International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID — Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA.

Good news for Canada

Since both the U.S. (World Cup winner) and Brazil (host nation) have already qualified for the 2016 Olympics, two other teams will earn bids at next year’s FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico. Contenders will likely be Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Canada.

Note: If a team doesn’t finish in the top two next summer, it could still earn one of the three final Olympic bids in a 2016 qualifying tournament before the Olympics. But the teams from the Americas would be competing against some stronger teams from Europe.

So when Nicolas Batum gets back to Portland in the next couple of weeks, he should get a hearty “Thank you” from Trail Blazers assistant coach Jay Triano, who is the head coach of the Canadian National Team. Spain wouldn’t necessarily have defeated the U.S. in the gold medal game on Sunday, but France’s upset over the hosts certainly helped the odds that the Americans would earn that Olympic bid and make things that much easier for the Canadians next summer.

Canada has a young core of players that includes Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, Nik Stauskas, Tristan Thompson, and several other NBA players. That group could have been here at the World Cup, but Canada collapsed at last year’s FIBA Americas tournament, finishing fifth after winning four of its first five games.

Bad news for Europe

Eight of the top 10 finishers at the World Cup came from Europe. But none of them won gold and none of them have qualified for the 2016 Olympics.

That means that only the top two teams at next year’s Eurobasket will immediately qualify, and others will have to play for the three spots at the 2016 qualifying tournament. That will be some tough competition, and some very good teams will be left out of the Olympic field. Spain or Serbia could be among them.

Who’s next?

The U.S. will continue to have the best talent in the world for the foreseeable future. Not only are the Americans the reigning World Champions on the senior level, but also on the U19 and U17 levels. The USA Basketball pipeline is well stocked.

But there’s promise elsewhere around the world, and we may be in a transition phase, as some traditional powers take a step back and other nations move forward. That may be a reason why the U.S. looked so dominant this summer and also why it shouldn’t get complacent.

“There’s just good basketball throughout the world,” Krzyzewski said. “We understand that. We’re just trying to beat that competition.”

The Americas

If Canada Basketball general manager Steve Nash gets buy-in from his young core, he should have the second best program in the Americas for the next several years. Brazil will likely be a medal contender on its home soil in 2016, but most of its best players are already over the age of 30.

Argentina, of course, looks to be at the end of a run that saw Manu Ginobili and company win Olympic gold in 2004. But the Argentines will still have a shot at a top-two finish next year if Luis Scola (aka #FIBAScola) keeps playing.

Mexico had a relatively young roster in this tournament and will be playing at home next summer. The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, has Kentucky freshman Karl Towns in the pipeline.

Europe

Pau Gasol left the door open for playing for his national team again. And even if he doesn’t, Spain still has Marc Gasol (29) and Serge Ibaka (24) to man the frontline for a few more years. Most of their backcourt talent is under the age of 30, and they have a few prospects on the way as well. Spain has won medals (at Eurobasket or in the Olympics) in seven of the last nine summers, so don’t knock them out of the No. 2 spot in your national team power rankings just yet.

Serbia didn’t just finish second to the U.S. in this World Cup. It also finished second to the Americans at the U19 championship last year, behind Sixers draft pick Vasilije Micic. Two of its senior team’s top players — Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Kalinic — are just 22 years old. Starters Nemanja Bjelica, Stefan Markovic and Miroslav Raduljica are all just 26. Golden State Warriors Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic are 23 and 24, respectively. And though Milos Teodosic is a vet, he’s only 27. So this team isn’t going away any time soon.

“We are going to be better,” Djordjevic said. “We are going to come back and try to go to the Olympics and try to meet the USA team again there. Growing up in these two years, we have time, we have plans, we have players that are going to be more mature.”

France is the defending Eurobasket champion and earned bronze here at the World Cup. Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus are all over 30. But Nicolas Batum, who earned all-tournament team honors, is only 25. And he’s got a lot of young talent around him, both in the backcourt and on the frontline. Coach Vincent Collet is also an asset who gives the national team stability.

Croatia didn’t look like it had stability on its bench, but no team at the World Cup had a better pair of under-21 players on its roster. Dario Saric (20) could be the best player in Europe in a few years, and Mario Hezonja (19) could be another Croatian Lottery pick next June.

