The FIBA World Cup is over. Spain and Argentina surprised everyone by making it to the gold medal game while the two biggest favorites to win it all, the Gregg Popovich-led Team USA and Serbia, bowed out earlier than anticipated.
It was an unpredictable event that saw some of the best players in the world battle it out, including three Spurs. Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Derrick White had very different roles in their national teams but all three had good tournaments in their own way, which is encouraging as the NBA season approaches.
In this edition of PtR’s roundtable, contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, Jesus Gomez and Charlie O’Charles break down what happened in China this summer and what it means for the Spurs, if anything. Let us know what you think in the comments.
1 - Were you surprised by Team USA’s lackluster performance in the World Cup?
Bruno Passos: It was a little jarring when they lost (full disclosure: I didn’t watch a single game), but no one who looked at the roster they brought in should’ve expected them to dominate. Add in a few injuries, their relative inexperience and lack of familiarity and you had a Team USA that was ripe to get knocked off its perch.
Marilyn Dubinski: I wasn’t confident this was a team who could win gold from day one considering the squad they brought. I assumed they would at least play for a top 4 spot, so finishing 7th was a bit of a surprise, but not winning it all is no shocker. Full disclosure, I was more surprised by Serbia’s early exit than anything the U.S. did.
Mark Barrington: I was hoping they could medal, but they got a bad draw in the first round with the French, who they didn’t match up with well. The offense was stymied by Gobert in the paint, and they hadn’t been hitting outside shots at all in the tournament. The loss to Serbia was in a way even more disappointing, because they seemed to be hung over from the France loss. They at least played well against Poland, with a solid contribution from Derrick White. So, I’m disappointed, but not to an extent that I’ll think about it much next year when the US team is going for the gold in the Olympics.
Jesus Gomez: A little. The roster wasn’t great, but I still expected Team USA to at the very least make the finals. The fact that they finished seventh was definitely unexpected. Then again, the entire event was unpredictable. No one had Argentina and Spain playing for gold or Serbia out early.
Charlie O’Charles: It wasn’t particularly surprising that they lost to France or Serbia, both of which had the best player on the floor in those games, so I don’t know that I’d classify their performance as lackluster. It was certainly far below our lofty expectations, but this team was never going to be dominant with that roster. Besides, single elimination tournaments are always dicey and Team USA got a rough draw. It’s probably best that we all start getting used to this sort of outcome.
2 - Pop couldn’t get stars to commit to the national team. Does that worry you as a Spurs fan, or do you think he’ll be able to get/keep stars in San Antonio going forward?
Bruno: There have always been somewhat relevant concerns with getting stars to come to a market like San Antonio’s, but what happened this summer shouldn’t be a referendum on Pop’s appeal. Had the World Cup not been so close to the start of the regular season and a year before the Olympics, I’m sure we would have seen more big names commit.
Marilyn: I don’t believe the two are related whatsoever. I won’t rehash too much of what I have already said, but there were a lot of extenuating circumstances at play here, such as injuries to some of the Team USA mainstays and moving the World Cup not only to the summer before the Olympics, but also so close to the beginning of NBA training camp. That has no bearing on the Spurs’ ability to draw players to San Antonio, or at least no more so than the small market factor already plays. Fair or not to the players who played this summer, the stars will show up for the Olympics. (To wit: Steph Curry and Damian Lillard have already committed to playing in the Olympics next year.)
Mark: It’s a tough call getting superstar athletes to commit to playing a month in the summer just before the season begins, especially when there have been so many high profile injuries lately. I doubt any coach could have done any better with the FIBA roster than Pop and his assistants did. I think the Olympics, which are much higher profile and earlier in the summer, will have a much more committed and star-studded roster, but that’s not really about the coach, it’s more about the attractiveness of the event itself. I think whether or not Pop can keep stars in San Antonio isn’t really related to how well the national team did in recruiting. It’s just completely different. Pop is well-liked by players, but many superstars aren’t necessarily interested in playing for a small market team. I think that San Antonio will do fine with recruiting good players, but they just aren’t ever going to be the number one destination for the top superstars over big cities like New York and Los Angeles. But they will be a good destination for players who are interested in doing well in the playoffs and extending their careers by learning from the best coach in the business.
Jesus: It’s a little concerning that so many said no, because playing for Pop is supposed to be such a great opportunity, especially for young players. Maybe we are overestimating how much of a draw Pop is on his own, which could be problem since he’s supposed to be the main selling point of joining the Spurs right now. But I think we need to wait until the Olympics next year before drawing any definitive conclusions. Pop joined USA Basketball at a complex juncture in which FIBA made some huge changes to its calendar. He should be able to get everyone to suit up next summer and if he does, we’ll quickly forget about the World Cup absences.
Charlie: Using this as a referendum on Pop is telling on yourself. It’s a great opportunity to sharpen the knives and come after one of the greatest to ever do it if you’re willing to ignore the obvious scheduling, rest, and injury concerns that actually led to the team’s final roster. That said, I don’t think he’s enough of a draw to get/keep stars in San Antonio if the rest of the situation isn’t also to their liking. All other considerations equal, sure, Pop might put the Spurs ahead by a nose, but that’s probably not going to land the team a free agent superstar anytime soon.
3 - Derrick White averaged six points and two assists on 15 minutes a game in China. How do you rate his performance in the World Cup?
Bruno: It would’ve been encouraging to see better three-point numbers from him than 2 for 12, given it’s one of the concerns for this Spurs team going into next season, but overall he seemed to pass on the international stage. That’s something in itself for a guy no one really knew about a year ago.
