With many NBA superstars skipping the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Team USA is more vulnerable than ever before.
When Team USA announced its preliminary roster for the tournament a few months ago, NBA superstars, like Anthony Davis, James Harden and Damian Lillard, were more than happy to play for their national team.
Fast forward to today, 17 NBA stars have withdrawn their participation from the competition.
Therefore, many basketball fans are wondering whether Team USA can pull off a FIBA World Cup three-peat, which has never been done in the 69-year history of the event.
The head coach of the team, Gregg Popovich, and his players want to prove their doubters wrong, however the squad is not the grand favourite for the gold medal.
With Kyle Kuzma out due to an ankle injury, Team USA announced on Saturday (24/08) the 12 players that will compete in the tournament.
Even though the Americans start from the pole position once again, there are four teams that can dethrone them.
The Serbians have one of the deepest and most talented rosters of their history. They are considered the number one favourite to defeat Team USA. Based on the schedule, they can face them only in the Final.
Milos Teodosic and Dragan Milosavljevic will miss the Basketball World Cup, due to injuries. However, head coach Sasha Djordjevic is not worried. His roster consists of some of the top European basketball players, like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Jokic and Nemanja Bjelica.
The squad is full of talented players in every position (Stefan Jovic, Vasilije Micic, Boban Marjanovic, Nikola Milutinov, among others); their preparation games have shown that, one way or another, they can overcome the obstacles and reach the Final for a second straight time.
Despite missing some key players, most of the top Spanish stars are available for another Basketball World Cup.
Sergio Rodriguez, Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol are not in the ideal playing condition and decided to skip the tournament.
Yet, Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol, Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez are ready to take over and lead the national team to another success.
At the same time, the supporting cast can be equally productive on both ends. Players like Quino Colom, Pau Ribas, the Hernangomez Brothers (Willy and Juancho) and Victor Claver, among others, can step up and make the difference for their team.
Head coach Sergio Scariolo knows that, despite the problems, Spain is capable of returning to the Final for the first time since 2006.
Even though Team USA defeated Spain in a preparation game last week (90-81), the Spaniards have the ability to stun the Americans and eliminate them.
The MVP of the NBA will be in China and Greece most likely has its best chance to reach the second Final of its history (2006) and win the gold medal.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the undisputed leader of the national team and his performance will be of utmost importance for the squad. The “Greek Freak” is in an excellent playing condition and is the best hope of Greece for a World title.
The Greeks probably have one of the best rosters of their entire history, which combines experience, talent, depth and multiple solutions in every position.
Especially defensively, the team consists of great on and off-ball defenders, while Greece is one of the best teams in transition.
Their weak link is their three-point shooting and the Greeks will need to improve their percentage game after game. Otherwise, this may cost them the victory in the knockout stage.
Aside from this, and with Kostas Sloukas being ready for the tournament, Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo can go all the way.
Therefore, head coach Vincent Collet had to make some adjustments, as both players had a vital role in the team’s tactics.
Just like Spain, France will rely on its experienced players to take over. Evan Fournier, Nando De Colo, Rudy Gobert, Vincent Poirier and Nicolas Batum will be the leaders of the team and the ones that will step up.
The supporting cast consists of talented players, like Axel Toupane, Mathias Lessort, Luis Labeyrie, among others, who can make the difference on both ends.
Defence will be the squad’s reference point and it will not come as a surprise if France has the best defensive line in the tournament.
The aforementioned teams are considered the favourites to fight for the gold medal in China. In my opinion, Team USA, France, Spain, Greece and Serbia will claim the first five spots.
Without a doubt, though, there are teams, like Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, Lithuania, Canada and Australia (which beat Team USA in a preparation game on Saturday), that could be the pleasant surprises of the tournament.
However, I don’t think they could make it any further than the quarter-finals.
With the 2019 Basketball World Cup one week away (August 31), the basketball betting tips are still suggesting Team USA is the favourite for the gold medal.
But, the Americans look more vulnerable than ever before and the decision of many NBA superstars to skip the World Cup may cost them the third straight title.
With that in mind, who can dethrone Team USA? Will it be Spain? France? Serbia and Nikola Jokic? Or Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo? The answer will be given in three weeks from now, on September 15.