“I am going to do everything that I can do to be the man that shocks the world.”
Strong words, eh? They came out of the mouth of Sasha Djorkjevic, the coach of the Serbian National Team, on Tuesday after he put all of his non-NBA players through their second day of practice at a mountain resort three hours outside of Belgrade.
With big names dropping off the Team USA roster on a daily basis, the 2019 FIBA World Cup odds on some of the other top teams are starting to drop … even though the United States remains the prohibitive favorite.
Serbia is listed at +600 (6-1) by FanDuel Sportsbook and +500 by DraftKings Sportsbook in the legalized U.S. sports gambling market, making the former Yugoslav republic the top contender to end Team USA’s 13-year unbeaten streak. Those odds are down significantly from the publication of our most recent FIBA World Cup preview column from earlier this month.
But is there a legit contender, really?
“I don’t think it’s going to be that wide-open,” former Team Canada coach Jay Triano told TheLines.com in a telephone interview. “The next best American players are still pretty darn good.”
Djordjevic echoed those comments.
“I’m not biting, you know?” he said via WhatsApp. “They have a lot of numbers, a lot of guys who are All-Stars, and they are still going to put out 12 guys who will be the favorite for good reason.”
Rosters taking shape
It is not unusual for big names on Team USA’s roster to drop out of consideration for the World Cup (formerly known as the World Championship), preferring instead to wait for the glamour of the Olympics. The American federation has grown accustomed to it, which is why managing director Jerry Colangelo has assembled a roster that is fluid, with new names being added on a daily basis.
Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, D’Angelo Russell of Golden State and Julius Randle of the New York Knicks are among the latest names to be added to the mix.
Spending three consecutive weeks in China at the end of summer is not the most appealing thing to many players from around the world, and it remains to be seen how many NBA defections other contending teams (including Canada) will have to endure before the competition begins on Aug. 31.
In the mountains of Serbia, NBA players Nikola Jokic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, and Boban Marjanovic are being forced to watch from the sidelines under an NBA rule that prevents them from practicing with their national teams until 28 days before the start of an international competition. The rule does not impact NBA free agent Milos Teodosic (who will play for Virtus Bologna next season) or Euroleague stalwarts Vladimir Lucic (Bayern Munich) or Nikola Milutinov (Olympiacos).
“They should just let them practice, but then again, all of their NBA teams have a lot of money invested in them and don’t want to risk injury,” Djordjevic said. “But they have to be in game shape, so it’s kind of contradictory.”
Serbia is grouped with Angola, Italy and the Philippines in Group D.
Assuming they go undefeated in the first round, they will open the second round against the winner of Group C, which includes Spain, Puerto Rico, Iran and Tunisia.
Djordjevic listed his top teams in the tournament as the United States, Serbia, Spain, Canada, Australia, France and Greece. Sportsbooks odds reflect that.
FIBA World Cup 2019 odds
Odds updated 7/27
Why the World Cup matters
The World Cup is viewed differently in other parts of the world than in the United States.
In America, the Olympics are renowned as the most important global competition … but elsewhere, the World Cup is what it is all about. Also, many young NBA players who have never been exposed to international competition are unfamiliar with FIBA rules, which include a prohibition on players calling timeouts (the coaches have to request one, and it is not granted until the next dead ball), the allowance of what would be considered offensive goaltending in the NBA (touching the ball while it is on the rim), and the physicality of the game.
Djordjevic coached in Italy with Virtus Bologna last season, and had former NBA baller Mario Chalmers on his team.
“He told me, ‘I never thought the competition would be at such a high level,'” Djordjevic said. “The game is much more physical, more dirty. It’s different basketball. He thought it would be easy, but it was not. There are a lot of very tactically well-prepared teams.”
Keep that in mind as the World Cup approaches and Colangelo (and coach Gregg Popovich) scramble to fill the roster spots being vacated with such alarming frequency by top level NBA players.
The World Cup will not be a cakewalk for the Americans, but they are still prohibitive favorites (-500 at DraftKings and -420 at FanDuel).
Wagering opportunities abound for those who believe that all good things (such as a 13-year unbeaten streak) must come to an end.
And as far as Djordjevic is concerned, Serbia is not a bad bet.