Marilyn: I’d give him a B-. He wasn’t spectacular and appeared to suffer from a bit of stage fright at times (not that he was alone in that regard), but he still played to his strength of being a calming influence on the floor when he was needed. He was pretty much there as the 12th man, so not much was expected from him anyway, but it was still an excellent opportunity for him and should have a positive impact on his NBA season.
Mark: In a way, it’s almost unfair to judge him based on his performance in the tournament. It’s a very similar situation to the beginning of last year, where he was thrust into the role of starter because Dejounte Murray was injured. He rose to the occasion, even though he wasn’t perfect, especially at first. I think his experience at the tournament was invaluable for his growth as a player and as a person, and he definitely performed above expectations. But he probably shouldn’t have been there, as there were several players better and more experienced than he is at this point of his career that probably should have taken his place. I really like what he did, and I think the next time he’s on the national team, he will be a leader.
Jesus: I honestly don’t care about the numbers that much. The fact that he did so well in training camp and didn’t look out of place on a team with some All-Stars in it is all that matters to me. It was another step in the right direction for White, who’ll have a lot of eyes on him next season.
Charlie: I love watching Derrick play defense. His shooting numbers weren’t great and he had too many turnovers, but he was a monster on the other end. Also, had the team embraced Coach Pop’s motion offense with a little more enthusiasm, Derrick would’ve been much more valuable. He’s nowhere near as good a one-on-one player as the other guards on the team, which made him much less valuable as the offense continued to bog down due to poor execution (or none at all).
4 - Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills had strong showings in China. Should their FIBA performances matter when thinking about their potential roles with the Spurs next season?
Bruno: Both guys are veterans of the FIBA game and have earned senior, go-to roles on their respective teams, but it’s hard to see how that fits with a Spurs team that’s trying to rediscover its defensive edge — especially Marco. Australia using Patty as a gunner and less of a creator is something I think the Spurs have generally wanted to do but been able to at times due to circumstance, although I think we should see him reverting back to that role a bit more this season with DeRozan, White and Murray sharing creative duties.
Marilyn: Their roles with the Spurs should only be determined by if they are better off having them on the floor over the players behind them. A lot of foreign players are at their best with their national teams because they are the stars and focal points, but that doesn’t mean they’ll play the same role with their respective NBA teams. It would be nice if their FIBA performances acts as momentum and translates into strong NBA seasons, but they won’t be playing the same roles so that’s where the comparisons end.
Mark: I don’t see much of a role for Belinelli this year on the Spurs, but maybe he can be a more effective scorer off the bench than he was last year. The Australian team used Patty off the ball as a shooting guard on offense, and I think he’d be more effective in that role for the Spurs than how he was used last year, as a traditional point guard. With Murray back in the lineup, I could see that happening, and getting him a lot more open shots from behind the three-point line.
Jesus: It’s certainly encouraging that they did well with their national teams. Mills in particular showed that he can be an explosive scorer when he’s taking the right shots. I’m not sure anything they did over the summer will mean much once training camp starts, though. There’s a lot of depth at their positions and while Marco and Patty have the resume and experience to remain key rotation players, they’ll have to prove once again to be better options than the other guards in the roster if they want minutes.
Charlie: Marco and Patty benefit as much as anyone from FIBA’s more lax approach to officiating screens. Patty, especially, is nearly impossible to defend with Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes allowed to run block on and off the ball. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s no question the FIBA style of play is kind to both of them, so it’s unlikely either will be able to sustain that level of performance in San Antonio.
5 - Prediction time: Who’ll be the next Spur to suit up for Team USA?
Bruno: Assuming Steph Curry and Damian Lillard have set the tone for the NBA’s elite players to return to the fold for Tokyo in 2020, it’s not likely any Spur makes it next year. I’d say White has the inside track given his experience this summer and the fact that he’s shown the most out of any of the team’s current young guys, although I’m open to the idea that the next Spur to represent on Team USA is also not currently on the roster.
Marilyn: It depends. LaMarcus Aldridge and/or DeMar DeRozan could sneak their way onto the Olympic team next season. If not (and if it’s not White with the experience advantage), I can see Dejounte Murray making it eventually, perhaps the 2023 World Cup squad when the A-team again sits out to save their energy for the 2024 Olympics.
Mark: No surprises here, LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan are the best players on the Spurs roster, and the most likely players to make an Olympic roster in 2020. I think Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are both possibilities for the 2023 FIBA squad, depending on who else comes out to play. We haven’t seen it yet, but I still think that Lonnie Walker IV is going to have a breakout season this year, and will be in the running for the 2023/2024 squads.
Jesus: I’d probably go with White. DeRozan could become a free agent next summer and Aldridge will enter the last year of his contract, which is only partially guaranteed. I could definitely see both veterans sitting out the Olympics for those reasons. If White has the breakout season we are all hoping he’ll have, he could be a good option to provide depth at the two guard positions while also having experience with the coaching staff. I wouldn’t be shocked if no Spur made it to Japan, though.
Charlie: Team USA should give serious consideration to LaMarcus next year, if he’s interested. This year’s tournament would have turned out much different if he had been in China. He’s not a very high profile choice, though, so I doubt any Spur will make the Olympic squad next year. If any do, it’ll probably be Derrick thanks to his background with the team. A more likely eventuality, I suspect, is that one of the team’s young guards will make the team in 2023 for the next FIBA World Cup. Derrick probably still has the inside track, but there’s a very real possibility that Dejounte or Lonnie will have played their way into automatic invite status by that point.