Lessons from the FIBA 3×3 World Cup

FIBA 3x3 World Cup 1

Hand-checks were all over the place, so were arm bars during post-ups.

Defenders mercilessly tug on the jerseys of driving players. Once the ball goes up, arms flail in the air—hitting either the ball or other players’ faces. In a snap, gameplay easily transforms into a skirmish.

Oh, that is just in the women’s division. The action in the men’s side of competition? Pretty much the same, but with more crushing screens during dribble-handoffs.

Welcome to the world of 3×3 basketball.

From June 8 to 12, the Philippines witnessed world-class halfcourt basketball action with its hosting of the 2018 FIBA 3×3 World Cup. Forty teams from 36 countries slugged it out inside the Philippine Arena in Bulacan for the men’s and women’s crowns of the annual 3×3 showpiece. As the host nation, the Philippines automatically qualified for both men’s and women’s events.

Sadly, both teams failed to qualify in the quarterfinal round. The women’s squad, bannered by Perlas ng Pilipinas standouts, went winless in four preliminary round games. After winning their opening match against Brazil, the men’s team, formed from a slew of PBA players, lost two games in a row against highly-ranked 3×3 squads to bow out of title contention.

Compared to the traditional 5-on-5 basketball, the game of 3×3 is a different beast. But just like the Philippines’ early struggles in FIBA competitions, the game of 3×3 is a beast that can be slayed.

Taking the good from the bad, the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) and the future 3×3 teams can always look back at the lessons from the recent World Cup:

You shoot for 2’s when you are at 19. Games in 3×3 are limited to 10 minutes. But once a team scores 21 points, game is over. The ninth game of the tournament saw China take advantage of this rule against Switzerland. As the Swiss team was celebrating a go-ahead basket, China’s Li Sun received a quick pass to the corner with her team down 20-19. Sensing the situation, Sun launches a game-winning two-pointer from the left corner. Game over, and China secures wins number two of the preliminaries. Mongolia’s Tsenguunbayar Gotov would do the same in their victory against the Philippines in Day 2. Mongolia escaped with a 21-17 shocker against the host country, with Gotov hitting the dagger-2.

Court awareness is still key. The Philippines could have prevented Michael Linklater’s go-ahead layup with three seconds left if only they had defended well, or just gave up a foul. With teams going into penalty at the seventh foul, Christian Standhardinger could have gone for one more hack to stall Linklater’s attack. In addition, the pony-tailed Canadian 3×3 legend had been driving right all game long. Had the Filipino defenders been aware of Linklater’s tendencies, they could have at least limited the Canadian spitfire’s point production.

Free throw is as precious as a two-pointer. Apart from its point value in a close match, an attempt for a free throw offers another benefit for players. With game duration limited to ten minutes on a 12 second shot clock, pace in 3×3 is obviously faster. A free throw gives players a much-needed breather, as only one timeout per team is allowed for the whole game.

Pick and roll is still king. Probably the oldest play in the book, the pick-and-roll has been the go-to of 3×3 teams. When executed to the letter, the simple yet effective play leads to uncontested baskets as lesser players cover the court’s surface. The pick-and-roll easily creates mismatches for bigger players against smaller defenders. Counters likes hedging, bellying up and other help defense are non-existent due to fewer players.

The give-and-go and the UCLA cut. The other widely-used ball-side play in 3×3 is the give-and-go, emanating from the UCLA cut. Against a slower defender, a slick offensive player can easily slide to the basket after a UCLA cut and a quick return pass from the top of the key. Most of these exchanges were observed at the elbow area, with cutting players seeing a clear runway towards the basket. Again, with fewer personnel left to cover so much floor space, offensive players with quick feet get the easy baskets in 3×3.

Formation of a pool of 3×3 players. Even the Filipino players and men’s division MVP Dusan Bulut are batting for this initiative. Similar to the Gilas and Perlas Pilipinas programs, it is high time for the formation of a pool of 3×3 players for future competitions. These players should be able to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of 3×3—rules, physicality and strategy. Everything that sets it apart from the conventional 5-on-5 game.

With the Filipinos’ innate basketball skills and abilities, success in 3×3 competitions is achievable. We may have failed to finish in the podium in the recent World Cup, but at least it served as an eye-opener to what our 3×3 teams lack and what the future holds.

RELATED: How every Team Philippines player fared in the 2018 FIBA 3×3 World Cup

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