After a long hiatus from competitive basketball, one of the most interesting international tournaments will take place at the end of August and through the middle of September, the FIBA World Cup.
While it isn’t entirely Nuggets basketball, Nuggets fans can be excited to watch the World Cup. International competitions like these occur once a year, and the FIBA World Cup was last played in 2014. The United States won the Gold Medal against Serbia in a blowout, with point guard Kyrie Irving winning tournament MVP after a strong gold medal game performance and then Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried making the All-Tournament Team.
This year, the Nuggets will have significant representation at the event, headlined by Serbian superstar Nikola Jokic. In all, three Nuggets players will compete this year and represent their home countries, Jokic for Team Serbia, Juancho Hernangomez for Team Spain, and Mason Plumlee for Team USA.
Here’s the breakdown of when and how the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be played along with previews for each participating Nuggets player:
The tournament will take place from Saturday, August 31st to Sunday, September 15th. 32 teams have qualified and have been separated into eight groups, and a preliminary round of will take place during the first week of competitions to yield a group of the top 16 teams. During the next week, the top 16 teams form four new groups and undergo a similar process in order to narrow the field to eight teams. During the final phase, the eight teams play a single elimination bracket from Tuesday, September 10th to Sunday, September 15th at 20:00 +8 Greenwich Mean Time (which converts to 6:00 am MDT, prime viewing hours for the gold medal game). To read all about it, click here to be redirected to the FIBA World Cup website.
First Round game dates: August 31st to September 5th
Second Round game dates: September 6th to September 9th
Final Round game dates: September 10th to September 15th
With that in mind, here’s when Team USA, Spain, and Serbia will each be playing their sets of first round games:
Team USA (Group E) preliminary schedule:
- USA vs Czech Republic - September 1st at 6:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
- USA vs Turkey - September 3rd at 6:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
- USA vs Japan - September 5th at 6:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
Team Spain (Group C) preliminary schedule
- Spain vs Tunisia - August 31st at 6:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
- Spain vs Puerto Rico - September 2nd at 6:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
- Spain vs Iran - September 4th at 6:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
Team Serbia (Group D) preliminary schedule
- Serbia vs Angola - August 31st at 1:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
- Serbia vs Philippines - September 2nd at 5:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
- Serbia vs Italy - September 4th at 5:30 am MDT (Watch on ESPN+)
Team USA and Mason Plumlee
The big story for Team USA this year is the number of high caliber players to walk away from international competition in favor of preparing for the upcoming NBA season. Starting with James Harden and Anthony Davis and even factoring in rookies like Mavin Bagley III and Landry Shamet, Team USA is as far from full strength as they possibly can be. It hurt them in their scrimmage against Team Australia a few days ago, in the first Team USA loss in any competition since 2006.
One of Team USA’s biggest holes on their roster is playmaking for others. There are a number of solid scorers off the dribble, shooters, and defenders for their position, but the best passer is probably Kemba Walker or Khris Middleton. That just isn’t going to get it done in the World Cup if scorers like Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, and Harrison Barnes go cold as shooters.
This is where Mason Plumlee comes in. He was somewhat of a surprising retention by Team USA, but his skills as a playmaker for others, especially in the open floor, could help create easy shots on back cuts, spot ups, and dribble hand offs for other players on the floor. It’s unclear whether Plumlee will play with regularity given the presence of two other centers in Myles Turner and Brook Lopez on the roster, but with his previous Olympic experience and his varied skill set, it wouldn’t surprise me if he carved out a rotation spot during the tournament.
Team Spain and Juancho Hernangomez
While the rotation spot for Plumlee is in question, it’s very clear that Juancho will have a major opportunity to make an impact for Spain. In all of Spain’s friendly competitions thus far, Juancho has been a starting forward, playing with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull, and Victor Claver. All are NBA caliber players or very close to it, and Juancho will be t the center of it all, spacing the floor for two excellent playmakers in Rubio and Gasol.
Spain is currently ranked 2nd in FIBA rankings behind only the United States, and it’s clear as to why. Centered around Marc and Pau Gasol for a long time, the Spaniards have long been the biggest challenger to Team USA and given every team they face a lot of difficulty. With Pau no longer taking part, it seems like Spain is transitioning into a new era of international basketball. Rubio and Llull are still the playmakers, but Juancho and Willy Hernangomez have an opportunity to become mainstays in the Spanish front court for years to come. This year will be their first big test together, with Juancho starting and Willy backing up Marc Gasol. Expectations remain very high for this group, and they certainly have the talent, playmaking, and shooting to take down Team USA or at least earn a medal.
Here’s to Juancho heating up during international play and reminding Nuggets fans why his shooting talent and basketball IQ are so special at 6’9 and just 23 years old.
Team Serbia and Nikola Jokic
The main challenger to Team USA and their quest for gold, Team Serbia is loaded this season with quality NBA talent and a true superstar suited for international play. Denver’s own Nikola Jokic leads a group that also features versatile scoring wing Bogdan Bogdanovic, stretch forward Nemanja Bjelica, and John Wick 3 villain Boban Marjanovic. Point guard passing savant Milos Teodosic is dealing with a foot injury and won’t play in the World Cup this year, but his replacement Stefan Jovic has been very impressive and should be a quality option for the tournament.
Jokic has started just one game among the friendly competitions thus far, the most recent contest against New Zealand on Sunday. He started next to Boban, and the two dominated with their size and adept skills down low. It’s likely that Jokic will start all of the games going forward, but certainly an interesting wrinkle if he’s part of the bench unit instead. Either way, Serbia has a number of combinations that will prove difficult to teams to handle, even Team USA.
With so many USA players dropping out of competition and Jokic looking better than ever, Serbia appears to be a major challenger for a gold medal. With the orientation of the bracket, USA and Serbia are on opposite sides of the bracket, and if both teams remain at the top of their pools and win the elimination games, the first time they will meet is in the gold medal game. Imagining Jokic and Serbia doing battle against Team USA after playing each other in the 2016 Olympics would be the highlight of the Summer for Nuggets fans and a great lead into the 2019-20 season. The first time Jokic played Team USA, he dropped 25 off the bench in a game Serbia just barely lost.
Let’s see what Joker has up his sleeve. He and Team Serbia will be an even bigger threat this time around.