FIBA has released the top eight seeds for the World Cup based on the latest World Rankings, with China included by virtue of it being the host. These eight teams will be distributed to the the eight different groups in the first round of the competition.
It is unlikely that any of the seven teams from the Asian qualifiers will be put in the same group as China, so this means that Gilas Pilipinas will be grouped with one of the seven highest ranked teams in the world. Let us take a look at these teams to understand what the Philippines will be up against.
USA (World Ranking: 1st)
Coach Jeff Van Gundy piloted a team made up of mostly D-League campaigners to a record of 10 wins and two losses in the qualifiers, enough for the United States to top Group E in the FIBA Americas. For the World Cup, Greg Popovich will be taking over the coaching reins and will be bringing in a team that will probably run roughshod over the rest of the competition.
It is still unclear at this point who will comprise Team USA. Lebron James has declared he wants to play under Popovich. Anthony Davis said recently he will definitely be in China for the World Cup. Popovich invited 35 players to a mini-camp last July, although not all the invitees showed up. A quick look at the list reveals an A-list of stars: Steph Curry, Paul George, James Harden, Russel Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, and Kawhi Leonard. With a legendary coach and some of the NBA’s best players on board, Team USA will still be the team to beat no matter who Coach Pop picks for the final 12.
Spain (World Ranking: 2nd)
Spain was not exactly dominant in the qualifiers, winning 10 games by an average of only 9.4 points, but they did just enough to finish two games ahead of second placer Turkey in Group I. Point guard Quino Colom, who plays in the Turkish League, and former University of Mississipi center Sebastian Saiz were the only two players who suited up in all of Spain’s 12 games. Two young guards will merit consideration for the World Cup: 6’0 Jaime Fernandez, who normed 8.8 points and 3.3 assists in 10 games, and Dario Brizuela, who played five games and contributed 12.2 points.
Pau and Marc Gasol have both said they are interested to play for Spain this August. Nikola Mirotic is also having another solid NBA season with his averages of 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. Mirotic and the Hernangomez brothers, 6’9 Juancho of the Denver Nuggets and 6’11 Willy of the Charlotte Hornets, will form an imposing frontline with the Gasol brothers. Ricky Rubio is averaging a career-best 13.2 points on top of six dimes a game for the Utah Jazz. He will be Spain’s court general as they attempt to maintain its status as still one of the best teams in the world.
France (World Ranking: 3rd)
Third placers in the previous World Cup, France ended the Euro qualifiers with a 10-2 record. Only one player was a constant in all 12 games for the team: point guard Andrew Albicy, who plays professionaly in the Spanish Liga ACB. 23-year-old 6’9 center Mathias Lessort was a consistent force down low for France with his averages of 10.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. NBA veteran Boris Diaw played in six games during the qualifiers and scored 8.7 points per game.
There are currently 10 players from France plying their wares in the NBA. Tony Parker and Joakin Noah are doubtful for the World Cup, but France will not lack for star power to remain among the favorites. If Nicholas Batum, Evan Fournier, and Rudy Gobert join the team in China, then France will be among the legitimate contenders. Former Euroleague MVP Nando de Colo will also be called upon to provide versatility and veteran leadership for Le Bleus in the World Cup.
Serbia (World Ranking: 4th)
Serbia went through some scary moments before qualifying for the World Cup with an unimpressive 7-5 record. But make no mistake: when at full strength, Serbia has enough firepower to match-up against the best teams. First-time NBA All Star center Nikola Jokic is expected to lead the Serbian charge, with a pair of Sacramento Kings—shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who averages 14.9 points this season, and 6’10 power forward Nemanja Bjelica, who is scoring 9.7 points and grabbing 4.2 rebounds—forming a potent triumvirate with Jokic. Serbia also has 7’3 giant Boban Marjanovic of the Philadephia Sixers.
In the qualifiers, Serbia was led by their frontline tandem of 7’0 Miroslav Raduljica, who plays for the Jiangsu Dragons in China, and 6’10 Stevan Jelovac, who plays in Turkey. 24-year-old small forward Dejan Todorovic could be a key player for the team in the World Cup. Todorovic, who played for the Chicago Bulls in the 2017 NBA Summer League, averaged 11.2 points and 2.6 assists in the qualifers.
Argentina (World Ranking: 5th)
El Alma Argentina, the monicker of the team which means The Argentine Soul, finished second to the United States in their group in the FIBA Americas. For the first time in almost two decades, the Argentinian national squad did not feature any NBA player as there are no Argentinians in the current active roster of any NBA team.
39-year-old Luis Scola still served as the stabilizing presence for Argentina. The veteran internationalist paced the team in scoring with 16.7 points and was their leading rebounder with 8.1 boards. What could be encouraging signs for Argentina is the emergence of their young guns who are poised to take over the team. 6’9 Marcos Dalla, 26, played nine games in the qualifiers and normed 9.1 points and 5.2 boards. 25-year-old 6’7 guard Nicolas Brussino, who played for the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, scored 12.6 points a game. Lucio Redivo, another 25-year-old guard, averaged 14 points in eivht games. Coach Sergio Hernandez also has former NBA players Nicola Laprovitolla and Nicolas Brussino, so this team will be no pushovers in the World Cup.
Lithuania (World Ranking: 6th)
Lithuania was virtually untouchable in Group J by finishing with an 11-1 record, losing only to Italy, 65-70. Three players saw action in all 12 games: point guard Adas Juskevicious, 6’9 shooter Eimantas Bendzius (who connected on 46.4% of his 3-point shots), and 6’7 Rokas Giedraitis.
Former New York Knick Mindaugas Kuzminskas played four games for Lithuania in the qualifiers. 2007 Dallas Maverick draft pick and 6’5 point guard Renaldas Seibutis played 10 games and averaged an efficient 8.8 points on 51.7% shooting from the field. Two key players for Lithuania in the qualifiers were 6’5 Mantas Kalnietis, a combo guard who averaged 11.8 points and a team-leading 6.2 assists, and 6’9 small forward Eimantas Bendzius, who scored 10.6 points.
For the World Cup, Lithuania will most likely be bannered by its two NBA players: 7’0 center Jonas Valanciunas and 6’11 Domantas Sabonis, who both played two games in the qualifier. In the current NBA season, Valanciunas is posting averages of 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Memphis Grizzlies, while Sabonis is helping the Indiana Pacers with his 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Greece (World Ranking: 8th)
Greece finished with an 11-1 record despite being grouped with Serbia. Imagine how strong Greece will be if the ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo decides to suit up in his second World Cup. In the qualifiers, Greece was led by two veterans: 6’8 power forward Panagiotis Vasilopoulos and 7’1 center Ioannis Bourousis, both 35-years-old. Vasilopoulos averaged 8.8 points, while Bourousis contributed 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Nick Calathes, who played for the Memphis Grizzlies from 2013-2015, played three games for Greece and led the team in scoring with 19 points per game. Two young players who played steadily for Greece in the qualifiers, 24-year-old 6’9 shooting forward Ioannis Papapetrou and 25-year-old 6’5 shooting guard Giannoulis Larentzakis, both have a chance of joining Greece in China. There are three other Greeks in the NBA who could also be tapped for the World Cup. These are 7’0 Kosta Koufos of the Sacramento Kings, 6’10 Kostas Antetokounmpo of the Dallas Mavericks, and 6’5 guard Tyler Dorsey of the Memphis Grizzlies.