Our initial predictions may not have been 100% correct, but considering Spain, Serbia, USA and France have all managed to proceed to the knockout stage of the competition - we haven’t done too badly either.
Although we expected Greece to go much further in the competition, the Czechs managed to keep a 12-point advantage against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team in the last group game and secure their place in the next round - prompting an untimely exit for Coach Skourtopolous and his team.
And there could have been yet another shock had the referees counted Lithuanian Valanciunas’ free throw for 2 points (which they should have, since Gobert touched the rim), as this might have left the French team on the sidelines along with the Greeks. Fortunately for Gobert and co though, luck was on their side and they progressed to the next round of the tournament, which is looking a little like this:
The Argentinians remain undefeated in the tournament so far, whilst the Serbs only have a loss against Spain marking their tournament record. Although they look like the weaker team if you only look at results, Serbia have outmatched Argentina in almost every statistical category so far. Combine those stats with the depth of their roster, and we strongly believe they hold the advantage in this game - especially if Bogdanovic keeps playing as he does.
Despite facing difficulties against Turkey, Team USA have managed to proceed to the next round undefeated, whilst the French are yet to fully rise to the occasion - defeating Lithuania by only three points and losing to Australia. Judging by sheer numbers and history alone, the Americans have the advantage, and one way or another, Pop’s boys will defeat the French and proceed to the next round unless something truly magical takes place.
Given that the winner of ARG-SRB will meet with the winner of USA-FRA in the semi-final stage, and the winner of ESP-POL will meet with the winner of AUS-CZE, Spanish Coach Scariolo must have a smile on his face as wide as Marc Gasol’s wingspan given that La Roja will be avoiding their main rivals up until the final.
The Poles are one of the pleasant surprises of the tournament having lost only to Argentina. However, Spain’s imposing victory over Serbia leaves us with no doubt over who we would put our money on in this match-up. We’d like to be wrong, but it looks like the Eagles are about to smash against an Iberian wall.
With Tomas Satoranski breaking one personal record after another, the Czechs have managed to reach the quarter-finals in what is their first World Cup appearance ever. The Boomers, on the other hand, are undefeated in the competition and will secure a place in the semi-finals for the first time in their history if they continue their winning streak. The motive for both teams is huge, but the Australian players are far more experienced than their Czech counterparts, and in such games, experience is crucial.
Our final predictions
Should our predictions be correct, the semi-final games could be as follows:
Serbia vs USA
Spain vs Australia
If our suggestions are right, such a matchup indicates that this year's World Cup final could be a repetition of the 2016 Summer Olympics final. And in that case, our bet remains on Team USA to come away as the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup winners, with Spain and Serbia coming in second and third.
Thanks to the prolific NBA and NCAA basketball leagues, the US will continue to nurture the best players worldwide with little competition from other countries across the globe. But as long as American superstars like Steph Curry or Anthony Davis continue to show no interest in joining their National Team, Pax Americana in basketball remains under question.
Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton and Kyle Lowry (who is still recovering from thumb surgery) will be the only American All-Stars making the trip to China, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that, out of all the competing teams, it is theirs that probably still has the most complete roster.
Saying that though, there are still a few national teams who can look the Americans in the eyes and not blink.
Alongside the US, Serbia holds the most world titles at five. After a twelve-year period of obscurity, the Plavi returned to the podium in the 2014 World Cup in Spain, but with players like Irving, Harden, Davis, and Curry, Team USA were all but unstoppable in the final.
But this isn’t 2014. In China this year, coach Sasha Djorjevic will have Nemanja Bjelica, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Jokic, and Boban Marjanovi (to name a few) at his disposal. All have years of experience in the NBA and with top European clubs, which makes Serbia the strongest team after the Americans. Combine that with their history of winning, and we think that the Serbs could have a good chance of defeating Team USA this time round.
Focus: Nikola Jokic & Bogdan Bodganovic
The Joker recently completed his fourth and best season so far with the Denver Nuggets. With an average of 20.1 points and 7.3 assists in 80 games, Nikola Jokic is evolving into one of the best European players across the Atlantic and is a truly nuclear weapon in Djorjevic’s arsenal.
The Serbs are expected to target the centre from Sombor to break through enemies’ defences, with only a handful of opponents able to match Jokic in strength or size. As his assists’ average indicates, he knows when to pass the ball to his team’s guards, giving them the opportunity for an open three-pointer.
Crucial for the team’s success is also the performance of Bogdan Bogdanović. The Sacramento Kings’ guard who, apart from being a constant danger for the enemies’ basket thanks to his three-points shots, will have to make sure that Jokic gets the ball where he wants it. If he does so, victory will surely follow.
Las Rojas have dominated European basketball over the last decade. They won the EuroBasket in 2009, 2011 and 2015, as well as the silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics and the bronze in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
However, the years have passed and defeats against France in the 2014 World Cup in Spain and against Slovenia in the 2017 EuroBasket have led to a growing feeling that the players that once lead the team to greatness are now past their prime.
Coach Scariolo will not be able to call upon Juan Carlos ‘La Bomba’ Navarro, Pau Gasol, Felipe Reyes or José Manuel Calderón this time around, all of whom were key to the team’s successes in the recent past, and so he will have to have some aces up his sleeve if he wants to return to Madrid with a medal this year.
Focus: Ricky Rubio & Marc Gasol
Ricky Rubio’s last season with the Utah Jazz wasn’t what he would have wished for. Whilst his assists average increased to 6.1 per game, he played less games compared to the 2017-18 season, and his points average dropped to 12.7. Despite this though, it appears that he will be the one leading the Spanish national team in attack and offense.
