Team USA is going to win the gold medal at the World Championship this summer in China. That’s pretty much a given, right?
Well, here’s the thing: FIBA basketball is quite different from NBA basketball, and strange things happen at these competitions from time to time.
And if America’s 13-year winning streak somehow comes to an end, the wagering opportunities are … shall we say … opportunistic.
What will Team USA look like?
Gregg Popovich will be coaching Team USA beginning Aug. 5 when training camp opens in Las Vegas, and 20 players had been selected to compete for 12 spots (although Anthony Davis has withdrawn). USA Basketball hates to use the word “cut,” but the roster is going to have to be pared down to 12 at some point between the start of camp and the beginning of the tournament in September. That comes before a three-week trip to China following an exhibition trip that includes a long stop in Australia.
“I’m sure there will be some casualties, that happens every summer, so we built in a little cushion,” Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo told TheLines.com. “There are always factors — trades, free agency, etc. — so we’re waiting to see how that all shakes out. I don’t take anything for granted until I see faces at camp.
The U.S. roster presently consists of:
|Bradley Beal||Harrison Barnes||Andre Drummond|
|Eric Gordon||Tobias Harris||Brook Lopez|
|James Harden||Kyle Kuzma||Myles Turner|
|Damian Lillard||Kevin Love|
|Kyle Lowry||Khris Middleton|
|CJ McCollum||Paul Millsap|
|Donovan Mitchell||Jayson Tatum|
|Kemba Walker||P.J. Tucker|
Eighteen of those players have USA Basketball experience, including five Olympic gold medalists (Barnes, Davis, Harden, Love and Lowry). Davis, Drummond and Harden were part of the 2014 team that steamrolled Serbia in the final, and Gordon and Love were members of the gold medal winning team that won the 2010 World Championship in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Coach Popovich has really thrown himself into this, reviewing everything from the past 12 or 13 years,” Colangelo said. “So he is intimately familiar with the competition, and none of us are taking anything for granted.”
The World Championship is more highly regarded in other nations than it is in the United States, where most people see the Olympics as the biggest event involving NBA players. But in places such as Serbia, home to Nikola Jokic (who will be playing), this is the event that means the most internationally.
Ask anyone in Greece what the country’s greatest accomplishment is in men’s basketball, and everyone will talk about the night of Sept. 1, 2006, in Saitama, Japan when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and a superstar squad of Americans were pick-and-rolled to death in a 101-95 defeat … the last time a team of NBA players lost a game in an international competition.
It has been 13 years since that loss, and as any triskaidekaphobic will tell you, 13 is not a good number.
Serbia is the second choice at both books (+650 at DraftKings and +1000 at FanDuel), and there are major variations in the odds on other teams … including Canada (which expects to field a squad of 12 NBA players) listed at +4000 at DK and +6000 at FD.
For hardcore basketball fans who are often deprived of their favorite sport in August and September, the tournament is a must-watch event. FIBA rules allow for more physical play, and it is not uncommon to see extraordinarily biased refereeing.
The United States has been drawn into Group E and will begin play in Shanghai on Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic, then will face Turkey on Sept. 3 and Japan on Sept. 5.
Assuming the Americans go 3-0, they will move on to the second round in Shenzhen, China and will play their first second-round game against the winner of Group F, which consists of Greece, Brazil, Montenegro and New Zealand. The semifinals are Friday the 13th in Beijing, and the gold medal game is Sunday, Sept. 15.
The top contenders
“Giannis Antetokounmpo will be playing for Greece, but it is a dilemma of sorts because we don’t know what kind of chemistry the team will have,” said Antonis Kalkavouras of gazetta.gr, the most widely respected journalist in Greece. “It has been three years since he has played for the national team, and he will be different in terms of leadership and confidence and maturity.”
“The team I like most outside of the United States and Canada is Australia, and Serbia will be very, very good,” Kalkavouras said.
One member of the American Federation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the strongest competition will come from Serbia, Australia, Spain and Canada. Of those four teams, the Aussies have the longest odds at FanDuel (+3400), whereas at DraftKings the longest odds from that foursome belong to Canada at +4000.
One thing about FIBA tournaments is the need to expect the unexpected.
Does that mean the United States will lose? No.
But should there be an upset that ends the 13-year winning streak, there is money to be made on a number of teams that will be stacked with NBA players.
“Pop has really studied it, and because of that the 12 players we bring over there will be the ones that give us the best chance to win another one,” Colangelo said.
FIBA 2019 odds