Official Bleacher Report FIBA World Cup Basketball Rankings
Twenty-four teams will tip off in Spain at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but only one will emerge with a gold medal.
That's a realistic goal for less than a handful of teams, though. Plenty of squads will have to be satisfied with a medal of any metal, even if they'd never admit so publicly. Others would have to be thrilled if they advanced out of the group stage and made it to the first knockout round. A few might be happy just to win a single game while being blown out by the top teams in the field.
Everyone has different goals, but each country also enters the competition with a clean slate and a 0-0 record.
Figuring out how to rank them initially is a difficult endeavor. The official FIBA World Rankings can often be misleading, as they don't reflect the current rosters and take non-relevant competitions into account. Basing the analysis solely on exhibition games is a flawed method as well, seeing as each team places varying levels of focus on those outings.
As a result, these rankings are fairly subjective, based on the aforementioned factors, the upside of the roster, the team's history and any other relevant factors.
If Senegal hopes to win a single game against a tough slate of competition in Group B—Argentina, Croatia, Greece, the Philippines and Puerto Rico—it will need a big showing from Gorgui Dieng, one that falls in line with how he produced for the Minnesota Timberwolves at the end of his rookie season. While playing a below-average strength of schedule during exhibition season, per ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton (subscription required), Senegal was still outscored by 21 points per game over the course of four outings.
With Drew Gooden failing to gain eligibility in time for the start of the competition, Finland's already slim hopes of advancing past the group stage took a nosedive. While there are two players with NBA ties on the roster, those are only Erik Murphy, a reserve for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Hanno Mottola, who played two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks over a decade ago.
The Egyptians played quite well during their slate of exhibition games, though the schedule wasn't particularly difficult. Losing by nine points to the Philippines in a final tune-up game before things kick off in Spain wasn't exactly a promising result, and it doesn't bode well for their hopes of advancing. After all, they'd have to somehow knock out either Brazil, France, Serbia or Spain in Group A while also finishing ahead of Iran.
Andray Blatche, though he technically hasn't found a home in the Association and remains an unrestricted free agent, should help the Philippines and provide the country with some NBA-style credibility. However, Gilas Pilipinas doesn't figure to fare particularly well during its first foray into a major international competition. This is far different than the Asia Championship.
Though Angola checks in at No. 15 in the FIBA World Rankings, there's not a single NBA player—current or former—on the roster. And though Angola has routinely dominated the FIBA Africa Championship, winning gold in four of the last five tournaments, you'll notice there aren't exactly that many countries from the continent at the World Cup. The level of competition is about to be ratcheted up rather significantly, and there's no more easy prey for Angola to dismantle.
Another squad with no current or former NBA players, Korea still manages to remain moderately competitive when it takes the court. In fact, Sungmin Cho is one of the better players most people outside Korea have never heard of. But without Min-goo Kim, and with key guys like Taejong Moon aging, there just isn't enough talent in place to do anything more than steal a single game.
Make sure you get your fix of Hamed Haddadi, and go out of your way to watch Arsalan Kazemi exert his rebounding prowess. The latter became the first Iranian-born player to be selected in an NBA draft just over a year ago, and he's quite the talent.
Of course, you should do so quickly, because Iran won't be playing past the group stage of this tournament.
Led by Gustavo Ayon, the Mexican national team has experienced a good bit of success in recent times. At the CentroBasket tournament, they did manage to beat Puerto Rico twice and take home top honors.
They've also struggled against tougher competition, and though they outscored the opposition by 7.8 points per game during exhibition season, that came against the easiest schedule of any team in the field, per Pelton.
16. New Zealand
There isn't much NBA talent here, as Kirk Penney is the only player with experience at the sport's highest level. However, this collection of NBL, NZNBL and NCAA roster members tends to exceed expectations, as it did by upsetting Serbia in a final tune-up game. Penney exploded for 29 points in that contest
And as Serbian head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic said after the loss, via The Straits Times, "I can't blame my players for lack of effort and I must also give credit to New Zealand because they hit a barrage of difficult shots inspired by the unstoppable Penney."
