You probably know that the 2014 FIBA World Cup kicks off tomorrow, Sat. Aug. 30.
24 teams from around the world will play in four groups of 6 teams to determine seeding for the tournament. Each team will play 5 games in that preliminary round, before the top 16 teams are seeded for the tournament.
There are a few Blazers in the mix, so let’s go over each player, their country’s team, and that team’s chance of advancing, starting with the could-have-beens:
Damian Lillard – United States (ALMOST)
There are a lot of people, myself included, scratching their heads that Mason Plumlee, a rookie who played less than 20 minutes a game, would get the nod over Lillard… but Team USA, without Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, and a host of others, needed size. Lillard being cut isn’t too surprising, and he’s handled it with his usual cool grace, which maybe played a part in his being the favorite to rejoin Team USA should they need him. Should he find his way back on the roster, don’t expect big minutes: Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving have garnered much praise and playing time from Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Team USA’s schedule in the preliminary round isn’t super scary, and they should get a decent seeding for the tournament unless the wheels really fall off.
United States Schedule:
- Aug. 30: USA plays Finland
- Aug. 31: USA plays Turkey
- Sept. 2: USA plays New Zealand
- Sept. 3: USA plays Dominican Republic
- Sept. 4: USA plays Ukraine
Joel Freeland – Great Britain (NOT PLAYING, NOT IN FIBA)
Joel “took one for the team” when he decided he would skip international play this year, and instead focus his offseason efforts on getting better for Portland. Great Britain did not qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but played qualifiers for Eurobasket competition (an effort that fell short with their loss to Bosnia and Hercegovina on Aug. 25).
Despite only having played 2 years in the league, Joel’s no spring chicken: he turned 27 back in February. Whether his motivation to skip international play was purely to help the Blazers, or whether it was to give his body a rest doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s better next year, and based on how much he improved last offseason, it would be folly to think he doesn’t care about improving.
Nicolas Batum – France
With Tony Parker out, you could argue that Batum is France’s bets player. Rudy Gobert came along a little near the end of the season and Boris Diaw can be effective at times, but Batum will need to do the heavy lifting for France to succeed. France is in Group A with Spain for their first five games, but only needs to avoid being among the bottom 2 teams in their 6-team group to move on to the tournament.
While Spain is the big threat, Brazil has a decent team that includes Leandro Barbosa, Tiago Splitter, and Nene, but France should still expect to be in the top 2 or 3 after their first five games, and thus make their way to the tournament.
- Aug. 30: France plays Brazil
- Aug. 31: France plays Serbia
- Sept. 1: France plays Egypt
- Sept. 3: France plays Spain
- Sept. 4: France plays Iran
Victor Claver – Spain
Cue ominous music. With the USA playing with slightly less than a full deck, Spain is this year’s FIBA favorite. Sporting twin towers Pau and Marc Gasol (which legend has it may have scared Team USA into picking Plumlee over Lillard), along with Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, and of course Victor Claver.
As mentioned earlier, Spain gets to contend with France in their bracket, but shouldn’t have any trouble grabbing one of their group’s top seeds.
- Aug. 30: Spain plays Iran
- Aug. 31: Spain plays Egypt
- Sept. 1: Spain plays Brazil
- Sept. 3: Spain plays France
- Sept. 4: Spain plays Serbia
If you’re a Trail Blazers fan, the players to watch in this year’s World Cup will be Nicolas Batum and Victor Claver. Both will see heavy minutes on a highly competitive team. Their performances in the tournament could demonstrate their strengths, weaknesses, and improvements heading into the 2014-15 NBA season.