2019 FIBA World Cup Group E Preview
Enzo Flojo on Aug 29, 2019 10:02 AM
United States' Donovan Mitchell jumps up to dunk the ball against Canada during their exhibition basketball game in Sydney, Australia, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
With just two days to go before action tips off at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in eight different Chinese cities, it's time to look at each of the groups, gauge the teams' respective depths, and project how they will fare on the biggest stage of international basketball.
Here we will look at the showdown in Shanghai, where a relatively depleted Team USA may appear vulnerable, but the fact of the matter is the Americans are still the odds-on favorites overall. In their way at this stage will be an interesting trio of teams: Japan, Turkey, and Czech Republic.
Note: In each of these group previews, the teams will essentially be ranked based on their confirmed rosters/pools and their most recent tune-up game results.
Doomsday prophets got loud when Team USA was upset by Australia a few days ago, but the chances of lightning striking twice aren't high by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, there are no Hardens, Kawhis, PGs, or ADs for Team USA, but remember that this team still has All-NBA guard Kemba Walker and bona fide All-Stars in Khris Middleton (2019) and Brook Lopez (2013). Don't sleep on Spida Mitchell, too, along with Boston's Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And did you see the numbers Myles Turner put up in their latest tune-up win over Canada? Wow.
I mean, yes, sure, fine, this isn't the same kind of Team USA we've been spoiled to see, but to say they're not good enough to defend the World Cup? Rubbish. They're plenty good. You'll see.
I'm really going out on a limb here by picking Japan to advance while most will probably pick them to finish last. I'm really high on the Rui Hachimura-Yuta Watanabe duo, and I think Nick Fazekas is such a perfect complement to those two. Remember that Japan never used that trio of stars in the same game during the Asian Qualifiers, and I have no doubt they will be even more effective here at the World Cup.
Yes, their tune-up matches have been up-and-down with losses to Tunisia and Argentina alternating with emphatic wins over Germany and New Zealand (though they also lost to the Kiwis in their rematch), but this is going to be a really tough team when they're complete and healthy. I believe Hachimura is a once-in-a-generation type of player for Japan, and I cannot wait to see him carry the to the second round.
Dark Horse: Turkey
The 2010 World Cup second-placers have honestly been looking good of late, notching tune-up wins over Italy, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, although none of those were very convincing. What's convincing? Lopsided tune-up defeats to Serbia and Greece.
Don't get me wrong. This team is good. Cedi Osman will lead them along with Furkan Korkmaz, veteran big man Semih Erden, and the returning Ersan Ilyasova, but will they be good enough to upend Team USA? Nope. Will they find a way to neutralize the Hachimura-Watanabe-Fazekas trio? I say unlikely.
Underdog: Czech Republic
The Czechs are coming off two wins, though these were against relative "lightweights" South Korea and Angola. Before that, however, the Czechs were plastered by Hungary and Germany. This is such a tough team to place given their inconsistency, but if Tomas Satoransky becomes the scoring machine we all know he can be along with great production from the likes of Vojtech Hruban and Jaromir Bohacik, they may pull off a stunner or two.
Overall, Team USA is an easy choice to rule this group, though it won't get any easier afterwards. They stand to face Greece and anyone from Brazil, Montenegro, and New Zealand in the next round, with whoever joining the Americans likely to be underdogs in the second phase of the competition.