15. Dominican Republic
Even without Al Horford, the Dominican Republic remains pretty competitive. Led by Francisco Garcia, who's coming off an injury-plagued season with the Houston Rockets in which he appeared to decline fairly significantly, they should make a few teams nervous during the tournament.
Nonetheless, this country figures to have a strong shot at moving out of Group C. Essentially, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Turkey and Ukraine are fighting for second place behind the United States, and all but one will advance barring upsets at the hands of Finland.
Ranked No. 7 in the FIBA World Rankings, Turkey will be going into battle with Omer Asik leading the charge. However, things aren't feeling too promising at the moment.
"On paper, Turkey should be a major threat," writes Pelton. "After all, as hosts four years ago, Turkey reached the final. Turkey has got plenty of talent around Omer Asik. Yet Turkey went 1-6 in exhibition games, including all three played on home soil."
On the flip side, Ukraine enters the festivities ranked No. 45 in the world, but it's poised to make that spot look foolishly low. Despite playing a tough exhibition schedule, the Ukrainians still fared quite well for themselves, and there's plenty of talent on the roster.
With Sergii Gladyr, Eugene "Pooh" Jeter, Oleksandr Lypovyy and Viacheslav Kravtsov leading the charge, this country should be considered the favorite to take home the No. 2 spot in Group C. The Dominican Republic, Turkey and New Zealand all have better pedigrees and solid world rankings, but Ukraine is in great form heading into Spain.
12. Puerto Rico
Overlooking J.J. Barea in international competition is a big mistake. The diminutive floor general might not be finding too much success in the NBA, but he always turns his game on for Puerto Rico, taking over as a leading scorer and thriving in that role.
Carlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman should both make solid contributions for this squad, and if everyone is in tip-top shape, there's a slight chance there's an upset at the top of Group B. Puerto Rico should by no means be the favorite—in fact, they trail both Argentina and Greece in these rankings—but they're also not out of the running.
What? A country with a pedigree like Argentina isn't even going to make the top 10?
I can hear the griping already, but the facts don't look too good for the Argentines. Without Manu Ginobili, this is a young, inexperienced squad relying on a few aging veterans like Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Pablo Prigioni. Fabricio Oberto and Carlos Delfino aren't playing either.
Facundo Campazzo is promising, but he won't be enough for a team that's struggled mightily in exhibition matches and is still recovering from controversy with the Argentine Basketball Federation.
Things aren't looking good here.
No Tony Parker could mean problems for the French.
Though FIBA's eighth-ranked team still boasts the services of a sure-to-be-motivated Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, who's fresh off playing some of his best basketball ever for the San Antonio Spurs, the backcourt could be problematic. Are Thomas Heurtel, Antoine Diot and Evan Fournier really ready to fill in the entire guard rotation?
Chances are France will still be highly competitive. It wouldn't rank in the top 10 otherwise, even if it's functioning as the caboose.
However, with Spain, Brazil and Serbia all calling Group A home, Batum, Diaw and Co. will have to avoid letdowns against Egypt and Iran to avoid an early exit from the World Cup. And even if that happens, the first elimination-stage contest will likely be an extremely tough test for the falling power.
Though Croatia comes in at only No. 16 in the FIBA World Rankings, it's hard to avoid falling in love with the young talent on this roster.
Technically, there are only five players with established NBA ties. Roko Ukic, Oliver Lafayette and Damir Markota have all played in the Association at various points in their basketball careers, and Damjan Rudez and Bojan Bogdanovic are set to make their NBA debuts for the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets, respectively.
However, there's more than that, even if it isn't NBA talent in the technical sense. Not yet, at least.
Mario Hezonja is widely expected to be a lottery selection during the solid 2015 NBA draft, and Dario Saric was just made one by the Philadelphia 76ers, though he'll continue dominating abroad before bringing his talents to the Association.
