The FIBA World Cup of Basketball is THE international competition that determines the best basketball country in the world every four years and no surprise but the USA won this one big time. Team USA has now become the only country to win four straight worldwide international basketball events - the 2010 and 2014 World Cup, and 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
For most countries, the World Cup is bigger than the Olympics. You might not know it from this year's competition as Team USA dominated every game despite not even sending their best players, but most countries look to the World Cup as their holy grail for international basketball dominance.
Countries like France, Spain, Lithuania, Serbia, Brazil and Mexico fight to qualify for the World Cup in their regional competitions (Eurobasket, FIBA Americas Cup, etc.) the year prior, hoping to score a good result in the WC against their international brethren.
This year was a bit of a dud though. Spain and France's stars - studded with more than half dozen current and former NBA players each - flamed out prior to the Finals while Team USA ran roughshod over everyone. France was missing Tony Parker and Joakim Noah, but relied on heavy doses of Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum among others. Spain was anchored by the Gasol brothers. Brazil had the big men Anderson Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter (as well as meep-meep Leandro Barbosa).
In the end, the Team USA "mostly under 23" squad took the gold behind stellar performances from WC MVP Kyrie Irving and "The Manimal" Kenneth Faried.
But two players tied to the Phoenix Suns did very well for themselves this year. Let's get some first-hand input from our international BSotS correspondents, kajkejti and Jogi.
The Goran Dragic Report
Starting off, we thought there wouldn't be one. With his season exhaustion and ankle issues Slovenia basketball fans were holding their breath for a while there. When Goran Dragić left Phoenix in April everyone, including the Dragon himself, was under the impression he'd skip this World Cup. Circumstances changed, his ankle was healing nicely, he got some rest and was already itching to get back out there after a month away. When the added bonus of spending more time with his family while playing for Slovenia came into play, the decision was made and Slovenia was happy. And to keep the Suns from worrying too much he managed to get everyone to agree on a plan they were comfortable with.
After 4 months away he started his first game back a little nervously; forcing some shots, trying to get some feel for the game and his teammates. The pre-World Cup warm-up games were exactly that for the Dragon - warm-ups. He even said it himself, he was not going full force, wary of unnecessary injuries. In the 5 preparation games he played he averaged 13.2 points (24/45 2PT, 4/23 3PT, 6/9 FT), 4.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 turnovers and had a total of 3 steals and 2 blocks. Not a brilliant stat line but not an awful one either (except the dreadful 3) considering it was done in 26 minutes average playing time. Before leaving for Spain Goran was not particularly optimistic about how far the team would go. Given the enormous pressure and expectations the whole of Slovenia had for him, he was trying to be realistic, afraid to lift our spirits too high, only to be crushed shortly after. Should have trusted himself and the team more (which he has since admitted).
When Slovenia played their first World Cup game Gogi went into Dragon mode immediately and managed to infect players around him as well. In the first 4 games of the tournament his efficiency was insane: playing approximately 23 minutes per game, his stats jumped to 18.8 PPG on 69% shooting (59% from 3) while still dishing out 4 assists. For the opponents it was the Goran Dragić show every night. He was the focal point for every defence and was harassed on every possession, which contributed to his tournament turnover average of 3.6 per game.
He finally cooled down in the 5th game against Lithuania. Playing 33 minutes and going 5/14 for 12 points, missing all of his threes. It is impossible to blame him for the loss, but this (collective) freezing cold strike came at the worst possible moment for Team Slovenia. By losing to Lithuania they felt like they were already out of the tournament and the only things keeping them going against the Dominican Republic were pride and the fans. Gogi's 3 point shot would not return for the rest of the tournament.
Of course we all know what happened when Goran played team USA. Again guarded like the secret Coca-Cola recipe, he managed to get 13 points on uncharacteristically low 40% shooting, making only 1 of his 5 tries on 3. Slovenia finished 7th in the tournament and ultra competitive Gogi was again left with the bitter taste of getting eliminated early by a title contender/recipient.
