Thanks to NBC and the other fall-in-line media outlets, most Americans believe the Olympics is the premier international basketball event. Globally, nothing could be further from the truth.
With 24 teams and no automatic bid for the host, the World Cup is twice the size of the Olympics. It doesn’t share the spotlight with track or swimming. And most of the players will never play in the NBA, so this is the attainable pinnacle of their profession.
And last season, nearly 1 in 5 players in the NBA were born outside the United States. So, yeah, it’s not exactly the basketball turnip truck spending the next fortnight in Spain. The tournament features 75 current or former NBA players.
With that in mind, we bring you another edition of the Three-Man Weave, with burning questions about the World Cup.
1. Damian Lillard was reported to be on call for Team USA had Derrick Rose’s injury issues continued. Should Rose have made the final 12-man roster for Team USA?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER: Once Team USA decided to take 12 players overseas instead of 13, it would have been a huge deal to remove Rose and fly in Lillard in at the last second. If they had gone abroad with 13, USA Basketball could have finessed Rose’s exit. The proof will come over the course of the tournament, but right now Rose looks too rusty. Team USA has an 11 1/2-man roster.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: No. It has been obvious throughout training camp and exhibitions that Rose either is (a) not fully recovered from his ACL and MCL tears over the last two years or (b) fully recovered and now a shell of his former self. His breakneck speed and impossible body control now appear in short bursts and are not sustained. The truth is that right now, Lillard is the better player, with a Rookie of the Year, an All-Star berth and a cold-blooded nature.
COACH BOBBY GONZALEZ, COLUMNIST: Yes, because Rose gives this United States team great star power with his presence. Even if he is only able to contribute in spurts, Rose gives Team USA supreme athleticism and confidence. You can throw in some swagger, too, which any team can use, especially this team, which will be doing a lot by committee.
2. In a two-possession game with three minutes to go, who should get the ball for Team USA?
SHERIDAN: My first choice is James Harden, because he is good at getting to the line. But then I remind myself, “Harden isn’t getting any calls from FIBA refs in the final three minutes, nor is any other American.” So I am changing my choice to Stephen Curry, who get create his own shot as well as anyone on this team and also is Team USA’s best 3-point shooter.
BERNUCCA: Much has been made of Anthony Davis’ alpha dog status on this team, but an alpha dog demands the ball and scores late in games. I shudder thinking about Davis firing an 18-footer off the pick-and-pop or trying to back down a defender from the low post in a close game. Sheridan’s point about the silent whistle is well-taken, but I still will go with James Harden in a slight edge over Kyrie Irving, because I believe Harden is a more willing drive-and-kick player than Irving.
GONZALEZ: I will say James Harden, because he gets buckets like most people breathe. At the end of the day, his uncanny ability to make tough shots and get himself to the free throw line and create his own shot late in possessions. Harden gives the Americans their best chance in a must-score situation.
3. Which five players will make the 2014 World Cup All-Tournament Team?
SHERIDAN: This is the “Bo McCalebb Question.” Few remember that the American point guard playing for Macedonia made the All-Tournament Team at Istanbul four years ago. This tournament might have three players from the C-D side of the bracket, where competition is easier and a new Macedonia could emerge (Australia?). I’ll go with Australian guard Dante Exum, Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, Spanish center Marc Gasol, French forward Nicolas Batum and American forward Anthony Davis.
BERNUCCA: Just because Davis doesn’t get the ball at the end of a close game or two doesn’t mean he won’t own the tournament. His athleticism at both ends will allow him to dominate and make him a shoo-in for the All-Tournament Team. I agree with Sheridan’s theory, but my McCalebb is Finnish forward Petteri Koponen. They will be joined by Batum and guards Juan Carlos Navarro of Spain and Goran Dragic of Slovenia.
GONZALEZ: From Team USA, Davis and Harden, From Spain, Bulls forward-center Pau Gasol. From Lithuania, Valanciunas. And from Slovenia, Dragic.