As the FIBA World Cup prepares to start this weekend many people know most of what there is to know about Team USA. Despite being without Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and more the Americans will be favorites thanks to their depth of NBA stars led by Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and our own superstar big man Anthony Davis. What about the rest of the teams in the competition?
Much like Group B, Group D should be wide open at the top, even more so now that Lithuania lost their starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis to a dislocated clavicle. While the injury leaves the potential group favorite in a bit of a bind the Lithanians wouldn’t have been heavy favorites in the group anyway. Up-and-coming Australia and a changing Slovenia squad are both talented teams so now things should get even more fun in a group that is going to jockying for position throughout group play.
The Favorites: Lithuania, Australia
Even without Kalnietis Lithuania should contend for a group title thanks to the terrific front court of Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas. The two players compliment each other extremely well with Motiejunas able to stretch the floor from behind the arc and Valanciusnas being able to physically beat other big men into submission. If the team can get decent guard play around the two youngsters up front the will be a really tough team for anyone in the tournament to beat.
Australia meanwhile is in the middle of a bit of a boom in basketball talent and it shows on their roster. While the team is without San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills, someone who has always been a great international scorer, they do have two NBA players in the backcourt in Matthew Dellevadova and Dante Exum. Around those two the team has some nice depth on the wing led by Joe Ingles, a player with plenty of international experience and NBA experienced bigs in the solid if unspectacular Aaron Baynes and David Anderson, along with Chicago Bulls second round pick Cameron Bairstow. If the Australians can find someone to take over the leading scorer role that Mills held for so long they could very well win the group.
The Contender: Slovenia
Behind the Dragic brothers Slovenia could absolutely beat anyone in the group. Goran Dragic, the point guard for the Phoenix Suns who became a star last season, is probably going to win at least one game by himself this tournament and his brother Zoran Dragic is a terrific compliment. The problem that Slovenia faces though is uncertainty inside after the international retirement of Bostjan Nachbar and other bigs leaving the team relying on unproven players. If they can step up alongside the Dragics Slovenia can very well win the group.
The Final Spot Contenders: Mexico, Angola, South Korea
Much like Group C the final spot in Group D is also completely up for grabs between three teams.
Mexico looks like the favorite to win the spot thanks to former Hornet Gustavo Ayon, a player who consistently dominates lesser foes in international play. Jorge Gutierrez, who played at times with the Brooklyn Nets last season will be there to help Ayon from the perimeter so the key will be the rest of the help the two NBA players get.
Angola is without their best player from the Afrobasket tournament so things will be much harder for them to move on. The team does have an NCAA player in Yanik Moreira who plays at SMU and the rest of their depth is similar to Mexico but without a player of Ayon’s caliber it will be very tough for them.
South Korea is the final of the group and seem the most unlikely to move on after dealing with a bunch of injuries. The team has a group of players who have been around for a bit and a group of younger players so just what they will play like on a game to game basis will be unknown. It would be a big upset for them to advance over Mexico but international basketball can get weird at times.
The Players to Watch: G. Dragic, Exum, Valanciunas
Dragic is by far the best player in the group and is coming off a Eurobasket where he was incredible. As he enters his prime Dragic is an amazing blend of speed and shooting and now that the team is clearly his it should be another fun tournament to watch him in.
Exum is the guy who will show flashes here and there during the tournament and be a ton of fun to watch doing it. The fourth overall pick in this years NBA Draft, Exum is a big point guard who is an inconsistent shooter but a great scorer and athlete and he will make a play or two during this tournament that will be on all the highlight reels despite being just 19 years old.
Valanciunas meanwhile has consistently had huge performances in international play when he has gotten minutes. With his above average athleticism and his good touch to add to his strength he should have a big few games in group play with the uncertainty the other teams have at the big men spots.
The NBA Ties:
Lithuania: Valanciunas, Motiejunas
Australia: Exum, Dellavedova, Bairstow, Bynes, Anderson
Mexico: Ayon, Gutierrez
South Korea: None
Slovenia: Goran Dragic