The 1988 NBA Three-Point Contest and International basketball competitions share one similar question: “Who’s playing for second?” In ’88, Larry the freaking legend Bird huffed that line to his peers and out-shot them in the comfort of his warmups and since 2004, basketball analysts have wondered the same about international basketball events. It’s basketball. An American sport becoming increasingly internationalized. Until the Chinese start breeding basketball players in larger quantity, the U.S. will stay kicking everyone else’s ass overseas.
With the 2019 FIBA World Cup scheduled to begin on August 31st, I figured I’d offer up some betting odds for the United States and their inferiors (hopefully inferior). To the surprise of no one other than DDYFOULUIFDKC, the boys in the Red, White & Blue lead the way at -260 to win. Here’s the rest of the list:
Unless you have psychiatric gambling issues, ignore 85% of this list. Don’t even think about betting on Senegal, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran, or any other countries you’ve heard of only because the United States buys their oil. But, if you’re going to bet on a country other than the United States, let me help you out; because there are a few quality options. I have a formula for predicting which non-USA international teams will play well. And yes, it’s really simple if turned on the TV over the past two years.
Make the team you want to wager on fulfills these terms:
1. Has an NBA star or at worst, a very, very good NBA player. Essentially: Teams without proven NBA guys usually fall on their face. You need an Alpha that’s gone toe to toe with the Americans on their own turf. 2004 Argentina (who famously toppled the U.S.) had Manu Ginobili, a bonafide All-Star. Our non-American stars (or very, very good players) in the 2019 FIBA World Cup are as follows: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nikola Jokic (Serbia), Spain (Marc Gasol), Italy (Danilo Gallinari), France (Rudy Gobert), Lithuania (Domantas Sabonis & Jonas Valanciunas), and Brazil (Anderson Varejao’s afro), and Australia if Ben Simmons actually played in a meaningful basketball tournament instead of wasting another summer manipulating people into believing he developed a jump shot–which he hasn’t!
2. Now, I’ve sectioned these teams off: Greece, Serbia, Spain, Italy, France, and Lithuania (I hope you realized I was joking about Varejao). Second qualifier: Do they have a 100% hideous supporting cast? Is a part-time garbage truck driver starting at point guard? Is a three-star pizza chef going to help Galliari off a switch onto Kemba Walker? If the answers are yes, then we’re booting them from consideration. So, I did some research on each club’s supporting cast, here are my thoughts with a rating out of five (with five being the US):
- Greece: Skilled, experienced, moldable–fits around Giannis. 3/5.
- Serbia: Tough, big, good rebounding, can shoot the three, logjam center & poor guard play. 3/5.
- Spain: skilled, NBA experience, versatile, great shooting. 4/5.
- Italy: skilled, extreme lack of size, solid perimeter play. 2/5.
- France: great defensively, excellent shooting, NBA depth. 4/5
- Lithuania: elite big man rotation, length across the board, no guards. 3/5.
Spain and France have the highest supporting cast scores at 4/5 and enlist a blue-chip NBA player (Gasol & Gobert). They move on. Of the three teams at 3/5, Serbia and Greece move on because they have top-five MVP vote-getters from last season (Jokic & Giannis). Italy and Lithuania, I have my hand on the doorknob, I’ll see you out.
3. Finally, who is actually a good bet against the Americans? We’ve narrowed the list to four so let’s rank them in the order I would place them based on their alpha, experience, and surrounding parts. This is what I came up with:
- Greece: With skilled veteran professional players across the court and a supernova leading the way, Greece is my most appetizing option. I think Giannis is going through his Clubber Lang stage. In Rocky III, Clubber Lang was the young, hungry dynamite prospect. He was pissed off, talented, and laser-focused while Rocky (the champ) was beating up on nobodies, buying robots, and having statues built of him. Clubber wanted it more. So he flirted with Adrian and annihilated Rocky. He asserted himself as the guy and the heavyweight champion of the world. Giannis is ready to snatch the torch from LeBron as the League’s top dog, to become the NBA’s alpha. He won MVP and didn’t stop to admire himself. It’s all business. Giannis is coming. There is a clear cut best player in the tournament and it’s the Greek Freak–from Greece, believe it or not. Can I rule out a Giannis blitzkrieg on a world stage where he summits the mountain as basketball’s best player by averaging 35-17-8 and winning the FIBA World Cup with a dopey foreign version of the Bucks? NO, I CAN NOT.
- Spain: With Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull, Juan & Willy Hernangomez, and Marc Gasol, Spain have the best non-American starting five. And four of the five play in the NBA. It’s a team of skilled, experienced pros who can catch fire from behind the three-point line. The only knock is the lack of an NBA alpha. I’m skeptical of Gasol and Rubio as offensive cornerstones.
- Serbia: Spearheaded by pudgy NBA superstar center Nikola Jokic, Serbia has a shot to make a run. Jokic and his band of big slobber knocking white dudes have size, toughness, experience, ball movement, and continuity on their side. The U.S.A. has decidedly less of each of those traits. In fact, aside from the Giannis bazooka, Serbia might have the best shot at upsetting the Americans in a one-off game. But with their lack of elite guards, I can’t see them winning the whole thing.
- France: Has the world’s ace defensively: Rudy Gobert. He’s technically a star, although he struggles to score even more than my buddy Goss when we went to bars during his pre-girlfriend days. Around him, France enlists NBA shooters Nic Batum and Evan Fournier. Elsewhere, Nando De Colo recently signed with the Raptors, Theo Maledon is a top 2020 NBA Draft prospect, Franky Smokes (Ntilikina) still can’t score, and Elie Okobo is exhausted from serving as the fourth-string point guard in Phoenix. A versatile, NBA-tested supporting cast. Not bad.
In order, here are those teams’ odds:
- Greece: +2000
- Spain: +1600
- Serbia: +350
- France: +3300
THE PICK: GREECE +2000
I get a 20/1 crack at Giannis morphing into Clubber Lang? This could be his Rocky fight. If you are going to fade the United States, just go with the team who has the best player in the world.