With the FIBA World Cup wrapping up really quickly (their scheduling of games sucks and the tournament as a whole is poorly run but don’t get me started on that) I figured it was time to talk about the obvious. The Losers. There are five teams that I think are going to come back with a vengeance in the Olympics next summer, despite being eliminated in this tournament. Two of the teams are based on people that didn’t show up for the World Cup, but would likely show up for the Olympics. The other three are teams that maybe didn’t perform at the level they can or are still gelling as a team.
Nigeria’s team is so much fun. Their two NBA players are Al-Farouq Aminu and Josh Okogie. Those are both high level defenders that can hit the three. Ekpe Udoh played for the Jazz last season and he is the perfect big man for international basketball. Tall, wide, and can finish strong inside. Chimezie Metu was drafted by the Spurs last year but has bounced between the G-league and the inactive roster. The team is made up of other-worldly athleticism and a hardcore defense. They were ranked eighth in the first power rankings for the FIBA WC with high hopes. They ended up being eliminated in the first round. They simply couldn’t keep up with the experience on the Russian and Argentine rosters. Their only win came against Korea, where they won by 42. They have gone 3-0 in the consolation tournament, showing their talent. This team has more experience playing together and could put it together in the Olympics. And who knows, maybe after the Greek team’s embarrassment in the tournament mixed with that program’s incompetence…maybe Giannis declares to play for the country of his parent’s origin. That team would be instant favorites in my book.
Here’s a list of high-profile Canadian players in the NBA: Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Tristan Thompson. None of those players showed up for Team Canada in the FIBA WC. Their best performer in the tournament was Khem Birch. So, yeah. It is no surprise they were bounced in the first round. I would bet that more people show up for the widely considered ‘more important’ Olympics. A starting lineup of Jamal Murray, Shai, RJ Barrett, Kelly Olynyk, and Tristan Thompson is top five in international play. Shooting, defense, tons of size. Let’s see if the Maple Leafs show up next time.
Let’s make this one quick. Everyone knows that every superstar skipped the World Cup this year and that roughly 1,000 young players denied to play or dropped out before the tournament. A team who’s best player is Kemba Walker will usually not win much (S/O Charlotte). A big issue with this team was a lack of size. If Myles Turner wasn’t playing well, the team would go small. That’s not how you win a tournament where Luis Scola is still dropping 28/13 on fools. You need big sturdy centers who can rebound, defend, and finish inside. Guys with a nice post acumen would be great as well. An Aldridge, Drummond, or Zion (Zion!!) would help a lot. Listen, stars are going to show up for the Olympics and the USA will again be heavy favorites. Lets move on.
Serbia was actually favored over the US in this tournament! What you’ll find in these tournaments, however, is continuity is often a massive factor. Argentina likely has the most continuity in this tournament, possibly tied with Team Spain (and they’re meeting in the final, who would’ve thunk it). Serbia has tons of talent but a lot of their players are younger and haven’t played a ton together. Also their coach refuses to play through Nikola Jokic and makes me hate him for it. Bogdan Bogdanovic had several 30 point games in this tournament and is emerging as one of the toughest to guard. Every player on their roster can make a layup and an open three. That is important. With a little more experience playing together and usage of Jokic (please God!), Serbia will be a top-tier team in the Olympics.
Okay, here’s a disclaimer. Teams like Australia and France could easily be in this spot being how good they are. However, they were ranked appropriately and the semi-finals is probably where a lot of people saw those teams making it. I want to focus more on teams that were eliminated earlier than they should have been. Greece fits that mold better than Australia or France. Greece barely squeaked past the first round and could not make it to the elimination round. They looked discombobulated the entire tournament and really only made any noise because of Giannis. The thing is, they have a good roster. Nick Calathes is a good point guard in this tournament and they have several big men who fit the mold I spelled out earlier. Their coach has no idea how to use Giannis, however. He is rarely running (or setting!) picks, never has the ball at the top of the key, and is used a lot like Ben Simmons in the playoffs (dunker’s spot, stay out of the way). Until Greece’s coach lets the NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION’S MOST VALUABLE PLAYER run wild this team will never be above mediocre. I am hoping they can figure it out in the Olympics.
There’s a lot of teams I didn’t mention here. Australia is a perennial contender and could possibly (probably not) have Ben Simmons in the Olympics. France has the reigning 2X DPOY. Italy has a lot of shooting and passing (I am a huge Gallinari guy). Japan has little talent but Rui looked awesome in his playing time. These are just the five teams that were eliminated early that I thought had the easiest path to improving significantly in the Olympics.