Gregg Popovich, Jerry Colangelo and the rest of the USA Basketball braintrust expected some defections from team USA for this summer’s FIBA World Cup, but what they are enduring is unprecedented … and the odds on who will win the tournament are ripe for bargain hunters who believe America’s 13-year winning streak is due to end.
Just not as ripe as they were just a week or two ago.
Attrition does not begin to describe what the American federation has endured, with 52 invitations having gone out and dozens of players rejecting them. Even Julius Randle of the New York Knicks changed his mind from “yes” to “no.”
As a result, the odds on Serbia have dropped significantly. After opening at +600, Serbia now sits at +380 at FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey … and all the way down to +175 at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.
“We had one bettor come in who put $2,000 on Serbia at 5-1, then $2,800 on Serbia at 7-2 and then $4,000 at 5-2, so that one guy made us move the line on every other team, including lowering Team USA from -350 to -225,” Jeff Sherman of the Westgate Superbook told TheLines this week.
FIBA World Cup odds 2019
What happened to Team USA?
Popovich held his first practice Monday in preparation for the World Cup, formerly known as the World Championship. The players in camp are:
- Guards: Kyle Lowry (questionable following thumb surgery), Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker
- Forwards: Harrison Barnes, Khris Middleton, Jason Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Thaddeus Young, Kyle Kuzma, Jaylen Brown
- Centers: Bam Adebayo, Mason Plumlee, Miles Turner, Brook Lopez
A 14-member U.S. Select Team is in Las Vegas, too, to scrimmage against the senior team, and there is a possibility that some members of that “B” team (D’Aaron Fox and Joe Harris among them) could earn their way onto the squad that will head overseas. Practices will take place throughout this week before a scrimmage is held Friday night.
“Honestly, I don’t have any angst,” Colangelo told reporters in Las Vegas, echoing comments he has made throughout the years.
“All of the players here want to be here, there’s no question about it. And that’s a big part of the battle itself. And so, when you look at the enthusiasm, the youth, the athleticism and versatility, that’ll really work well for us because our depth will be a factor. These are not ‘C’ players. You’ve heard a lot of criticism about who isn’t here, and I keep repeating that it’s about who is here. There’s some really good talent and it’s going to be difficult getting to a 12-man roster when you really think about it,” Colangelo said.
Defections are a part of the business — especially in non-Olympic competitions — and the U.S. federation has grown accustomed to making changes on the fly. The final 12-man roster does not have to be set until the eve of the tournament, so there is a strong likelihood than more than a dozen players will fly overseas as the Americans go to Australia for a series of exhibition games before beginning play in Shanghai on Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.
In Australia, Ben Simmons has been practicing with the national team … but only to ingratiate himself with the federation in preparation for the 2020 Olympics. Still, the Aussies have NBA players Patty Mills, Jonah Bolden, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles competing, with their odds of winning it all set at +1700 by DraftKings Sportsbook and +4000 by FanDuel.
“He’s committed to being a valuable part of our preparation for the World Cup, he’s part of our group and he will be for a long time,” Mills said of Simmons. “The best thing for him is he is going to make us better through these practices. For him to go at us is the best preparation.”
A big upset brewing?
Team USA will undoubtedly be the most athletic team in the tournament, but brawn often counts more in FIBA competitions because of the amount of physical play that is allowed. Of the American bigs, few who would consider Lopez a banger … although Turner can fill that role, and the team is loaded with forwards who can play inside/outside, including Middleton, Tatum, Kuzma and Barnes. The need for a 3-point shooter off the bench seems most acute, which is why Harris could be flying back from China in mid-September.
Among the Americans who have withdrawn are Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Tobias Harris, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Montrezl Harrell, Andre Drummond and C.J. McCollum.
If there is anything nearing a precedent, you have to go all the way back to 2004 when the first post-9/11 Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, and security concerns were a contributing factor to the withdrawals of nine of the 12 players who competed at the 2003 Tournament of the Americas. Only Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson competed on both the 2003 and 2004 teams.
Among the competition, here are some of the opening odds before the Americans were hit by a wave of withdrawals: Serbia was 15-1; Spain was 20-1; Greece was 25-1 and Canada was 40-1.
One team worth keeping an eye on, especially among those who wager at DraftKings Sportsbook, is Lithuania — which has a long, long history of collecting bronze medals. DraftKings lists Lithuania at +2000 to finish in the top 3, and other books are not yet listing “Top 3” odds.