Individually, Goran Dragić had an excellent performance in the FIBA World Cup. In the 7 games Slovenia played his averages (per game) read 16 PT (55.4%), 4.3 AS, 2.9 REB, 1 ST. This stat line is very similar to the one he had last year at Eurobasket2013 where he played an average 2 minutes per game less than in the WC (26min). Keep in mind the pace of the game for Slovenia has slowed down considerably under Jure Zdvoc's coaching, going mostly for longer attacks. Had they kept the same system I believe these numbers would be higher. What I mostly wanted to point out is the FG% improvement: a measly 39.4 percent compared to the shining 55.4 from this year. He finished at number 8 in FG% among all players in the tournament (2nd if you count only guards), he was 11th in points per game (3rd among guards), 3rd in 2ptFG% (1st among guards) while also being 8th in assists.
During this World Cup run Dragić has established himself as the team's leader and captain. Improving most of what he promised to improve despite being pressured from all sides. He was way more vocal on court (and of court) about what needs to be done to play the right way. Directing players into positions and making sure the team was focused when on court. He incorporated a nice looking floater into his game and I fully expect it to become another of his scoring weapons when with the Suns. He also seemed to learn some new assist tricks or was at least trying them out. Some looked outright dazzling and were sometimes just badly handled by teammates. The only black dot (though it's more grey) in Goran's WC game were the free throws. His 60 percent is surely something he is dissatisfied with and will probably be the first thing he fixes when the NBA season starts.
All in all Goran Dragić had a great summer with the National Team; raising his game a bit more, getting some playing time with his brother and as always leaving it all out there for the fans who are just proud to have him represent Slovenia. He will return to Phoenix more dragony than ever.
The Bogdan Bogdanovic Report
--by Javier Pastore
"A STORM IS COMING..."
PREVIOUS INTERNATIONAL PLAY
Before the 2014 FIBA World Cup BB Gun had played one international senior event - 2013 EuroBasket - where Serbia ended at the seventh spot behind France, Lithuania, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine.
His averages through 11 games: 9.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 2 APG
2014 FIBA WC
As the competition was getting started, Bogdan was expected to be among the leaders for team Serbia along with Teodosic, Raduljica and Bjelica and he did just that... and sometimes even more!
There were two phases for him in the tournament - both literally and figuratively. He was the starting shooting-guard in the preliminary round (first five games against - successively - Egypt, France, Iran, Brazil and Spain) before moving to a sixth-man role in the elimination round (next four games against Greece, Brazil, France and finally USA in the finals).
In the former phase he played a mixed bag of teams. He did fine in limited time against much lower opponents (Egypt, Iran) and mostly contributed as a facilitator in those two games. He's been a bit more inconsistent against stronger competition though (Spain, Brazil and France).
He did shoot with above-average efficiency overall (2's and 3's) and wasn't turnover prone at all but he didn't assert himself enough to be a dangerous weapon from game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter and was a bit inconsistent. For instance he had a GREAT first couple of minutes of the game against France in the qualification round with 8 points and 1 assist in less than 2'30'' to start the game but only scored 4 points and 1 other assist the rest of the way!! Proof of his inconsistent play early on was the fact he was often alternating games with either 0 FT attempt or 4 tries! He did play well as a facilitator on offense though and played some good D too!
However, he was consistent on defence as he showed hustle, good rotation/positioning, some defensive rebounds here and there. On offense I saw him play his "facilitator role" pretty darn well. He provided Raduljica and Krstic (Serbia's centers) with really good balls inside for them to post-up and score. Defensive assignments couldn't leave him open to double-team and it clearly provided spacing for them to go to work.
Shooting-wise he sometimes had a tendency to take (and often miss) "hero shots" in the fourth quarter while defences keyed on him. That was one of the main reason he had 4 games with 8 points or less.