Lithuanian NBA’ers Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas are just 22 and 23, respectively, and their country finished third at the U19 championship last year. Turkey is always developing talent, and Latvia may be a team that enters the radar in the next few years.

So yeah, next year’s Eurobasket, with only two bids to the Olympics and four more to the Olympic qualifying tournament on the line, should be pretty competitive.

Elsewhere

Australia came one stop short of the World Cup quarterfinals with a pretty young roster. Dante Exum is 19, Matthew Dellavedova is 24, Joe Ingles is 27, and a pair of bigs that are coming to the NBA this season — Cameron Bairstow and Brock Motum — are both just 23.

In a few years, Senegal could have a lot more NBA talent than just Gorgui Dieng. There are a few under-21 big men in their pipeline.

15 Comments

  1. JayGee says:

    what about France?the reigning Euro Champs…They got Bronze without their best players(Parker,Noah,De Colo etc…).They lost against Serbia because of an horrible fisrt half defense.They are the present and the future of european basketball for sure,no doubt about it kids!

  2. harriethehawk says:

    marco-that’s a whole lotta venom you just spewed!

  3. Mitsos says:

    What if Yugoslavia still existed. Imagine Pekovic ,both Bogdanovic, Teodosic, Saric, Dragic and many other in the same team.

  4. marko says:

    Nba players have the money for the quality drugs medicines steroids and other so they can be more durable and stronger higher.
    They dont care about healt they just need to be better and go to the nba.addicts

  5. Mitsos says:

    I think one team you forget is Greece, who is a new team with only 4 players over 30 yrs old. Greece finished second
    ( 5W-1L) in records after USA in FIBA World Cup. Greece was also the last team that beat USA and the only team that scored more than 100 points against USA

  6. Milos says:

    I don’t know why people are constantly thinking this USA team is weaker than the one with LeBron, Durent, Carmelo or Kobe. All these guys on the team were ready to play hard for 40 minutes and nobody had a chance with them. If there were some of those superstars (or all of them) that won’t be the case. Just check what was the scoring difference this year and in previous year with superstars

  7. Jo says:

    Serbia is back with beautiful team play and chemistry, in few years and with hopefully more players in NBA we could close the gap a little bit… in 2002 when we were world champions in Indianapolis we had Divac and Stojakovic both starters for championship caliber NBA team, all the players told how Divac prepared them for the 1/4 final game against US, that he was great influence on and off the court…

  8. LeBronJames says:

    During a live TV interview with the Sportschau last Saturday Nowitzki said he’s likely to play in next years European Championships to help Germany qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Also factoring into his decision was that some games of this tournament will be played in his homeland.

  9. LeBronJames says:

    During a live TV interview with the Sportschau last Saturday Nowitzki said he’s likely to play in next years European Championships to help Germany qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Also factoring into his decision was that some games of this tournament will be played in his homeland.

  10. jimmy jazz says:

    Australia could have close to a roster of Nba players come the Olympics. They really need Bogut and Mills fit.

    • AussieHoopsFan says:

      Agree Jimmy. Put a healthy Mills & Bogut in the mix PLUS a couple of years growth and NBA experience in Exum, Delly, Ingles, Bairstow & Motum and it projects a pretty bright future for Aussie basketball. Project bronze at Rio 2016! If only Kyrie had agreed to play for his birth country…..

  11. Serbia will definitely be back and this loss will only fuel their desire for an Olympic upset. Their youth only guarantees they will remain strong and deep enough to challenge.

    France has a lot of young talent left unmentioned. Fournier, Lauvergne, and Gobert are just 21, 22, and 22, Batum, Huertel, and Diot are all only 25yrs old.

    Team Canada has a bright future too with it’s youth, depth and athleticism, and I can’t wait to see Tyler Ennis blow up with his poise at the point setting up all those shooters, slashers and big men in international play.

    It was disappointing to see so many young international players in the NBA choose to sit out when there was so much to learn playing at such a high competition and disciplined level.

    • Fonzi says:

      “there was so much to learn playing at such a high competition and disciplined level. ” you gotta be kiding me !!!!

  12. Mike Simms says:

    Was nerve wracking watching this game as a Serb. We kind of knew that it was a long shot though. Good on the US, they played extremely well!

  13. Dave says:

    Excellent survey of the international scene. I gather that Russia is now far down the rankings? And that Nowitzskie did not inspire youn Germans?