The exhibition season was filled with highs and lows, most notably a neutral-court victory against Greece, but there's quite a bit of talent if the young guns all start meshing in Spain.
There's plenty of talent on the Serbian roster as well, even if not all of it is affiliated with the NBA. Overlooking Milos Teodosic is a mistake, for example, especially if he decides to exert a reasonable amount of energy on pick-and-rolls rather than treating every screen like a brick wall.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Miroslav Raduljica and Nenad Krstic are all worth watching as well, with Krstic taking on a leadership role for his country.
The former NBA player has consistently performed admirably when wearing the Serbian jersey, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. After all, the 31-year-old big man is coming off a EuroBasket experience in which he averaged 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, according to FIBA.com.
Despite the inexplicable loss to New Zealand at the end of the exhibition campaign, Serbia still impressed while playing games that don't technically count. Beating France is always a big deal, even if that country is in for a letdown this tournament, and Serbia emerged from the summer contests with a plus-4.9 point differential during the average game despite playing a tough schedule.
It's all about the Dragics.
Dragics? Yes, it's meant to be plural.
Though Goran Dragic, one of the world's best pick-and-roll players, is set to lead Slovenia to as much glory as possible, he'll be joined in the backcourt by his brother, Zoran Dragic. The latter's NBA experience is limited to summer league competitions, and he's not as talented as his brother, but he's still a shooting guard who needs to put up points for his team.
Interbasket.net even calls Slovenia "The Big Surprise" in the field, writing the following:
Slovenia has the perfect mix of experience and young players that can step up. They have the Dragic brothers in the backcourt and good size in the frontcourt combined with the skillset of one of the best PF in Europe, Erazem Lorbek. They just need to finish at one of the top three spots in the group in order to avoid the USA team in the next phase, but it would be good to finish on first place because that would mean an easier draw till the quarter finals and a possible matchup against team USA in the semis.
Finishing at No. 1 in Group D will be quite hard, as it means beating out both Lithuania and Australia, but it's certainly doable, even without Erazem Lorbek aiding the cause. Earning a top-three spot is just procedural, though, as Mexico, Korea and Angola are in a much lower tier at this competition.
Lithuania, ranked No. 4 in the FIBA World Rankings, is a traditional powerhouse in international competition, but one devastating blow keeps them from asserting themselves as the No. 3 team in the field. With Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas leading the charge and supported by a certain guard, they would've trailed only the two overwhelming favorites.
However, that's not happening without Mantas Kalnietis, who recently fractured his clavicle and knocked himself out of the 2014 World Cup.
The 27-year-old shooting guard has been a key contributor to the Lithuanian cause for a while now, and he's coming off a 2013 EuroBasket competition in which he averaged 12.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. That's a lot of production to give up, and Renaldas Seibutis (as well as the other guards) will have a tough time replacing it.
Lithuania still dominated during exhibition season, beating opponents by 11.5 points per game, a margin which was third to Spain and the United States. However, that came to pass largely while Kalnietis was on the floor and doing his thing.
Now, it's an uphill battle, though this is still a fairly elite squad.
This is not all about Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Though the much-hyped Greek forward/guard/who-knows-what-his-position-really-is has been the subject of much attention over the summer, thanks primarily to his intriguing set of skills, physical tools and his impressive showing at Las Vegas Summer League, he's by no means the only standout on the roster.
Nick Calathes is a valuable presence at point guard, and we can't overlook Kostas Papanikolaou, the 24-year-old forward who plays his regular-season ball with F.C. Barcelona. Papanikolaou hasn't had too much success with Greece's senior team, but he's still developing and has thrived as part of the U20 roster.
Greece played one of the more difficult exhibition schedules of any team in the field, and it still outscored its opponents by 3.6 points per game while compiling a 5-3 record, per Pelton.
Though coming off a second-round exit in the 2013 EuroBasket tournament, this is a young roster with quality players who are just now coming into their own.
