The United States and Australia and Spain
The 2019 FIBA World Championship ended on Sunday with two medals round-robin games featuring four of the world’s top teams, many players recognizable for NBA fans, but nary a track of the US men’s national team already home with an unsightly flight Flew the seventh place stuffed in his suitcase. Before we shift our focus to the NBA training camps, which open in less than two weeks, we should bow to the process by highlighting some of the best and worst of the FIBA weeks, starting with – reasonably enough – the team that did has won all the friggin ‘thing.
Winners: Spain (especially Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio)
With the stars Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro out of the squad, and several other key pieces from past squad (point guard Sergio Rodriguez, tall men Nikola Mirotic and Serge Ibaka) also off the mix, there was not so much lightning in the Spanish side this time. But after a few difficult moments early in the group match, Spain took its form, on a challenging defense, to outlast some of the most explosive offensive teams in the draw. Spain never won the second World Cup title on Sunday in their decisive 95-75 win against Argentina – and thus also for the 2014 tournament, which ended in France in the quarter-finals.
Marc Gasol was not the sharpest at the offensive end in China, scoring just 42.5 percent from the field and 22.6 percent from 3-point scoring over eight games. But he led the Spanish charge on both ends of the floor, always making his teammates look easy while captain of the stifling cover, which would turn out to be Spain’s business card. Gasol frustrated Serbian superstar Nikola Jokic swirling in himself during a second round matchup; 33 points, six rebounds and four assists in an exciting double overtime win over Australia in the semi-final; and helped the Argentine legend Luis Scola to eight points to 1-by-10 shooting in the gold medal game, which also saw him chip in a decent 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three blocks, and two steals.
The 34-year-old Gasol got everyone a week off after the end of his NBA season with the Toronto Raptors, but he felt compelled to fit for Spain anyway, to show the importance of commitment and loyalty to the next generation of the country. His Reward: Together with Lamar Odom as the only player ever to win an NBA Championship and World Championship Gold in the same year. As he said on Sunday, “It was a good three months.”
The summer was not too bad for his longtime point guard. After signing a $ 51 million three-year deal with the Phoenix Suns, Rubio shone as Spain’s leading playmaker. He scored an average of 16.4 points and six assists per game, scored 38.7 percent from a distance and 84.1 percent from the Foullinie and led with 20 points in 23 minutes in the gold medal win over Argentina to earn the award encrennbarzu.
Eleven years ago, Rubio’s play as a 17-year-old at the Beijing Olympics was a flippant marvel that opened the eyes of the United States. He is now another player; he is a little less daring, and not quite the star he seemed to be. But the years have helped to turn Rubio from a boy wonder into an established veteran, and the 28-year-old, who dedicated his MVP award to his deceased mother, was probably at the peak of his powers as a two-way player in China , provided more substance than style. That might well bode well for his chances of getting a strong start alongside the young guns Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton in Phoenix, and for the Sun’s chances to put together their first respectable season in half a decade.
Loser: USA Basketball and its Status Quo
We’ve been talking pretty much about it since Team USA dropped last week, so I will not end the point. Getting better talent can not be the only lesson that draws USA basketball from a World Cup cycle that included the first two defeats in the international competition for a US squad with NBA talent since 2006 – three, if you count the showgame – and very nearly a fourth included. If you are interested in who are the winners and losers check out The winners and losers of the FIBA World Cup 2019 – Part II