FIBA writers make their picks: Will USA retain their crown; will Giannis win MVP?

BEIJING (China) – Keeping up the usual practice before a big event, we have gathered our writers who will be on site to give you all the news from China. Time for them to be in the role of interviewee for once.

Enzo Flojo, Julio Chitunda, Jeff Taylor, Igor Curkovic and David Hein are our international starting five for this piece. Enzo knows all about FIBA Asia events, Julio is here to make sure you don’t miss a thing about the African teams, Jeff is the voice of for basketball all around the world, Igor is giving you a taste of Europe, and David is a veteran of FIBA events, straight out of USA.

Here is how they answered our hot topics ahead of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.

In the words of Jason Derulo and the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 anthem, there can only one champion. Who is your pick to lift the trophy in Beijing on September 15 when all is said and done?

Enzo: Much has been said, written and tweeted about all the big names pulling out of Team USA’s progressively depleted talent pool, but remember that they still have an All-NBA Third Team member in Kemba Walker, along with NBA All-Stars Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, and elite guard Donovan Mitchell. That’s arguably still more talent than any other team out there, so I still think the road to the World Cup trophy will go through the Americas.

Julio:  I like what I have seen from Serbia in recent years, I really do, and I have to admit that I am a huge fan. World Cup finalists in 2014; runners-up in Rio 2016. I believe that the third time has to be their turn.

Jeff: I like Australia. I think they have the talent and there is no intimidation against the USA in a potential matchup with them. There is the nagging memory of Australia’s inexplicable demolition by Serbia in Rio, but the second time around will be different if those teams meet. Australia’s players are veterans in these big international tournaments and their coaching staff is as well. For those who judge teams on the number of NBA players on a roster, they tick that box as well. And crucially, Australia have a handful of players that have won an NBA title. If Australia do win it, they will have earned it by coming out of the group of death. 

Igor: Still feels like USA are winning this. I know, I know, Serbia are the ones with the momentum right now, but a lot can happen over the next 20 days. And when you spend those 20 with Coach Gregg Popovich and his coaching staff – which is probably the most impressive staff assembled in an event like this – you learn. You rise. You win.

David: Spain are on a mission to finally get their hands on the trophy again after they thought they had a great shot at it five years ago at home and with a USA team missing many of their superstars – only to get tripped up by France in the Quarter-Finals. The Spanish are loaded with the likes of Marc Gasol, Sergio Llull and Ricky Rubio but Sergio Scariolo also knows he can trust some of the top players from the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers such as Quim Colom. Espana will not be denied – especially with a USA side that is again weakened with absences. It’s also very tempting to pick Serbia, but let’s go with Spain.

There must also be a team that you fancy to turn a few heads in China but maybe not go all the way. Who is your under-the-radar sleeper pick, who could surprise a few people?

Enzo: I like Nigeria, their off-court challenges notwithstanding. I like their size and talent pool, though I’m not sure those will be enough to carry them past a loaded Group B that has both Argentina and Russia expected to roll. Still, they shouldn’t overlook Al-Farouq Aminu and his boys, who have the potential to spring an upset or two and really throw a wrench into everyone’s predictions.

Julio: For everything that they have done in recent years, and considering that some of their key players might retire from the national after the World Cup, the team I am most looking forward to watching is Nigeria. It’s nothing to do with my background. It’s just the fact that they have assembled one of – if not – the most talented group of Nigerian players since the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Hopefully they have moved on from the logistic troubles that they faced in the last part of their preparations in Lagos. They brought in bigs, they have terrific shooters, and good playmakers – all of high-quality. I just hope they stay humble, hungry, and more importantly, they stay together and try to make history by becoming the first African team to reach the Quarter-Finals…and maybe go beyond that!

Jeff: There is no question that this is Nigeria for me, although they have a very tough group to survive in the First Round. I have a lot of images of Joshua Okogie flying through the air and dunking in this World Cup. There is a good mix of veterans and newcomers. 

Igor: I will be in Wuhan for the First Round, so picking anybody other than Nigeria would just be foolish of me.

David: Everyone will pick Nigeria I assume, but Poland actually have a decent set-up to maybe even reach the Quarter-Finals with a great coach in Mike Taylor and a solid core of scorer Adam Waczynski and strong guards A.J. Slaughter and Kamil Laczynski. It would not be a shock if they grab the top spot in Group A and then they would face a tough battle in the Second Round with two of Argentina, Korea, Nigeria and Russia coming over. But the Polish could carry over their momentum and reach the final eight in their first appearance on the world stage in 52 years.

There are still a lot of games to be played – 92, to be exact – but who is your early-tournament favorite to take home the TISSOT Most Valuable Player award?

Enzo: I feel like this is going to be a very special tournament for Kemba Walker. He will certainly be Team USA’s most potent weapon in the tournament, and I don’t really see anyone stopping him one-on-one. I love the strong showings of reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and ‘The Joker’ Nikola Jokic so far, but I believe Kemba will be the best player on the best team, so he’s my very early TISSOT MVP pick.

JulioThere are so many talented players in this World Cup, that it becomes a hell of a task to try and pick one MVP favorite. But because I have got my money on Serbia, I will pick Nikola Jokic, a mobile big-man capable of passing the ball like no other, let alone his shooting – sometimes awkward – and efficiency.

Jeff: I will go with Pat Mills. When push comes to shove, he’s the player that will have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He’s a scorer and a proven winner.

Igor: Giannis Antetokounmpo. I don’t think I need to further expand on this subject, do I? Only way I don’t see Giannis winning this award is if Greece get knocked out early. If that happens, I’m coming back to this experts piece, re-editing this answer, and switching it to Bogdan Bogdanovic.

David: Since Spain is the pick to hoist the trophy on September 15, a Spaniard is most likely the man to collect the TISSOT Most Valuable Player. And Marc Gasol has such a fantastic game and he will anchor the Iberians in so many ways that he becomes the second Gasol brother to win the MVP after Pau did it in 2006.

As everyone in the world loves the Greek Freak, which non-Giannis named player are you most excited to see at the World Cup?

Enzo: It’s gotta be Rui Hachimura, who, to me at least, is Japan’s version of the Greek Freak. Yes, Rui isn’t as tall, long, or athletic as Giannis, but the former can make the same seismic impact on Japanese hoops that Giannis has had on Greek basketball. I think as good as Rui has been at the youth level and in the Asian Qualifiers, we’ve still yet to see his very best, and well, I think we’ll get a glimpse of it at the World Cup.

JulioI like Jordan Nwora and Bruno Caboclo a lot, but Jayson Tatum sits right at the top of my MUST-WATCH players. The kid is a real star in the making. Fingers crossed he stays healthy throughout this World Cup and the rest of the next NBA season.

Jeff: The prospect of seeing Okogie is exciting. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. If you don’t know much about him, just google him and you’ll understand how spectacular this player is.

Igor: I’m at a stage of my basketball watching life where I enjoy the play of guys who are past their athletic prime, but remain at elite level with their off-the-chart basketball IQ. That’s why I love guys like Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol, Luis Scola, Marcelinho Huertas, Ioannis Bourousis – wait, does he count as a “non-Giannis named guy” here? Stay strong, 1980s guys. Stay strong!

David: There will certainly be a lot of guys that will be great to see on the world’s biggest stage, but let’s pick Nikola Jokic. The way he plays is so much fun – a big man who can handle the ball and do so many things with it. If Serbia do win the cup, it would probably be Jokic who takes home the TISSOT Most Valuable Player award. The last time the international fans saw him was at the 2016 Olympics as he did not play at the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 or in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers. He will show why we on the international landscape have missed him so much.



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