The 2023 FIBA World Cup trundles on with the completion of its first round of group stage action. Even if you’re the type of fan who isn’t deeply invested in your national team’s performance, there are, as we’ve noted, a couple of Milwaukee Bucks involved in the proceedings. With games routinely tipping off mid-morning here in the US and early evening in Greece, its an international competition friendly to fans who’d like to keep track of what the likes of Bobby Portis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo have been up to.
If you haven’t watched much, here’s a recap of where both teams and both players are at heading into week two of play.
Team USA & Bobby Portis
Record: 3-0 with wins over Greece (109-81), Jordan (110-62), and New Zealand (99-72) — go into the second round with 6 group stage points
Upcoming games: v. Montenegro on Friday, September 1st (3:40 AM CT tipoff) and v. Lithuania on Sunday, September 3rd (7:40 AM CT tipoff)
Bobby Portis: 3 appearances off the bench, averaging 12.5 MPG, 9.0 points (.588/.000/.875), 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals
For the US, this early stage of the World Cup has been a good opportunity to build chemistry for a roster of first-time internationals. Head coach Steve Kerr and the federation called up a roster on the younger side, not bringing a single player that participated in the 2020 Summer Olympics (held in 2021). In fact, Josh Hart at age 28 is the oldest player on the team.
Still, the group went into the competition with a heady mix of offensive upside and defensive floor. Between Anthony Edwards’s continuing growth as a scoring dynamo, Tyrese Haliburton’s floor generalship, and other threats like Austin Reaves, Jalen Brunson, Paolo Banchero, Brandon Ingram, and Cam Johnson, the US isn’t hurting for ways to score. On defense, reigning NBA DPOY Jaren Jackson Jr. has been the consistent starting center, Mikal Bridges/Josh Hart are scrappy defenders in the starting lineup, and deep bench big man Walker Kessler can hold his own.
Bobby is sitting in the the 9th thru 11th man spot in the pecking order given a skillset that is generally mid-range/paint focused (along with rebounding). For now, he’s a bench garbage man who could feasibly be thrown into tighter games against stronger competition if one of the younger forwards is struggling. A great glue guy through and through who nevertheless has limited room for growth beyond what he’s brought to the NBA for the past few seasons as he enters his veteran era.
Here’s hoping he can do some backroom recruiting of one Anthony Edwards:
And here are the extended highlights from the first round game against the second-strongest team in the group, Greece:
Greece & Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Record: 2-1 with wins over Jordan (92-71), New Zealand (83-74), and the loss to the US — go into the second round with 5 group stage points
Upcoming games: v. Lithuania on Friday, September 1st (7:40 AM CT tipoff) and v. Montenegro on Sunday, September 3rd (3:40 AM CT tipoff)
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: 3 starts, averaging 18.1 MPG, 4.3 points (.357/.250/.222), 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 personal fouls, 1.7 steals
Heading into the World Cup, Greece was ranked ninth in the world based on the average margin of victories/losses over the past eight years (per FIBA, Spain is number one in the world while the US is second). The obvious missing piece is one Giannis Antetokounmpo who opted to forgo the competition in lieu of continuing recovery from a knee surgery earlier this summer. To add to coach Dimitrios Itoudis’s woes, PF/C “Dinos” Mitoglou fractured his pinky finger after the final roster submission date, so the Greeks are playing with 11 men out of an allotted 12.
In spite of that, the team has plenty of experience with a core of players in their mid/late-20s or early 30s and years of service in the NBA (i.e. Thanasis and Georgios Papagiannis) and in some of the Greek Super League’s leading teams (Olympiakos, Panathiniakos, AEK, and Aris Thessaloniki).
Watching some of their play, much of the offensive approach is technically sound — excepting Thanasis fast breaks — with a lot of final creation and scoring flowing through American-turned-naturalized-Greek Thomas Walkup. The team was on the brink of elimination v. New Zealand in their final first-round group stage game, down 32-43 at the half of that game. That they were able to turn it around speaks to a strong core, although without Giannis there may not be the top-end gear available to push on past the second-round.
Thanasis is, as expected, chaos incarnate. While he has started every game for Greece thus far, as far as I can tell he is out there because there just aren’t many other options, and he does bring typically frenetic energy as a defender. On offense he vacillates between “creating something out of nothing”-type busted plays and being largely ignored when he’s beyond the arc. As we’ve seen in Milwaukee, though, his stature sometimes fails him if opponents can find the mismatch defensively. Ironically enough, the injuries to Giannis and the aforementioned Mitoglou likely cleared the way for real playing time for Thanasis.
For those curious, here are some highlights from Ioannis Papapetrou’s 27 point outing v. New Zealand (which seems to be the only highlights from the game FIBA has on their site):
For both the US and Greece, the next step is trying to get out of their new group in one of the top two positions. Lithuania is the clear second team to beat in the group advancing as they have with the best defense (giving up merely 208 points in the first-round) and second-best offense (280 for v. USA’s 318 for). Greece will more-or-less know their fate depending on the result this Friday against Lithuania — a win grants them two group-stage points and would tie them with Lithuania in the standings. A loss and its pretty much over.
The top two teams from the group will move on to the final bracket and the quarterfinals with automatic qualification bids for the 2024 Olympics on the line in addition to World Cup hardware. There will be 7 automatic qualifications that come out of this World Cup with 2 teams from the Americas, 2 from Europe, 1 from Africa, 1 from Asia, and 1 from Oceania (Australia has already taken this slot). Team USA looks to be in good position with the only other teams from its region being an exciting Canada and a surprising Dominican Republic team led by Karl-Anthony Towns.
For Greece, the picture is hazier. If they advance out of the group that’d knock off two more European teams, but Spain, Italy, Serbia, Georgia, Slovenia, Germany, and Latvia are all in the hunt as well. If they can’t get over the line here, it’ll be off to a series of pre-Olympic qualifying tournaments which would inevitably rule out more Antetokounmpo participation.
Can the Bucks abroad make the difference? Tune in to find out!