After 17 days of game action across Jakarta, Indonesia; Okinawa, Japan; and the host city of Manila, Philippines, the 2023 FIBA World Cup has come and gone. In case you missed it: Germany claimed what Deustchland views as its proper place among international ball after leaving the 2022 EuroBasket tournament with the taste of bronze in its collective mouth.
Being on the ground, up close and personal with many players and coaches, presented plenty of scenes and moments to fill a reporter’s notebook, some of which highlight deserving talents and great individual stories. Others can perhaps shed some greater light on particular themes to monitor as the basketball calendar flips ever closer to the NBA season.
1. Dennis Schröder’s MVP
The Germans held a seven-point lead over eventual-champion Spain in the 2022 EuroBasket semifinals last September. Schröder played for that underdog team without an NBA contract after lingering so long on the open market in the summer of 2021 — until ultimately signing with Boston for the mid-level and then being dealt from the Celtics before the trade deadline. He was nearly out of the league, and it marked quite a fall for a former first-round pick and Sixth Man of the Year candidate. When Schröder then showed out for Germany a year ago, he was able to turn that performance into a veteran’s minimum contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, rejoining head coach Darvin Ham after the two overlapped as pieces of Mike Budenholzer’s feisty Atlanta Hawks.
Schröder started 50 games for Ham’s Lakers last season and played an integral role in Los Angeles’ run to the Western Conference finals. It wasn’t long after free agency opened in July when Toronto scooped up Schröder to the tune of two years, $25.4 million.
So many European NBA players participate in international basketball for the pride of their country and nothing more. They do not generate a salary from suiting up for FIBA play. But as Schröder skipped to the podium Sunday night as the World Cup MVP following a game-high 28 points in the gold-medal victory against Serbia, it was hard not to see the emotion behind him. Here’s hoping there was a feeling of vindication for the rollercoaster ride of his past few seasons, bookended by the highs and lows of the business at this level of competition.
2. Austin Reaves' success amid fanfare
There was no sweeter scene from Manila than a sweaty-haired Austin Reaves waiting outside Germany's locker room, even after the Germans knocked out Team USA from gold medal contention, so that Reaves could embrace Schröder, his former Lakers teammate. Aside from Luka Dončić’s brief appearance in Manila — following early round games in Jakarta — Reaves was the unquestioned fan favorite among the Filipino faithful who largely lean as a Lakers-slanted fanbase. And Reaves embraced the heightened attention with gravitas and humility as much as humor.
It was a remarkable display of celebrity performance from the 25-year-old from Newark, Arkansas, fresh off his own four-year, $53 million payday. Reaves was mostly impressive on the floor, too, soaring for putback dunks and contested rebounds, whipping behind-the-back dribbles past opponents and shooting 50% from 3-point land as Team USA’s third-leading scorer. Many a game, it was up to Reaves and Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton to resuscitate a slow American start off the bench.
Maybe it will be chalked up to the FIBA game, but Reaves was picked on time-and-again on defense. Whether it was Lithuanian guards like Vaidas Kariniauskas — who wagged his tongue at Reaves following one post-up bucket — or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hunting him at top of the key, he was often the target of rivals’ halfcourt attacks. We won’t know if NBA staffs will file that sample away for ensuing postseason matchups next spring. But Reaves, to his credit, battled through all that brutality. He will still have his doubters, like any undrafted player who’s thrust into the Hollywood spotlight. But it seems there are far more league personnel who would value Reaves’ total contributions closer to the $100 million maximum he could have netted in an offer sheet this free agency, as opposed to the salary Los Angeles was able to retain him on.
3. Luka Dončić’s disqualification from quarterfinals
The Dallas Mavericks’ All-NBA engine was parked on his rear, begging for another foul call last week in Slovenia’s eventual loss to Canada, when Dončić was awarded his second technical foul of the contest and tossed from the game. Let’s be clear: It was not just Dončić who was hounding the officials once Slovenia reached Manila. His entire team’s bench was pleading for the referees to call routine hacks as unsportsmanlike fouls. Head coach Aleksander Sekulić was one of the more vocal coaches on the sidelines as well, often needing to be reminded to wade back into the box FIBA permits play-callers to stand within.
Clearly Dončić’s complaints haven't affected his popularity. Whenever Slovenia played, the crowd was flooded with blue No. 77 jerseys. One couple held a poster boasting they named their child after him. But Dončić’s complaints turned off a number of NBA figures in attendance. His demeanor with referees has officially become something of note. Even during Dončić’s post-Canada media availability, when he admitted, “A lot of times I don’t control myself, which I’ve been having problems with,” Doncic went on to say he thought the officials’ explanation for not calling certain whistles against Dillon Brooks wasn’t “fair.” Dončić’s antics are something he, and the NBA at large, would benefit from eradicating.
