Biggest Storylines Entering the 2014 FIBA World Cup
The 2014 FIBA World Cup is upon us, and this year's tournament could be as competitive as we've ever seen. With the rest of the world seemingly improving their talent and depth, and with Team USA looking a bit vulnerable after departures and injuries, this year's World Cup should make for some high drama.
Of course, not everything centers around Team USA, even if it's still the heavy favorite. Veterans of this setting and Olympic play might be on their last legs, so in a sense, this could be a farewell tour for some of the names the world has come to know.
The good news is that there are exciting young basketball players to replace the old guard in just about every country. Every team seems to have at least one legitimate NBA player or potential prospect, and international play can sometimes be a whole different ballgame.
Let's take a look at the five biggest storylines entering the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Recovering from Losses
The biggest story heading into the World Cup, at least from Team USA's perspective, is how well it'll deal with the losses it has suffered.
Here's Marc Stein at ESPN.com with more on Durant:
Durant was Team's USA most fearsome matchup nightmare. Among this assemblage of the internationally untested, Durant was the squad's most vocal behind-the-scenes leader, too. He was going to be the ultimate X factor in Coach K's playbook to offset the absence or loss of any other Team USAer, because no team in the world -- not even big, bad, bulky Spain on Spanish soil -- has a counter for KD when he's in full flow.
Everyone will be watching to see who picks up the slack on the wing with the absence of George and Durant. Even though it may not come to this, it's always interesting to guess who might get the last shot in a tight game as well.
With the pecking order thrown out of whack a bit, seeing how Team USA adjusts should be very interesting.
NBA Players Everywhere
This year's FIBA World Cup features a whopping 50 NBA players representing 18 teams, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com:
With the four free agents and 46 guys under contract, there will be a total of 50 current NBA players, representing 23 different teams and 18 different countries, at the World Cup, unless there’s an unexpected roster change in the next four days. And there will be more in Group A, representing Brazil (4), France (5), Serbia (1) and Spain (6), than in the USA’s Group C (12 from the U.S. and one each from the Dominican Republic, Finland and Turkey).
There are also more than 20 former NBA players on World Cup rosters, including international legend Juan Carlos Navarro (Spain), familiar guys like Carlos Arroyo (Puerto Rico), Rudy Fernandez (Spain), Nenad Krstic (Serbia) and Andres Nocioni (Argentina), and more obscure names (for NBA fans, at least) like David Andersen (Australia), Walter Herrmann (Argentina), Nathan Jawai (Australia) and Damir Markota (Croatia).
With so many current and former NBA players in this year's World Cup, there are countless storylines to get from each game. You'll have teammates playing against one another, rivals battling in a different setting and plenty more.
Aside from the U.S., who are the teams to watch with the most NBA players? Spain has six, France has five, and Brazil and Australia are tied with four.
As we mentioned earlier, a lot of names we've grown familiar with over the years are starting to get up there in age. This past decade featured some of the best international hoops as the sport has taken off all over the world, so really, this could be considered the first group of foreign basketball "stars" in the Internet and TV age to take their victory laps.
Teams like Argentina and Greece are particularly loaded with these types of players, as the "Golden Generation" is starting to age and make room for a younger crop of stars.
Here's more from CanisHoopus on Argentina:
Argentina's golden generation is aging but should have a little fuel left in the tank. Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Walter Herrmann and Pablo Prigioni have their best days behind them but Argentina was able to integrate a number of youngsters. The four veterans who are all either 34 or older are contrasted by five players younger than 24.
Will there be a passing of a torch at the World Cup from older, more revered names to the young up-and-comers? It's just another thing to watch for.
Young Crop of International Stars
The NBA has certainly felt the impact of international players coming over and making a huge difference. Just look at the San Antonio Spurs. Without Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil) and Boris Diaw (France), where are they?
Tracking those players in international competition has always been fun, but now it's time to watch a new cast of talent who should have a massive impact both in the NBA and when representing their countries.
Some of the biggest young talents to watch include Ricky Rubio (Spain), Serge Ibaka (Spain), Jonas Valnciunas (Lithuania) and Dante Exum (Australia). These are guys who should be important players in the league for many, many years.
Watching how they grow in role and importance for their international teams is always interesting. Rubio, for example, always took a backseat to Jose Calderon in events like this. Will that still be the case? Will Valanciunas break out? Is Exum the future of an incredibly young, exciting Australia team?
The World Cup is great for basketball-starved fans, but it's also always a fun venue to watch some of the league's brightest talents develop and interact with different players.
A Looming Showdown
Finally, here's the biggest reason to watch. Spain and the USA have had their battles on the hardwood in the past, and it has made for some beautiful summer hoops. This year should be no different.
Although they are on opposite ends of the bracket, it seems like everyone is counting down the days and games until Spain and the USA lock horns.
"I'm not going to compare. I haven't seen Spain play," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "If we play Spain, it's a long way away. So I'm just concentrating on U.S. and trying to get better."
Coach K may be playing it cool, but you better believe Team USA is preparing for a team that features a monster frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka, supplemented by a dangerous backcourt of Juan Jose Navarro, Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon among others. This is a deep team that could really push the Americans to the limit.
First, both teams will have to survive and advance, but it would be a shame if we didn't see these two basketball superpowers meet up once again in the FIBA World Cup.