For the Rojas to succeed, he will have to work closely and effectively with the team’s centere, Marc Gasol. The Big Marc is one of the few Spanish nationals with an NBA ring in his possession, with his brother Pau being another. Even though the 2018-19 season saw him score the fewest points in his NBA career (only 9.1 per game) Sergio Scariolo is aware that the experienced centre’s performance will be crucial on their journey to victory.
Despite being the last national team to defeat Team USA and the only one to defeat them during Mike Krzyzewski’s era in the 2006 World Cup semi-final in Japan, Greece have not won a title or medal since the 2009 EuroBasket in Poland. Their biggest success is winning the silver medal in the 2006 World Cup but their disappointing performance in the final against Spain left them with a bittersweet feeling.
After a long time, coach Skourtopoulos probably has the best roster since 2006. A combination of experienced players from the top European clubs alongside the Antetokounmpo brothers make the Greeks chances of returning to the podium reasonably high.
Focus: Giannis ‘The Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo & Nick Calathes
Even though many players are deserving of the spotlight, all eyes will certainly be on the Greek Freak in China. Having missed the 2017 EuroBasket due to his pre-season preparation with the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis recently stated that he would “exchange the MVP title for the World Cup title in China”.
After an incredible season with the Bucks, where he managed to record 27.7 points and 5.9 assists per game and consequently achieve the MVP title (something no other Greek has done before) the fans are hoping he’ll create the same levels of success for his national team.
As the Eastern Division’s final between the Bucks and the Raptors revealed, Giannis can do almost anything as long as he gets the ball where he wants it, and it is Nick Calathes who will be responsible for making that happen.
The US-born guard of Panathinaikos comes into the competition off the back of an amazing season in the EuroLeague, with the Greek champion recording 8.67 assists per game, by far the highest in the competition. Coach Skourtopoulos will be expecting a similar performance from Calathes in China, who, together with Giannis, could become an unstoppable force in China.
Few national teams have the quality that the French do, with Batum, De Colo, Gobert and Moerman just a few notable examples of the wealth of strong players in their squad. However, since Tony Parker’s retirement in 2016, the national team has failed to find a captain of equivalent skills and experience. All their major achievements took place before his retirement: first place in EuroBasket 2013, third place in the 2014 World Cup, and third place in EuroBasket 2015.
In the upcoming World Cup, coach Collet must find someone to fill Parker’s shoes if he wishes to return to Paris with a medal in tow. And taking into account his team’s recent performance against Turkey, it’s clear he’s got to do so quickly if France are to have a chance at becoming world champions this year.
Focus: Nando De Colo & Rudy Gobert
Their most prominent player is Nando De Colo. Like Tony Parker, he was also a San Antonio Spurs’ player for two years, but he didn’t manage to make much of an impact on the other side of the Atlantic, returning to Europe for CSKA after a quick stint with the Toronto Raptors.
De Colo comes from a great season with CSKA Moscow, where he lead the Red Army’s team to its 8th EuroLeague title. Even though it was rumored he would join an NBA team, Zeljko Obradovic persuaded him to move to Istanbul for the sake of Fenerbahçe.
This will be one of the 32 year old guard’s last chances to become the leader of his national team. To succeed in that task he will need assistance from the team’s NBAers and in particular the Utah Jazz centre, Rudy Gobert.
Gobert comes from his best NBA season so far with 15.9 points and 2 assists per game. Like the Antetokounmpo-Calathes pair, Gobert and De Colo are expected to work together closely - making for an interesting game should the two countries meet in the play-offs.
A few words about the USA
Not much need to be said for Team USA. Following the Dream Team’s dominance in the early 90s, a decision was taken to include only a couple, if any, of the All-Star players in the national team.
That decision was made on the basis that the top NBA players go through a long and rough season in the US, including many long flights. An additional month of games could increase the likelihood of injuries, which - if serious - could devastate an athlete's career.
Moreover, the 1992 Olympics proved that no national team could match the top US players. Even teams full of Russian or Yugoslavian players were defeated by more than 30 points, meaning there was simply no competition anymore.
The last time the Americans decide to play with a team filled with the likes of Carmello Anthony and Lebron James was during the 2006 World Cup, when they were knocked out by the Greeks in the semi-final.
Since then, they have won three gold Olympic medals and the following two FIBA World Cups simply by including a couple of All-Stars like Kobe Bryant or James Harden in their squads.
Focus: Khris Middleton & Kemba Walker
Lowry’s surgery means that Middleton and Walker will need to step up as the leaders of Team USA this year. Both have had very good seasons with their clubs: Middleton had 18.3 points on average and 4.3 assists with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Walker 25.6 points and 5.9 assists with Charlotte Hornets.
In a bizarre way, Team USA’s biggest star in this competition will be their coach, Gregg Popovich. Coach Pop is considered by many to be the best basketball coach ever. In twenty-three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, he has managed to go all the way to winning the championship five times, the most that any active coach has.
He is famous for his European style of play and it will be up to him to turn this mix of All-Stars, rookies and better than average NBA players into a team worthy of the Dream Team’s heritage.
Our tournament favourites
National team tournaments can be very unpredictable, and it’s common for teams that performed very well in the last tournament to be knocked out in the first round of the next competition due to coaching and/or squad changes.
As detailed in this article, there are many national teams competing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup who have the potential to come away with a medal. And apart from the aforementioned five, the likes of Russia, Argentina, Turkey, and Lithuania could also challenge for the top spot.
Despite that though, our pick for the first three spots are as follows: the USA first, Serbia second and Greece third. But for those of you feeling lucky, backing Serbia to win could be where the bitcoin betting value lies.