4. Bogdan Bogdanović is healthy
There may be no shooter in the world who induces greater fear in opposing fan bases than Bogdan Bogdanović, at least during FIBA play. When Bogdanović has the rock in his hands, an extra bounce in his step and a clear runaway to launch into a wide-open triple, you can hear a collective groan in the crowd.
Bogdanović was named First-Team All-Tournament after averaging 19.1 points per game and shooting 42.3% on 6.5 long balls per contest. He scored at all three levels. He defended with aggression, jumping into passing lanes like a cornerback searching for pick-sixes. It was a reminder just exactly how dangerous a weapon the Hawks have stashed on the wing next to Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. It was a reminder why Atlanta was able to discuss De’Andre Hunter trade concepts this summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports, with Detroit, Indiana and others. It was also a reminder why Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks were so interested in Bogdanović in the late summer of 2020. If you recall, Milwaukee nearly signed-and-traded for Bogdanović to be the backcourt ball-handler of Antetokounmpo’s dreams, before the deal was ultimately nullified due to tampering violations, and the Bucks ultimately moved on to acquire Jrue Holiday from New Orleans. When healthy, Bogdanović is a bad, bad man.
5. Anthony Edwards’ evolution
Once Edwards erupted for 34 points during Team USA’s 16-point comeback victory over Germany in a friendly exhibition, the fourth-year Minnesota guard’s presumptive leap to impending superstardom became one of the loudest talking points around the American club at this World Cup. Team USA staffers, rival NBA coaches and other ancillary personnel around the program all raved about his frame and athleticism to go along with Edwards’ passion for the game and work ethic to improve.
The clear hurdle standing before Edwards, though, has always been the former No. 1 pick’s development into a winning basketball player. While it’s clear Edwards has the ability to spark an explosive scoring burst at any moment, there were conversations among Team USA coaches and players about Edwards finding the balance of when to shoot and when to distribute. It’s the same tug and pull Timberwolves officials have been talking about with Edwards dating back to December, when he was lifting Minnesota out of a hole left by Karl-Anthony Towns’ lingering calf injury. Still, throughout the World Cup, it seemed for every highlight dunk, for every breathtaking step-back 3, Edwards was also prone to throwing the ball away, traveling or lurching into an ill-advised fadeaway.
But there was one World Cup moment that truly stood out from the 22-year-old’s time in Manila. After Team USA’s 110-64 blasting of Jordan to finish 3-0 in the first round, there was surely a jovial spirit in the mixed zone — what essentially amounts to a makeshift hallway, where players walk off the court toward their locker rooms and media members can meet them at the waist-high divider for some semblance of conversation.
Edwards was, quite inappropriately, asked by a European reporter which of his teammates would he rather trade: Towns or Rudy Gobert. At first, Edwards merely looked off the ridiculous query. Then, when he was done being questioned about something entirely reasonable, Edwards actually paused, turning back to the disrespectful media member and strongly declared: “Neither one, man. I like all my teammates. I love them. They my brothers. I wouldn’t trade neither one of them.”
It was the most impressive moment from Edwards, in terms of his development from prospect to superstar. Far more than anything he did between the painted lines.
6. Artūrs Žagars stamps his NBA potential
The 23-year-old point guard was the unquestioned breakout star of the World Cup, and that’s before Žagars broke the tournament’s all-time record with 17 assists in Latvia’s final classification outing to claim fifth place in the tournament. Žagars’ deft playmaking out of pick-and-rolls, ability to launch from 3-point land and full array of passing vision surely has the 6-foot-3 ball-handler on the radar of all 30 NBA teams. He remains a free agent, like Schröder last summer, although of course without the long NBA resume. Injuries have slowed his career, but Žagars did already score an invite to Summer League with the Wizards in 2022. He’s been written about already plenty, but just keep the Latvian floor general top of mind when it comes to the best European youngsters who could one day translate to the NBA.
Lithuanian guard Rokas Jokubaitis also drew strong reviews from various team scouts and personnel in attendance, plus those who watched from afar. At 6-4 and just 22 years old, Jokubaitis drilled 55% of his 20 3-pointers at the World Cup and peppered passes throughout Lithuania’s scoring attack to the tune of 5.8 assists per game.