries will struggle to contain.
WHERE ARE THEY WEAKEST?
There are a number of weaknesses in this Team USA squad.
Far from a 1992 Dream Team (or even a 1994 Dream Team II* for that matter), this iteration lacks the genuine star power of a LeBron, a Durant, a Melo, a Jordan, a Magic, a Bird… hell, even an Iverson or Zo. There will be a heavy reliance on not only the likes of Rose, Harden and Davis to perform at their best, but for them to get consistent support from the array of supporting stars.
This team can not afford to roll out in cruise mode. They need to be entirely engaged. They need to rely on each other as a team. And they need to respect the power of opposing nations.
We have seen in the past the disaster that can befall a Team USA squad that enters a tournament with a sense of complacency. Tip: it doesn’t end well (or with a medal).
Additionally, the lack of genuine world-class bigs could be an issue down the stretch. That’s not to say that the abovementioned power players (excluding Davis) are not capable of impact — heck, they are all legitimate NBA players. However, none of them are named Howard, Love, Griffin, Noah, Gasol or Ibaka. They all have holes in their games that may need to be patched through some effective coaching and substitution management. Of benefit to Team USA here will be the absence of numerous other stars from opposing nations (see parts to this preview series).
WHERE WILL THEY FINISH?
Anything less than a Gold Medal is unacceptable for Team USA. Quite frankly, it’s also the only truly imaginable scenario. If this World Cup does not finish with a battle in the Final between the Yanks and the host Spanish team, many will be very disappointed, and shocked.
*Yes, yes, I know — there was only ever one Dream Team and there will only ever be one.
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