I’m really grateful for the FIBA World Cup happening right now, as we get to see a brand of basketball that’s significantly better than the Summer League, and whatever glorified ball runs we get from various trainers. Let’s set aside the thought of whether “player X” has lost/gained weight, or whether they have incorporated new skills based on their Instagram post.
Let’s enjoy a high quality basketball tournament, where every team (or country) is fighting tooth and nail with possibly Olympic berth on the line, and at the very least, pride for representing their flag. The Americans may be the favourites to win the tourney, but Team Canada ain’t that bad, or should I say, I think they’re pretttyyyy good.
1. It’s Shai (and Canada’s) Time
Canada destroyed their group, beating them by an average of at least 33 points per game. It wasn’t the toughest group, but they had France, led by Nando de Colo, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, and Nicolas Batum. France was one of the top teams entering this tournament, and it was supposed to be the biggest test for Canada in this group stage, but we’ll let Evan Fournier explain what happened:
Evan Fournier after blowout loss to Canada pic.twitter.com/JjXJuU8Hl7— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 25, 2023
At the head of the snake, we have Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s taking his game to another level by showing a different facet to his game: dominating the game without dominating the ball. He’s putting up 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 5.7 assists despite playing not even two-thirds of the available minutes (take that, Nick Nurse!).
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the fourth Canadian with multiple 25-point games at a single men's World Cup & the first since Jay Triano in 1986.— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) August 29, 2023
Leo Rautins did it in 1978 & Carl Ridd in 1954.
It’s early, but Canada is playing on par, if not arguably better, than the Americans, who are in a much weaker group. With everything coming together for Team Canada - coaching, player commitments, chemistry, and perhaps luck, can we dream that we’ve arrived and it’s now “Canada’s time?”
2. FIBA WC Raptors Connection
Aside from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, several Raptors-related players and personalities are in this event, starting with Bruno Caboclo, who’s playing for Brazil and our first opponent in the next round. Speaking of Bruno, he’s having a solid World Cup campaign as Brazil’s arguably best player, with 14.3 points and 8.7 boards per game.
Former Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo is leading the Spanish team that’s transitioning in their younger players, along with Juancho Hernangomez. We saw “Qualifying Offer Nando De Colo” when Team Canada played France, while Germany looks like a dark horse candidate behind FIBA Dennis Schroder and Isaac Bonga.
Jonas Valanciunas just helped Lithuania sweep Group D, while fan favourite Yuta Watanabe is trying to help Japan earn an Olympic berth if they can finish within the top two of asian countries.
Then we have some Raptors 905 alumni like Edy Tavares, who just helped Cape Verde to their first FIBA WC win over Venezuela, and Puerto Rico’s Justin Reyes and Jordan Howard. Tremont Waters, who had a cup of coffee with the Raptors a couple of years back, is also playing for Puerto Rico. The Raptors 905 just recently acquired his returning rights.
Then we have the unofficial Raptors: Egypt’s Anas Mahmoud was on the Raptors’ ‘21 Summer League team. Former Net Rodions Kurucs, who was on the ‘22 Summer League team, playing a key role for Latvia.
3. FIBA Rondae is HIM
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson belongs in the league— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) August 30, 2023
Jordan’s naturalized player and former Raptor Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is just right behind Luka Doncic at the top of the points-per-game category, as he’s been a one-man wrecking crew for the Jordanians. Heck, if not for an ankle injury against the Americans, he might be neck-and-neck with Luka.
Rondae’s play against New Zealand earned him props and comparison to the late Kobe Bryant, as he almost pulled off a late comeback, scoring seven points in seven seconds (!!!) to send the game into OT, with the Filipino crowd cheering him in the background.
The Filipinos are familiar with “FIBA Rondae,” as he was on a tear the moment he arrived in the Philippines last February, leading TNT Tropang Giga to a chip, earning the “best import” award in the process.
For the Raptors fans, Rondae’s lone season was a little underwhelming. We loved him for his hustle and effort, as he was part of several real and fake comebacks. However, we saw his limitations offensively — something that he’s probably been working on, as he’s been killing it even before when he was in Korea. As much as I’d like to see Rondae back with TNT to get another PBA chip, I would rather see him back wearing an NBA thread.
4. FIBA World Cup, A Change of Pace
Watching FIBA basketball this time of the year is like a breath of fresh air. Last month, we had to make do with sloppy Summer League content, and before the FIBA World Cup, we had to settle with glorified ball runs from the likes of Rico Hines and various Pro-Ams.
I love the pace of the game, as the quarters are shorter, and there’s so much flow during the game, as there are fewer timeouts and personal fouls to dish. Heck, even the timeouts are too short! It’s also fascinating to see some NBA players represent their flag and move up the pecking order as the scoring option, whereas it’s almost the opposite for the Americans. I mean, FIBA Evan Fournier looks so much better than NBA Evan Fournier.
5. Jordi Fernandez, The One That Got Away?
Our new head coach, Darko Rajakovic, is in a pickle right now, but let’s close our eyes and forget about Darko and look at how Jordi Fernandez is coaching Team Canada right now. Doesn’t it feel like he’s our “the one that got away” coach?
Jordi was handed the keys to this team almost at the last minute, but the team looks better after every game, and they have been impressive to begin with. The product on the floor is much better than what the previous coach has done in a few years. Watching him on the sideline, in huddles, the play calls, and how the team responds to him makes me reallllly wonder if the Raptors missed out on Jordi.