Before the game against Greece in the "Sweet-16", Djordjevic (Serbia's head-coach) decided to bring BB Gun off-the-bench probably to lessen the pressure on such a young man (in comparison to his more experienced teammates) and be able to provide an offensive spark along the bench unit as a "Ginobili-type" sixth-man. And it worked pretty well!!!
Bogdanovic and Serbia literally crushed Greece and then Brazil - one of the favorites to win a medal - to advance to the Semis and play the other "feel-good story" and underdog of the tournament: France! But that's for the next paragraph :)
In these two games, BB Gun had himself two really good games doing the right play on numerous occasions, both offensively and defensively. He was efficient, very unselfish and showed great motor!
In the semis, France came up a bit sloppy in the first half, maybe a consequence of the excessive emotion that followed their own upset of Spain in the quarterfinals 2 days before that. Anyway, Teodosic went supernova in the first half of that game and France didn't ajusted to him before the second half, when the latter made a FURIOUS rally behind 35 points from Batum (20 in the fourth).
But it was Bogdanovic who threw the daggers (a bit schizophrenic situation for me as both a French citizen and a Suns fan lol) late in the game! He was all over the floor! Difficult shots (2's and 3's), great court vision/passes inside etc...
Serbia eventually won the game mostly behind the strong early play of Teodosic and late play of Bogdan "leading the horde".
The game against the USA was a slaughter, as expected. Bogdan was doing quite well before coach K put Klay on him. BB Gun started to sink like the rest of the Serbian team and couldn't make much of his long-distance contested shots (he was 1/9 from 3 in the game!)
If it was not for this awful 1-of-9 BB Gun would have boasted a TS% superior to 60% on a high volume of threes (more than 1.5 makes per game in less than 27 min).
He rebounded some (2.5 rbds/gm), assisted some, facilitated and defended well thanks to his hustle, relative quickness and huge wingspan (think D-Wade-wingspan here, and standing at 6'6 to boot). Overall Bogdan didn't disappoint at all and has given proof he can be considered one of the finest prospects of his generation.
SOME (SUNS) PERSPECTIVE
As I already said in one of the threads BB Gun is gonna be at least a good rotational player for us in a couple of years (hopefully if the Suns keep his rights until then). But in my humble opinion (very humble I'm no prophet at all lol) he has star-potential.
He can do it all! He is still young thus has room for improvement and shows the right demeanor on and off-the-court. What is it not to like? The way he played with Raduljica I'm EAGER to see what he can possibly do with Len, Plumlee and/or Keef, especially Sir Lencelot. I imagine BB Gun's ceiling as being somewhere between our own Dragon and Kyle Korver. What'd be his floor in the NBA? I'd say a nice spot-up shooter off-the-bench. Whatever happens in the next two years I think this guy DEFINITELY has (and à fortiori will have) the required abilities and mental toughness to play with the big boys...
To sump his game, I'd say each time I watch him upcourt I have the same feeling:
- If he has a clear shot he'll take it! Even from 30'!!
- If not, he has a gnack for reading the defence and either slash to the rim, play the P&R or settle nicely a teammate for a post-up.
He showed he knows how to work with a low-post presence and his bball IQ seems to be pretty high! He has the physical tools to succeed but still in fact lacks... physicality! He needs to bulk up (especially the upper body) and strengthen his game a little bit or he'll get killed by the Wes, LeBrons and Kawhis of the league. He's measured at 6'6 an d 205 lbs. If he can add 10 or 15 lbs to that frame within the next couple of years he should be fine...
BB GUN IS GONNA BE A HELL OF A PLAYER FOR US!
ENJOY SUNS FANS THE STORM IS COMING!!! :)
(PS : Besides, guys, there's something else also...
I think this guy is going to beat Wes for MVS! (Most Valuable Smile))
The World Cup was also dominated by former Suns (Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Viacheslav Kravtsov to name a few) as well as a hopeful soon-to-be Sun Zoran Dragic.
Feel free to use the comments section to discuss the two players currently under the Phoenix Suns umbrella as well as any of the former or potential Suns you might have seen.