FIBA World Cup: Winners and Losers
The FIBA World Cup is now in the books and, to no one’s surprise, Team USA won the gold medal and won it handily. The 33-point average margin of victory is the third highest recorded by the US since pros started taking part in these international competitions, trailing only 1992’s Dream Team (43.9) and 1994’s oft-forgotten Dream Team II (37.8).
The lack of intense competition at this year’s World Cup has left a stale taste in the mouths of many observers, but there were still plenty of interesting story lines that emerged regarding various NBA players that played in the tournament. At the very least, it gave us all something to talk about between NBA free agency and training camps.
Here’s a look at a few of the winners and losers from the last few weeks in Spain.
*Note: Each player’s “EFF” rating below refers to their per game “efficiency”, a stat used by FIBA to give an overall idea of how a player contributes in any given game or tournament. It’s an admittedly raw calculation, given that the various categories are not weighted in any way (which clearly favors big men who get more rebounds and miss fewer shots), but it is still a decent means of comparison. The formula is as follows:
(Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks - Missed Field Goals - Missed Free Throws - Turnovers) / Games Played
Andray Blatche (Philippines / Free Agent)
Blatche led the entire tournament in EFF on the strength of 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds per game (third and first respectively in those categories). He had a double-double in every single one of the Philippines' five games, in which they went 1-4 and were eliminated before the knockout round. Blatche's flashy numbers may have been accumulated playing for a team lacking NBA talent, but they were still impressive and made teams back home take notice.
If he can parlay his success at the World Cup into a decent NBA contract (the Heat are reportedly interested), then the trip will have been worth it for the 9-year NBA vet.
Pau Gasol (Spain / Chicago Bulls)
Spain may have suffered an earlier-than-expected ousting from the World Cup at the hands of second-place Serbia in the quarter finals, but Pau Gasol still looked every bit the international man of domination at age 34. His EFF mark was the second highest in the whole tournament and he got there by posting averages of 20.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game, while shooting 63.5% from the floor and 78.4% from the line.
There have been questions about just how much of an impact Gasol will have on the Chicago Bulls after signing with them prior to his 14th season in the league, but this tournament seemed to indicate that the seasoned Spaniard's still got something left in the tank.
Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania / Toronto Raptors)
JV may be entering his third season in the NBA after being drafted fifth overall in 2011, but he's still only 22 years old with lots of room to grow. He had a great World Cup, posting the fifth best EFF of any player in the tournament with averages of 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.0 block per game to go with 69.6% shooting from the field and 81.0% from the charity stripe.
He led Lithuania to a fourth place finish (just two points shy of a bronze medal) and went toe to toe with USA's bigs in the semi-finals, posting 15 points and 7 rebounds. If the Toronto Raptors start rolling with Valanciunas as a more focal point of their offence next season, the Lithuanian big man could be in for a breakout.
Gorgui Dieng (Senegal / Minnesota Timberwolves)
Dieng made people notice him late last season when Nikola Pekovic missed several pockets of games due to injury. He looked so good in his 15 starts (12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game) that he was awarded All-Rookie Second Team honors and made people question if the Wolves even needed to keep Pekovic around for the rebuild with Dieng behind him on the depth chart.
Dieng only further cemented his rise by having a great World Cup, finishing sixth in EFF with averages of 16.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks per contest. Senegal didn't stand out much in the tournament, but Dieng sure did.
Kenneth Faried (USA / Denver Nuggets)
It's hard to talk about the individual winners of the World Cup and not have at least one representative from the gold-medal-winning Team USA, even though their attack was more of a balanced team effort than based on the strength of one player. Anthony Davis played like the beast we all expected him to be and Kyrie Irving won the tournament MVP, but Faried gets a nod for being the most unexpected difference maker on the squad.
Faried was far from a sure thing to make the roster during camp, but he not only made the team, he started at power forward for the whole tournament. He finished with the eleventh highest EFF at the World Cup (and the highest on Team USA) on the strength of 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, to go with 63.7% shooting from the field. Of every player that attended the World Cup from Team USA, Faried could have the best chance of parlaying his summer success into a breakout season in the NBA.
Mason Plumlee (USA / Brooklyn Nets)
During Team USA tryouts, there was a lot of controversy about the idea of Plumlee making the squad over DeMarcus Cousins (among other bigs in the player pool). Plumlee ultimately made the team, supposedly on the merits of his ability to play a limited role and do the intangibles that most stars aren't usually willing to do. Regardless of how it was justified, there are very few people that believe his inclusion was for any reason other than the Duke connection with Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Now that the tournament is over and Plumlee finished as the worst NBA participant not named Victor Claver in terms of EFF, one can't help but wonder what the point of all the hullabaloo was. Was bringing along Plumlee, who was somehow a -11 in terms of plus-minus on a team that outscored everyone by a combined 297 points in the tournament, worth cutting potential cogs of future versions of the team like John Wall, Damian Lillard, or Paul Millsap?
Dante Exum (Australia / Utah Jazz)
Dante Exum, the fifth overall pick by the Utah Jazz in the 2014 NBA Draft, has not had a very promising summer. After struggling at Summer League, Exum put up a dud of a World Cup, finishing with the 196th EFF mark out of 244 participants. In six games, Exum averaged a mere 2.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game, while shooting an abysmal 33.3% from the floor and 20.0% from long range.
There's been a lot of mystery surrounding Exum and his transition from being a relative unknown to a lottery pick in the NBA. Unfortunately for him and the Jazz, the solving of said mystery is suggesting that he may have a long way to go before becoming an impact player at the professional level.
Derrick Rose (USA / Chicago Bulls)
One of the main reasons that a lot of people tuned into the FIBA World Cup was to gain insight into how Derrick Rose's latest recovery efforts were going. The unfortunate answer? Not very well.
Rose looked rusty in this tournament, much like he did at the beginning of the 2013-14 season before going out with yet another leg injury. He finished with averages of 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 0.9 steals in 17.0 minutes per game, but the most alarming part of his stat line was the 25.4% shooting from the field and 5.3% from long range (hitting his very first attempt from deep and missing the next 18).
Basketball fans will have to remain optimistic about Rose's return to the NBA this season (albeit cautiously so), but it'll be a hard sell after seeing him struggle so mightily at the World Cup.