By: Greg Gottfried
At 3 PM on September 5, in between the hustle and bustle of another Sunday football extravaganza, a basketball game took place. This matchup between the USA and Serbia was aired on ESPN2, which at the moment is probably showing another round of the World Series of Poker. Even though the NFL ultimately overshadowed the FIBA World Championship Game, the end product with the USA winning gold was beautiful and significant for a multitude of reasons. Because you’re reading this on the Internet, and because accounting has destroyed all of my ability to be unique, let’s use a list-form for my takeaways of the USA’s run in the FIBA World Cup.
1. Anthony Davis will be (and maybe already is) the third-best basketball player in the world
LeBron James is the best player in the world and Kevin Durant is number two, no exceptions (except for possibly Brian Scalabrine). However, if we take the White Mamba out of the picture, our search for a bronze-winner is a difficult one. Perhaps the answer is Chris Paul; however yearly injuries and his insistence on taking games off due to fatigue move him down in my mind. Others who are vying for that third spot, such as Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, all have glaring negatives that move them down a level from the elite.
Anthony Davis, only 21 years old—I repeat 21 YEARS OLD—was a threat from anywhere inside the three point line. His ability to catch the ball and square up like Dirk Nowitzki is only more dangerous when combined with his astounding athleticism and ability to score at the basket. Davis’s importance, however, was on the defensive end, where he had to make up for obvious deficiencies. Key players for USA Basketball included Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, all of who are subpar on the defensive end. James Harden, in particular, is so appalling on the defensive side of the ball that when you type in “James Harden bad defense” in YouTube’s search engine, you get over 3,500 results. Davis became the anchor for this team and was key in the US taking home the gold.
2. James Harden can be the best player on an NBA championship team
As much as I despise James Harden’s effort on the defensive end, he became the go-to player when the US needed a big bucket. Most notably was in the Serbia contest, wehn the US down early in the first quarter and Serbia had the chance to extend the lead to double-digits. It didn’t, because James Harden stepping and made some huge buckets. His ability to draw fouls and make old-fashioned three-point plays helped slow the game down for America and created issues for the Serbian big-men who had to play less aggressively. Ultimately, the USA pulled away late in the first half, but it was James Harden who made the big plays when called upon.
Before, when I thought about the upcoming NBA season, I had some reservations for the Houston Rockets. I wasn’t sure if Harden could be an offensive focal point, but if the best players in the world trust the bearded fellow, I’m sure the Rockets will follow suit. Also, although he lacks skill on the defensive side of the ball, he is surrounded by skilled defenders on Houston who will make defense less of a burden for Harden. In a crowded and marvelous Western Conference, Harden will be one of the shining stars.
3. Demarcus Cousins and Kenneth Faried deserve better
Two of the standout players in the entire FIBA World Cup were Cousins and Faried. Both on subpar teams, the selection of both of these players was a bit of a surprise when chosen over more proven NBA contributors such as John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyle Korver, but these two big men showed their worth.
Demarcus Cousins’ career since entering the NBA has been depressing. This is mostly due to the fact that the Sacramento Kings are to the NBA what getting a tooth removed is to the dentist’s office. They both aren’t fun and the recipient gets a prize at the end of it. Instead of a toy train, sticker or tattoo, the Sacramento Kings span of suckitude (it deserves its own word) landed them in Draft Lottery Hell. But at least they got Cousins. Drafted in 2010, Cousins has been a dominant force on the Kings, which he finally got to show to the world. Coach K picking Cousins and then selecting him as a rotation player showed his worth as a basketball player. Hopefully, when his contract runs out, he can go to a team with better management and more optimism, such as ANY OF THE OTHER 29 TEAMS!
On the other hand, Kenneth Faried’s competence and contribution to the US Basketball team stunned me. It could be argued that he ended up being the most important player on the team. Davis was the best, and Harden was the player who needed the ball in his hands, but Faried’s constant motion was another key factor in the USA’s domination. As the energizer bunny, Faried’s only mission was to infuriate the other teams by crashing the boards, playing tough man-to-man defense and leaking out on the break, which led to easy points. On a middling Nuggets team, it is now obvious how much enjoyment NBA fans have missed out on due to the fact that Denver can’t seem to find a role for Faried. Imagine the “Manimal” on the Oklahoma City Thunder or Phoenix Suns catching lobs, diving for loose balls and just wreaking havoc.
Both of these players may be stuck on their respective teams, however this tournament has shown us just how high their skill level is. As two of the 15 players chosen, Cousins and Faried solidified themselves as some of the top players in the NBA.
4. The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be very, very good and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them
LeBron James is good at basketball. Kevin Love is also good at basketball. The number one player in the league and one of the top-two power forwards in the league—alongside Blake Griffin—will be a force to be reckoned with in 2014-2015 NBA season. However, we haven’t even talked about the All-Star point guard who just won the FIBA World Cup MVP and will be coming into the next NBA season with more confidence than Breaking Bad’s Walter White during a drug deal. Kyrie Irving was unreal this tournament and is the Cavaliers’ THIRD BEST PLAYER.
His passing and ability to finish at the rim have always been stellar. Now, he’s making his jump shots too? It’s unfair. How is anyone going to stop this Cavs team? I’m already upset with how much ESPN is going to air their highlights, and it’s not even October yet.
Irving is leaving Spain with an insane amount of confidence and rightfully so. His play was magnificent and he cemented himself as one of the top two or three point guards in the league.
Everything’s coming up Cleveland.
5. The NBA is in good hands
With so many NBA stars nearing the end of their careers or hitting the final rise of their peak, such as Bryant, Nowitzki, Nash, Duncan, Wade, Garnett and Pierce, the NBA will have some challenges ahead in finding its future stars. Of course, there will be LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But to be truly popular, the NBA will need more elite talent. This FIBA Tournament proved that the NBA is chockfull with stars and playmakers for the foreseeable future.
Irving, Davis, Harden, Curry and the rest of the USA took their play to new levels this tournament, and upped the ante for the rest of the basketball world. Even Mason Plumlee, who will eventually become the Christian Laettner of the 2014 FIBA World Cup—because how else did he make this team (did he have incriminating pictures of someone or did Mikhail Prokhorov pay Coach K in rubles?)—showed signs of brilliance.
These players showed up for the United States and their exploits will not soon be forgotten. The NBA is in good hands and will continue its mission so that one day basketball will take over the world.
Follow Greg on Twitter @gott31