Sleep on Greece at your own peril.
No Andrew Bogut? No problem.
The Boomers don't have all their key players—Bogut and Patty Mills, primarily—at their disposal, but this is still an excellent roster poised to make some serious noise at the World Cup.
Matthew Dellavedova might not be a star in the NBA, but he's absolutely one when wearing an Australia uniform. Remember how he played at the 2012 Olympics in London? The floppy-haired Saint Mary's product produced 7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and he's even more seasoned now.
Of course, Dellavedova isn't the only solid player on this squad. Shoutouts must be given to Dante Exum (insane upside alert), Ryan Broekhoff, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Brock Motum. There's a fantastic mix of shooting, size, passing and overall solid basketball.
Australia is only ranked No. 9 in the FIBA World Rankings and will have to navigate through a group that also includes Lithuania and Slovenia, but it could easily enjoy a deep run in this competition.
When healthy, Brazil is scary talented.
Oh, and everything is looking great on the health front right now.
The frontcourt is a dominant one, boasting a three-man core comprised of Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. Though none can take over games at this stage of their respective careers, the three-headed combination provides size and steadiness on both ends of the court.
And it's not as though the backcourt is going to get tossed around by the opposition.
Marcelo Huertas is one of the best non-NBA players in the world, and his flashy play allows the Brazilian offense to hum along. He might be fancy, but he's just as effective most nights, and he makes for some must-watch television whenever he graces the screen. Leandro Barbosa, Raul Neto and Alex Garcia aren't too shabby, either.
Brazil is the first team in these rankings with a legitimate shot—not a dark-horse one—at taking home a gold medal at the conclusion of the adventure in Spain.
Spain's roster is quite talented. Duh. There's the obvious statement of the day.
The frontcourt is brimming over with quality players, between Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. And while none of them were All-Stars this past season, each plays a brand of basketball that's perfectly suited for the international game. They're versatile players capable of stepping out to the perimeter and knocking down open jumpers that help space the court.
Plus, the backcourt is pretty solid too.
Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, EuroLeague MVP Sergio Rodriguez, international legend Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon and Sergio Llull are all capable of making big contributions toward the Spanish cause.
Of course, the Spaniards find themselves in what has to be labeled the toughest group of all—Group A, which also features Brazil (No. 3 in these rankings), Serbia (No. 8), France (No. 10), Iran (No. 18) and Egypt (No. 22).
Yikes, that's a lot of talent.
Nonetheless, Spain could easily sweep through everyone and advance to the tournament finals without dropping a single game. There, they'd likely meet the No. 1 team in the rankings.
1. United States
Team USA has drawn plenty of headlines relating to the players who won't be suiting up for their country at the 2014 World Cup. Paul George suffered a brutal injury that knocked him out of the competition, while Kevin Durant was a late withdrawal. And that came after Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and others declined to participate.
Nonetheless, this roster is flat-out stacked.
The other 23 teams in the field have a combined zero All-Stars from the 2013-14 season. In fact, everyone else only boasts 38 current NBA players in total, and the United States has 12 by itself.
As for All-Stars, there are five on Team USA from the previous campaign—Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. But let's go deeper. Of the seven remaining players, how many are still All-Star-caliber talents?
Derrick Rose, with an MVP to his credit, certainly is, so long as he's fully healthy. DeMarcus Cousins was a notable snub this past season, due more to the strength of the Western Conference than his own play, and Andre Drummond is quickly gaining recognition as an elite talent. Klay Thompson could eventually enter the discussion, as could Kenneth Faried.
That leaves only Rudy Gay (a valuable player who probably won't make the midseason classic) and Mason Plumlee (a big body who isn't yet ready to be called a star of any kind).
Yes, Team USA feels depleted. Yes, it isn't as strong as it was during the 2012 Olympics. Yes, it's not guaranteed to win a gold medal.
However, it's still rather easily the most talented team in the field.