Even though Team USA is the favorite to three-peat at the FIBA World Cup this summer, the wave of dropouts from the national team has created some doubt about the Americans’ chances of victory.
Most people point to Greece, Serbia, or France as the USA’s most serious competitors because of their individual talent in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Rudy Gobert. Gregg Popovich, however, has identified another contender for the world championship.
Ahead of the USA’s exhibition matchup against Australia in Melbourne, Popovich said that the Australians are a “huge, huge threat” and “one of the top contenders without a doubt.”
Even thought Ben Simmons will not participate this summer, Australia is loaded in NBA talent, including Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes, and Patty Mills. That last name is of particular interest to Popovich, given that Mills has played the last seven years of his professional career in San Antonio. The Aussies are notoriously close-knit as well, and according to Andrew Bogut, regularly take a group vacation during the All-Star break, so chemistry is not a concern.
It’s also good form to praise an opponent right before playing them, both to avoid whiteboard material while simultaneously hyping up the American team.
Australia historically hasn’t had much success at the FIBA World Cup. However, the Aussies did finish fourth at the 2016 Olympics and only lost to the USA by 10 during the group stage after leading at halftime. They certainly will present a more physical test than the Spanish team during the USA’s previous exhibition game, no doubt buoyed by the home crowd.
There may be better players in the tournament, but Australia boasts a greater depth of talent than perhaps any team other than the Americans. It’s definitely Popovich’s style to tout the collective over any individual.